Known as the Jewel of the Caribbean, Belize is a land of ancient treasure teeming with life and mystery. Shaded below jungle canopies, you can find the vine-wrapped temples of the Mayan empire. Beneath the ocean waves, you can discover the vast ecosystem of the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere. Underground, there are caves and waterways that may only appear on the surface as small blue pools. And beneath the rooftops of the cities, the sheet metal rooftops of informal settlements, and the cloth awnings of remote villages in the jungle, lies the greatest treasure of Belize: its people. When you volunteer in Belize with ISL, you’ll discover more than just what’s on the surface. You’ll see more than sparkling beaches and colorful wildlife. You’ll do more than zipline through jungle treetops or crest Mayan ruins. You’ll have the opportunity to serve others, and in doing that, find the true Jewel of the Caribbean.
This experience was hands down one of the best of my entire life. I enjoyed every minute of being in Belize and working with the people there. The ISL staff was incredible and every day was full of fun and learning. I not only learned new nursing skills, but I learned about life as well. It was so great I plan on going on another trip!— Allison S., University of Maine
The Brief on Belize
Belize is considered a jewel in Central America. It is well known for its rich Mayan heritage, and evidence of this is visible with its numerous archaeological sites referred to by locals as “Maya ruins.” Home to the world’s second longest barrier reef, Belize is an ideal spot for deep sea fishing, diving, snorkeling and numerous other water sports, making it one of the world’s leading destinations for tourism. As for native Belizeans, agriculture is one of the main sources of income, and it’s easy to see why. With an area of 8,867 sq miles, Belize is one of the most sparsely inhabited countries in the world, with only 360,000 residents.
Belize is a part of the continent of North America, but because of its geographic location, it is labelled a Central American country. It is also considered a part of the Caribbean due to the fact that its entire coast is washed by the Caribbean Sea. This location makes Belize unique as it shares a rich British heritage, having being ruled by England up until September 1981, when it became an independent country.
Belize is the only country in Central America with English as its official language. Spanish influence is strong due to the fact that its neighbors are Mexico to the north and Guatemala to the west and south. As a result, Spanish is widely spoken in Belize.
ISL’s Milestones in Belize
2009: ISL moved its operating base to San Ignacio Town and began running teams in the immediate surrounding communities.
2011: ISL Teams started serving the Northern Districts of Belize under the leadership of Dr. Frank Zamora and assisted by Denise Neal.
2012: An ISL team served in the remote communities of the most southern district of Belize for
the first time.
2013: After reaching out to new regions, ISL was able to send an increased number of teams in the western and northern districts of Belize, resulting in the need to hire an additional ISL staff to facilitate volunteers.
2014: Jonathan Birnbaum, ISL’s Executive Director, visited to familiarize himself with operations in Belize.
2015: The ISL Belize staff continued to grow with the addition of an accountant.
Where We Serve in Belize
With a low population density and a unique jungle topography, Belize is primarily a rural country with a few significantly populated villages and cities. Because of this, the places we serve fall into two categories: rural and semi-rural.
In the western part of Belize, in the villages of the Cayo District, there is a large population of immigrant families, some of whom illegally settled due to the abundance of rich land for agriculture and the lack of surveillance by the authorities. Here there is often a lack of proper infrastructure, basic utilities, and adequate, reliable transportation. Toward the southern part of Belize, there is a mix of immigrants and native Belizeans who work in the citrus and banana industries. Due to the fact that this is mostly seasonal work, some people are unable to afford adequate housing and proper healthcare.
In the Northern Districts, most villages are settled by Belizean sugar cane farmers and fishermen. Some of these families are a little better off than many who live in the country, but inadequate infrastructure and lack of basic healthcare is the same as in other rural villages in Belize.
The Need in Belize
The local ministry of health provides free primary healthcare at community hospitals located in major towns and secondary care at the regional hospitals which provide care for those who need more than the community hospitals can provide. Sometimes, this has an added cost if more advanced tests are required. These regional hospitals can be as far as two hours away for many of the villages in Belize, and there is only one tertiary care institution in the country which patients are referred to on a per needs basis. To help meet this need, the public health department conducts mobile clinics in several villages every six weeks to do post-natal care and to administer vaccines.
A large portion of the population in these villages suffer from seasonal illnesses and either use local remedies or receive no treatment at all. Many other villagers suffer from chronic diseases and remain untreated due to the geographical and socioeconomic challenges of proper medical care.
As with any great work, it takes great relationships to get the job done well. That’s why ISL Belize is excited to partner with nonprofits, NGOs, governmental and religious institutions to better serve the people of Belize.
King’s Children Home
The Octavia Waight Centre in San Ignacio Town
Help Age Belmopan
Primary schools in rural communities
University of Belize
What to Expect as a Volunteer
You’ll arrive in Belize via the Philip S W Goldson International Airport. This is the only international airport in Belize and is located approximately 20 minutes away from Belize City. After going through customs and retrieving your luggage, you will be met by an ISL staff member and transported by taxi, van, or bus (arranged and paid for by ISL) to your hotel or guest house in the area closest to your work site. Depending on the area you’ll be volunteering in, the ride to housing varies from one to two hours and you will travel daily, with ISL staff, to your volunteer locations. These villages may be as close as 15 minutes away or as far as an hour away depending on the time of year and the road conditions. You will remain at your assigned housing for the working part of your stay and then relocate to a hotel on Caye Caulker for your recreation day activities and your departure the following day.
With ISL Belize, you’ll get to volunteer and experience the culture of those you serve. Here are some of the many possibilities.
Learn how to make one of the many famous and delicious Belizean dishes and drinks.
Learn a variety of local cultural dances including punta, zapatiada, and the waltz.
Visit the Belize Botanical Garden, numerous archaeological sites, natural medicine trails, the Green Iguana Conservation Project, many caves and waterfalls, and an old favorite, the local hot sauce factory.
Local Farmers’ Market
Although the market is open every day, Tuesdays and Saturdays are considered the best market days, when the farmers from neighboring communities offer their best deals on their freshest produce.
Taught by members of a local women’s group, you can learn how to make native crafts and have something special to take home when you’re done volunteering.
Visit with a native Belizean who makes medicine from plants collected in the jungle. Get a close-up view of the process from beginning to end.
When it comes time to get out and explore, you’ll see why Belize is said to be one of the most breathtaking places on earth.
Walk through the ancient relics of the Mayan Empire and learn about the haunting legend of the ‘Stone Woman.’
$10-$15 dollars (lunch not included) 3-4 Hour Tour
Take a guided tropical river adventure up the New River and explore Mayan ruins first hand.
$50-$60 (lunch included) Full Day Tour
Cave’s Branch Outpost
Open for volunteers in the Cayo and Stann Creek District, Cave’s Branch Adventure Company offers the surreal experience of tubing through a jungle cave and the exhilarating rush of a jungle zipline. $25-$40 depending on activities package
Belize’s Barrier Reef
Being next to the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere, take advantage of this amazing opportunity to see the beauty beneath the waves.
Half day snorkeling: $35. Tropical fruits, water, guide and equipment included.
Full day snorkeling: $70. Tropical fruits, lunch, water, guide and equipment included.
The Inland Blue Hole
A blue hole is a large marine cavern, or sinkhole, which is open on the surface and perfect for swimming! Dive deep into the enchanting turquoise waters of one of Belize’s best kept secrets. $25
Whether a hacienda on the beach of the Sea of Cortez in Puerto Penasco, Mexico, a walled convent in the heart of Alajuela, Costa Rica, or an apartment situated above the bustling metropolis of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, ISL’s volunteer lodgings are unique and carefully chosen based on very important criteria. Accommodations are safe, clean, and within a reasonable driving distance to service sites and recreation opportunities. Volunteers are provided their own bed, easy access to restrooms and showers as well as meeting spaces for team training and fellowship. Many ISL accommodations are unique and may include retreat houses, guest houses or home stays, all of which provide a distinctive cultural experience. ISL country coordinators will provide a description of your team’s lodging in every Welcome Letter that goes out prior to your departure.
Ayala’s Guest House
San Ignacio Town, ph: 501-666-4345; This is a family-run establishment that operates to accommodate ISL volunteers in the area (2 hours away from the airport).
Las Palmas Hotel
#123 5th Avenue, Corozal Town, Belize; Phone: 011-501-422-0196; www.laspalmasbelize.com (2 hours away from the airport).
D Victoria Hotel
#40 Belize Corozal Road, Orange Walk Town, Belize; Phone 011-501-322-2518; dvictoriabelize.com; social media www.facebook.com/dvictoriahotel (1 hour away from the airport).
Camalote Village, George price Highway, Phone: 011-501-822-0699; Social media: www.camalotecamp.com (1 hour away from the airport).
12 miles Hummingbird Highway, Stann Creek District, Phone: 011-501-502-0701; macaronihillviewbelize.com (2 hours away from the airport).
We love our staff and we are positive that you will too! Each staff member is professional, courteous, and has the same passion as you do: to serve others.