In somewhat bizarre fashion, typical of the wacky existential philosophy of
Yogi Berra , the great Yankee catcher, anonymity might be the key attraction of Belize! However, Belize might not be quite the same after
Prince Harry used his well-documented partying skills on the first night of his Diamond Jubilee Tour of the Caribbean and Brazil. Within hours of arriving, Harry was sipping rum and dancing enthusiastically with the local women - proving to be a diplomatic hit.
Located only 2 hours from the US mainland, Belize is the only English-speaking country in Central America, so tourists can chat herewith almost everyone. The more tangible assets of Belize include the largest barrier reef in the Northern Hemisphere, palm-studded coral sand islands, myriad exotic birds, abundant marine wildlife, refreshing jungle rivers with lush forest canopy and, if you enjoy history, it's the gateway to the ancient
Mayan world with stone remnants scattered everywhere, including temples and an extensive cave system used for sacred ceremonies. The British arrived here in the 1700s, and they built sugar mills and colonial buildings amidst the spectacular jungle and impressive waterfalls.
Temperatures vary from 21 - 34 C during the year. Annual rainfall averages 50 inches in the north and 170 inches in the south during the rainy season, June - August. For snowbirds, the driest months are February - May with a median temp of 23C, ideal for water sports such as scuba, snorkeling and fishing.
barrier reef runs the entire 298 km length of the country, bordered to the north by
Mexico, to the south and west by
Guatemala and to the east by the
Caribbean Sea. The mainland is only 110 km wide.
Nature is the big draw in Belize with manatees, monkeys, keel-billed toucans, rare orchids, green iguanas and blue morpho butterflies, jaguars and 570 bird species. Diving attractions are the famed
Blue Hole and three coral atolls: Lighthouse Reef, Glover's Reef and Turneffe Islands. One may visit partially excavated Maya sites such as
Altun Ha and
Lamanai. In the country's vast caves, you see Mayan fire pits, artifacts and skeletons of human sacrifices. You can hike, tube or canoe, sometimes with headlamps!
Ambergris Caye off the north coast attracts divers and snorkelers with the
Hol Chan Marine Reserve and
Shark Ray Alley.
San Pedro, the main town, offers sand streets, art galleries and a few beach bars over the water while golf carts serve as transportation. Sugar cane fields line the highway that leads one to explore remnants of Maya heritage.
Central Belize attracts birders who often visit the Altun Ha Maya temples, and
Belize City offers unique colonial architecture and history from the 1700's.
Western Belize features the twin towns of
Santa Elena and
San Ignacio. The
Cayo District, on the western border with Guatemala, features a tropical rainforest and the
Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. San Ignacio is the base for many adventure tours. The capital,
Belmopan and several ancient Maya cities are located in Western Belize.
With golden sand beaches, rainforest and the country's largest marine reserve destination, Southern Belize is home to the Garifuna, Mopan and Ketchi Maya natives. One of the world's few jaguar reserves is located here, and don't forget to sample delicious Mayan handmade chocolate. Placencia, along the south coast offers the best beaches in the country and serves as a gateway to offshore cayes and atolls.
The coast of Belize contains turquoise water and a barrier reef teeming with exotic marine life. Dive the amazing Blue Hole, enjoy island communities like Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker or opt for the smaller resorts, retreats and campsites that dot the reef. The islands and atolls are popular for weddings, honeymoons or simple romantic getaways.
The Phillip S.W. Goldson International Airport is a mere 15 km from Belize City. Belmopan City, the capital, is located 81 km west of Belize City. Flying Times from major airports are as follows: Atlanta - 3 hours. Houston - 2 hours. Los Angeles (via Houston) - 5 hours. Miami - 2 hours. New York (via Miami) - 5 hours.
A blend of cultures helps promote a reputation here as one of the friendliest tourist destinations for visitors. Formerly British Honduras, English remains the official language, but the most diverse language is Kriol (Belizean Creole). In a few dialects, "good morning" might sound like "Gud Mawnin" in Creole, "Buiti Binafi" in Garifuna, and "Buenos dias" in Spanish.
As for music, Mestizo made its way from Mexico and Guatemala, implementing the distinctive melodies of marimba, tap drums and double bass, and is heard in Northern and Western Belize. Kriol is found in rural areas, and is distinguished by drums, banjo, and even a donkey's jawbone. Kriol music has developed into a form called brokdong (broken-down calypso). Garifuna is a traditional folk combination of music and dance, widely recognized for
Punta and Punta rock, its popular dance forms. In Belize, you might hear local reggae, hip-hop and jazz all around the country.
The food staple is rice and beans served with stewed or fried chicken, beef or fish, served at most restaurants. Seafood abounds with grouper, red snapper, conch, shrimp and lobster the favourites. There are lobster festivals on several islands. Belize's most popular beer is Belikin, and of course, there is an abundance of rum, typical of the Caribbean.
Besides opportunities described above, local tips include the following:
Cave tubing in the Caves Branch River outside San Ignacio, in Cayo. It's a natural cave and very exciting.
Laughing Bird Caye from April to June, you can see whale sharks by just standing next to the water.
A great cultural hot spot is Dangriga, a small village. When the Garifuna people migrated here, they came in dugout canoes, and every Nov. 19, they reenact that day with a big party.
Caribbean Tourism Association
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review, Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine.