The small Central American country of Belize lies just south of Mexico bordering the Caribbean Sea. It is best known as a diving destination with access to the second largest barrier reef system in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. This largely unexplored reef stretches for 185 miles (296km) with an almost continuous wall of coral which supports an unbelievable array of marine life. Opportunities abound for sport fishing, snorkelling, swimming with sharks and scuba diving in the famous Blue Hole.
Belize gained independence from the UK in 1981 and is the only country in Central America to be English speaking. Its ancient history is awe-inspiring with more than a dozen archaeological sites where well-preserved Mayan ruins yield up amazing buildings and sacrificial sites. The country is not highly developed and its economy is based on agriculture, fishing and tourism. Everywhere offers a laid-back way of life and visitors quickly need to adapt to “Belize Time” as part of the local culture.
Belmopan, the capital, has barely 15,000 population and is less well-visited than the beach town of Placencia, the dive centre at Ambergris Caye, or the rustic town of San Ignacio which is a popular base for wilderness exploration.
In Belize City, visit St John’s Cathedral, the oldest Anglican Church in Central America. Government House was built in 1814 as the home for the Governor-General and now houses the House of Culture Museum. Old Belize is a popular attraction featuring a beach, marina and conference centre just outside Belize City. The Old Belize Exhibit is a cultural display which tells the story of Belize’s colonial past, its rich Mayan history and the 18th century logging camps.
One of the best places to see Mayan ruins is the Mayan ceremonial centre at Altun Ha. Dating back to 250-900AD, this was where the jade-carved head of the sun god was discovered which is now the national symbol of Belize. The Xunantunich ruins are beautifully carved examples of ancient Mayan skills.
The jungle interior of Belize is equally impressive with a diversity of ecosystems and natural reserves which are home to elusive jaguars, monkeys and countless bird species. Take an eco-tour with a local guide or go zip lining above the treetops as an exciting way to experience the jungle. The Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary has a notable population of jaribu storks along with crocodiles, howler monkeys, coatimundis, toucans and iguanas. One of the largest waterfalls in Central America is Hidden Valley Falls on the Macal River. Hike along the river to reach the falls which dramatically plunge 305m (1000 feet).
Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker are the two main resorts for snorkelling and scuba diving to see many wonderful corals, fish and marine wildlife on the pristine reef. Visit the Blue Hole, a natural sinkhole which measures 300m (1000feet) across. Affordable excursions to Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley allow visitors to swim with nurse sharks and stingrays in the crystal clear waters.
Finally, the Cayo District is a range of limestone hills riddled with natural caves which offer underground waterfalls, stalagmites, stalactites and the opportunity for caving and spelunking with a licensed guide.
As you can see, Belize is certainly an adventure tourists’ paradise with reef and rainforest opportunities that may not stay unexploited for long.