Belize is a beautiful country and unique in Central America for several reasons including the fact that it is a former British colony, that of British Honduras; it’s the only Central American country not to have a coastline on both sides of the isthmus and it’s mainly populated by Afro-Caribbean people rather than Latin Americans.
English is the official language in Belize although you’ll hear Spanish spoken with increasing frequency inland.
The country is covered with lush tropical jungles which are driving the boom in tourism along with the beautiful and as yet still unspoilt beaches along its coasts and the cayes. Oil has been discovered in the region around Spanish Lookout and it’s hoped that it will give a further boost to the economy. Whilst avoiding much of the drug trade and the violence that accompanies it, the problem is growing in Belize but shouldn’t affect your stay as on the whole, crime rates are low and the people friendly and welcoming.
Before the arrival of the British the Mayans and their descendants were the dominant people and, especially in the jungle clad regions of the west and north, there are many Mayan ruins of note. Belize neighbours Mexico in the north so it’s unsurprising that there is so much evidence of the Central American civilisation although many of the sites are still being excavated and information on many is still scarce.
Belize City used to be the capital of the country but a series of damaging hurricanes, topped off by one in 1961 that caused extensive damage and flooding, disrupting the running of the country, caused the government to relocate the capital to Belmopan inland. Belize City isn’t very inspiring despite having some colonial buildings and an interesting cathedral. The annual celebration of the anniversary of the Battle of St George’s Caye where the British drove the Spanish away from taking over the colony is a national holiday and there are processions, music and re-enactments of the battle in and around the city.
Belmopan, around an hour inland, is the country’s capital. It became the capital after the devastation caused in Belize City by Hurricane Hattie in 1961. Like the former capital, there’s not a huge amount to see there but its charm is in the old streets, soaking up the atmosphere of the markets and the welcome of the people. There are art galleries specialising in Central American art and a small museum dedicated to the development of the country and the move to independence.
Corozal is an interesting town in the north of Belize, close to the Mexican border. Few tourists reach this part of Belize which is a shame for whilst it doesn’t have the jungle terrain of the south and east it has ruins of Santa Rita and Cerros. Cerros is of particular note for the interesting ways to get there. Boats are the preferred way as it’s across the bay from Corozal but you can drive, then take the human powered car ferry across the creek to reach it. Not as carefully preserved or cleaned up as other ruins, you’ll feel like you’re the first to discover it.
Crooked Tree is also a fascinating place to see. It’s a small city in the middle of a nature reserve which is famed for the number of birds seen there which attract hundreds of birdwatchers each year. There are also some fabulous Mayan ruins which you can only reach by canoe and it’s a three hour trip so you need to be strong!
Ambergris Caye is one of the main tourist destinations in Belize and is a beautiful island. It was voted one of the top ten places to live in the world and just being there you’ll see why. At one end of the island is the town of San Pedro which has just about everything you’d want in a settlement whilst the rest of the island is simply mangrove plantations and dazzlingly white coral sand beaches with the world’s second longest barrier reef offshore giving perfect conditions for scuba diving and more.
Eating out in Belize introduces you to a simple and basic menu for most Belize dishes are formed of chicken cooked on the bone, rice and beans. The meals come with a variety of sauces – mainly hot, from the habanero chillies that are grown there. Seafood is also popular with conch featuring on many menus. Beer and locally distilled molasses rum are the two main drinks and the rum is used in a variety of cocktails along with local fruit.
Getting to Belize is not too difficult although there are only flights to and from other Central American countries and the US. Travellers from Europe won’t find it too had to get in for there are connecting flights from Atlanta, Miami, Charlotte and Dallas, all of which have connections through to London.
Getting around Belize is less easy. The roads are poor in many places, particularly in the rainy months when it’s a much better option to fly. Tropic Air and Maya Island Air both serve domestic routes but you’ll find it best to fly out of Belize City Airport rather than the international one. You’ll need flights to some of the islands unless you’re going to take one of the ferries or water taxis. Water taxis are a fun way to get along the coast and inland along major waterways. Cheap and filled with locals, you’ll get chatting and make many new friends as well as see the country from a different angle.
The water taxis also go to Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico so you can experience another country and culture cheaply and easily.
Buses are a good way of getting around if you’re not confident enough to drive yourself. There are modern express buses that eat up the miles by only picking up and dropping off at designated stops whilst the secondary bus system operates second hand US school buses which have been converted for adult use and are a fun but slow way to get around.
You can hire a car at many of the airports in Belize but because of the state of the highway system it’s best to get a four wheel drive. There are two main highways, the north to south stretching from the Mexican border down to Guatemala and an east west road from Belize City to Guatemala. These are in reasonable condition although the east west route called the Butterfly Highway has some poor parts. Elsewhere you’ll be faced with potholes, worn stretches which are very rutted and some gravelled routes. The benefits of overcoming these difficulties are the chance to see Belize off the beaten track and to be able to stop where you want at your convenience for photo opportunities.
Belize is a fascinating country that has yet to maximise its tourist potential in the same way Costa Rica has done. Rainforests rich in biodiversity cover the land and it’s as yet unspoilt. For more details on what to see around the major airports in Belize, follow the links from this page. Plan your trip carefully and you’ll have an amazing time in this country of natural jewels and blessed with hospitable people.