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Belize Travel Guide

INTRODUCTION

The only English-speaking country in Central America, Belize is located between the Hondo and Sarstoon Rivers. Belize is a constitutional monarchy governed by parliamentary democracy, and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The country is divided into six districts: Belize, Cayo, Corozal, Orange Walk, Stann Creek, and Toledo.

The country has a diverse society composed of a great variety of cultures and languages. Belize is a veritable cross-section of the New World, incorporating elements of ancient Mayan, African and Mexican cultures. In addition to English, both Creole and Spanish are spoken in Belize.

Belize is filled not only with a vivid kaleidoscope of cultures, but a host of natural wonders as well. For proof, just look at the country's national symbols: the black orchid, the mahogany tree, the keel-billed toucan and the tapir. Belize offers many ways of enjoying its natural beauty, from hiking, bird-watching and Maya ruins to explore in its jungles and wildlife reserves, to waters safe for fishing, scuba diving, boating and snorkeling, including the Belize Barrier Reef and 127 offshore cays.

Major cities include:

Belmopan

HISTORY

Belize was part of the Mayan civilization from 1500 B.C. onward, and remnants of Mayan settlements still occupied the island when Spanish explorers arrived 3000 yeas later. Spanish dominion did not last long, however, and British settlers took up residence in 1638. Belize remained a British colony until 1981, when it won its independence.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

Capital: Belmopan

Climate: The climate in Belize is tropical, so expect it to be hot and humid.

Currency: Belizean Dollar

Languages: English is the official language, but Spanish and Kriol are also spoken.

Passport and visa requirements: Passport, onward/return ticket, and sufficient funds are required. A visa is not required for stays of up to 30 days. Information from the Embassy of Belize can be found at Embassy of Belize(approve sites), or by calling 202-332-6888.

Power: 110 V and 220 V, 60 Hz

Time Zone: Standard Time -0600 UTC

ATTRACTIONS

Despite its relatively small geographical area, the country is full of diverse flora and fauna. Attractions in Belize vary among its six districts.

The Belize District includes several attractions for the culture-minded visitor, including The Bliss Centre for the Performing Arts and the Old Belize Museum. One of the district's more fascinating natural features is the Great Blue Hole, a 300-metre-wide sinkhole offshore near Ambergris Caye. Jacques Cousteau declared it one of the ten best scuba diving sites in the world. Full-day trips to the Great Blue Hole usually include two other dives at nearby reefs, and divers have the chance to come face-to-face with a wide variety of fish and sharks in the crystalline waters of the Hole.

Many other offshore attractions cater to divers, including the Belize Barrier Reef, the second-largest in the world, and Ambergris Caye, home to the vibrant hamlet of San Pedro Town. Despite its diminutive size, the town hosts a hyperbaric decompression chamber for visiting divers. Its white sandy beaches, resorts and gorgeous setting have made it popular with Western celebrities including Leonardo DiCaprio, who owns the neighboring Blackadore Caye, and Madonna, whose song La Isla Bonita is rumored to have been inspired by a visit to San Pedro Town.

In the Orange Walk District, the Maya ruins at Lamanai are not to be missed. The site was once a large Mayan city, and though many of the structures have since been reclaimed by the jungle, visitors can scale the excavated High Temple for views that stretch over the forest all the way to the neighboring lagoon on the New River. Boat trips to the ruins leave daily from Orange Walk Town along the New River, while a small local museum exhibits Lamanai artifacts and explains the history of the site.

The Cayo District is a haven for nature lovers. In addition to the Belize Botanic Gardens, the district contains two national parks as well as a forest reserve at Mountain Pine Ridge. The reserve is bordered by the Macal River and contains several of its tributaries, as well as Honduras Pine and broadleaf forests, limestone sinkholes and caves, and a dazzling array of local fauna. Jaguars and ocelots roam the reserve, as do tapirs, coatis and crocodiles. Bird-watchers may have to bring two pairs of binoculars just to keep up with the reserve's proliferous avian life, which includes Stygian Owls, King Vultures, Blue-crowned Motmots, Keel-billed toucans and Red-lored Parrots, Orange-breasted Falcons and, during the winter, Hepatic Tanagers.

RESTAURANTS

Caulker Rasta Pasta's has delicious chicken.

LODGING

White Sands Cove Resort: One of the most exclusive resorts in Belize. Located off the coast of the mainland on Ambergris Caye, White Sands Cove is perfect for every type of tourist, from honeymooners to families and seniors.

Black Orchid Resort: Located in Belize City, the luxurious Black Orchid is a perfect getaway.

PERSONAL STORIES

I traveled to the amazing country of Belize in March of 1999. At that time it was a fairly new hot spot for foreigners, so it felt as though my group and I were alone among the locals. The overall appeal of this country is its luscious rainforests and magnificent diving. Diving in Belize was my most favorite part of the trip. Seeing as though I were a PADI certified medic scuba diver, I found the Blue Hole to be one of the most awe-inspiring sights I had ever seen. Lying nearly 60 miles off the Belize coast, this underwater mountain reaches depths of over 400 ft and is full of caves and underwater passageways.

At the time of this dive I was simply an open-water diver (first level trained). I found the dive to be a helpful learning experience. As I reached deeper in the hole the only thing I ran across was the occasional small reef shark, nothing too frightening. In the shallow areas, however, there was an abundance of life. Many indigenous species fluttered about, paying no mind to the tourists trying to catch a glimpse. I do recommend this sight, even if you are a snorkeler, because the underwater life is near the surface, so everyone can enjoy it.

Another thing about the trip I would recommend to all travelers is to visit the Mayan Ruins. There are many throughout the country to choose from. It is amazing to witness first hand the intelligence of cultures long surpassed. Visitors are encouraged to hike to the top of these ancient structures for a remarkable view of the nation's lush landscape.

If you plan on traveling to Belize, there are a few pointers I should share with you. First off, the Belize culture lives among nature, respecting and utilizing it on a daily basis, which means that you should expect your room to be a part of that. What I am politely trying to say is that each bungalow is open to the outdoors, allowing nature inside the room. There are usually mosquito nets to protect you while you sleep. It takes some getting used to, but this is common practice among most nonindustrial nations. Accommodations made near the rainforest should expect more animal traffic than those near the ocean however.

Make sure to get plenty of information about where you will be staying before you arrive. I recommend this only because some hotels are much nicer than others. If I were to personally recommend an establishment, I would suggest staying at Jaguar Reef Lodge, located on a 600 acre peninsula with 7 miles of white sandy beaches at your disposal. It is a fabulous option for those interested in ocean activities. The lodge also offers well-priced tours and comfortable accommodations without going overboard. Jaguar Reef is a personal favorite of mine because it is very reasonably priced for all that you get!

Hopefully, I have helped familiarize you a bit more with the beauty that is Belize. I remind you as Anthony Bourdain would to "be a traveler, not a tourist"! And of course have fun!


 
 
 
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