If you’ve been to the big name tourist destinations south of the US border, it’s time to discover Belize. Hmmm… heard the name but aren’t sure where it is? Well, it’s in the northeast corner of Central America, tucked right under Mexico and east of Guatemala, with 240 miles of gorgeous coastline on the Caribbean. It’s been nearly 40 years since the former British Honduras gained its independence, but – bonus! — English is still the official language.
As part of the Mesoamerican biodiversity hotspot, Belize has jungles, wildlife reserves, and vast forests of old-growth hardwoods. With the lowest population density in Central America and most of its land undeveloped, it’s wild enough to be fascinating and tame enough to be welcoming.
Whether you’re down for a tropical escape from winter weather or up for some serious adventuring, you’ll find it in Belize.
1.The Laid-Back Caribbean Vibe
Tropical breezes, lilting accents, and music ranging from the African-inspired sounds of Punta to the calypso beat of the Belizean Kriol’s Brukdown and the transporting ancient melodies of Maya music played on marimbas. What more could you want from a Caribbean vacation that takes you away from the day to day grind?
You can start your trip with an easy packing job, too, because the weather is always warm, yet comfortable, at a yearly average of 84◦ F, and while the tropics are notably humid, February through May is Belize’s dry season, with only occasional, short and mild bursts of rain.
The Mayas about 3500 years ago were the first people to establish settlements in Belize. Christopher Columbus and his crew in 1502 were the first Europeans to arrive on its shores, but the Spanish conquistadors bypassed it, and it wasn’t until more than one hundred years later that the British founded a settlement there and later made it a crown colony.
In today’s Belize, traditions and customs are rich and varied, representing the cultures of the original Maya, as well as Mestizo, Kriol, Garifuna descendants of the African immigrants, and more recent East Indian, Mennonite, Arab, and Chinese arrivals who have added to the friendly and diverse mix.
While it’s the only English-speaking country in Central America, you’ll also hear Kriol, Spanish, and a number of unique Maya and regional dialects.
Belizean food reflects its cultural diversity as well. Rice and beans cooked in coconut milk is pretty much the national dish, served with beef, chicken, pork, fish, lobster, or shrimp. You’ll also find delicious ceviche, tamales, slow-roasted pork known as Cochinita Pibil, Johnny cakes, and the savory soup called Escabeche. Ice creams made from native fruit will make you forget your diet entirely.
It’s no surprise that there are many wonderful beaches along Belize’s long coast. Among the most fun is Placencia, Belize, with a lively nightlife, beachfront reggae bars serving potent cashew wine and ice cold indigenous Belikin beer, plus shops offering a wide variety of native crafts and works of art. Beach cruisers and golf carts are the way to get around, and you can spend your days relaxing on the sand or playing beach volleyball, kite surfing, paddle boarding, snorkeling, diving, or heading out for deep sea fishing. You can also take a kayak through the lagoon where crocodiles, amazing birds, and exotic animals live among the dense thickets of mangrove trees.
4.The Coral Reef
The Belize Barrier Reef spans 185 miles of the country’s coastline and is the largest and most intact reef system in the Northern Hemisphere. It comprises seven marine reserves, over 400 cayes or islands, and three atolls, with crystalline blue waters and over five hundred species of fish swimming within its over one hundred varieties of coral. It has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its significant habitats and natural development, and is a paradise for snorkeling and scuba diving.
To head off the beaten path and see the rainforest up close is an experience not to be missed, particularly in that ecosystem’s current endangered state around the world. The southernmost half of Belize is covered by dense jungle, much of it unexplored and under government protection to preserve the habitats of the jaguars, pumas, ocelots, tapirs, howler monkeys, and other creatures who make it their home.
Over 500 species of birds soar through the vines and you can catch sight of Belize’s national bird, the fruit-loop keel-billed toucan, as well as neon-green-painted parrots, rare agami herons, macaws, snowy egrets, and jabiru storks, the largest flying bird in the Americas. You’ll also be delighted by the rainforest’s 4,000 species of tropical flowers, including 250 varieties of exquisite orchids.