Latin America: Beginner’s guide to Belize

Latin America: Beginner’s guide to Belize

Toucan, Belize


Nestling beneath the toe of Mexico, Belize is only slightly larger than Wales. And size is not the only comparison between the two countries – they also share a similar annual rainfall.


Yet, whereas in Wales the relentless rain produces rolling green hills and sodden sheep, in Belize you’ll find lush rainforest and burgeoning banana plantations.


Belize has a bit of everything; primary tropical rainforest, Mayan ruins, picture-perfect cayes for beach time, and world-class diving on a barrier reef second in size only to Australia’s.


Ethnically, it’s a real melting pot, with a mix of Mayan, Creole, Spanish, Lebanese, Chinese, Indian and Garifuna – a group of African descent. There are even Mennonite and Amish communities, some of which dress in old-world clothing and use horses and carts instead of cars.


These rich layers of fascinating culture are made even more accessible for British tourists by the lack of language barrier. As a member of the British Commonwealth and a former British colony, the official language in Belize is English.


The Cayes


The islands off the coast of Belize, known as cayes, are the most popular tourist areas and provide fabulous beach and diving product.


There are more than 200 cayes, but most people stay on Ambergris or Caulker, both of which have a wide range of accommodation. The cayes are protected from breakwaters by the barrier reef, and it’s easy to snorkel or dive the reef from any of them.


Cayo District


Tourists tend to stay in San Ignacio or sister town Santa Elena to enjoy the many activities this central area of Belize has to offer.


They can visit the Mayan sites of Caracol and Xunantunich, hike, bike or ride through the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve to see its stupendous waterfalls, explore caves or paddle around in a kayak.


Northern Belize


The sleepy coastal town of Corozal has a Spanish feel, reflective of its position on the Mexican border. From it you can visit the only dry forest in Belize, in the Shipstern Reserve.


In Orange Walk, Belize’s farming district, visitors shouldn’t miss Lamanai – an awe-inspiring Mayan site which was continuously occupied for more than 3,000 years.


Southern Belize


Some visitors choose to spend their beach time in Placencia rather than on the Cayes, and it offers a similar feel with perfect beaches and great sailing and diving.


Dangriga is the centre of Garifuna culture, and off the coast, the legendary 410ft deep Blue Hole – an underwater cave – is found on the Lighthouse Reef Atoll. This is scuba paradise, with dramatic limestone formations creating underwater stalactites.


The southernmost region of the country, Toledo, is totally unspoilt, with a strong Mayan influence in the town of Punta Gorda and at the ruins at Lubantuun. Visitors can explore the dramatic Hokeb Ha and Tiger Caves, or hop off the coast to relax on deserted cayes.


Getting there and beyond


Belize, like most countries in Central America, suffers from a lack of direct flights from the UK. Connecting flights require an overnight stop in the US, which can make the process of getting to Belize a little lengthy.


The country’s road network is improving, and it’s also easy to hop around with short domestic flights from Tropic Air or Maya Island Air.


Twinning it


Most operators twin Belize with Guatemala, sometimes adding Mexico too.


Explore, Cox and Kings and Intrepid Travel offer trips solely to Belize, while Journey Latin America, South American Experience, Abercrombie and Kent, Audley Travel, Bales Worldwide and Steppes Travel will tailor-make itineraries.


At the budget end of the market, Imaginative Traveller and Tucan Travel have trips featuring Belize.

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