The longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere and an untouched rain forest teeming with wildlife represent the principal attractions of tiny Belize. An English-speaking enclave about the size of Massachusetts tucked beneath Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Belize retains a delightful air of innocence despite the continuing growth of its ecotourism. As yet there are no high-rise hotels; few cruise ships pass by; and in parts of the country frequented by visitors, serious crime is virtually unknown.
Until independence in 1981, Belize was the obscure colony of British Honduras. Over preceding centuries, waves of immigrants had augmented the original Mayan population, creating a remarkable ethnic mix. Spaniards were joined by Garifunas, a unique blend of escaped African slaves and indigenous Caribbean islanders, while later the British were accompanied by a sprinkling of Asians. Finally, in the 1950s, several thousand Mennonites, a religious group similar to the Amish, settled to pursue their chosen way of life.
Most Belizeans continue to live beside the Caribbean. Just a few miles inland, dense jungle begins, inhabited by an astonishingly rich flora and fauna. Atrocious dirt roads require four-wheel-drive vehicles even in the dry season (February-October). As a result, the best way to travel around is by light aircraft.
Much of the country is covered by dense tropical forest. As you head west from Belize City, the road gently inclines toward the highlands of Guatemala. Large areas of the country lie at an elevation of around 1,500 feet, while the Maya Mountains rise to the 3,700-foot summit of Victoria Peak. This means that the "jungle" is relatively congenial, not oppressively hot or humid, and, in the dry season, surprisingly free of bugs.
The most striking natural feature of Belize is its Barrier Reef. The coral ramparts extend for 185 miles and are studded with around 200 sandy islets, or cayes. Inside the reef lies a vast lagoon, 10 to 15 miles wide, which results in much of the coastline being overgrown with mangroves. In consequence, Belize offers few opportunities for a classic Caribbean beach vacation.
Instead, visitors come chiefly to experience the jungle and its wildlife, to pursue the abundant bonefish and tarpon, and to dive among some of the most exquisite coral gardens in the world. Although Belize certainly merits a prolonged vacation in its own right, a trip there can be conveniently extended to neighboring Guatemala.
CLIMATE : Much of Belize consists of thick jungle, where the climate is warm and humid year-round. The rainy (and buggy) season usually runs from July-December, with January to mid-May being the best time for a visit to both the jungle lodges and the Caribbean coast.
TIME : One hour behind New York (EST).
CURRENCY : Belize dollar (BZD). Set rate valued at approximately BZD2 = US$1.00 as of March 2012. Note: U.S. currency readily accepted.
U.S. EMBASSY : Belmopan, Tel. 822-4011.
DIRECT DIAL CODES : To phone hotels in Belize, dial 011 (international access) + 501 (Belize code) + local numbers in listings.
GENERAL INFORMATION : Visit travelbelize.org before your trip.
Hideaway on private four-acre islet, 10 minutes by boat from Ambergris Caye.
Plantation-style hotel along a palm-lined white-sand beach, 15 minutes from the San Pedro airport. Most of the 42 accommodations are average, the exceptions being the Infinity Suites and Villas, the Rainforest Casita Suite and the deluxe units in three beachfront villas.
Recently upgraded retreat in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, overlooking the Privassion River where it cascades into a series of mirror-like pools.
Chan Chich Lodge
Captivating retreat built within the ruins of an ancient Mayan city, surrounded by a 130,000-acre nature reserve teeming with exotic birds, monkeys and other wildlife.
The Lodge at Chaa Creek
Scenic 330-acre nature reserve on a grassy ridge above the Macal River.
Sister property to Blancaneaux Lodge (see above) fronting a white-sand beach in Placencia, 35 minutes by air south of Belize City.
|Stann Creek District|