FEATURE DESTINATION: Belize Basics

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With a long Caribbean coast, Belize is a culturally diverse country with one foot in Latin America and the other in the Caribbean. There is the creole/Afro-European population as well as the native Maya people and the Mestizos that tend to live the north and northwest of the country Spanish is often spoken. In the south east along the Caribbean coast live the Garifuna (Black Caribs) an Afro-Amerindian culture. German speaking Mennonites also call Belize home. In addition there are people of East Indian, and Lebanese decent.

World class attractions include exploring the lush jungles with exotic plants and animals, deep sea fishing, swimming, snorkeling and diving in the Caribbean sea with its attractive reefs, and visiting the Mayan ruins. Income levels are still very low and the infrastructure is very basic. The Belizeans are very proud and friendly to visitors and the tourist industry grew greatly in the last decade.

When to go: Considering Belize is tropical, very hot and humid year round, remember rainy season is May to November, dry season is February to May. Hurricane season will be less expensive and last June to November but can bring coastal flooding especially in south.

Old Belize: Old Belize is a landmark attraction, offering a total Belize experience for locals and tourists. At its heart is the Old Belize Exhibit, a stirring cultural and historical display that takes visitors back in time to various defining segments of Belize’s past. The display contains many authentic relics from key periods, a haunting introductory teaser to the Mayan legacy in Belize, an eerie depiction of the Belize City of Colonial days, and an intimate glimpse into 18th century logging camps, and more.

Scuba Diving & Snorkeling: Also world-class is the snorkeling and scuba diving. There are many exceptional dive sites to be found in Belize. One of the best ways to explore Belize waters is by chartering a sailboat or catamaran \to make the most of your available dive time. For those with a smaller budget, snorkeling and driving excursions can be found along the beaches of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. The most common excursions will take you to both Hol Chan marine reserve and Shark Ray Alley. These trips usually cost about $35USD and includes snorkel gear. Be mindful of an additional $10BZ charged to Foreigners as a park tax. This money goes toward the upkeep, and protection of the reef. Diving excursions are also offered to the Blue Hole, but expect to pay a lot more for the privilege.

Cave Exploration: The Cayo district is characterized by limestone hills underlain by a network of underground rivers, caves and sinkholes. The caves are magnificent, with huge caverns and tight passages, underground waterfalls and dazzling arrays of mineral-encrusted stalactites and stalagmites. This underground world was sacred to the ancient Maya and many artifacts from decorated pots to human remains are still intact in the caves. It is dangerous (and illegal) to enter the caves without a licensed guide. Most guides are trained in both the geology and mythology of the caves as well as in modern first aid and cave rescue techniques.

Arguably one of Belize’s greatest attraction Actun Tunichil Muknal, these spectacular caves combine adventure caving with amazing history. Traverse the cave system and river with a guide to see the calcified Mayan sacrifice remains at the end. Don’t be afraid of getting wet. 

Mayan Ruins Exploration: Many of the Maya ruins (listed below) can be visited in person. Unlike most ruins, many of those in Belize can still be climbed and explored by foot.

  • Altun Ha (Northern Belize) – Two large central plazas and mid-size pyramids are exposed. This is the most easily-accessible site from Belize City.
  • Lamanai (Northern Belize) – Three large pyramids and stelae, residential areas, plazas, a unique ball court.
  • Xunantunich (Western Belize) – Very well-excavated carving stelae and an impressive main pyramid. Can drive right up to this site. Access it by crossing the Mopan River aboard a tiny hand-cranked car-ferry in the village of San José Succotz (only about 10 minutes west of San Ignacio on the Western Highway).
  • El Pilar (Western Belize) – 100-acre site with 25+ plazas, on the Belize-Guatemala border.
  • Caracol (Western Belize) – Largest known Maya site in Belize, but not as well-excavated as others. Main pyramid (Caana, or “Sky Palace”) is the tallest Maya structure in Belize.
  • Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave (Western Belize) – This is not a Maya structure, but a cave that contains Maya skeletons, ceramics, and stoneware.

Xunantunich, Caracol, and ATM Cave are all very easily accessible from San Ignacio, either self-drive or on a guided tour. San Ignacio is also a launching point for visiting Tikal. Most hotels in San Ignacio will arrange tours of the nearby sites and Tikal for guests. You can also arrange tours through any of the tour companies whose offices can be found in the central part of San Ignacio (on or around the pedestrian stretch of Burns Avenue). Tours to the ruins can also be arranged for visitors staying in the Cayes. On Caye Caulker and in San Pedro, you will find tour companies that can arrange tours of some of the Maya sites.

Mosquitos to Consider: Belize is known to have malaria, dengue, and zika in some areas so plan accordingly especially with preventative medication, insect repellent, and stay up-to-date with recommendations from the CDC.