Belize Travel Guide
Introduction to Belize
Of all the nations in Latin America, Belize is a bit of an anomaly, as it is the only country in Central or Latin America that has English as a first language. While many of its residents speak Spanish fluently or speak Creole at home as their first language, Belize stands out as a place where English speakers will have an easy time being understood.
While this nation only has a population of 300,000 people (which is barely more than the Mayan Riviera city of Playa del Carmen), it makes up for its small population with a pristine natural environment, both in its jungles and in its offshore series of barrier islands.
If you are heading to Belize on your Central American adventures, be ready for a country with plenty of amazing nature and human history … but don’t forget to go slow, as it is the unofficial motto of this easy-going country.
Currency: Belize Dollar
Languages: English, Spanish, Garifuna, Creole
What To Do in Belize
While Belize was colonized by the British, and its residents speak primarily English in the present day, the Mayan world has left many ruins within the boundaries of this country. Caracol is one of the more prominent sites, as it was an important political centre within the Mayan Empire during its heyday.
Located inland within 40 kilometers of the Cayo District, Caracol once supported twice as many people as currently live in Belize City, and it even waged a number of wars with its more famous cousin Tikal. There are a large number of stelae and stone carved altars at this site, making it an attraction that is well worth exploring.
Another Mayan site that you should take the time to see is Xunantunich. Located within sight of the border of Guatemala, it served as a service city to the many farms that helped feed this portion of the Mayan Empire. Self-sufficient compared other cities in the region (the latter of which were hopelessly dependent on its urban population), it managed to last almost a full century longer than other centers in the area after the Mayan collapse.
After exploring the temples in the interior of Belize, make your way to the nation’s largest city, Belize City. It is here that you will find ferries that will take you to the offshore islands, but before you sail away to your paradise island, be sure to make some time to explore the Museum of Belize.
While it once served as a prison for the city, it now holds many of the Mayan artifacts that were found around the country in recent generations, as well as being home to a number of exhibits that documents the diverse cultures that call this small Caribbean country home.
Chances are, your first destination in the Belize barrier islands will be Ambergris Caye. It is from San Pedro that many dive operations will take you on expeditions out to the Belize Barrier Reef. This underwater shield of coral is the largest reef system in the Americas, and is the second largest barrier reef in the world, only being dwarfed by the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
While there are no shortage of amazing dive sites and snorkelling sites in this beautiful underwater natural site, hard core divers will want to descend into the Great Blue Hole. While the bottom of this collapsed underwater cave is not accessible without highly specialized deep water diving equipment, the walls on the way down are home to a variety of marine life that will blow your mind.
If you want to get the view of the Great Blue Hole that is shown on postcards, hire a helicopter tour to take you over its deep blue expanse; while it may be expensive, it will be a sight that will make the money that you spend on this tour well worth the expense.
If your travels through the Yucatan Peninsula have been marred by high humidity, rough bus rides, and the infinite number of travel misfortunes that can befall any traveler, spending time doing nothing in Caye Caulker will definitely be what the doctor ordered.
While those expecting a world-class beach will be disappointed, the laid back approach to life on this Belizean caye will seduce even the most hardened of travelers. Spend your days at the lazy lizard laying in the sun and drinking Belkin beer, have some of Auntie’s famous stew chicken at her mid-island restaurant, or simply lay in a hammock and let your cares drift away on the tropical Caribbean breeze.
Those that are expecting a world-class beach will find the best ones in Belize near the town of Placencia. Located in the nation’s south in the Stann Creek District, this portion of the coast is largely unaffected by the Belize Barrier Reef, which serves to calm the waters to the point that seagrass and other coral formations grow close to shore, making it tough for natural beaches to form.
Placencia does not have this problem, so the shorelines are laced with white sand beaches that will be a welcome place to relax after a long journey from Belize City to this paradise. In addition to relaxing on the beach, the snorkeling and diving here are also world class, and the saltwater fishing here draws rave reviews.
What To Eat in Belize
When the time comes for breakfast in Belize, one treat that you will want to have is a Fry Jack. This dish is very simple, as it is essentially fried dough that is served with honey or jam on the side. Often times, it is a side dish alongside rice and beans.
At lunch, endeavour to try some Caldo, as it is a popular soup among many Belizeans. Dating back to the time of the Mayans, it is a soup that is strongly related to pozole. Comprised of vegetables and fruits that include plantains, potatoes, squash, as well as meat such as chicken, it is a dish that will fill you up if you are feeling hungry at midday.
While the name of this dish may sound unappetizing at first glance, the Bile Up ( which is a Creole pronunciation of boil up) will make for a dinner that is culturally authentic in Belize. Often combining fish, pork, plantains, sweet potatoes, and many other local ingredients, it is a meal that will blow away the Western food that you have been eating lately, or the rice and beans that is commonplace throughout much of Central America.