Driving in Belize
Nice swimming and picnic area at the Caves Branch River on the Hummingbird Highway on the way to southern Belize. The country used to have Texaco, Shell and Esso service stations, with a total of around 50 stations in the country. Not any more. The gas stations were re-branded as Puma and Uno in 2012 after the government pushed out the old brands in favor of Puma-Trafigura oil interests and began to import fuel from Venezuela. That deal had many folks puzzled as fuel prices went up instead of down, but several local millionaires were made.
Unleaded gas is widely available in Belize, at about U.S $5.06 a gallon (BZ$10.13 2017 price). Premium is at U.S. $5.96, and diesel at U.S. $4.81 Skilled mechanics are few and far between, although you can get a tire changed almost anywhere. At all gas stations, someone will come out and pump gas for you, and there’s no need to tip. All night gas stations require the driver to exit the vehicle, pay at a secure window, and pump gas themselves. Local gas stations accept BZ or U.S. dollars, and sometimes credit cards.
Miles or Kilometers?
Like the U.S., Belize has rejected 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 local mile-denominated roads. You occasionally see a speed limit sign, but there is little if any traffic law enforcement. Local drivers, to be charitable, are not always the best in the world. Sleeping Policemen is the local name for speed-breaker bumps deployed 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.
Belize drivers are as well-trained as their cousins in the U.S., and driving after drinking is unfortunately common. 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 an hour or more and never see another car. Be prepared: Bring water, a flash-light and other basic supplies, and a cell phone, just in case. In an emerging economy such as Belize, anyone driving a car is, ipso facto, wealthy. Don’t leave valuables in your car, locked or unlocked.
Driving at night in developing countries is seldom a good idea, but in Belize night driving is easier than elsewhere because there are so few people on the roads after dark. Jaguars and snakes, yes; people, no. Still, after dark it’s hard to see potholes, cyclists and topes – that is Spanish for sleeping policemen.
Best Vehicles To Drive
Do you really need four-wheel drive in Belize? On the main thoroughfares such as the Western (now renamed George Price) and Northern Highways (now renamed Philip Goldson), 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.