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Last Updated July 2011

The roads in Belize are getting better and better. Sure, there still are sections of wash-boarded dirt that will shake your fillings out, but more roads are now paved and even the gravel or limestone byways seem to be scraped more frequently. A few roads, such as the Southern Highway, are very good indeed, among the best in all of Central America and the equal of any rural road in the U.S. or Canada. Not too many years ago the Western Highway was unpaved, the Hummingbird was a nightmare of potholes, the Old Northern Highway was a jungle of tire-stabbing asphalt chunks, the Southern Highway was a mud trap, and not even Belize City had stop lights.

Signage, too, is improving, being better than in most of Mexico or the rest of Central America. Most critical turns and junctions are marked. Many roads have mile markers - though roadwork on the Southern Highway and elsewhere means many markers are missing. Around Belize City, San Ignacio and elsewhere, new signage helps visitors navigate to key destinations such as the international airport or the Mountain Pine Ridge.

Main Roads
NORTHERN HIGHWAY This 85-mile route is a very good two-lane black-topped from Belize City to Corozal Town and then a few miles to the border with Mexico at Chetumal. The worst section is in the northern "suburbs" of Belize City. The only thing that will slow you down are a few "sleeping policemen" in villages and slow-moving trucks when the sugar cane harvest is going on in late winter through late spring, and a tollbooth at the bridge over New River (BZE 75 cents). There is a handy paved by-pass around Orange Walk Town. Your first glimpse of the azure waters of Corozal Bay is a highlight of the end of this route.
Overall Road Condition: Very Good (except some sections near Belize City)
Paved Section: 100%
Gas Availability: Excellent - there are many gas stations including a few open 24 hours

WESTERN HIGHWAY The 78-mile road takes you from Belize City quickly past Hattieville, the Belize Zoo, the capital of Belmopan, the "twin towns" of San Ignacio and Santa Elena and then on the Benque Road to the Guatemala border. Just past San Ignacio, you hit "cottage country," where a number of excellent lodges offer cold beer and a soft bed under quiet Central American skies. The Western Highway is still in pretty good condition, and some sections have been resurfaced. More topes (speed bumps) are popping up as the road passes villages. However, the shoulders are narrow, and the surfacing used on parts of this road can be very slick after rains. There used to be a big sign warning of the number of deaths on this road in the past 10 years --"240 killed and 1,478 injured."
Overall Road Condition: Good (but some sections very slick after rains)
Paved Section: 100%
Gas Availability: Good to Excellent

HUMMINGBIRD HIGHWAY This 56-mile highway stretches from the Western Highway at Belmopan to Dangriga. The Hummingbird dips and swoops through some of the most beautiful territory in Belize. This was once a very bad road. Now it is in very good condition, with only a couple of bridges that are still one-lane. Take a break at the Blue Hole, where a swim in the truly blue water is refreshing. Technically, the road is called the Hummingbird for only about 33 miles from the Western Highway to the village of Middlesex, and then it is known as the Stann Creek Valley Road, but everybody calls it the Hummingbird all the way.
Overall Road Condition: Very Good
Paved Section: 100%
Gas Availability: Poor - best to gas up at Belmopan or near Dangriga

SOUTHERN HIGHWAY The Southern Highway, long known as the worst major road in Belize, is now the best in Belize. The 100-mile road is all paved. The scenery, save for views of the Maya Mountains at about the halfway point, is unexceptional.
Overall Road Condition: Excellent
Paved Section: 100%
Gas Availability: Fair - best to gas up in Dangriga or near PG; in a pinch, there's gas in Independence and on the Placencia peninsula.

BELIZE CITY The roads and streets of Belize City confuse many visitors. Some streets are not signed, and some are little more than narrow, one-way alleys. Streets abruptly terminate at Haulover Creek, and you have to find a bridge to get from one side to the other. Taxis, bicycles and pedestrians dart in and out of traffic. However, things are getting better. New roundabouts on the Northern and Western highways have improved traffic flow, though the section of the Northern Highway near Belize City is still in need of resurfacing. New signage has popped up on main routes. Most streets are paved. Belize City is so up-to-date these days it even has a rush hour and traffic jams.
Overall Road Condition: Fair to Good
Paved Section: 95%
Gas Availability: Excellent - modern gas stations have everything that U.S. stations have including convenience stores, except that you don't have to pump your own gas.

Other Important Roads
OLD NORTHERN HIGHWAY If you want to see Altun Ha ruins, you'll have to drive at least part of this 41-mile arc to the east of the New Northern Highway. Under the British, this highway was paved, and at last the Belize government patched some of the remaining blacktop. The section south of Maskall village is better than the section north. Most sections are narrow and some are dirt. The 2-mile access road to Altun Ha is paved.

Overall Road Condition: Fair
Paved Section: 70%
(but paved section is narrow, and some is badly potholed)
Gas Availability: Poor - gas up before leaving the (new) Northern Highway

COASTAL HIGHWAY This 36-mile gravel road, connecting Democracia near Mile 30 of Western Highway with the Stann Creek Valley Road near Melinda, is also known as the Manatee Highway or the "Shortcut." Despite the name, you get no views of the water or of manatees from the road. It does save a little time on trips to Dangriga or Placencia from Belize City. However, the road is wash boarded in places and is dusty in dry weather. During heavy rains, bridges occasionally wash out. It is far less scenic than the Hummingbird. It's easy to lose control of your vehicle on the gravel. In fact, some car rental companies forbid renters to drive the road, and others increase the amount you're liable for if you do have an accident.
Overall Road Condition: Fair
Paved Section: 0%
Gas Availability: Poor - gas up in Dangriga or on the Western Highway

ROAD TO CONSEJO This level 8-mile stretch takes you from Corozal Town to the Chetumal Bay, where there is a Belize customs station (boats only).
Overall Road Condition: Fair
Paved Section: 0%
Gas Availability: Poor

ROAD TO SARTENEJA FROM ORANGE WALK TOWN Once past the paved section near Orange Walk Town, this road just goes on and on, over rough, wash-boarded limestone. It's about 40 miles to Sarteneja village and Shipstern, but it will seem like twice that. A redeeming feature of this road is Progresso Lagoon, the quintessential tropical lagoon. The Belize government is upgrading and paving part of this road, from near Orange Walk to San Estevan and then to Progresso. If you want to go to Cerros instead of Shipstern, you start the same way, but about 12 1/2 miles from Orange Walk Town, and 6 1/2 miles past the village of San Estevan, you go straight instead of turning right; this takes you to Progresso, Copper Bank and Cerros. The road can be tricky after heavy rains. From Corozal Town, take the hand-pulled ferry across the New River, saving you several hours of driving time.
Overall Road Condition: Fair to Poor
Paved Section: 15%
Gas Availability: Fair - best gas up in Orange Walk or in Sarteneja

ROAD TO SARTENEJA FROM COROZAL TOWN From Corozal Town, take the Northern Highway south toward Orange Walk Town to just south of town (look for signs to the ferry). Turn east, and follow the road (and the power lines) for 2 1/2 miles to the ferry landing. The 90-ft.-long, hand-pulled ferry, made from an old sugar barge, carries pedestrians and up to four vehicles on a nine-minute trip across the river. It operates from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily; there's no charge. When you disembark the ferry, you're about 2 1/2 miles from Copper Bank village, and about 5 1/2 miles from Progresso. Turn left and follow signs to Sarteneja. You'll have to take second ferry across the mouth of Laguna Seca. The road is unpaved and can be muddy after heavy rains.
Overall Road Condition: Fair to Poor
Paved Section: 0%
Gas Availability: Fair - best gas up in Corozal Town or in Sarteneja

ROAD TO CHAN CHICH AND GALLON JUG From Orange Walk Town, it's about a three-hour, 68-mile drive to Chan Chich, the stupendous lodge built by the late Sir Barry Bowen. Along the way, on a road that varies from a poor rubble road to an excellent paved road at Gallon Jug, you'll pass a number of villages, some farms, the progressive Mennonite settlement of Blue Creek and plenty of jungle. As you cross the Programme for Belize preserve and Bowen land (you'll have to stop at two guard houses), you'll almost certainly see a variety of wildlife, including Belize's two species of deer and the oscellated turkeys. At San Felipe village, about 23 miles from Orange Walk Town, you can turn on a dirt road to the Lamanai ruins and Lamanai Outpost Lodge, about 13 miles from San Felipe. This road is now passable year-round. An alternate route for the first part of the road to Lamanai and Chan Chich is the unpaved road from just south of Orange Walk Town through the Shipyard area.
Overall Road Condition: Mostly Fair to Poor, with a few Good to Very Good sections
Paved Section: 15%
Gas Availability: Fair (gas up at the Linda Vista "shopping center" at Blue Creek, run by Mennonites; closed Sunday)

BURRELL BOOM BYPASS You have two choices to get to Boom, Bermudian Landing and the Baboon (Black Howler Monkey) Sanctuary: Either turn off the Northern Highway at about Mile 13, or off the Western Highway at Mile 15.5, at the roundabout. The road to the Boom also functions as a shortcut if going between points on the Northern and Western highways, eliminating the need to drive through Belize City. The road is beautifully paved.
Overall Road Condition: Good to Excellent
Paved Section: 100%
Gas Availability: Fair

ROUTE 30 ROAD TO SPANISH LOOKOUT AREA The Spanish Look area of Cayo will remind you a bit of the Midwest, with spiffy Mennonite farms. The road from the Western Highway near Georgeville to Spanish Lookout, signed as "Route 30" and also called Iguana Creek Road, is a good paved road. Other roads are mostly gravel and better maintained than average, with a few paved sections, especially around Spanish Lookout. The road from Central Farm to Spanish Lookout, usually called Baking Pot Road, is unpaved and requires crossing the Belize River on a hand-pulled ferry. (Note: In theory it is possible to get to Chan Chich from Cayo via this route, a much shorter route. But access involves crossing private lands, not presently open to the public except with advance permission.)
Overall Road Condition: Good (Central Farm route Fair)
Paved Section: 70%
Gas Availability: Good (modern stores and gas stations in Spanish Lookout, and gas often is cheaper here than elsewhere in Cayo)

MOUNTAIN PINE RIDGE ROAD TO CARACOL By the route from Georgeville, it is about 46 miles from the Western Highway to the ruins of Caracol. From San Ignacio, via the Cristo Rey Road, the trip is a few miles longer - this route connects with the Mountain Pine Ridge Road near the village of San Antonio. Even in good weather in a good vehicle, don't expect to average more than about 25 mph on this road - it's a two-and-a-half hour rough ride to Caracol, even with recent improvements to the road in connection with the Chalillo Dam, including some paving near Caracol. Currently you will be much better off going to the entrance to the Pine Ridge on the Cristo Rey Road, rather than the Georgeville Road, as the Georgeville Road is extremely rough. A reward: the scenery in many spots is lovely. After a heavy rain, the limestone marl or red clay can be very slick and dangerous. En route, stop for a cold drink or a hot gourmet pizza at Francis Ford Copolla's lodge, Blancaneaux, about 15 miles in from Georgeville, or at Five Sisters.
Overall Road Condition: Good to Poor
Paved Section: 15%
Gas Availability: None - gas up on the Western Highway

ROAD TO PLACENCIA This used to be the road people loved to hate. It was a 25-mile mostly dirt and gravel road from the Southern Highway to the tip of the Placencia peninsula, passing Maya Beach and Seine Bight. After heavy rains, the road was occasionally impassable, even with four-wheel drive. Now, however, the road is completely paved and in excellent condition, although it's heavy with speed bumps. Except for the speed bumps (and some huge speed "humps") this road is a joy.
Overall Road Condition: Excellent
Paved Section: 100%
Gas Availability: Fair (a total of three stations, in Seine Bight, Placencia village and nearby)

ROAD TO MAYA VILLAGES IN TOLEDO A series of connected roads take you from the Southern Highway near PG to the Mayan villages of San Antonio, Santa Cruz and Pueblo Viejo villages, or to San Pedro Columbia village, Lubaantun ruins, San Miguel village, and then back to the Southern Highway near the Nim Li Punit ruins. The San Antonio Road from the "Dump" about 14 miles north of PG to the Guatemala border near Jalacte, plus a new border crossing, is under construction now, with completion likely in 2013-2014.
Overall Road Condition: Good to Poor
Paved Section: 3%
Gas Availability: Poor (gas up at the junction to the road to San Antonio)

AMBERGRIS CAYE You can't rent a car on the island, although residents seem to be stocking up on pickups and cars, crowding out golf carts, bikes and pedestrians on the caye's roads. Front Street (Barrier Reef Drive) and Middle Street (Pescador) and Coconut Drive south to Victoria House are paved, mostly with concrete cobblestones. You can rent a golf cart and putt south to near the tip of the island, and north 7 or 8 miles, and even farther, from San Pedro if you have the time and bug juice and if your cart rental place allows it. After rains, these cart paths are rough and muddy. The bridge over the river channel, now called the Sir Barry Bowen Bridge, takes golf carts, bikes and pedestrians, plus taxis (as far north as Las Terrazas.)
Overall Road Condition (island wide): Fair to Poor
Paved Section (island wide): +/- 8%
Gas Availability: Fair - there are now several gas stations in San Pedro

CAYE CAULKER The streets in Caye Caulker village are still hard-packed sand. The primary means of transportation are shank's mare, bicycles and golf carts, though a few cars have made their way to the island.
Overall Road Condition: Fair
Paved Section: 0%
Gas Availability: Fair

Maps. The best general road map to Belize is from ITMB. A 6th edition was released in 2005. The color, 1:250,000-scale map retails for US$10.95. There is also a National Geographic Adventure Map to Belize (2009, US$11.95). Also useful for most travelers is the mile-by-mile Driver's Guide to Beautiful Belize, formerly published annually by the famous Emory King but now out of print; you can occasionally find an old copy. Some car rental companies provide basic maps.

Gas Stations. Belize has Texaco, Shell and Esso service stations, along with a couple of private brands, with a total of around 60 stations in the country. Unleaded gas is near US $6 a gallon. Diesel is a little less. Skilled mechanics are few and far between, although you can get a tire changed almost anywhere. Someone will come out and pump gas for you, and there's no need to tip. Belize gas stations accept Belize or U.S. dollars, and sometimes credit cards.

Miles or Kilometers? Like the U.S., Belize has been slow to accept the metric system. Distances are given in miles, and gas is sold by the U.S. gallon. However, some Japanese-made rental cars have speed and distance shown in kilometers only, a source of confusion on Belize's mile-denominated roads.
Speed Limits. You occasionally see a speed limit sign in Belize, but there is little if any traffic law enforcement. Belize drivers, to be charitable, are not always the best in the world.

Sleeping Policemen. Speed-breaker bumps are used to slow traffic coming into residential areas. In many cases, you'll get no advance warning about the bumps, but expect them as you enter any town or village.

Check Points. Check points are fairly common, but almost always in the same place, so everybody knows where they are. Unlike in some other countries in the region where shaking down gringos in rental cars is a small industry, in Belize you will not be pulled over for phony traffic offenses, and if you are stopped at a checkpoint, which often happens, no one will promote a bribe. Just answer the questions, if any, and you'll be on your way, with a friendly smile and wave from the police. If you're a local driver, you must have insurance, or face the consequences, including possibly some time in jail.

Safety. Traffic accidents are now the number one cause of death in Belize. Belize drivers are often not well trained, and driving after drinking is unfortunately common. Seatbelts are required, but many people don't use them. Watch carefully when passing stopped buses - people may suddenly dart around the bus to cross the road. Outside of settled areas, you may drive for a half hour or more and never see another car. Be prepared: Bring water, a flashlight and other basic supplies, and a cell phone, just in case. In a poor country like Belize, anyone driving a car is, ipso facto, wealthy. Don't leave valuables in your car, locked or unlocked. In Belize City, it's best to park in a secured lot, or at least in a well-lit area. Do not pick up hitchhikers, unless you're sure they're okay.

Driving at Night. Driving at night in developing countries is seldom a good idea, but in Belize night driving is a little easier than elsewhere because there are fewer people on the roads after dark. Foxes and snakes, yes; people, not so many. Still, after dark it's hard to see potholes and topes, and there are people in the streets in Belize City and in the towns and villages.

Best Vehicles for Belize. Do you really need four-wheel drive in Belize? On the main thoroughfares such as the Western and Northern Highways, no. In the dry season, even back roads generally are passable without four-wheel drive if you have sufficient road clearance. But four-wheel drive is good insurance, just in case you hit a stretch of soft muck or sand. On long trips in Belize, usually there are a couple of occasions when four-wheel power comes in handy. After a period of heavy rains, some back roads become quagmires.
The vehicle of choice in Belize is a four-wheel drive diesel truck with crew cab. A lot of people swear by Toyota Hilux diesels, though these are not commonly available as rentals. Larger vehicles such as the Toyota Prado offer a smoother ride on washboard roads, and the large petrol tank cuts down on the need to stop for gas so frequently. However, rental rates on these large vehicles are high - US$80 to $110 day or more in most cases - and they drink gas. Get a diesel if possible, as mileage is usually good and diesel fuel costs less than gas.

Tips on Rental Cars in Belize

Having a rental car is a real plus in Belize. You can go places not easily visited by bus, and while rental prices are not cheap, you may more than pay for the cost of the rental by avoiding high-priced tours. Here are questions to ask and things to check BEFORE driving off in your rental. Keep in mind that a breakdown on a deserted road in Belize is not like a breakdown in Suburbia, USA.

� Check the mileage on the vehicle you've been assigned. Even "name brand" renters often have high-mileage cars in their fleet, and local companies almost invariably will give you a car with 50,000 to 100,000 miles on it, or more, (but usually in good mechanical condition.) If the mileage seems high, ask for another vehicle.

� Check the tires. Six-ply truck tires or high-quality radials are best for Belize roads. At the very least, tires should have plenty of tread. Also, check the spare, and be sure you know how to locate and use the jack.

� Agree on pre-existing dents and scratches. Most car rental agencies will point out existing dents and mark them on your rental agreement form. Walk around the car with the agent to be sure major problems, such as a cracked windshield, is noted on the form. You might consider taking a photo of the vehicle. But don't stress about this, as the rental companies are almost always fair about this and aren't trying to rip you off.

� Ask what will happen if you have a breakdown somewhere in the boondocks. Major companies, such as Budget and Crystal, will send a mechanic out to repair the problem. Others may not.

� Don't be shy about asking for discounts off published rates. During busy times, discounts may not be available, but in the off-season or during slow periods you may be able to negotiate a little on rates.

� Determine in advance whether you need to accept Collision Damage Waiver/Loss Damage Waiver coverage. CDW/LDW, which is a waiver, not an insurance product, runs about US$14 to $20 per day in Belize, and often the basic plan does not cover the first US$500 to $1,000 in damage - so you have to cough up for a windshield broken by a flying rock, for example. American Express and some other credit cards DO provide primary CDW coverage in Belize. But call your card issuer to confirm. Note that liability insurance, required in Belize, is provided on rental cars, but liability insurance does not cover damage to your rental vehicle.

© Copyright by Lan Sluder 2011

Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,395
WOW this is rad. thanks Lan.....

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