September is celebration month in Belize and with a month long itinerary of activities, there has never been a better time to squeeze in a last minute excursion and enjoy the best that this diverse country has to offer. Located in the Caribbean Sea on the eastern coast of Central America and bordered on the north by Mexico, this former British crown colony is a melting pot of cultures originally inhabited by the indigenous Maya and African slaves, frequented by British pirates and besieged with Spanish conquistadors. Combining the best of both worlds, this small nation often overshadowed by its well-known neighbours, has sought to carve out a unique place in the tourist trail of adventures and experiences by offering untouched jungles teeming with different plant species and animals including the highest concentration of jaguars in the world not forgetting its beautiful beaches scattered around.
- Nature has never been kind to Belize and whilst the hurricanes that have raged the country have created some popular tourist spots like the Split in Caye Caulker, the remnants of Hurricane Hattie in 1961 destroyed much of Belize City, leaving the former capital of the country neglected. Raffish in charm, the city of Belize has a rundown appearance with most parts unsafe. It is however the pulsating beat of Taiwanese, Creoles, Chinese, Latinos, Mennonites and some Americans who have cast a spell on this city adding to the historical significance enticing a day trip from anyone passing through to explore the city of Belize. With colonial and ramshackled houses residing alongside canals, bustling streets and sailing boats ferrying tourists and residents to the surrounding cayes, we recommend taking in this cultural attraction and visiting the oldest Anglican church in Central America, built by slave labour in 1812; St John’s Cathedral or taking a quick trip to the Museum of Belize for a lesson in the history of the country and an insight into the cultural landscape that has shaped the country.
- Tired of walking around and seeing stalls selling everything from conch shells, wood carvings and tourist knickknacks being thrust in your face? Then a hop on the water taxi located on the city’s former fire station will take you to the neighbouring cayes offering a variety of activities. If relaxation is what you are after, then the island of Caye Caulker, a 45 minute ride away from the water taxi terminal and offering the best swimming in the island, is the place to be. With the motto ‘Go Slow’ and signs dotted around the island reminding visitors to take it easy, Caye Caulker is a backpackers paradise and offers budget travelling for anyone looking for a cheap break. From white sandy beaches, fresh seafood and home to a dense mangrove forest, it is the easy-going attitude that will draw you try out the kayaking on the Split, a narrow channel divided by the hurricane or enjoy swinging on the readily available colourful hammocks scattered along the main front of the island and taking it easy as the welcoming breeze sweeps across you.
- It is an unspoken rule that one must try out the locally offered beverage whether it be alcoholic or non-alcoholic, especially when recommended by the locals. Belikin the perfect cool me down beverage, brewed in the classic continental European lager style is the native beer of Belize and is readily available and served at most local shops. Whilst there are other alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks offered, we advise at least trying out this cold and refreshing beer with other varieties such as low calorie, stout and premium variations offered for your pleasure.
- Who can’t resist the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean, especially when they happen to be a doorstep away? A couple of bottles later and maybe a shot of the local rum to waken the senses, Belize’s largest island lies north east and is affectionately nicknamed La Isla Bonita after the town of San Pedro, the only inhabited place on the island. A typical tourist town lined with beach bars and rumbling golf carts as one of the main modes of transport, the island of Ambergris Caye offers the best water sports and is home to the best dining scene in the country. For the best experience in the town of San Pedro, take one of the island executions and visit the number one spot for snorkelling and diving at the 6.5 square mile Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Colourful coral formations and an abundance of marine life can be found on the channel forming a natural break in the reef known as Hol Chan Cut. With rich mangroves and sea beds inhabiting stingrays and nurse sharks, this is the place to get up close and personal with nature amongst the azure waters of the Caribbean Sea and spot some manatees while taking a break from the day or night snorkelling. Definitely a must do adventure.
- Nothing tastes better and is more satisfying, after a hard day at sea than a plateful of delicious local food freshly cooked on the boat and served along with the catch of the day. A diverse country with over 300 000 residents, it is of no wonder that the food in Belize is to die for and indeed it is a must that one should sample the cuisine offered. With influences from the Caribbean, United States, Mexico and England there is a wide range of worldly cuisines available in roadside eateries, cafes and restaurants, however to experience Belize is to either try the seafood delicacy known as ceviche or conch fritters and to eat the traditional dishes offered at one of the few local restaurants offering food from the people of Garifuna, an ethnic group historically formed when shipwrecked African slaves, Arawaks and Caribs met together.
- There is never a dull moment in Belize and with something to do every night of the week, we recommend taking part in the world famous chicken drop, an interesting gambling game only found in the town of San Pedro in Ambergris Caye. Hosted every Thursday in the centre of town, the chicken drop is the Belizean version of bingo with alcohol and chickens involved. A fun event where people buy numbers on a board and gather around shouting in encouragement to see if a chicken in a ring defecates on your number winning you a $100BZ is possibly the craziest thing you will see in your travels. We advise at least staying for the opening ceremony where your mind will question the existence of humankind’s sanity.
- When people think of Belize, they often think of tropical beaches and of course the symbol of Belize, the country’s famous Blue Hole. Forming part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, a UNESCO World Heritage site and nature’s wonder, the 400 ft deep underwater sink hole offers unparalleled diving and is the largest of its kind. Located next to Lighthouse Reef, about 70 kilometres off the coast of Belize, the Blue Hole originally was a limestone cave that started to form about 150,000 years ago. With clear waters and a variety of flora and fauna, this is a bucket list must do for any snorkelling or diving fan.
- It is a fact that the Maya civilisation existed for 3000 years in Belize, building powerful and towering temples of which the remains are still scattered across the country today. With secrets still buried and remnants of history lurking in the growing foliage, the country’s most historically powerfully and significant excavated site lies across the Guatemalan border, however there are smaller sites within a drive away from Belize city. Set across the Mopan River past an uphill walk lies the Stone Lady, a village that existed as early as 1000 BC. Located within the sight of the Guatemalan border, Xunatunich is situated on the Western Highway across the river from the village of San Jose Succotz and is one of the easily accessible and impressive Maya archaeological sites, providing an impressive view of the entire valley.
- Belize is home to a dense blanket of lush green forests and with nearly 50% of the territory protected by national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and forest reserves, venture off the beaten path and sign up for one of the day excursions readily offered and choose from either the botanical gardens or bird sanctuary. Pressed for time we advise visiting Belize Zoo, set in a natural forest where you will find rehabilitated wild animals that you have never seen elsewhere and possibly if you are lucky you may just spot a jaguar.
- And if we could just tempt you for just one more water activity, then the best way to spend a hot afternoon in Belize is to go with the country’s most popular activity and go river and cave tubing on the Mopan River which originates in Guatemala and merges with the Macal River in Branch to form the Belize River. With rivers flowing through tropical forests and hidden caves, Belize provides the perfect backdrop for river and cave tubing. Relax your mind and admire the varying shades of blue as you float down the river, watching the animals dwelling in the nearby jungle and locals going about their day to day lives and as you explore the underwater caves, marvelling at the close up view of stalactites and crystalline formations take a moment to hear the haunting and chilling stories of human sacrifices that took place in the very same caves.
Cover Image © of Ramon Sanchez