Belize, Central America

Travel to Belize During COVID: PCR Testing and Safe Hotels

Beautiful orange and pink sunset sky behind palm trees, thatched hut, and dock going out into the ocean
Our last sunset on Thatch Caye in Belize before we headed to the jungle

Belize re-opened for international travel on October 1st! Keep reading to learn how to travel to Belize during COVID, how to stay safe at a “Gold Standard” hotel, and how to complete the updated PCR testing requirements for entry.

Mother and daughter preparing to go snorkeling, daughter giving "okay" Scuba sign with her fingers
Our daughter giving the “okay” Scuba diving sign before she went snorkeling for the first time

On New Years Day we booked a flight to BZE for November 2020 thinking we’d escape some of Colorado’s early winter weather… But when COVID wreaked havoc on the entire planet a couple short months after our purchase we spent the rest of the year assuming we would have to cancel our trip as the world teetered back and forth with lock downs.

Then October came and we heard the news that Belize was in fact back open for tourism! We researched their infection rates and trends, learned about their requirements for entry, and quickly (read: frantically) looked up family friendly places to stay and things to do. Here is all the information on what we learned re: COVID, where we stayed and what we did during our trip.

How To Travel To Belize During COVID

Belize Health App used for contact tracing in case of COVID exposure

As of this writing (December 2020) the ONLY way to enter Belize is by air (through the international airport, BZE) and all land and sea borders remain closed. This means if you are backpacking through Central America you will NOT be able to cross over the border from Mexico or Guatemala until things potentially change in the future.

There is NO MANDATORY QUARANTINE for international tourists, however they do require that:

  1. Visitors (5+ years old) must present a negative PCR test within 72 hours of their original travel departure. If you don’t have a negative PCR test results you can get tested on arrival into BZE for $51USD (More important info on that below!)
  2. All adults must download a health app (to your phone, within 3 days of your trip) with information entered on your planned itinerary (for contact tracing if needed- super cool!). You will receive a unique QR code which you will present upon arrival in Belize. Minors are included on their parent’s app.
  3. You stay in an approved “Gold Standard Hotel” (these have completed a 9-point certification process for Health and Safety). There are currently over 400 hotels/lodges to choose from across the country, and more are continuing to be added! (More on that below…)
Mother and baby walking on dock towards a thatched bungalow hut over the ocean
Walking down the dock on Thatch Caye

PCR-COVID Test on Arrival into BZE Airport

Belize requires a negative PCR-COVID test for entry, taken within 72 hours of your original departure. If you don’t arrive with negative PCR test results in hand (either printed out on paper or on your phone, either are perfectly acceptable) you can get tested on arrival into BZE for $51USD). If you arrive with your negative test result you are able to “fast track” your way through the Belizean immigration process, which shaves off about 30 minutes from your entrance procedure (it took us about 2 full hours to make it through immigration with the addition of getting our PCR tests done).

Test Confusion

There is some confusion coming from the Belize Tourism Board as to what kind of test is offered at the airport and how long the results take. Originally they said the test administered at the airport was a “RAPID” test, which would take 15-30 minutes and tourists would wait in a sanitized holding area at the airport for their results before they were allowed to continue into the country. If their results came back positive they would be escorted to a state run quarantine facility for the following two weeks, if the results were negative they would be allowed to continue on their vacation without any further issues.

When we arrived we went through the same immigration process as everyone else (including walking over a disinfecting mat to clean the bottoms of your shoes!), and then before we got our passports stamped we split off from the others to get our PCR tests done.

Sunset on Belize island with palm trees and bistro lights in background
Remembering the gorgeous sunsets on Thatch Caye instead of the PCR Testing it took to get us there!
PCR Test Versus Rapid Test

Now let me just tell you, the test administered at the airport is NOT a RAPID test that enters only the lower part of your nasal cavity, but does in fact go ALL the way back (which means just when you think it can’t go any further back into your sinuses, it does in fact go even further and feels like they are somehow swabbing your brain stem).

The woman administering my test had to do mine TWICE and I may have cried and subsequently told my husband I’d rather go through an unmedicated childbirth again than do another COVID test at the BZE airport.

UPDATED 12/27/2020:

Belize has updated their testing requirements to make it easier to travel!

Belize now allows PCR tests taken in your home country to be conducted within 96 hours (instead of 72 hours like previous requirements) which gives more flexibility since most tourists couldn’t find testing facilities with such a fast turnaround.

They also now accept negative results of a Rapid Antigen test, taken within 48 hours of travel.

The $51USD PCR tests on arrival are still available at the BZE Airport if you fly to Belize without a PCR or Antigen test.

No Waiting

After our swab we continued through immigration, got our passports stamped, grabbed our luggage and then were picked up by our lodge and left the airport. There was NO waiting and NO confirmation that our tests were in fact negative before were were allowed to continue on, so this was a bit confusing as I had read (and confirmed via email with the Belize Tourism Board before we originally departed for our trip) that we would wait for our results before being allowed into the country. So I’m still not really sure what happened there.

Overwater bungalow over the ocean on Thatch Caye island in Belize
One of the beautiful overwater bungalows on Thatch Caye
Hindsight Is 20/20

Since we returned from our trip to Belize I have discovered that there are companies in the USA which are now doing PCR tests that can either be done with saliva or with a swab that just enters your lower nasal cavity. Both of those options sound a thousand times better, and I would highly recommend you find one of those companies instead of doing the PCR test on arrival at the BZE airport!

The one we will be using for future travel (or just reassurance while we’re home) is Covid Check Colorado. Their tests are drive-through, quick, easy, and we have gotten our results back by the end of the day each time we have used them! So that would be well within the 72-hour guideline that Belize and some other countries have for the negative PCR test requirement.

Mother and daughter walking down a path towards a treehouse in the jungle
Walking towards our jungle treehouse at Sweet Songs Jungle Lodge

Where Can You Stay In Belize During COVID?

How to Choose a Safe Hotel in Belize

You MUST stay in a “Gold Standard Hotel” if you travel to Belize during COVID. The following information was taken directly off of the Belize Tourism Board‘s website on what exactly that means:

Mother and son kayaking in the ocean off Thatch Caye in Belize
Kayaking with our son off Thatch Caye in Belize

“This 9-point program seeks to enhance the tourism industry’s health and safety standards by adapting new behaviors and procedures to ensure both employees and travelers are confident in the cleanliness and safety of Belize’s tourism product.

Hotels which have earned the “Gold Standard” certification are implementing:

  1. Social distancing and the use of face masks while in public spaces;
  2. Online check-in/out, contactless payment systems, and automated ordering/booking systems;
  3. Hand sanitizing stations across the property;
  4. Enhanced room cleaning and increase sanitization of public spaces and high touch surfaces;
  5. Daily health checks for guests and employees;
  6. Designated ‘Isolation/Quarantine rooms’ for suspected Covid-19 cases and action plans for handling suspected employees or guests.

Travelers will be able to enjoy their Belize vacation while being confident their safety is the hotel’s top priority.”

Aerial drone photo of the beach and dock at Thatch Caye island in Belize
Aerial photo of the gorgeous little beach on Thatch Caye in Belize
How Limited Are These “Gold Standard” Hotel Choices? Are they Affordable?

There are over 400 hotels that have gone through this 9-point program as of my writing (December 2020), and more continue to be added, so there is no shortage of locations and lodges to chose from for different budgets and types of travelers! Click here to see the current list of “Gold Standard” hotels/lodges available.

We decided to split our trip into two locations to see the most of Belize on our one week vacation: the islands and the jungle!

Check out our next blog below to see how we “social distanced” during the first stop of our trip, on the almost private island of Thatch Caye!