Drivers Guide To Belize – Getting Around The Jewel

belize hummingbird highway

Hummingbird Highway on the way to Dangriga in the south.

The roads and highways in Belize have seen significant improvement over the past five years. For sure there still are sections of dirt roads that will stress your shock absorbers, but more roads are now paved and even the gravel or limestone byways seem to be rolled smooth more frequently – especially close to the time of local and general elections.

A few roads, such as the Southern Highway and Hummingbird Highway and resurfaced sections of the Western Highway, are good and among the best in all of Central America and the equal of any rural road in North America. The more deteriorated streets you will find are in the old capital Belize City where myriad potholes and clogged drains are a curse that no city council appears to be able to figure out.

An oft repeated warning about driving in Belize is to be careful, especially at night. Even some locals avoid driving at night due to many cyclists, animals and pedestrians wondering on the highways. Many road signs are vandalized or simply not maintained by government and it is not difficult to to take a wrong turn or run into an unmarked speed bump until it is too late. Keeping to a speed limit of 55 miles per hour and being careful around populated areas should keep most experienced drivers in good stead.

Main Roads

Northern Highway AKA Phillip Goldson Highway

This 85-mile road is a good two-lane black topped from Belize City to Corozal Town and then a few miles to the border with Mexico at Chetumal. The only thing that will slow you down are a few “sleeping policemen” in villages and slow-moving trucks in the Orange Walk town area when the sugar cane harvest is going on in December through April, and a toll-booth at the bridge over New River on the south side of Orange Walk Town. (BZE 75 cents or US 37 1/2 cents). There is now a by-pass around Orange Walk Town but this is used mainly for sugar cane trucks. Your first glimpse of the pristine waters of Corozal Bay is a highlight of this route. Overall Road Condition: Good Paved Section. There are several gas stations including a few new ones open 24 hours.

This highway was officially renamed the Phillip Goldson Highway in September 2012 as a low cost improvement by the Belize Government. Really one of the nonsensical government actions even Belizeans find difficult to comprehend.

Old Northern Highway

If you want to see Altun Ha ruins, you will have have to drive at least part of this 41-mile arc to the east of the New Northern Highway. The section south of Maskall village is better than the section north. Most sections are narrow and some are heavily pot-holed. Some minor improvements have been made in 2011 to facilitate cruise tourism buses that go to see the Altun Ha Maya Ruin. The 2-mile access road to Altun Ha is now paved but already badly potholed thanks to heavy cruise ship bus traffic and no maintenance. Overall Road Condition Fair.

Western Highway AKA George Price Highway

The 77-mile road starts at the southern exit from Belize City and runs to Hattieville, (where there is a roundabout connecting to the Burrel Boom Road) the Belize Zoo, the capital of Belmopan, the “twin towns” of San Ignacio and Santa Elena and then on the Benque Viejo road to the Guatemala border. You will find many roadside restaurants, bars and excellent lodges that offer cold beer, hot meals and a soft bed under quiet Central American skies. The Western Highway is still in pretty good condition, and some sections have been resurfaced. This highway has the largest concentration of traffic bumps in Belize but is a pleasant drive due to the many villages, and the rolling hills and pasture scenery. Overall Road Condition: Good

This highway was officially renamed the George Price Highway in September 2012. Never mind that the George Price Boulevard in Belmopan has never been paved and is impassable except by 4 wheel drive vehicles.

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 in the country. The highway has now badly deteriorated due to daily pounding from crude oil tankers. The government is borrowing money to fix it in 2012. There a few ancient one-lane bridges. You can take a rest stop at at the Blue Hole (not to be confused with the Belize 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. The section into Dangriga town is fully paved. Overall Road Condition: Good

COASTAL HIGHWAY

This 36-mile gravel road, connecting the village of La Democracia near Mile 30 on the Western Highway with the Stann Creek Valley Road near Melinda, is also known as the Manatee Highway or the “Shortcut.” It does save 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 is mainly used by heavy trucks transporting produce or freight. Overall Road Condition Fair to Very Bad.

SOUTHERN HIGHWAY

The Southern Highway, is now one of the the best roads in Belize. It starts at the cutoff just before reaching Dangriga Town. It is all paved now and work is practically complete to the border with Guatemala at Jalacte. Driving to Punta Gorda Town and places in between is a long but pleasurable journey. The scenery, save for views of the Maya Mountains at about the halfway point, is average. Overall Road Condition: Good.

BELIZE CITY

The roads and streets of Belize City are a maze that confuse most anyone including locals. Many streets are not signed, and some are little more than narrow, one-way alleys. Several streets running north to south and vice versa abruptly terminate at Haulover Creek, and you have to find a bridge to get from one side to the other. The oldest bridge is in downtown Belize City and is known as the Swing Bridge – the last remaining hand cranked bridge in the world. Every day four men the bridge is swung open to allow boats to enter or leave the creek. Taxis, bicycles and pedestrians dart in and out of traffic. Most streets are paved and the main downtown streets Albert and Regent Streets were paved with hot mix asphalt in 2010 . Belize City has terrible rush hour and traffic jams on weekdays and traffic lights are often broken and or ignored by locals. Overall Road Condition: Fair

AMBERGRIS CAYE

Cars are not available for rent on this the island, although residents seem to be increasingly steping up to pick-ups and cars, crowding out golf carts, bikes and pedestrians on the caye’s cobblestone main streets and sandy side streets. You can rent a golf cart and traverse most of the island. Most cart rentals are now gasoline powered. After rains, these cart paths are rough and muddy. Overall Road Condition: Fair

Other Roads

ROAD TO CONSEJO

This level 8-mile road takes you from Corozal Town to the Chetumal Bay, where there is a Belize customs station. Overall Road Condition: Fair. ROAD TO SHIPSTERN Once past the paved section near Orange Walk Town, this road runs 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. 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 terrible after heavy rains. From Corozal Town, take the new hand-pulled ferry across the New River, saving you several hours of driving time. Overall Road Condition: Fair

Road to Gallon Jug

From Orange Walk Town, it’s about a three-hour, 68-mile drive to Chan Chich – Gallon Jug. You will pass a number of villages, some farms, the 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. 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. Overall Road Condition: Fair.

Burrell Boom

You have two routes to get to Burrell Boom, Bermudian Landing and the Baboon (Black Howler Monkey) Sanctuary: Either turn off the New Northern Highway at about Mile 13, or off at the roundabout in Hattieville at the Western Highway at Mile 15.5. The road to the Boom also is a short-cut if going between points on the Northern and Western highways, eliminating the need to drive through Belize City. The Burrel Boom is well paved. The country’s largest penitentiary is on this road. Do not pick up hitchhikers. Overall Road Condition: Good.

Highway To Spanish Lookout

This part of Cayo will remind you a bit of the U.S. Midwest, with neat Mennonite farms. This is a fully paved road. Side roads are mostly gravel but very well maintained. Overall Road Condition: Very Good.

Mountain Pine Ridge To Caracaol

By the route from Georgeville, it is about 46 miles from the Western Highway to the ruins of Caracol. From San Ignacio, the trip is a few miles longer — this route connects with the Mountain Pine Ridge Road near the village of San Antonio. It is a two-hour rough ride to Caracol. This road is now being paved to facilitate tourism to the area. Overall Road Condition: Fair

Highway To Placencia

This 25 mile highway is fully paved and runs from the Southern Highway to the tip of the Placencia peninsula, passing Maya Beach and Seine Bight. Watch out for frequent speed bumps which the area residents call “speed humps”. There are two types. The regular raised pedestrian walkways, and vibrating bumps with half-buried galvanized pipes to further shake out your vehicle’s suspension. Overall Road Condition: Good

ROAD TO MAYA VILLAGES IN TOLEDO A series of connected gravel roads take you from the Southern Highway near Punta Gorda to the Mayan villages of San Antonio, Santa Cruz and Pueblo Viejo villages, or in other direction, to San Pedro Columbia village, Lubaantun ruins, San Miguel village, and then back to the Southern Highway near the Nim Li Punit ruins. Overall Road Condition: Fair

Driver’s Guide To Belize Part 2

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