Belize has a vast network of roadways, thoroughfares, and streets that measure over 1,900 miles (3,000 kilometers) long. Currently, only approximately 350 miles (570 kilometers) are paved, but several gravel and dirt roadways are currently being upgraded.
Even the biggest “highways” in Belize are two-lane roadways. Principle arteries include:
The Philip Goldson Highway, commonly known as the Northern Highway, connects Belize City to points north, including Corozal Town and the Mexican border at Chetumal. This highway measures 95 miles (153 km) long and is completely paved.
The George Price Highway, commonly known as the Western Highway, connects Belize City to points west, including Belmopan, San Ignacio, and the Guatemalan border at Benque Viejo del Carmen/Melchor de Mencos. This highway measures 81 miles (130 km) long and is completely paved.
The Hummingbird Highway connects Belmopan in central Belize to Dangriga on the southeastern coast. This highway measures 55 miles (89 km) long and is completely paved.
The Southern Highway begins at the southern terminus of the Hummingbird Highway in Dangriga and connects to points south, including Punta Gorda and ancient Maya sites like Nim Li Punit and Lubantuun. The Southern Highway measures 97 miles (156 km) long and is completely paved.
The Coastal Highway, sometimes known as the Manatee Highway, is currently a deeply rutted, gravel roadway that is almost impossible to traverse even in good weather without a four-wheel drive vehicle. Measuring just 30 miles long (48 km), the Coastal Highway connects an area west of Belize City to just north of Dangriga. The Coastal Highway is scheduled to be upgraded and paved in the next few years.
Driving in Belize
Almost all other roadways in Belize, with the exception of downtown Belize City, are usually unpaved and can be very difficult to traverse without a four-wheel drive vehicle. Many secondary roads and bridges can become impassable following inclement weather.
Driving is on the right side of the road with speed limits of 55 miles per hour (90 km/hour) outside residential areas and no more than 40 miles per hour (65 km/h) within towns and villages. All signs are in English, and all distances are displayed in miles.
The Hummingbird Highway
The Hummingbird Highway is one of the most beautiful and scenic routes in the country. Named for the abundance of hummingbirds found in the country, the Hummingbird Highway connects central Belize to the southeastern coast.
First paved in 1994, the highway is 53.7 miles (86.4 km) long and connects the George Price Highway (often referred to as the Western Highway) outside of Belmopan in central Belize to the Southern Highway just outside of the town of Dangriga in the Stann Creek District of southeastern Belize.
Despite its name, the Hummingbird Highway is not a highway in the traditional sense of the word as used in the United States or Canada. Instead, it is a paved, two-lane road more akin to a county road (USA) or provincial road (Canada). The highway passes over several bridges along its route, many of which are one-lane only.
Because it is paved and well-maintained, it is the fastest way to travel from northern and western points in the country to the southeastern coast. From Belize City, the route to the southeast follows the Western Highway to Belmopan in the center of the country and then the Hummingbird Highway heads southeast until it reaches the outskirts of Dangriga on the coast.
Many visitors to Belize love the Hummingbird Highway because it is one of the prettiest and most scenic routes in the country. The Hummingbird Highway passes through many villages as well as large orchards along its length. It takes approximately two hours to drive the entire Hummingbird Highway and the road skirts the edge of the Maya Mountains and several top tourist destinations along the way.
The majority of the highway follows the old right of way for the now-defunct Stann Creek railroad. Technically speaking, only the first 32 miles from Belmopan towards Dangriga is officially the Hummingbird Highway while the remaining 23-mile portion is the Stann Creek District Highway, but locals almost always refer to the entire route simply as the Hummingbird Highway.
Starting in Belmopan, attractions along the way include:
In Belize, there are no official definitions of what constitutes a highway, so the current Coastal Highway is something of a misnomer. Measuring 36 miles long, the Coastal Highway connects the village of La Democracia to Stann Creek Valley Road. Also known as the Manatee Highway, the Coastal Highway is, at least technically, a shortcut from points north to the Placencia Peninsula.
Currently, the entire length of the Coastal Highway is unpaved. This gravel roadway is deeply rutted, difficult to traverse with four-wheel drive vehicles in even the best weather, and, despite its relatively short length, takes just as long to drive as the much longer Southern Highway located several miles to the west.
The good news is that the government of Belize has committed to paving the Coastal Highway in order for the roadway to better live up to its name. At the end of 2017, the government of Belize signed a contract with an Italian engineering firm. According to statements from Rene Montero, the Minister of Works, the government has allocated 80 million dollars to pave and upgrade the entire length of the Coastal Highway.
Currently, a feasibility study and analysis is being conducted, with construction expected to begin at the end of 2018 or early 2019.
The George Price Highway
The George Price Highway is one of Belize’s three major thoroughfares. Beginning in Belize City, it runs to points west, including the capital, Belmopan, the town of San Ignacio, the village of San Jose Succotz, and the border with Guatemala at the town of Benque Viejo del Carmen. The George Price Highway is completely paved along its length and is a two-lane roadway.
The George Price Highway was first constructed in the 1930s and was known as the Western Highway. Renamed in 2012 on the one-year anniversary of the death of George Price, many locals continue to refer to it as the Western Highway. The road is named for George Cadle Price, the last head of state during the colonial era and the first prime minister of Belize after the country gained independence from Great Britain in 1981.
Starting in Belize City, the main attractions along the George Price Highway include the exit to the village of Burrell Boom (mile marker 14,3), the access road to Hattieville (mile marker 15.9), the intersection with the Hummingbird Highway and the entrance to Belmopan (mile marker 47.2), the town of San Ignacio (mile marker 68.5), and the border crossing into Guatemala (mile marker 77.2).
Philip Goldson Highway
The Philip Goldson Highway is one of the three major thoroughfares in Belize. Connecting Belize City to points north, including Orange Walk District and Orange Walk Town all the way to the Mexican border, the Philip Goldson Highway is 95 miles (153) kilometers long. The Philip Goldson Highway is completely paved and is a two-lane roadway for most of its length.
Formerly known as the Northern Highway, the roadway was renamed in 2012, although many locals continue to refer to it by its old name. The highway is named after Philip Stanley Wilberforce Goldson, a Belizean newspaper editor, politician, and activist. Belize City’s international airport is also named for Philip Goldson, and the Philip Goldson Highway passes by the airport.
Starting in Belize City, key points along the Philip Goldson Highway include the exit for the village of Burrell Boom (mile marker 12.4), the access road to the ancient Maya site of Altun Ha (mile marker 17.5), the village of Crooked Tree (mile marker 29.7), Orange Walk Town (mile marker 52), the access road to Corozal Town (mile marker 78.8), the bridge over the Hondo River (mile marker 87), ending at the border crossing into the Mexican town of Chetumal City in Quintana Roo State.
The Southern Highway
Running from Dangriga in Stann Creek District to Punta Gorda and beyond in Toledo District, the Southern Highway is one of the major thoroughfares in Belize. Entirely paved along its length, the Southern Highway measures 97 miles (156 kilometers) long and continues all the way to Belize’s border with Guatemala.
A two-lane roadway, the Southern Highway was completely paved in 2011 and serves as an important transportation corridor in the southern part of the country. The Southern Highway crosses through some particular rugged terrain as it approaches the Guatemalan border, and its completion makes it far easier for travelers to access ancient Maya sites and traditional villages such as Mafredi, San Antonio, Santa Cruz, Santa Elena, and Pueblo Viejo.
In addition to being completely paved, the Southern Highway was also upgraded with culverts and an advanced drainage system to allow for safe and comfortable use even during and after periods of heavy rainfall. Guardrails are installed at key sections and the entire length of the Southern Highway has lane markings. All bridges along the length of the highway have been upgraded to modern, concrete structures.
The government of Belize and its foreign aid partners spent more than $47 million to pave and upgrade this highway as it is part of a long-term plan to boost development in Toledo District.
Getting Around Belize
Driving in Belize
Enjoy Belize up close and personal.
Driving yourself through the country is an adventure all on its own.
While some tourists enjoy being carted around on a pre-planned excursion, there are those that like to get to know the country outside of tourist-filled destinations. Nothing helps you connect with a country better than driving around it yourself.
Your first stop is picking up your car rental at the Belize International Airport following your arrival. Due to the rough roads that can turn into quagmires during rainy days, it’s best to go with a four-wheel drive, such as a Toyota 4runner, Isuzu Trooper or Ford Explorer. Though expensive, they ensure the best traction when you venture off of one of the country’s three highways.
Be sure to check vehicle mileage. Expect the total to range from 100,000 to 150,000 and never be afraid to ask for a new vehicle if the mileage is too high for comfort. Breaking down in Belize is nothing like breaking down in America. Also, take a good look at the tires. Figure out where the spare and the jack are. Next, talk with the rental company about what you should do in case of a break down. Some will send mechanics to your location. Expect to pay around $6.50 per gallon for gas.
Once you’re on the road, there are some interesting local practices to be aware of. The most noted are the speedbumps along the residential roads. Used in place of stoplights for many areas, they are extremely common, giving you a chance to slow down and enjoy the beauty of the surrounding country.
For your safety, it is important to not drive at night. Apart from the wildlife that frequents the desolate roads, Belize also has drunk drivers. In addition, never pick up any hitchhikers. Though it may seem like a nice gesture, if they are found to have even an ounce of marijuana while you are stopped at a checkpoint, your entire party will be thrown in jail. Make sure you always remove valuables from your car and always leave it parked in a protected, well-lit lot.
Beyond this, have fun navigating the myriad of roads and sites within the country. Travel the Phillip Goldson, George Price and Hummingbird Highways. Head off-road to jungle sites not seen by the typical visitor. Explore the bustling culture that makes up the heart of Belize.