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 and to see many of the best places to visit in Belize. 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.
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 that the country is known for. They are among some of the best destinations in Central America to visit.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Like it? Pin this guide to driving in Belize to save it for later!
This Belize driving guide was first written in June 2016 but was updated in February 2024 for accuracy and current information.
Did you know…
When you make a purchase or book hotels, tours, or other travel services, through our links, we receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you. We only EVER recommend service providers, websites, or products we personally use when booking our own travels. Your support enables us to keep producing helpful travel content. Thank you!