Riding the bus in Belize
They may not be fancy, but if you’re on a budget and want to follow the lead of Belizeans, check out the nation’s bus system. Make sure you leave your expectations in your rear view mirror!
What’s the best way to get your head straight about bussing around Belize? Keep your expectations in check. Especially if you come from a place known for sleek, state-of-the-art mass transit systems that are temperature controlled, so efficient you could set your watch by these buses and no matter what’s going on with the weather, your reliable bus is always waiting for you when you need it.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Belize buses. They’re eccentric. Culled from fleets of retired U.S. school buses. Riding these can be a pleasant experience, as long as you don’t mind open-window air conditioning and passengers heading to market with a chicken or two. Stops are frequent. Music can get loud when sound systems blasts 80s hits and popular Belize artists. No worries. You’ll get used to it and save big bucks.
What you should know about your ride
First, Belize buses fill the nation’s highways, traveling from destination to destination in half-hour increments. If you stand anywhere on a major highway and flag down a bus, it’s likely the driver will stop for you.
Fares are modest, but the conductor may not be able to make change, so keep bills and coins in your wallet so you’re not surprised when the conductor (who won’t be wearing a uniform) hits you up for your fare.
Will you get a seat? That’s not assured if you are picked up along a highway, but if you start out at any of the bus terminals located in larger towns, your chances increase.
That stated, there is one factor that you may wish to consider if you plan to take a bus during the steamy Belize heat: That gathering of passengers, livestock and parcels filled with odorous goods may make your ride painfully long–especially when bus windows slam shut to keep out flash showers.
Where the buses are
Belize’s two central hubs and thus the locations of the nation’s largest bus terminals are Belize City and Belmopan. All buses serving the nation connect through these spots, though there are smaller terminals located in major points throughout Belize.
Which authority oversees the nation’s bus system? National Transportation Services Limited (NTSL), an entity that services all districts. This transport system was established in 2006, but it’s not the only bus company you can ride these days.
For the skinny on routes, bus companies, pick up times and additional data that can help you get where you want to go, bookmark this website and use it as your guide.
The good, the bad and the ugly
You won’t ride in comfort
Remembering that this is not your sleek, eco-friendly Metro ride that zips along through city streets, your Belize bus is going to leave you with stories guaranteed to be laced with fascinating details. Seats are not exactly comfy and if you’re wearing shorts, you may wish you had read this article first and slid on jeans. But if you are destined to stand up throughout your ride, does it make sense to complain about lousy seats? Not so much.
As the primary method of transport for Belizeans, expect filled buses, no matter the time of day. During the workweek, buses run between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m. There is no formal ticketing system, which is why passengers race onboard to grab seats, though priority seating will go to frail passengers. Long queues along highways are unlikely, but with frequent stops to pick up passengers, it doesn’t take long for these buses to fill to capacity. If that happens, even folks waiting on the highway may have to wait for the next bus to come along.
Practice the Zen of patience
In light of the fact that Belize buses tend to run on their own unique timetables, always allow plenty of extra time to reach your destination, not just because buses fill fast but because they stop so frequently. You can sit and fume, wondering why you thought a bus made sense or appreciate the fact that your ride costs so little.
That said, if you are given a choice between a regular run and an express run, always take the express bus. “The regular [bus] is cheap and makes frequent stops to pick up and let off anyone anywhere on the route. It is the most likely bus to be robbed,” quips a frequent rider still willing to take a regular bus to get where he’s going!