Communications and Media
Posting a letter or postcard is easy and cheap, costing well under US$1, and the stamps are gorgeous. If you visit the outlying cities or cayes, bring your mail to Belize City to post—it’s more apt to get to its destination quickly.
Post offices are located in the center of (or nearby) all villages and cities in Belize, although they usually don’t look too post-officey from the outside. You can receive mail in any town without getting a P.O. Box—just have the mail addressed to your name, care of “General Delivery,” followed by the town, district, and “Belize.”
FedEx, DHL, and other international couriers are widely available, and the Mailboxes, Etc. in Belize City (on Front St., just up from the Water Taxi Terminal) can take care of most of your mailing and package needs.
Sending mail within Belize, you can use either the post office system or hand your package to a bus driver or go through the bus station office.
Buy a prepaid phone card from Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL) and punch in the card’s numbers every time you borrow a phone or use a pay phone. All towns also have a local BTL office, usually identified by a giant red and white radio tower somewhere very nearby; they can place calls anywhere in the country or world for you and will assign you to a semiprivate booth after they’ve dialed the number. They can also connect you to your homeland phone carrier. See www.btl.net for more information.
One reader gave the following warning: “Do not use the blue and yellow plastic hotel phones for international calls! I was charged US$42 for a one-minute phone call not once, but twice for the same call! After visiting BTL offices in Belize City, San Ignacio, and Punta Gorda, I could not get a refund, and the company claimed to have no record of the transaction (even though my credit-card company surely did).” According to a BTL employee, credit-card calls made through these phones are so expensive because the touch-tone “international operator” charges US$16 per minute.
Some car rental companies offer a free cell phone; always ask. If not, they’ll rent you one. Otherwise, DigiCell (www.digicell.bz) offers prepaid temporary service to tourists. Get it at BTL’s Airport Service Center, or bring your own GSM 1900 MHz handset and purchase a SIM pack from any DigiCell distributor nationwide. There are several local cellular services, both analog and digital, and coverage along roadways and in major towns is decent but still improving.
Smart Phones (Mile 1½ Northern Hwy. in Belize City, tel. 501/280-1010) is more user friendly and cheaper than BTL and the rest, offering roaming service on your CDMA 800 MHz phone from home (including Verizon and Sprint). Activation fee is US$20, then you use prepaid cards available throughout the country.
To call out of Belize, find a phone with international direct dialing service, then dial the international access code 00, followed by your country code, and then the city or area code and the number. The country code for Canada and the United States is “1” and England’s is 44. Australia is 61. BTL’s telephone directory has a complete listing of country codes. An (often cheaper) alternative is to dial 10-10-199 instead of 00, followed by your country code, etc. Although they are not toll-free from Belize, 800 numbers are dialed as they are written, preceded by the 00.
Belize’s country code is 501. To receive a call in Belize from the United States, for example, tell the caller to dial 011 to tap into the international network, followed by 501 and your seven digit number. To call collect to Belize from other countries, dial the MCI operator at 800/265-5328.
Some Internet cafés have found ways around BTL’s efforts to block VOIPs (voice over Internet protocols), while some haven’t, so VOIP services are still not 100 percent reliable in Belize. Free VOIPs (like Skype) offer dirt-cheap rates on international calls and are getting better to use by the day. If you have a laptop, be sure to install some sort of VPN (virtual private network) to encrypt the data coming in and out of your computer, thus bypassing BTL’s VOIP jams. Feel free to join the “Unblock Skype in Belize” Facebook group.
Web access is widely available throughout the country and is improving all the time. Crappy dial-up connections are now the exception rather than the norm, and broadband (DSL, cable, and satellite) is springing up everywhere. If you’re in town for a while, many Internet businesses have monthly memberships that include unlimited access. You are welcome to sign up for a BTL account if you don’t have your own ISP (Internet service provider), but that may lead to more headaches then you need, and there are many other options.
Wireless Internet (Wi-Fi) access is increasingly available in Belize’s accommodations, bars, and restaurants. I won’t go so far as to tell you to expect wireless access—yet, but if it’s a concern of yours, definitely inquire whether your hotel has it or not. Most of these connections are free—with the exception of BTL Hotspots, which are US$16 per 24-hour period (plus tax!), and it’s your only option at a handful of upscale hotels, including the Radisson and the Inn at Robert’s Grove.
Local Newspapers and Magazines
Four weekly, highly politicized Belizean newspapers come out on Fridays, with occasional midweek editions, and you’ll find many a Belizean conducting the weekly ritual of reading his favorite over a cup of instant coffee, and then going to happy hour to yap away about the latest scandal. Amandala and the Reporter seem to be the most objective and respected of these rags. The other two are The Belize Times and The Guardian. There are also publications in San Pedro and Placencia.
The Image Factory in Belize City is a good place for books and periodicals, and there are only a couple of other book shops in the country. In most hotel gift shops, you’ll find at least a few colorful Belizean history and picture books put out by Cubola Productions, a local publisher specializing in all things Belize, including maps, atlases, short stories, novels, and poems written by Belizeans. Cubola’s publications give a great insight into the country.
You will not find the International Herald Tribune on every newsstand like in other destinations. In fact, you probably won’t find it at all. Check with the Radisson Hotel or Fort Street Guest House in Belize City, where you can sometimes find the Miami Herald, a relatively recent Newsweek, or if you’re lucky, the New York Times or London Times. Brodie’s and The Book Center also carry American magazines.
The most readily available and up-to-date map to Belize is published by International Travel Maps, whose 1:250,000 map of Belize makes a useful addition to any guidebook (or wall). The best, biggest country map to hang on your wall at home, or in your classromm (it’s way too big to use as a travel guide) is a physical/political 1:265,000 scale, distributed by Cubola Productions and available at Angelus Press in Belize City for US$40.
All of Belize’s most heavily touristed areas create updated town maps, found most often at tourist information booths and car (or golf cart) rental places.
The Government of Belize Land Department in Belmopan has detailed topographic maps for the entire country—spendy at US$40 per quad, but vital if you’re doing any serious backcountry travel. The British Army and United Kingdom Ordinance Survey have created a number of map series of various scales, but tracking them down will be a challenge.
The Belize Tourism Board (BTB, 64 Regent St., tel. 501/227-2420, U.S. tel. 800/624-0686, info [at] travelbelize [dot] org, www.travelbelize.org) has a central office in Belize City, near the Mopan Hotel. The Belize Tourism Industry Association (10 N. Park St., tel. 501/227-5717 or 501/223-3507, www.btia.org) can also answer many of your questions and give you lodging suggestions.
The Belize Hotel Association (BHA, 13 Cork St., Belize City, tel. 501/223-0669, www.belizehotels.org) is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization of some of the country’s most respected resorts and lodges. The BHA can help you decide where to stay.
You’ll find more information at the Embassy of Belize in the United States (2535 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20008, U.S. tel. 202/332-9636, www.embassyofbelize.org) and also the Caribbean Tourism Association (20 E. 46th St., New York, NY 10017, U.S. tel. 212/563-6011 or 800/624-0686, www.onecaribbean.org).
Also, be sure to consult the Internet Resources section in this travel guide.
© Joshua Berman and Avalon Travel from Moon Belize, 9th Edition