Belize is one of the world’s best kept secrets in terms of ecotourism, archaeological finds and all manner of natural beauty. From the world’s second largest barrier reef, to waterfalls and mountain streams and its lush sub-tropical rainforests, Belize has something for everyone and is only a few hours flight from the U.S.
We’ve put together this all inclusive guide to Belize to help you get aquatinted with all of the wonderful things this Central American jewel has to offer.
Where in the world is Belize?
Belize is located on the east of Central America where it meets with the beautiful Caribbean Sea. To its north is Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, whilst to the west and south lies Guatemala. Just a few miles off the coast of Belize is the western hemisphere’s largest barrier reef second only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
Regions of Belize
Belize is divided into six districts, the Belize District in the centre, Orange Walk and the Corozal Districts to the north, the Cayo District to the west and the Stann Creek and Toledo Districts to its south and all have their own distinct features.
The Belize District is home to the country’s most populace city and former capital, Belize City. Belize’s Philip Goldson International Airport is located in this district some ten miles north of Belize City.
Directly north of the Belize District is the Orange Walk District with its main town of Orange Walk which has been referred to as Sugar City as it is home to Belize’s sugar industry.
Further to the north is the Corozal District that stretches to the border with Mexico and whose main town is Corozal.
The Cayo District has the country’s capital, Belmopan in its east and stretches to the west where the twin towns of San Ignacio and Benque Viejo are located close to the Guatemalan border.
People of Belize
Belize is home to a friendly but diverse population which has as their main and official language English, making them the only English speaking nation in the whole of Central and South America. Although Belize City has all the cultures, the Kriol is predominant. These are a mix of African and the Europeans that first settled the country.
The Maya are of course the natives of Belize and they are mainly located in Cayo and Toledo. Mestizos are fugitives from Mexico’s Yucatan Wars and settled in both the Orange Walk and Corozal Districts. Garifuna or Garinagu are from African descent and settled the Mosquito Coast after escaping the slave ships. In Toledo, although predominantly Maya in the countryside, East Indians account for a large percentage in Punta Gorda Town.
There are also three Mennonite Communities in Belize and although they are a close-knit society, like the Amish who they resemble, they can be seen throughout the country selling their produce. One community is in the Orange Walk District, one is in the Stann Creek District and the biggest of the communities Spanish Lookout, is located in the Cayo District. There is also a good sprinkling of ex-pats from the UK, USA and Canada.
Types of Food
With such a variety of cultures residing in the country, it is no surprise that there is also a wide diversity of food available to buy and eat.
The main staple for the Kriol is rice and their favorite meal is rice and beans which is usually served with a meat and a vegetable salad. Both the Mestizo and the Maya favor corn and so there are a great many corn dishes available including tamales, tacos and panades.
The Garifuna are known for their traditional dishes also, one of their favorites being boil up, a delightful meal made from boiling a variety of ground vegetables and adding pig tail, fish and dumplings.
As with anywhere, the East Indians are known for their curries and whilst the Mennonites usual eat only in their own communities, they are responsible for supplying the country with most of its poultry and vegetables.
Types of Resorts
The cayes are low laying islands that are scattered along or close to the reef and the largest of these is Ambergris Caye. These have been popular with tourists for several years now and the tourists enjoy fishing, snorkeling and diving along the reef or just relaxing in the laid back atmosphere of one of the cayes.
More recently Belize has become known for its eco-tourism and has several resorts on the mainland where tourists can now enjoy a variety of experiences from night treks in the rainforest and zip lining in the canopy, to visiting waterfalls or kayaking the mountain rivers. Cave tubing and exploring hidden caves in the mountains is also popular, as is visiting the many Mayan ruins located in Belize.
Although the cayes like Ambergris Caye, whose town is called San Pedro, have had small hotels located on them for some time, more recently large luxurious resorts have appeared and so can offer tourists a slice of luxury when they are not partaking in some of the adventures the beautiful Caribbean Sea and reef can offer them.
Many of these luxury resorts, like the Las Terrazas Resort on Ambergris Caye, offer visitors a touch of paradise with amenities that include a world class restaurant, spa, infinity pool and accommodations that feature 22” TVs, sunken tubs, air conditioning and a service that can be rarely matched.
Although eco-friendly, many of the mainland resorts are also luxurious like the Lodge at Chaa Creek which has jacuzzis in some of the accommodations and staff of over 300 to ensure that all your needs are promptly and efficiently met.
What to See and Do
Belize is known to many Belizeans as the Jewel and they are rightfully proud of all the diverse natural beauty that the country has been blessed with.
From the magnificent barrier reef just a few miles off shore in the Caribbean Sea and the cayes affording ideal venues for romantic or adventurous vacations, to the beautiful beaches or mangrove swamps that mark Belize’s shore line, the savannahs, forested mountains and rainforests of the mainland, Belize has all the natural beauty that one could expect to see in a lifetime, let alone one vacation.
Added to that Belize offers the opportunity to witness many diverse cultures living in harmony and architectural Mayan ruins that have become world famous.
From the mainland coastal resorts such as Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort and any of the resorts and hotels on the cayes, it is possible to arrange fishing expeditions where you take a break to have lunch on one of the cayes or perhaps BBQ your catch on a deserted beach.
You can also opt to take a break from fly-fishing to free dive for conch or lobster. If you prefer you can even arrange for a night fishing experience, one in which you can try and catch some of the larger stuff at the bottom of the water.
If however, you prefer your adventures to be in the water, you can arrange a diving expedition. With the second largest barrier reef just a splash away, there are numerous dive sites to choose from, some of which may be exclusive to your dive master.
Some of the more popular spots for diving are the Great Blue Hole which the famous French explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau ranked as being one of the top ten dive sites in the world or of course diving down the side of the reef to see the vast array and diversity of the many different brightly colored fish.
The Great Blue Hole is located near Lighthouse Reef which is 70kms off the coast of Belize but many of the other fantastic dives are located much closer to the cayes and the mainland.
Although the sea and the reef can provide a multitude of attractions, the mainland can also and some of the activities that can be enjoyed there are just as diverse as the water bound ones. For those that like the more traditional activities, there are numerous interesting hikes and horseback riding.
More traditional tours include ones to some of the more accessible Mayan ruins, the Belize Zoo which is located on 29 acres of savannah and features animals that are all native to Belize. With 125 different varieties of animal to see and the zoo’s Tropical Education Centre where you can learn all about Belize’s untamed jungles and savannahs, this has become a very popular tour for tourists and Belizeans alike.
There are also tours of Belize City, the country’s old capital and these can include a visit to the Belize Museum, which is housed in a former colonial prison. A tour can also include a visit to a rum museum as Belize is known for its world famous runs like One Barrel. Rum has featured in much of Belize’s history and legend has it that the city is built on empty rum bottles.
Although the Caribbean pirates were known to like their rum, the greatest sales of Belize rum probably occurred during America’s prohibition years when it is rumored that schooners laden with rum would travel to the Louisiana coast to discharge their cargoes.
There is also plenty to do for those that seek less traditional activities and these include zip lining. First you can zip line 500 feet across a part of the jungle that will give you a bird’s eye view of one of Belize’s most cavernous limestone caverns after which a further 700 feet takes you across the jungle looking down at what was once the Mayan hunting grounds.
Another popular activity is cave tubing and this is where you sit in an inner tube to float into the Mayan underworld and experience a unique phenomenon known as crystal caves. At one point you will be able to leave your inner tube to hike through a narrow passageway to witness the breath taking, glittering, Frozen Waterfall.
Instead you could opt for a river journey to visit one of Belize’s more remote Mayan ruins. Lamanai means, “submerged crocodile” in Maya and this ruin is located on the banks of New River Lagoon. In order to visit this site, you will have to take a river journey along the New River which will give you a chance to see a wide variety of Belize’s wildlife including the Jesus Christ Bird which walks on water, crocodile, turtles, spider monkeys and iguanas.
Although many of the larger resorts may organize their own tours with their own guides, some of the smaller ones may use tour operators like Chukka an international tour operator that includes Belize mainland tours among its options or Blue Reef Adventures which is one of the larger dive operations covering the southern half of the Belize coast.
How to Stay Safe in Belize
Although Belize is perhaps the safest of all the Latin American countries, it is still located in Latin America and so some people may have concerns as to how safe they will be while there. In general the country of Belize is safe although areas of Belize City can be dangerous at times.
The cayes and other areas popular with tourists are safe but you will of course have to take the same precautions you would take anywhere else as a tourist. In Belize City there is what is known as a tourist village and this is considered to be safe as, as well as regular police, there are also additional tourist police that patrol.
Although the guided tours of Belize City, whether it is in a coach or a horse drawn cart, are safe, if you want to do some touring of Belize City on your own, it is advisable to use only taxis between your different destinations within the city.
When in Belize City, although the taxis in the tourist village are more expensive than other ones, they are perhaps the safest to take. Outside of the tourist village any driver with a car may claim to be a taxi but they are not. All official taxis throughout the country of Belize, must have green license plates and so unless you personally know the driver, do not get into any vehicle that has a license plate any other color than green.