Just got home from Belize last night and as a means of saying "thank you" to all the TA commentators who helped our travels, I thought I'd pass along 10 tips I found no where else in my obsessive planning for this trip.
1. Snorkeling - Get your ears checked before going. There's nothing more frustrating than a clogged ear, which happened to me when we took a snorkeling course at home before leaving. Thank goodness I saw my doctor and got it cleared before we went.
2. Rooster & dog noise. We traveled the Cayes, the Western Highway and the Northern Highway. Every day and everywhere we went (including expensive resorts), there were roosters "cock-a-doodle-doing" and dogs barking at 5 am. If you are a light sleeper, take earplugs and see the note below regarding sleeping pills.
3. Health shots. I read all the TA comments before going, ranging from "consult your doctor" to "doctors merely give the CDC advisory and give the most conservative advice in order to avoid law suits." Before going, we were conservative, went to a hospital travel clinic and spent over $120 for a consultation fee. I thought it was a waste of money because, yes, all they basically gave was the CDC Advisory and the most conservative advice. Most of the shots suggested (hep A, updating tetnus using "TDAP," malaria) I got from my general practitioner at a cost which was substantially less than what the travel clinic would have charged for these shots. The only other recommendation from the clinic included a typhoid shot, but after researching the risk, our personal decision was to avoid this expense. So like other TA comments, I suggest reading the US Embassy Advisory and the Center for Disease Control Advisory, then conferring with your doctor, but I found no special value in paying for a hospital travel clinic and their over-priced shots (in our case, the added cost would have been about $400).
4. Safety. My wife and I are in our mid-50s and we have lived in major US cities like Chicago, D.C. and San Francisco. The only place we have ever personally witnessed a robbery and violent assault was in the Belize Bus Terminal within 2 minutes of arriving there. So while the general TA advice is to avoid Belize City, my particular advice is to avoid the Bus Depot. But if you decide to travel between the Water Terminal Dock and the Bus Depot, by all means, take a green license-plated taxi for a cost of about US $5 or less. Though the Belize Tourism Office had told me before leaving the U.S. that it was safe to walk the half-mile from the Water Terminal to the Bus Depot, it was way too risky by my standards, especially with a woman companion.
5. Strong breezes are your friend. On windy days, there were no flies or mosquitos but on calm days, there were times we wanted to hide behind screened doors. Some parts of the coastal areas and some seasons are windier than others, so you might want to prefer those when planning. Also, you may want to confirm that your hotel will have a fan available (to blow any insects away from you while sleeping).
6. Plan activities to avoid tour ship crowds. Tour ships anchor about 2 miles off the coast. Crowds usually leave their tour ships about 6 am, board a local "tender" to shuttle tourists to the docks to get on a tour bus, then drive to various sites/locations in order to arrive about 10:00 am. They then leave by 3:00 pm or so to get back to the tour ships before it gets dark. We were told that over the next 3 months, between 4-5 tour ships could be unloading passengers each day on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. For a variety of reasons (avoiding crowds, crass behavior and otherwise), my opinion is that activities will be best enjoyed when these groups are not around.
7. Get it in writing to avoid unhappy misunderstandings. Every single one of the Belizean people we met were wonderful to us (including a well-tatooed man in his mid-20s sitting next to me on a local bus between Orange Walk and Crooked Tree who saw money hanging out of my pocket and told me to tuck it in and to enjoy Belize). That being said, the local travel industry people you are likely to interact with (hotel clerks, local tour guides for example) are not career, tourism industry professionals by US standards, at least in my opinion, and on 2 occasions, there were misunderstandings about pricing and the services offered (for instance, whether the hotel cost included a US $90 transportation fee to the remote hotel). Because I had confirmed EVERY EXPENSE/SERVICE in writing before leaving and brought each written confirmation with me, these misunderstandings were resolved satisfactorily upon producing the written confirmation.
8. Bring/buy a coffee thermos. Some activities occur in the early morning or late at night (birding at Crooked River, for example, or the nocturnal tour at the Zoo). I suggest bringing a thermos and if you have some extra cups, you'll make friends faster with the tour guide and other travelers.
9. Sleeping pills for heat/noise. Ask your doctor about prescribing mild sleeping sedatives to help you sleep if it turns really hot or if the noise from roosters or dogs keeps you awake. This could also help on the flights.
10. Compliments. Before leaving, I made it a point of reading every TA comment for the past 12 months about each hotel and location we'd visit and writing down the names of every local person we might meet (a receptionist named "Maria" at a hotel, for example). Upon arriving, if I came across Maria in my example, I'd make sure to tell her I had read nice comments from tourists about her on the internet. This always seemed appreciated and helped make a more personable experience for everyone.
While I know these comments do not provide site-specific advice like those provided by the TA experts, I hope it is useful in making "happy trails, to you" like the old Gene Autry song.