Ultimately, your health is dependent on the choices you make, and chief among these is what you decide to put in your mouth. Expect your digestive system to take some time getting accustomed to the new food and microorganisms in the Belizean diet. During this time (and after), use common sense: wash your hands with soap often; alcohol-based hand sanitizers are less effective at removing germs from your hands. Eat food that is well cooked and still hot when served. Be wary of uncooked foods, including shellfish and salads.
Most importantly, be aware of flies, the single worst transmitter of food-borne illnesses. Prevent flies from landing on your food, glass, or table setting. You’ll notice Belizeans are meticulous about this, and you should be too. If you have to leave the table, cover your food with a napkin or have someone else wave a hand over it slowly.
Even though most municipal water systems are well treated and probably safe, there is not much reason to take the chance, especially when purified bottled water is so widely available and relatively cheap. Canned and bottled drinks, including beer, are usually safe, but should never be used as a substitute for water when trying to stay hydrated, especially during a bout of traveler’s diarrhea or when out in the sun.
If you plan on staying awhile in a rural area of Belize, check out camping catalogs for water filters that remove chemical as well as biological contamination. Alternatively, six drops of liquid iodine (or three of bleach) will kill everything that needs to be killed in a liter of water—good in a pinch (or on a backcountry camping trip), but not something you’ll find yourself practicing on a daily basis. Also, bringing any water to a full boil is 100 percent effective in killing bacteria.
Probably the single most effective preventative and curative medicine you can carry is packets of powdered salt and sugar which, when mixed with a liter of water (drink in small sips), is the best immediate treatment for dehydration due to diarrhea, sun exposure, fever, infection, or hangover. Particularly in the case of diarrhea, rehydration salts are essential to your recovery. They replace the salts and minerals your body has lost due to liquid evacuation (be it from sweating, vomiting, or urinating), and they’re essential to your body’s most basic cellular transfer functions. Whether or not you like the taste (odds are you won’t), consuming enough rehydration packets and water is very often the difference between being just a little sick and feeling really, really awful.
Sport drinks like Gatorade are super-concentrated mixtures and should be diluted with water to make the most of the active ingredients. If you don’t, you’ll pee out the majority of the electrolytes. Rehydration packets are available from any drugstore or health clinic. They can also be improvised, according to the following recipe: mix a half teaspoon of salt, a half teaspoon baking soda, and four tablespoons of sugar in one quart of boiled or carbonated water. Drink a full glass of the stuff after each time you use the bathroom. Add a few drops of lemon juice to make it more palatable.
Belize is located a scant 13–18 degrees of latitude from the equator, so the sun’s rays strike the earth’s surface at a more direct angle than in northern countries. The result is that you will burn faster and sweat up to twice as much as you are used to. Did we mention that you should drink lots of water?
Ideally, do like the majority of the locals do, and stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. It’s a great time to take a nap anyway. Use sunscreen of at least SPF 30, and wear a hat and pants. Should you overdo it in the sun, make sure to drink lots of fluids—that means water, not beer (or at least wtaer and beer). Treat sunburns with aloe gel, or better yet, find a fresh aloe plant to break open and rub over your skin.