Driving in Belize | Safety + 7 Important Things To Know

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The best way to experience any Central American country is to rent a car and drive. You get a true look at what the day-to-day life is like for the people of that country, you see areas that aren’t built up by tourism, and you get a real taste for the culture. Belize is no different. Driving in Belize is a great way to experience this small but diverse country along the Caribbean coast. However, there are a few important things to know before you rent a car and drive around Belize.

This guide to driving in Belize includes safety information and useful tips for a self-drive in Belize. 

For many tourists on a family vacation to Belize, the Belizean islands known as the cayes (pronounced keys) are the extent of what they see and experience. The cayes, including Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye, are popular and fun places to visit in Belize, but if you go inland, you’ll get an entirely different picture of Belizean life.

A gravel road in Belize surrounded by forests
Driving in Belize’s forest reserves requires driving on gravel or dirt roads. Photo by Ronald Plett from Pixabay

Driving in Belize: Our experience driving inland

We decided to rent a car and spend a few days in the Belizean city of San Ignacio and explore the surrounding jungles and Mayan ruins in western Belize. San Ignacio is the largest city in western Belize, and is a popular backpacking destination. While it does not receive near the number of visitors as the Belizean islands, it is a great place to base yourself if you want to explore some of Belize’s famous caves, ruins, and majestic waterfalls and swimming holes

Located roughly 10 minutes away from the Guatemalan border, San Ignacio is also a great place to stay if you plan to drive across the Belize-Guatemala border to visit the region’s largest Mayan archaeological site, the ancient city of Tikal.

You won’t find a single chain store, hotel, or franchise restaurant in San Ignacio. The closest thing to anything you would find in America is a Shell gas station. What you will see in Belize are plenty of street vendors cooking and selling food from makeshift huts. Friendly locals sit outside on front porches and children lounge in the river to escape the heat. Hardly any of the buildings have air conditioning. Instead, you’ll find high-end eco-lodges that are more like luxurious tree houses rather than hotels. It is a simpler way of life, but a beautiful one.

Is driving in Belize safe?

While everyone has their own level of comfort navigating new countries, in our personal experience, driving in Belize is very safe, as long as you know what to expect. It is not at all dangerous, and it is much more convenient and cost effective than using a shuttle to take you from the airport to San Ignacio or other places you plan to visit. Driving in Belize allowed us to pull over, stop, and get out whenever we wanted to explore or take a photo. We also got to explore the Mountain Pine Reserve, trek into Guatemala, and do things at our own pace — a necessity when traveling with kids.

Driving in Belize on a residential street
A typical, narrow residential street in San Ignacio, Belize.

Many of our fellow travelers who we met in San Ignacio thought driving in Belize was not a safe option. They were actually surprised to find out the couple traveling with the toddler drove across the small country alone.

Important things to know when driving in Belize

If you chose to rent a car and drive in Belize there are a few things that are helpful to know and will make the entire experience easier and less stressful.

Renting a car in Belize

We recommend renting from Crystal Auto Rental. It is the largest car rental agency in Belize and has the largest and newest fleet of vehicles. Beyond that, they are one of the only rental agencies in Belize that allow you to take their rental cars into Guatemala. You must declare your intention to drive across the Belize border into Guatemala 48 hours before you pick up the car, so they can prepare the permit papers you will need. 

The agents at Crystal Auto were quick to respond to emails, very knowledgeable and accommodating. We declined the extra insurance as most credit card companies already cover everything. But check with your credit card first. It’s also important to note that if you do get the collision and damage insurance, it only covers you within the borders of Belize. Drivers assume full liability when driving the car into Guatemala.

Filling up the tank | What to know about gasoline or petrol in Belize

Gas is relatively expensive and not readily available throughout Belize. Expect to pay at least a couple dollars more per gallon than you do in the United States, for example. Because gas or petrol is expensive, you’ll notice many Belize residents ride motorcycles.

The good news is the country isn’t very large. You can drive from the Eastern shore to the western border in 2 hours. Driving from north to south will take at least double that, but in comparison to the United States, Belize is quite small. You also will not find as many gas stations in Belize as you do in the states, so don’t take your chances if your tank is getting low. Once you get out of the cities, gas stations are few and far between, so fill up before leaving a city.

Rules of the road | Traffic laws and Belize driving information 

Any time you embark on a road trip in another country it is important to have a basic knowledge of their traffic laws and rules that might impact your experience.

Road Signs

Like the United States, Belize uses the imperial system instead of the metric system, so speed limit signs and driving distances are measured and written in miles. All signs are written in English, as this is the official language of Belize, which also differs from other Central American countries, like Costa Rica and Guatemala

Animal crossing road sign while Driving in Belize
Road signs are all in English in Belize, but you’ll find some that might make you do a double-take.

Driving on the right

Although part of the commonwealth of the United Kingdom, Belize follows the same driving rules as the United States and most other countries in the western hemisphere. That means in Belize, you drive on the right-hand side of the road.  

Seat belts and car seats

Both seat belts and car seats are mandatory. However, we noticed young children and even babies on motorcycles with their parents multiple times during our Belize road trip. There is likely a different standard for locals than there is for visitors to Belize, but if you are driving in Belize, be sure to buckle up and use the appropriate child seat if visiting Belize with kids.

Speed limits

In general, the speed limits are lower in Belize than you might expect. Plan to drive 55 mph on the highways and about 25 mph in towns. 

Traffic control

We came across one stoplight the entire time we were in Belize, and it was in Belize City. Instead of stop lights, Belize controls the speed and flow of traffic using roundabouts and speed bumps. There are a lot of speed bumps, which is likely one of the reasons for the lower speed limits.

A speed bump sign on a highway in Belize
The flow and speed of traffic in Belize is controlled by speed bumps and roundabouts. Photo by Merritt Thomas from Unsplash

International Driver’s License

You do not need an international driver’s license to drive in Belize. Your driver’s license from your home country and your passport are sufficient.

Road conditions in Belize

Roads in Belize vary greatly depending on where you are. For some areas of Belize, a 4-wheel drive (4WD) vehicle may be necessary. But in many areas, the roads are paved and in good condition.

Highways and roads connecting major cities

The highways in Belize that connect the major towns like San Ignacio, Belmopan, Hopkins, and Placencia are paved and well maintained. Although they are only two lanes (one each direction) you can easily travel 55 miles per hour without any problems. Watch out for the animals and pedestrians on the highway though. We saw plenty of both while driving in Belize. 

A paved highway in Belize
Highways and main roads that connect cities are paved and well maintained.

Rural roads 

Some of the more rural roads, especially those in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, are not paved at all and can be quite bumpy. They aren’t impassable unless it is raining or recently rained. But you will need to take it slow (about 20 miles an hour). If you aren’t comfortable driving on desolate, bumpy, dirt roads, you may want to book a guided tour to the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve and Caracol, rather than attempting to drive it yourself.

We made this drive alone and stopped at Rio Frio Cave and Rio On Pools, but admittedly it was a very precarious drive. We almost got stuck several times in a very desolate, jungle  area with no cellular reception. 

Driving in rural belize on a dirt road
A typical dirt road in rural Belize.

Cities and towns

Driving in Belize cities and towns is relatively easy. City streets are somewhat narrow, and traffic is generally heavier, and there are more pedestrians to look out for, making it a bit more challenging to navigate through the cities and towns in Belize. However, if you are used to city driving and traffic, it shouldn’t be too difficult or stressful.  

A road through a Belize town with people crossing the street in front of a car
Driving in the cities and towns in Belize often involves narrower streets, more traffic and pedestrians that cross the road without concern for oncoming traffic.

Driving in the Belizean cayes

Driving in the cayes is restricted primarily to golf carts. You can rent a golf cart at most of the larger resorts if you stay at one. On Ambergris Caye, there is a small bridge that connects the town of San Pedro to the rest of the island to the north. Many of the resorts on Ambergris Caye are north of the bridge. There is a $5 US cash fee to cross the bridge into town on a golf cart. You have to pay the same toll to cross it again on your way back. You can cross the bridge on foot or on a bicycle free of charge.

Family Driving in Belize cayes in a golf cart.
Driving in the Belize cayes is primarily restricted to golf carts.

If you are staying in the town of San Pedro, there really isn’t much of a need for a golf cart. You can easily get around on foot or bicycle, which many hotels offer free of charge to their guests.

Tips for driving in Belize

While driving in Belize is safe and simple for the most part, there are some useful tips that will make navigating Belize easier.

Get a GPS when driving in Belize

Roads in Belize are not clearly marked, and many of them can be a bit confusing. You will feel like you are on the wrong road a lot, but a GPS navigation system can assure you that you are not. You can rent a GPS from your rental car company for an additional fee. A GPS navigation system is particularly important if you plan to visit areas where cell reception is spotty or non-existent. 

Opt for 4-wheel drive or a guided tour to some places

If you plan to explore any of the forest reserves in Belize like the Mountain Pine Ridge or the Cockscomb Basin, you will want a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Depending on your comfort level driving on unmaintained dirt roads, a guided tour might be a better option for some visitors to the reserves. 

a wet, dirt road in Belize
Rural roads in Belize are often unpaved and bumpy and can become impassable after it rains without a 4WD vehicle.

Avoid driving at night when possible

We drove to San Ignacio and around the city at night. We also drove around in a golf cart in Ambergris Caye at night. However, there are some areas we would not recommend. For example, Belize City is not the safest place. With a high crime rate, we recommend you avoid spending too much time exploring Belize City at night.

Additionally, we would not recommend navigating rural roads after dark. This is because it is harder to see giant potholes and obstacles that might cause vehicle damage and leave you stranded in the middle of a wild desolate jungle overnight.

Final thoughts on driving in Belize

If you don’t have a lot of experience road tripping in other countries, understandably driving in Belize might seem intimidating. Road tripping in Central America is admittedly much different than road tripping in Europe or doing a road trip in parts of the United States or Canada. 

However, don’t let that keep you from renting a car in Belize. Driving in Belize is not only safe, but it is the best way to truly see and experience the country without the restrictions of shuttle or bus schedules.  

Do you have a question or comment about driving in Belize? We’d love to hear from you. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Planning a trip to Central America? You might also like:

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This Belize driving guide was first written in June 2016 but was updated in April 2022 for accuracy and current information.

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17 comments on “Driving in Belize | Safety + 7 Important Things To Know”

I am in love with your blog. My husband and I traveled in our 5th all over the US after he retired. But sadly his health is now bad and we cannot travel. So I travel with you. Stay safe and I can’t wait for the next adventure. By the way I enjoyed Damen on 20/20. We watched KOCO the day this happened.

Thank you for reading Patsy, and I’m so sorry to hear about your husband’s health! Traveling is a passion of ours, and we try to do so as much as finances, weather and KOCO allow. We will head to Europe in August so stay tuned. 🙂 PS – thanks for watching KOCO too! Viewership=job security=ability to travel with our daughter!

We were just in Belize last week and it’s true, only one working stop light! Belize City has 2 of them but one is broken. It is so besides there…you have to see it to Belize it!

Exactly! The people at the rental car place told us when a stop light breaks it’s down for 6 months or more and someone from the states has to eventually come fix it. It is definitely a different experience than our modernized culture in America.

I am so glad to read your post. We will be traveling to Belize in November for 17days. Will be traveling all around thinking of maybe buying a house there and moving there. I believe we will rent from Crystal also. Thank you for the information. Can’t wait to really see the Country.

Enjoy Belize! We love it there. I will be posting more about our trip to Belize in the coming weeks so please check back. And let me know if you have any questions. I’d be glad to answer them if I can!

What about car seats? When we travelled to Costa Rica we were able to rent one from the car rental place but realized they only had infant seats. Our daughter is now in a front facing toddler seat. Do you know if Belize car rentals have these available? Or should we lug ours with us? Thanks!

I know this blog is a couple years old but I found it very helpful. We are flying in to Placencia but considering renting a car for a day or two to explore the nearby countryside on our own. I hear there is a waterfall called Maya King about 45 min away that is just starting to become a tourist area!

Thanks,
Shelley

Hi! Thanks so much for your post about Belize! We are going there in the fall with our 1-year-old and are wondering about car seats. I read they aren’t required in Belize but we want to have ours anyway. Do you have any thoughts on car seats and rental cars in Belize?
Thank you!!

We rented one from the car rental company we used because we were going to be doing a lot of driving and wanted our daughter to be safe. The car seat was in decent shape, if I recall. We saw a lot of children riding on mopeds with their parents while we were there, so if they have car seat laws, they definitely aren’t enforced!

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