Belize, A World of Wonder &
By: Jennifer Harpez
The country of Belize
is located between Mexico and Guatemala on the Caribbean coast.
The geography of Belize features a mixture of mountainous land,
tropical forests, and gorgeous beaches leading to crystal blue
waters teeming with life and character. Man has enhanced the
character of Belize even more, with historic Maya temples, agriculture,
and architecture dotting the landscapes of some cities.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF
Belize has a long and complex history. Basically, there were
four major periods that have assisted in the development of
the countries’ culture. The first significant presence
was from the Maya civilization, beginning in 1000 B.C., and
ending mysteriously around A.D. 1500. Maya people built huge
cities and set up farms and communities built around the agriculture.
As with any other Caribbean
country, the European made their stake and had their take of
Belize. The English Puritans were the first to settle in Belize.
They made their living via trading posts on the coast. Ship
wrecked sailors, buccaneers and pirates came to live in Belize
and found a past time in challenging the Spanish galleons that
came through the Bay of Honduras transporting gold, silver,
and hardwoods from Central America to Europe. Soon, the business
of logging became the main industry in Belize. The hardwood
was harvested by the British, and transported by the Spanish.
The mid to late 19th century
brought about many cultural changes as Belize became the colony
of British Honduras, as declared by Great Britain. Slaves were
freed and they soon began to marry within the European settlers’
community, eventually forming the Creole cultural majority,
dominant in the population today. Other cultures began to mingle
within the country, including Mexican, Kekchi and Mopan Maya,
the Garifuna, and, interestingly enough, some Confederate Civil
Beginning in the early
twentieth century Belize’s culture didn’t change
much, but its status as a country did. Fifty years after the
devastating 1931 hurricane England set the country free. The
colony’s independence was made official when the name
was changed from British Honduras to Belize.
Today, there are about
200,000 people living in Belize. These 200,000 people are a
great mixture of different cultures, with numerous languages,
religions, and ways of life, all living together in peace. Among
the ethnic groups there are the Creole, Garifuna, Mestizo, Spanish,
Mennonite, Lebanese, Chinese, East Indian, Maya, and English.
The most prominent ethnic groups are the Mestizos and the Creoles.
English continues to be the language most commonly spoken, but
Spanish is up and coming as a popular form of communication.
The Garifuna, Mayas and Mennonites speak their own language.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
The land of Belize offers a great lesson in geography. There
is a great diversity of topographical elements found around
the island. The most popular of which are the cayes (pronounced
keys), and the barrier reef and offshore atolls, which attract
scuba divers, snorkelers, fishers, boaters, sailers, and sea
kayakers. The cayes and atolls benefit wild life as well. They
provide an excellent habitat for marine life and birds. The
remainder of the geography of Belize consists of hardwood forests,
swamplands, rivers, tropical rain forests, and mountains, rising
as much as 3,680 feet above the sea.
Belize has a typical Caribbean
easy living climate. It’s subtropical with an average
mean temperature of 79 degrees Fahrenheit, and an average humidity
of about 85 percent. Luckily, the ever -present sea breeze makes
the humidity bearable most of the time. The summer high is never
above 96 degrees Fahrenheit, and the winter low is very rarely
below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The rainfall in Belize averages
between 50 inches in North Belize and 170 inches in the South.
Normally, the rainy season presents itself between June and
August, although changes in weather patterns on a global scale
are shaking things up a bit. Saltwater temperature varies between
75 degrees Fahrenheit and 84 degrees Fahrenheit.
THINGS TO DO WHEN YOU’RE
There are many, many things to do, places to visit, and people
to meet in Belize, and each can show you something unique.
Diving, snorkeling, fishing, hiking, birdwatching and more await
the adventurous traveler in Belize.
Scuba divers will find heaven on earth in the waters off of
Belize. Divers and snorkelers will be blessed with underwater
sight of over 100 feet, and comfortable 80 degree water temperatures.
The Belize Barrier Reef, one of the Seven Underwater Wonders
of the World, is a treasure of the sea, calling out to scuba
lovers from around the world.
Fun is available on top
of the water as well as under. Windsurfing is superb off the
coast, especially near the reef where the consistent wind sets
the stage for beginner and more advanced surfers. February through
April is the typical windy season where the trades provide wind
of 11 to 17 knots over 70% of the time.
Fishing also reigns in
the waters off of Belize, and not just deep sea. Spin, fly,
and trolling are all great activities to partake in year round.
The quality of game fish ensures great sport fishing. Tarpon,
snook, and jacks fill the estuaries, inlets and river mouths.
Bonefish, permit and barracuda reside in the lagoons and flats,
and the coral reefs support grouper, snappper, jacks and barracuda.
The deeper waters feature sailfish, marlin, bonito and pompano.
San Pedro, a TropicalAdventure.com outfitter, offers a unique
experience, a fishing tour and Beach Barbecue, featuring lobster
and other gourmet treats.
Birding, caving, wildlife
watching, kayaking and canoeing are also prevalent adventure
activities in Belize. For birding, consider a stop at any of
the national parks, with a special emphasis on Cockscomb Basin
Wildlife Sanctuary, Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, Silk Grass
Creek Road, and Mountain Pine Ridge. Wildlife enthusiasts will
need to keep a keen eye and ear, and with luck will spot a jaguar.
The risky sport of caving
can be done in a plethora of locations including Che Chem Ha
– Cayo, Rio Frio - Mountain Pine Ridge, and Ben Loman's
- Manatee Lagoon.
Though Belize is a relatively
small country, with very low-lying land, it receives plenty
of rain during the winter season, and thus supports 20 major
river systems and smaller streams. These waterways are sources
of outdoor adventures for kayak and canoe lovers. In addition
to being an excellent form of exercise, kayaking and canoeing
are also a means by which to view wildlife along the banks.
In addition, if you spend time on the water, you are sure to
witness the flow of human life in Belize as the rivers of the
country are still major gathering places for fishing, cleaning
Fortunately, Belize is a world leader in preservation and conservation,
with the support of scientists who care about protecting the
amazing countries’ natural history.
It’s a great idea
to start your journey in Belize City. Getting to other destinations
from here is easy. Those destinations might include such attractions
as the Blue Hole National Park, 575 acres or forest land just
twelve miles southeast of Belmopan. The Blue Hole is named after
the pool within the park that resembles a gorgeous blue sapphire.
The pool is about twenty-five feet deep and originates from
the Sibun River. After dazzling park visitors, the water runs
through a jungle and into an underwater cavern leaving the park,
eventually. St. Herman’s Cave also entertains travelers,
within Blue Hole, with its remnants of the Maya, including pottery,
spears, and torches. Stick around for a while in Blue Hole and
you’re likely to spot birds, animals, and magnificent
flora. For a similar experience, visit Five Blues Lakes National
Park, located in the forested foothills of the Maya Mountains.
Explore caves, look for wildlife, and check out some archeology
in the park’s 4,000 acres of tropical forest. The Five
Blues lake practice exactly as it preaches, presenting several
hues of blues within its sparkling waters. The lake is unique
in that it is a cenote, or collapsed cave system, covering 10
acres, with depths of 200 feet in some spots.
If you are one for a good
hike into the wilderness, Guanacaste National Park is the place
to swing by next. This fifty- acre parcel of tropical forest
is located on the north side of the Western Highway at its junction
with the Hummingbird Highway in the Cayo District. Visit the
southwestern edge of the park and you’ll encounter the
park’s giant guanacaste tree. Throughout the park there
are numerous other species of trees, which in turn, attract
a hundred species of birds. Hikers are suited to take in the
tropical forest of Guanacaste Park. There are well- marked and
maintained trails to explore, where trees and plants have been
tagged and identified.
Other exciting in-land
places to visit in Belize include Community Baboon Sanctuary,
Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, and the Rio Bravo Conservation
and Management Area, among others.
In addition to the barrier reef, water seekers will want check
out Half Moon Caye. Half Moon Caye was established in 1981 to
protect the Red-footed Booby bird. Today, the park protects
the Booby along with the Frigatebird, which shares the rookery
with the Booby bird, among several other species of migrating
sea birds. Other wildlife prominent in the Caye include the
iguana, the Wish Willy, and two species of sea turtles, the
Loggerhead and Hawksbill. Snorkelers and scuba divers will find
a playground in the waters off of Half Moon Caye.
The Hol Chang Marine Reserve
is becoming a hot dive spot in the Caribbean, with outstanding
sites and fantastic photo opportunities of stingrays and nurse
sharks. Other water destinations include Laughing Bird Caye
National Park, and Shark Ray Alley.
Belize is also strewn
with mysterious archaeological heritage sites, reminiscent of
the Maya culture. They left behind pieces of their temples,
palaces, trades, and ways of life. There are, indeed, numerous
archaelogical sites. One could spend an entire vacation just
visiting these fascinating attractions. Thankfully, the Belize
Department of Archaeology has helped to ensure locations are
easy accessible for all travelers so that any visitor can learn
and appreciate the history of the Maya. The ruins not to miss
include Xunantunich, west of San Ignacio Town, Lamanai, in North
Central Belize, and Altun Ha, Caracol, Cerros, and Lubaantun.
It is helpful for travelers
to know that there are 7 districts and 9 designated tourism
destinations within the country of Belize. They are Corozal,
Orange Walk, Belize, Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, Cayo, Stann
Creek, Placencia, and Toledo.
Getting to Belize is a fairly easy task, especially when traveling
via air. American, Continental, and US Airways travel to the
Caribbean island. Maya Island Air and Tropic Air are the airlines
within country. More adventurous visitors can also get to Belize
via road, boat, and cruise. Consider, though, that the road
trip is an epic one from Guatemela or Mexico, at almost 1350
miles. Travelers need a permit to enter via automobile.
All visitors, except cruise
ship passengers, much present a valid passport before entering
the country. US Travelers do not need a Visa to enter Belize.
PLACES TO STAY
Visitors to Belize can find a wide range and levels of accommodations,
from guest lodges to luxury hotels. TropicalAdventure.com’s
Island Lodge, offers stylish and peaceful lodging on a private
island off the coast of Belize. The lodge features private cabanas,
gourmet dining, and adventure activities right in its backyard.
For additional referrals, check with any Belize outfitter on
the TropicalAdventure.com web site.