Traveling through Central America on a budget? We’ve sourced simple places to stay (and a few smart ones, too) for cost-conscious castaways.
For decades, Belize has been an under-the-radar destination for beach-loving backpackers looking for a bit of bargain-price Caribbean chill-time on their overland trip between Central America and Mexico. And despite the growing numbers of chic boutique hotels, with easy-access rainforest and dozens of cayes to choose from, there are still plenty of options for budget-conscious travelers who care more about their excursions than the fancy soaps in their room. Here are the best hostel hideaways in Belize…
The clue’s in the name. There are cottages – simple shutterboard, whitewashed buildings (with space for up to four), spartan furnishings and ceiling fans – on stilts; and there are horses, roaming free around the fenced-off, sandy palm-tree shaded garden. There are excursions, too – on horseback (naturally), on foot in the jungle and underwater along the reef, a few minutes’ walk away, off the shorefront of sleepy Sarteneja village.
Courtesy of Sandbar Beachfront Hostel and Restaurant / Expedia.com
Belikin beer hoarding on the beach-facing balconies, a bar open until midnight and many other drinking dens on the doorstep – unless you book a private room, travelers staying at the Sandbar, in central San Pedro village on Ambergris Caye, should come ready to be sociable. Beds in the dorms have privacy curtains, and there are plenty of excursions on offer to share with other guests – from dives and snorkeling to trips in the mainland forest.
Up and coming as a resort town, Hopkins remains at heart an Afro-Central American village. There’s often drumming on the beach and live Garifuna music in the bars. The Funky Dodo sits in the heart of the old village, five minutes’ walk from the shore. Rooms sit in Belizean weatherboard huts under the palms, and the friendly owners offer all manner of reef and jungle tours at excellent prices.
With cheap accommodation, tours and a wealth of quality budget restaurants and buzzing bars, Caye Caulker has been Belize’s backpacker island of choice for generations. Bella’s sits right on the seafront, with bright, airy dorms and doubles (decked out with hardwood floors and whitewashed walls) set in a big shutterboard house fronted with hammock-slung balconies. Staff can help with all manner of reef tours and activities – from kayak rentals to dives.
San Ignacio, near the Guatemalan border, is the jumping-off point for tours in Belize’s western rainforest and pine-swathed mountains. And with a Mayan temple in the town itself, it’s a destination in its own right. The Old House sits right in the center, with restaurants and bars on the doorstep. Rooms are well kept but diminutive, and there are no single-sex dorms. But there’s a bar and pleasant upper-floor deck lounge, and staff can organize day tours to Mayan sites, the rainforest and even Tikal in Guatemala.
A block from the beach in central San Pedro – the main village on Ambergris Caye – the Drift Inn has private rooms (decorated in whites and turquoise and with a few boutiquey touches, like indigenous art and scatter cushions) and single-sex dorms. San Pedro’s bars, restaurants and tour companies are literally a step or two from the front door. Local dive companies offer concessionary rates for hostel guests.
Sitting in a typically Belizean, brightly painted shutterboard house in the far north of Caye Caulker Village, Go Slow has either fan-cooled or slightly pricier air-conditioned private rooms with hammock terraces, and four- and eight-bed dorms with en-suites. All have room for little more than a bed, but there’s plenty of hammock-strung communal space, and the owners keep the hostel sparkling clean.
This hostel in Belize’s southernmost town of Punta Gorda is more than the sleepover spot between Belize and Guatemala. Staff offer an interesting range of tours in Toledo province: to Mayan sites like Lubaantun (where a crystal skull was once “unearthed,” only to be disputed later), rainforest waterfalls and the clear-water cenotes. All are so little visited, you’ll have them to yourself. The hostel is 15 minutes from town and has doubles and dorms with pod-like bunks.
More a cheap hotel than a hostel, the Parham is an alternative to Ambergris Caye’s brasher backpacker-packed party establishments – good for cost-conscious travelers looking to stay near the ferry dock, dive shops and tour ops of central San Pedro. Accommodation is small and simple – in whitewash and beige tiles – so it’s worth paying a few dollars more for one of the better rooms on the upper floor.