Central America’s easygoing country of Belize offers a haven for divers, ecotourists and wildlife lovers. Its gorgeous barrier reef lies beneath clear turquoise Caribbean Seas.
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Rainforests in the east hide ancient Mayan archaeological sites, such as the towering pyramid of Caracol and renowned Altun Ha. Formerly known as British Honduras, Belize shares its borders with Guatemala to the south and west, and Mexico to the north. Its relatively small population of fewer than 400,000 people distinguishes it as the least populated country in Central America.
What the country lacks in populace, it more than makes up for in incredible biodiversity. Belize is home to more than 5,000 species of plants, and hundreds of animal species, such as the regal jaguar, colorful toucan and curious howler monkey.
The relatively small country also possesses the largest cave system in Central America. Though culturally diverse, Belize is the only country in the region with English as its national language. From its dense mangrove forests and mysterious Mayan archaeological sites to its stunning mountains and warm, friendly people, Belize provides the perfect destination for both a relaxing and adventurous vacation.
What To Do
Snorkeling and diving top the list of most visitors to Belize. There are hundreds of sites along the breathtaking Belize Barrier Reef where you can view some of the 500 colorful species of marine life.
Kayak, canoe and sail amid clear blue Caribbean seas. Dry off with a popular horseback riding tour to such impressive Mayan sites as El Pilar, Xunantunich and Cahal Pech. Hike amid exotic plants and wildlife to see black orchids, howler monkeys and brightly colored toucans. Be sure to visit one of the country’s spectacular three atolls, Turneffe Atolle, Glover’s Reef or Lighthouse Reef.
What To See
Visit historic Mayan archaeological sites during your vacation in Belize in such exquisite locales as Caracol and Lamani. Take a riverboat excursion to Lamani, which translates to submerged crocodile in Mayan. You may even encounter some of these creatures in their natural habitat, along with monkeys, orchids and 100 or so species of colorful birds.
Snorkel or dive in the 407-foot deep Great Blue Hole 43 miles from the mainland, considered one of the world’s top ten diving sites by renowned oceanographer, Jacques Cousteau. Bring an underwater camera to capture the deep blue seas surrounding Belize’s marvelous atolls. Experience Mestizo culture near the Guatemalan border in Benque Viejo del Carmen on a heritage walking tour.
Fortunately for travelers, Belize’s exchange rate generally favors the U.S. dollar.
Shop with the locals in colorful San Pedro Town in the southern section of Ambergris Caye, in northern Belize. Search for handmade souvenirs amid sandy streets lined with shops, wooden houses, bars and seafood restaurants.
Shop in popular Belize City, where most stores stay open until 6:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Explore western Belize’s diverse town of San Ignacio on the Macal River, where you’ll find beautifully crafted souvenirs.
If you’re looking for something other than romantic strolls along moonlit beaches, head for San Pedro, Placencia and the reggae-infused Caye Caulker.
Should you happen to be on vacation in Belize during February, don’t miss the Carnaval celebrations in San Pedro.
Belize with Kids
Hike with your kids through the Belizean rainforest and visit ancient Mayan ruins such as Alta Hun, Lamanai or Xunantunich. Go sailing, fishing or snorkeling in the warm, crystal-clear waters surrounding Belize. And visit San Ignacio and the ruins of Caracol and Cahal Pech.
Off the Beaten Path
Explore the pristine Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, the largest protected forest in Belize. In contrast to much of the country, this area is famous for its fragrant Honduras pine trees, Maya mountain, cool streams and waterfalls. Mayan artifacts dating back to 1200 B.C. have been discovered here. See if you can spot some of its world-famous wildlife, including cougars, crocodiles, rare birds and elusive jaguars.
Visit Central America’s tallest waterfall, Thousand Foot Falls or the stunning Rio on Pools and Caracol ruins.
Food and Drink
Any country with both chocolate and lobster festivals is clearly a great foodie destination. Other favorites include Belize Rice and Beans with potato salad and a choice of meat or seafood, sweet johnnycakes made with flour and coconut milk and cooked in a fire hearth, zesty shrimp and conch ceviche, traditional Yucatec-Maya cochinita pibil with slow-roasted pork and a flavorful chicken soup known as escabeche. Wash it all down with Belize’s only locally made beer: award-winning, thirst-quenching Belikan, meaning road to the sea. Finish the meal with some sweet and tart ice cream made from soursop or craboo fruit and condensed milk, or rich cassava pudding.