Guatemala vs. Belize: 8 Differences For Planning Your Trip

Last Updated on October 4, 2023

Deciding between Guatemala vs. Belize for your next trip can be challenging. These two countries are neighbors, and to the average traveler, they might seem quite similar because of their proximity.
But actually, Guatemala and Belize have distinct differences in culture, history, politics, geography, food, and more. These differences make for unique travel experiences in both countries. 

I have traveled both Guatemala and Belize, and in my experience, both are wonderful to visit, for slightly different reasons. 

For me, Guatemala was more of an adventure-focused trip, with lots of hiking. Belize was more of a relaxation-focused trip, with more time spent on the beach and snorkeling.

blonde woman wearing orange shirt and green shorts overlooking a jungle from the top of xunantunich, a maya ruin in Belize
Xunantunich, a Maya ruin in Belize

Guatemala vs. Belize Travel: 8 Key Differences to Know

1. Guatemala vs. Belize: Culture

Guatemala and Belize have distinct histories. Although there are some similarities between them culturally, there are plenty of differences, too. 

First, let’s note some similarities. Both Belize and Guatemala are home to Kechi Maya people, because both countries were part of the Mayan empire. And, both countries were colonized by Spain.

However, one important historical difference is that Guatemala experienced a devastating civil war. The civil war was fought from 1960 to 1996 between the government of Guatemala and various leftist rebel groups.

Belize did not have any civil war. But, during this period of civil war in Guatemala, many people fled to Belize for safety. In the midst of Guatemala’s civil war, Belize peacefully transitioned into independence from England, without any violence. 

Another difference is ethnicity. Belize has the highest number of African descent or mixed descent people in all of Central America. Guatemala, on the other hand, has the highest number of Indigenous people in Central America. 

Belize is generally known to be a big melting pot. Most Belizeans are of mixed descent. The majority of Belizeans are Mestizo, followed by Creole, Maya, Garifuna, East Indian, Mennonite, and Asian.

Guatemala is also a melting pot, but the majority of Guatemalans are Indigenous, and notably, there are way fewer Mennonite communities in Guatemala. 

A final cultural difference between Belize and Guatemala? Soccer! Both countries are passionate about soccer, and their teams often go head to head against each other. While visiting either Guatemala or Belize, be sure to tune into a soccer game if you can!

a yellow colonial arch called Santa Catalina arch in Antigua, Guatemala.
Antigua, Guatemala

2. Guatemala vs. Belize: Politics

Guatemala and Belize have different political systems. Guatemala is a constitutional republic, whereas Belize is a constitutional monarchy. 
This means that Guatemala has a president, and Belize, being part of the commonwealth, has a prime minister. 

The two countries have had a long-standing dispute over the territory of Belize. Guatemala has disputed its land boundary with Belize since its independence in the 19th century. 

The border dispute stems from colonial documents, first between the United Kingdom and Spain and later between the United Kingdom, on behalf of British Honduras (which is now Belize) and independent Guatemala.

Despite this ongoing dispute, in 2021 Guatemala and Belize agreed to improve bilateral relations in the areas of commerce, national security, migration, education, culture, and medicine. 

Laughing Bird Caye is a small, private island off the coast of Placencia, Belize
Laughing Bird Caye, off the coast of Placencia, Belize

3. Guatemala vs. Belize: Geography and Weather

There are some major geographical differences between these two countries. First to note is that Belize is much smaller than Guatemala. 
Belize is approximately 22,966 square kilometers, making Belize 21.09% the size of Guatemala, which is approximately 108,889 square kilometers. 

The countries also have different access to seas and oceans. Guatemala accesses the Caribbean sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Belize, however, only has access to the Caribbean sea.  

Although there are beaches in Guatemala, they aren’t as accessible as beaches in Belize. Being on the Caribbean Sea, Belize has many sandy beaches with warm water perfect for swimming. 

It’s also worth noting that the land itself is pretty different between Guatemala and Belize. Guatemala is part of the volcanic Ring of Fire. It has mountainous landscapes, many active volcanoes, and it’s prone to earthquakes and mudslides.

Belize is flatter and has less mountainous areas. Much of its land is below sea level. Belize is prone to hurricanes, flooding, and high humidity.  

There’s also a distinct difference when it comes to urban areas. Guatemala City is the biggest capital city in all of Central America. Belmopan, the capital of Belize, is the smallest capital city in Central America.

Weather-wise, Belize is consistently warm, with a tropical climate. Guatemala has more varied temperatures due to its mountainous landscapes. At higher altitudes, it can be chilly. That said, both countries have a rainy season and are at risk of hurricanes.

tourists looking out over lake atitlan at sunrise, from Indian Nose lookout. volcanoes are a big draw for people considering traveling Guatemala vs. Belize
Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

4. Guatemala vs. Belize: Language

English is the official language of Belize. While most Belizeans speak it, much of the population is multilingual. Belizeans may also speak creole patois, and the Maya in Belize typically speak Yucatec, Mopán, or Kekchí. 

Mestizos (people who are a mix of Spanish and Indigenous descent) usually speak Spanish, and may also speak a Maya language. Garifuna in Belize speak an Arawak-based language and usually also speak either English or Spanish. 

Mennonites in Belize speak Plautdietsch, a Low Saxon (Germanic) language, and usually English as well. 

Many of the languages heard in Belize will be heard in Guatemala as well, but there are some differences. Unlike Belize, in Guatemala, Spanish is the official and most spoken language. 

In Guatemala there are also 22 different Mayan languages spoken by Indigenous groups. People also speak Garífuna and Xinca.

If English is your first language, and you don’t speak any Spanish, Belize may be your first choice for travel. This is simply because you’ll have an easier time communicating with local people in Belize versus Guatemala, where Spanish is the default language. 

a quiet street lined with shops in San Ignacio, Belize
San Ignacio, Belize

5. Guatemala vs Belize: Cost of Travel

Belize is generally more expensive to travel than Guatemala. In my experience, everything from hotel rooms, to transport, and day tours is pricier in Belize.

This is likely because Belize is a small country that imports the majority of its goods, which results in higher prices. 
Guatemala is larger, and able to produce more locally. This means that many things, particularly food, are priced a bit lower. 

For most travelers, the daily travel spend in Guatemala will be lower than in Belize. That said, it isn’t impossible to travel Belize on a budget similar to Guatemala. There are ways to reduce your costs, for example, staying in hostels and taking public transport. 

6. Guatemala vs Belize: Food

In both Guatemala and Belize you’ll find Central American staples: rice and beans. You’ll find meals in both countries that involve these ingredients. 

In general, you’ll find that Guatemalan food has a lot of Maya influence. Belize, however, has a mixture of influences, including Maya, African, Mestizo, Caribbean, and more.

Guatemala doesn’t really have a national dish, but pepián is probably the closest thing to it. Pepián is a spicy stew that typically contains chicken (although sometimes it has beef or pork). The stew also comes with fruits, vegetables, and a mix of spices. Usually, it’s served with rice and tortillas. 

In Belize, a popular meal to eat is a fry jack. These look like mini puff pastries, and they are usually eaten for breakfast. Fry jacks come as small triangles or half moons of dough. They are fried up and served warm with eggs, refried beans, and other sides. 

a small tuktuk driving on a cobblestone street in san marcos la laguna, lake atitlan
San Marcos La Laguna, Lake Atitlan

7. Guatemala vs Belize: Transport

Getting around Guatemala is generally cheaper and easier than Belize. Guatemala has chicken buses, taxis, Uber, and plenty of tourist transfers available. It’s possible to find a solid transport option in Guatemala that fits your budget. 

Belize tends to be more expensive for transport. Although there are chicken buses, they don’t run often and getting from place to place will typically involve switching buses. There is no Uber in Belize, and taxis tend to be expensive. 

Both Guatemala and Belize have a network of hopper flights that connect between popular places. For example, you can connect via hopper flight from Placencia to Belize City. 

8. Guatemala vs Belize: Activities

The differences between Guatemala and Belize make for different travel experiences in these countries. Belize has more of a Caribbean vibe – think beaches and snorkeling, whereas Guatemala is known more for adventurous activities like volcano boarding and hiking. 

Belize definitely has worthwhile hiking, but Guatemala’s volcanoes mean there are epic, unique hikes to be done. For example, the Volcan Acatenango hike near Antigua, Guatemala brings you to the summit of a volcano, and from there, you can watch another volcano actively erupt.  

Belize, on the other hand, is the country to go to for epic snorkeling and diving. The Belize Barrier Reef is a series of coral reefs just off the coast of Belize. 

These reefs are home to beautiful ocean wildlife like nurse sharks, black coral, turtles, manta rays, trumpet fish, lobster, vase sponges, crabs and angelfish. Off the coast you’ll also find the famous Blue Hole, and many beautiful small islands that are home to unique ecosystems. This makes Belize the place to go for diving and snorkeling. 

Belize is also the better choice if you’re looking to enjoy beach time. Being on the Caribbean Sea, Belize has great beaches and swimming. 
What about Mayan ruins? Both Guatemala and Belize are home to famous sites. In Guatemala, you can head to sites like Tikal and Yaxha. In Belize, there’s Caracol and  Xunantunic.

an ancient mayan ruin at Caracol in Belize, surrounded by lush jungle
Caracol, Belize

Belize or Guatemala: Which is Best For Travel?

I don’t think it’s fair to argue that either Belize or Guatemala is “best.” Both are worth visiting for unique reasons.

 That said, not everyone has time to travel both. If that’s the case, there are a few considerations to keep in mind when you decide on one of these countries for your next trip. 

In terms of activities, both countries have great options. Belize is well-known for its pristine beaches and marine life, whereas Guatemala has ancient ruins and mountainous landscapes. If beaches are your priority, Belize is the clear choice. 

Another consideration is cost. Guatemala generally has more affordable options for transport, accommodations, and excursions, which makes it a better choice for travelers on a strict budget. 

Activities and cost are the main things that you should consider before choosing one of these countries to travel. Think about how much you have to spend on your trip, and what types of activities you’d like to do. 

Regardless of if you go to Belize or to Guatemala, there’s one thing I can guarantee – you’ll have a great time! 

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