You will need a car if you want to have your freedom on the mainland. They tell you the roads are bad, but you have no idea how bad they are. At one point, and I wish I had taken a picture of this, the road we were driving up looked like when a bunch of rocks slide down the side of a mountain. They are almost undriveable. That said, I now have a story to tell and it was a bit of an adventure before it got old.
Back in early-December, 2005 I got on the internet to check out all the car rental agencies at the Phillip S W Goldson International airport outside Belize City for the three days that we would be free to roam on this segment of our trip. When I visit a country, I like to have a bit of freedom to just drive around and explore at my own pace, so I'm willing to fork out a bit of cash for a rental vehicle if need be. Even 2 months before our arrival, available choices of a small-sized 4WD vehicle were few, but I managed to book a small unlimited mileage Geo Tracker-type vehicle from Thrifty Car Rentals for a hefty 3-day price of US$281, taxes included.
When we turned up at the Thrifty booth outside the main airport building, our lone agent was very helpful and efficient. He did mention that there were no vehicles available in the size I had booked, so we were upgraded to a V6 Honda Passport at no extra cost (except for my fuel bills!). Not knowing the 'lay of the land' in Belize, I decided to take the very reasonable daily insurance as well, raising the total cost to US$323 for three days rental (the most expensive I have ever paid on any of my trips!).
In the end, the Passport worked very well and was quite comfortable to drive. It was great to be able to get to the Black Howler monkey sanctuary, the Belize Zoo and drive the Hummingbird Highway to see the towns of Belmopan, Dangriga and Hopkins before we had to return it to the airport! We had virtually no rain during our entire trip and the main highways we used were in excellent condition anyway. In hindsight, we did not actually need a 4WD for what we did, but we also did not venture very far off-the-beaten track in the short amount of time we had. The large rear cargo space did come in handy for holding our combined four large backpacks when we met up with our friends from Caye Caulker!
The cayes are islands so you have to get there by boat. But the rest of Belize - Placencia, Cockscomb Basin, the zoo, the other Blue Hole, St. Herman's Cave, Mountain Pine Ridge and the Cayo District - these are places that it is easier to get there when you have your own wheels.
A problem with the rental cars is that they are pretty beat up, and often have flat tires. We talked to a couple that had 4 in one day. We were lucky, and only had one although the tires were threadbare and the car was a horrible color, had high mileage and not new. The car also wasn't particularly comfortable on the washboard roads, and the soft top didn't keep out the dust worth a darn, but it did have A/C
The car was to be picked up by the rental agency because we left to go to Tikal early in the morning. I took pictures of all four corners to show the condition of the car before we left. It had a plaque on it that indicated it had come from TX.
At this time, renting from Crystal, a Geo Traker (1997-1998 model in 2003) would be
extra day $58.95
Insurance/day $12.95 IIRC, I charged the car rental on AmExp because I was told that I wouldn't have to get the extra insurance that way.
Hey- if you are driving in Belize- don't kid yourself about the gas station situation. In a nutshell- there aren't any. Even if you think you have half a tank left, and you are passing one (if they did exist that is) fill up. I speak these words charitably - but from DEEP experience.
Don't forget the Travelogues ~
the best way to see belize is to rent a car ! we have been to belize a few times before but always had someone drive us around .this time we rented a suv type car with f/w/d.this turned out to be our best time ever !the good thing about having your own car is that you can see things and go places that you would never have seen if someone else drove you around .also you can stop anywhere for a good photo. we drove from belize city to punta gorda to placencia and to san ignacio .and many stps in between.only drawback to driving is the price for the rental (high) and the gas prices (around 3.50-3.75$) us. a gallon! but you only live once.so whats a few dollars .also the roads are not as bad as people say.most of the major roads are paved .about 20 miles of the southern hwy .is not but its not bad .some of the side roads could get bad with alot of rain.
To get from one resort to another invest in some internal flights, otherwise hire a sturdy car. The trip down hummingbird highway was fantastic, but then we had someone drive us and so we could relax and enjoy it.
There is a well-established bus service in Belize, but if you're only there for a week or 2, don't waste time waiting on the bus schedule. There is too much to see and do! Rent a car if you can afford it. We spent about $350 USD for a week to rent a small 2-door jeep-ish thing from Thrifty at the Belize City airport. It had high mileage and rattled and clanked, but it got us everywhere we needed to go. If you drive anywhere off of the 3 main highways in Belize, you will be on dirt road so definitely get the 4-wheel drive.
Maya Air and Tropic Air: One way from Belize City around US$65.
Z-line has twice daily runs from Belize City at 8am and 3pm, arriving in PG around 6pm and 1am. James buses depart Belize City at the Pound Yard at 7 am. The Ten hour trip cost US$11
From Belize City it's 200 miles.. Take the Manatee or Hummingbird highway to the Southern highway. Check Southern highway road conditions during the rainy season. Some areas of Toledo District receive up to 170 inches of rain annually. Best time to drive is during the dry season (February - June).
Paco's Boat Service offers daily trips to Livingston, Isabel, and Rio Dulce. The most frequent run, Puerto Barrios, cost US$10 one way. Leaves PG 8:30 am with a 1pm. return.
American Airlines direct from DFW
We used a rental car for most of our time there and in Guatemala. Getting to Caye Caulker we hopped on a water taxi. Once on the island you'll have no need for any 'transportation' other than your own two feet.