I traveled to Belize in early May 2016 for 5 days. (Departing NYC on Saturday / Departing Belize on Wednesday)
Based on our trip, these are some of our findings.
Here is my link on a potential long weekend itinerary in Belize.
Tip #1: Blue Hole has few attendees on Sunday and may not run
The initial plan was to head to the Blue Hole on Sunday. There are supposedly only 3 companies that actually have trips to the Blue Hole. All other companies refer people to these companies.
Upon arrival, we found that there wasn’t anyone traveling on Sunday and would need to wait until Monday.
We would have gone through a travel agent Caribbean Adventures that charges $250 for a dive (plus $40 in park fees) and $185 for snorkeling (plus $40 in park fees). They indicated that they were one of the cheapest operators. One of the other companies that goes to Blue Holes is Ambergris Divers. They charge $299 for a dive (plus $40 in park fees) and $199 for a snorkeler (plus $40 in park fees)
Tip #2: Manatees are in Belize
We found out that there are manatees in Belize. 6 months of the year the manatees reside in the mangroves and the other 6 months they make there way out towards the reef to feed on the sea grass and mate.
It is possible to do manatee trips that will cost >$100 or a manatee trip part of broader tour. It is not a guarantee to see them. We heard there is roughly 50% chance to see them. We unfortunately did not see them on our trip.
Tip #3: Ambergris Caye is the party Caye
In Ambergris Caye, there are three clubs with the Jungle Temple being the most popular. All of the three clubs are in the central part of San Pedro near the water taxi departure. The crowd in the clubs have a number of locals as well as foreigners.
Caulker Caye is a little more sleepy than Ambergris Caye despite having more young foreigners.
Tip #4 Coral Garden, Hol Chan, and Shark Ray alley are all amazing
Since we weren’t able to go to the Blue Hole, we ended up going on a snorkeling adventure that covered Manatees, Hol Chan, and Shark Ray alley for $110 (plus $40 in fees). Despite not seeing the Manatees, we really enjoyed the trip. My friend ended up adding a dive for another $45.
We saw nurse sharks, sting rays, and a turtle all within 3 feet of water. It was very intense. The fisherman empty the shells of conch here creating a conch graveyard. I found out that until the late 1970s that Belize use to the largest exporter of conch in the world.
Shark Ray Alley
Nurse shark feeding frenzy it very intense. I highly recommend it.
Hol Chan Reserve
The coral was the most beautiful at the reserve. In addition, there is tons of sea life. We saw a green turtle, eagle manta ray, lots of fish, groupers, eels, etc.
It is a must see
Tip #5: USD is taken / Bring the money
Belize has a fixed exchange rate with the USD (1 Dollar = 2 Belize Dollars). As a result, it is feasible to use Belize Dollars or US Dollars in Belize.
Being a beach destination, the prices were fairly comparable to the US. I would not expect to be saving a lot of money. In addition, Belize puts taxes on everything.
Tip #6: Watch the speed bumps
You should be on the lookout for speed bumps when driving on the highway. There is always a speed bump near schools.
Tip #7: Guide is required for Actun Tunichil Muknal
We found out that there are only 18 certified guides and the maximum number of people per guide per trip is 8 people. In the high season, some of the groups will try to do a trip in the morning and another one in the afternoon. The maximum number of individuals allowed to go on the trip per day is between 120 and 140. (Forget the exact number) As a result, it is critical in the high season to make a reservation. There are no guides waiting at the gate. It is true that no cameras are allowed.
We went with Mayawalk, who has 4 guides. Pacz Tours is another one of the groups.
Tip #8: Guatemala only takes Quetzal
When traveling in Guatemala to see Tikal, it is critical that you exchange your money into the local currency.
Tip #9: Lots of fees at border with rental car
We rented a car to drive to Tikal. To get the paperwork allowing you to drive across the country, you will need to pay $25. We paid this fee to Crystal Auto.
There is a departure tax of $18.75 per person. You also need to pay a fee for vehicle paperwork, fumigation, toll-fee, etc. that is 160 Quetzal (~$23) to cross into Quatemala and $5 USD to travel back into Belize.
Tip #10: Roads are in pretty good condition, but SUV is required if going to ATM
The roads are pretty good in Belize and even better in Guatemala. While most rental cars only offer SUVs, it is feasible to drive on the roads with a sedan. However, you will need an SUV if you are driving down to ATM. Since we hired a private guide, we ended up meeting the guide in San Ignacio and drove him to the park entrance. We had to cross a river and would not have been possible in a sedan.