Belize City, Belize
The disabled cruiser visiting Belize City will find it is not exactly accessible to tourists in wheelchairs. Very little has been done to open up this beautiful country to travelers with disabilities. In general, there are relatively few handicapped accessible buildings or transport vehicles in Belize, no accessible buses or taxis. The only wheelchair friendly outdoor experience in the country is exploring the Belize Zoo. The Zoo worked with a wheelchair bound Belizean to create trails for ease of movement thru the Zoo. In short, it’s relatively difficult for a person with disabilities to get around in Belize.
If you can manage the tender, the tourist village has a board walk, music, restaurants, and shops which are wheelchair accessible.
Since the cruise ship does not dock and the disabled cruiser is tendered to the island from out in the harbor; if the water is too rough, the captain may not let the disabled cruiser off the ship. Anyone with limited mobility would have some difficulty. Anyone in a wheelchair would have to be carried on and off the tender.
Belize City is a tender port – Ships have to anchor off Belize City and tender passengers ashore by boat. When tendering is required, guests using mobility devices will not be transferred into or out of the tender. Many tender ports do not provide wheelchair access so even if the guest can board the tender they may not be able to disembark ashore. Again the shore-side facilities, movement of the tender, weather and tidal conditions can also preclude tendering.
Belize City, Belize
Bordering on Mexico, Guatemala and the Caribbean, Belize is the second smallest country in Central America (after El Salvador), with an area of approximately 9,000 square miles that includes numerous small islands — known as cayes — off the coast. More than half of the mainland is covered with dense forests, and at its longest point Belize is 176 miles long while its greatest width is 88 miles. Long a strong advocate of environmental protection, the government has set aside approximately 20 percent of its land as nature reserves.
Belize has been attracting steadily increasing numbers of U.S. visitors as it has become better known as a reasonably priced destination offering some of the best diving in the Caribbean. It also continues to increase in popularity as a cruise destination and is often included as one of the ports of call on Western Caribbean itineraries.
Diving is Belize’s main claim to fame due to an almost unbroken line of reefs and cayes extending for 150 miles along its coast that make up the longest reef system in the Western Hemisphere (and the second longest in the world). While many cayes are tiny and uninhabited, some like Ambergris Caye are sufficiently large to have built resorts that attract divers from around the world.
Several important Mayan sites on the mainland, such as Altun Ha and Xunantunich, make for excellent day trips and are included on shore excursions by most cruise ships. As a matter of fact, Belize has the highest concentration of Mayan sites of all the countries in Central America.
Belize City, with its wooden and brick buildings, exudes some colonial charm but the downtown area also has many seedy neighborhoods, and tourists should beware of walking around the city after dark. For cruise passengers, Belize City is primarily a jumping-off point for tours and excursions to its many natural and historical attractions.
Where You’re Docked
Belize City is an anchorage port. Passengers transfer to shore via ship’s tender.
All ships anchor in Belize City harbor and passengers are whizzed from ship to shore via speedy Belizean tenders; it takes approximately 20 minutes to tender to shore.
After tendering, all passengers disembark at docks in Belize’s Tourism Village. Here you’ll find dozens of shops, bars and restaurants from standard cruise venues like Diamonds International and Del Sol to stores with handmade Belizean crafts and foodstuffs. Other than shop for souvenirs or hang out in one of the bars or restaurants, there’s not much else to see and do in the Tourism Village. If you’re up for a short walk, you can exit Tourism Village and head to the Holy Redeemer Cathedral or Baron Bliss Lighthouse & Gravesite, which are both within walking distance.
Taxis are available at the dock.
Good to Know
When using cash, particularly with merchants that accept U.S. dollars, be sure you get change in U.S. currency. And, if you’re at all concerned with wildlife conservation, don’t buy items that are made from sea turtle shells, black coral or Triton’s trumpet shells.
Also, almost all the major attractions are at some distance from the city; so if you’re exploring independently and hiring your own transportation, make sure you are back in time at Tourism Village for the last tender departure for your ship.
On Foot: The only way to get around the Tourism Village is on foot, but its small, taking no more than 10 minutes to get from end to end (without lots of browsing, that is). You can also get around Belize City on foot fairly easy, though streets are not well marked and you might need to ask a local for directions.
By Taxi: Taxis are readily available at Tourism Village as well as in the city and at hotels. Taxis do not have meters and although most drivers charge a standard fare, make sure you determine the fare before getting in so as to avoid being burned upon arriving at your destination. Look for the green license plate of licensed taxis. There are also water taxis and ferries that depart from the Marine Terminal to the outlying cayes, including the larger resort cayes such as Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye. A trip from Belize City to San Pedro, the largest town on Ambergris Caye, takes around 80 minutes.
Belize’s currency is the Belizean dollar. However, all shops and merchants readily accept U.S. dollars (most also accept credit cards) so it is unnecessary to change money. ATMs are plentiful in both the Tourism Village and the rest of the city.
English is Belize’s official language and is spoken by virtually everyone.
Look for the bracelets carved of ziricote hardwood, from the Belizean Handicraft Market Place near Tourism Village. You’ll also find an assortment of locally produced mahogany and rosewood carvings, slate carvings, jippi jappa baskets and artwork.
Local dishes include lobster and fish dishes, rice and beans and or fish burger.
Points of Interest
- Mayan Ruins – Belize was once home to the ancient Mayas. One of the earliest known Mayan cities dates to 2000 B.C., and at the height of the Mayan Empire, their population rose to as many as two million. For the Disabled Cruiser the terrain is mostly grassy & fairly level, and accessible to someone in a wheelchair with a strong pusher. There is some shaded areas for relief, but the restroom had 2 or 3 steps.
- River Cruising – Take a motorboat ride on the Old Belize River through the jungle. As you cruise the waterways teeming with crocodiles and iguana sunning on rocks, listen for the cries of howler monkeys and birds.
- Cave Tubing – Glide through the water beneath awe-inspiring stalactites and past dramatic cave formations as your trusty inner tube takes you through the sacred underworld of the ancient Mayans.
- Belize Zoo – Paths carved into 29 acres of jungle allow visitors to see more than 125 animals native to Belize, including jaguars, ocelots, peccaries, storks, howler monkeys, tapirs, crocodiles and more. The Disabled Cruiser visiting the zoo will learn that they are the first facility in Belize to be wheelchair accessible. The walking paths are smooth and compacted gravel. It is very easy to push a wheelchair here.
- Bacab Eco Park – This famed nature park features horseback riding and over 200 species of flora, as well as a diverse population of wildlife.
- Airboat Ride – Skim across the marshy waters of Almond Hill Lagoon, where you may be lucky enough to spot a manatee before admiring the mangroves, water lilies and crocodiles of Indian Creek. Unfortunately for the Disabled Cruiser, the airboat ride is not wheelchair accessible.
Belize City Accessible Excursions
Belize City is the country’s chief seaport, and with ocean shorelines to the east and lush jungle to the west, Belize is fast becoming a cruise ship destination. Travel to a city previously inhabited by the Mayan people at Altun Ha, ancient temple of the Sun God, or visit the Belize Zoo or Baboon Sanctuary.
Accessible Belize Zoo Guided Tour
This 3 hour accessible guided tour begins at the cruise dock where your experienced guide/driver will meet you in a comfortable, air conditioned van. On your ride to the Belize Zoo, this accessible tour presents you with beautiful sights. Upon arrival to the zoo, your professional driver/guide will accompany you on a 2 hour private guided tour.
The wildlife housed here is native to the region, which means you will get a chance to see tapirs, toucans, harpy, eagles, jaguars and howler monkeys. The Belize Zoo is settled upon 29 acres of tropical savanna and has over 150 different animals. In total, over 45 species all native to Belize are exhibited in the Zoo, including orphaned, rescued and rehabilitated animals. After your tropical accessible Belize Zoo experience, your friendly tour guide/driver will take you back to the cruise ship.
Note: The accessible Belize Zoo guided tour requires that the disabled traveler can transfer to a regular seat in the van as there is no ramp available. The equipment can be stored in the van during the ride and taken out upon arrival to the zoo. The private tour at the zoo is fully accessible with no steps to navigate. Your guide will make sure to stick to the wheelchair accessible routes and there is also an accessible bathroom available on site.
Essential Belize Accessible Shore Excursion
This 6 hour accessible guided tour begins at the cruise dock where your experienced guide/driver will meet you in a comfortable, air conditioned van before starting the tour off with some family fun at the Belize Zoo.
On your ride to the Belize Zoo, you will have a chance to soak in the beautiful sights and tropical nature that Belize has to offer. An accessible 2-hour private guided tour at the Belize Zoo will give you a chance to see tapirs, toucans, harpy, eagles, jaguars and howler monkeys! The Belize zoo is settled upon 29 acres of tropical savanna and has over 150 different animals. In total over 45 species all native to Belize are exhibited in the Zoo, including orphaned, rescued and rehabilitated animals.
Once your guided tour of the Zoo is over, before heading back to the cruise ship, you will stop at the intriguing ancient Mayan Ruins at Altun Ha. Your local private tour guide is eager to introduce you to Mayan history and culture here. While you will not be able to climb the temples without navigating a lot of steps, it is possible for you to stand/sit on one part of the ground and see all the temples in one sight.
Note: The Essential Belize Accessible Shore Excursion requires that the disabled traveler can transfer to a regular seat in the van as there is no ramp available. The equipment can be stored in the van during the ride and taken out upon arrival to the zoo. This private tour at the zoo is fully accessible with no steps to navigate. Your guide will make sure to stick to the wheelchair accessible routes and there is also an accessible bathroom available on site. Unfortunately, Altun Ha is not very accessible due to the many stairs and slopes of the Mayan Ruins. Your knowledgeable guide will make sure to stay by your side and assist you around for great picture opportunities.