As much as we loved meeting the sharks and seeing the reef in Belize, it isn’t a front runner on our list of recommendations. As far as places we’ve been, we found Belize to be a huge money drain! Here we’ve decided to pass on how to get the best Belize for your buck.
There are a few different Caye’s to choose from if you’d like to see the reef in Belize. Caye Caulker is considered the “party” Caye. One end of the island is littered with bars and club style places for college aged backpackers and it surely attracts that crowd. Because of this, many of the luxury hotels and brands have been attracted to the other Caye’s where the setup is more resort-esque. Whether or not partying is your thing, it does keep many of the hotels and AirBnbs at a lower cost on Caye Caulker. From here you can find the same excursions to the reef and Shark Ray Alley as you would from any other Caye. That being said, we wouldn’t recommend more than two days there. All you really need if one full day to go out and see the reef, try the local cuisine, and then after that there isn’t a whole ton left to do. Caye Caulker doesn’t have any beaches, so you can’t just have a relaxing day at the beach, and given the prices of the places to stay, it’s probably better to move along.
Keep in mind that most of Belize deals in American dollars, and everything is priced comparably to the United States. Frequently when you touch down in another country you’ll have a currency exchange that’s different and can mean less spending, but in Belize our daily spending was about equal to a day around NYC, which is one of the U.S.’s most expensive cities.
Our other recommendation while in Belize is seeing the ATM cave. If you have plans to visit Guatemala while in Central America, we recommend staying there for an excursion to ATM Cave, but if you’re not, grab a bus down to San Ignacio. We decided to go by way of chicken bus (local school buses converted into commuter buses) for cost efficiency. It was a beautiful way to see the country while saving us some money, but it also had a layover in the desolate capital of Belmopan for a few hours. If you don’t feel confident in your Spanish or timetable reading skills, take a luxury travel bus from Belize City. There are ferries from Caye Caulker to Belize City every hour, and from the ferry station you can book and board your adventure to San Ignacio (it was about $35 when we were there). San Ignacio is also known as a party city, and the hotel rooms are cheaper than other cities, but I still wouldn’t categorize them as “cheap”.
San Ignacio was the roughest overnight we’d done since Koh Phi Phi, Thailand’s party hostel. We had the best vegetarian burritos of our lives(!!!!), but then we tried to sleep on spring mattresses in a room that shook constantly from the bass of a nearby club. When we asked around that was the experience for most people trying to sleep, and no one else knew cause they were the ones out at the club. Either way, it’s worth enduring at least one night to see the mind-blowing ATM Cave.
Words of warning: YOU CANNOT BRING CAMERAS INTO THE ATM CAVE. This is one of those sad cautionary tales that has affected history for us all – but a tourist once dropped their camera on human remains and shattered them there, and then another tourist, while taking a selfie, stepped on more artifacts, also shattering them. A word to the wise: please be aware of your surroundings and respect them so this doesn’t happen and so the rest of us can have the full effect of our visits. Still, you can no longer take cameras with you.
ATM Cave was probably one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever done in my life. Even as someone who’s had problems with claustrophobia, I’d do it again. You swim your way through a river, into a cave, and hike and swim the rest of the way into an ancient ceremony site where the most in tact ancient human remains are. It’s absolutely stunning, but it’s only for the rugged – so prep for using your athleticism.
Each of our day trips to the ATM cave and to the Barrier Reef cost us over $100 USD, and the travel, hotel rooms, and food were also very expensive. Given what Belize has to offer, and if you’re on a budget, plan only to see your most important sites and move on!