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Wedged into the northeastern corner of Central America between Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and the Peten forests of Guatemala, Belize offers some of the most breathtaking scenery anywhere in the Caribbean.
The country actually consists of marginally more sea than land, with the dazzling turquoise shallows and cobalt depths of the longest barrier reef in the Americas just offshore.
Here, beneath the surface, a brilliant, Technicolor world of fish and corals awaits divers and snorkelers.
Scattered along the reef, a chain of islands, known as Cayes, protect the mainland from the ocean swell and offer more than a hint of tropical paradise.
Beyond the reef lie the real jewels in Belize`s natural crown Three of only four corals atolls in the Caribbean
Travelers to Belize quickly discover what makes Belize unique.
It is the friendly people. Colorful personalities with an array of traditions and customs representing over ten diverse cultures make the Belizean people the country’s greatest resource and stewards of Belize?s tourism.
Comprised of the Maya, Creole, Mestizo, Garifuna, East Indian, Mennonite, Arabs, North Americans and Chinese, this harmonious mixture results in one of the most peaceful countries in the region.
Belizeans recognize the importance of conservation and their country boats a higher proportion of protected land than any other.
This has allowed the densely forested interior to remain relatively untouched, home to abundant natural attractions, including the highest waterfall in Central America and the world’s only Jaguar reserve.
Rich tropical forests support a tremendous range of wildlife, including howler and spider monkeys, tapirs and pumas, jabirus storks and scarlet macaws, spend any time inland and you are sure to see the natural bird, the very visible keel-billed toucan.
Despite being the only Central American country without a volcano, Belize does have some rugged upland in the south-central region, where the Maya Mountains rise to over 1100m.
The country`s main rivers rise here, flowing north or east to the Caribbean, forming along the way some of the largest cave systems in the Americas, few of which have been fully explored.
These caves often bear traces of the Mayan civilization that dominated the area from around 2000 BC until the arrival of the Spanish. The most obvious remains of this fascinating culture are the remains of dozens of ancient cities rising out of the rainforest.
Uncrowned Belize is the ideal first stop on a tour of the isthmus. And, although it is the second smallest country in Central America, the wealth of national parks and reserves, the numerous small hotels and restaurants, together with plenty of reliable public transport make Belize an ideal place to travel independently, giving visitors plenty of scope to explore little-visited Caribbean islands as well as the hearth land of the ancient Maya
Where to go
Caracol: The Snail
Located in the Chiquibul National Park in southwestern Cayo District, Caracol which was once home to 150,000 people is the largest Maya center in Belize and has a dominant place in Maya history. The largest temple at Caracol is Caana or Sky Place.
This massive pyramid rises over 140ft above the jungle floor and is the tallest manmade structure in Belize. These temples are some 46 miles into the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, but definitely worth the drive.
Xunantunich: Maiden of the Rock
Located in the Cayo District near the Guatemalan border, the journey to Xunantunich includes passage across the scenic Mopan River via hand-cranked ferry.
Climb El Castillo, displaying a spectacular 130ft frieze and the tallest structure on site, providing breathtaking views of the towns of San Ignacio, Benque Viejo Del Carmen and the Guatemalan countryside. Displays at the visitor center demonstrate the importance of this site as a ceremonial center in the Classic Period.
Cahal Pech: Place of Ticks
Located in northwestern Cayo district overlooking San Ignacio Town and the Macal River, Cahal Pech sits in a lush jungle setting only a short ten minute walk from the town?s center, giving urban visitors easy access to an archaeological site.
Lamanai: Submerged Crocodile
Lamanai lies along the banks of the beautiful New River Lagoon in the Orange Walk District. A major attraction of this site is the well-preserved mask of a Maya ruler emerging from a crocodile headdress.
Lamanai features monumental architecture of temples and palaces dating from the Classic and Pre-Classic Periods and is one of Belize?s largest and most beautiful ceremonial sites.
Altun Ha: Water or the Rock
Located on the old Northern Highway, 31 miles from Belize City, Altun Ha was an important trading center strategically located about six miles from the coast. An unusual characteristic of this site is that no stelae were found.
However, during excavation many valuables were uncovered here, including the famous Jade Head in 1968.
Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave (ATM)
Deep within the forest lies a wonder of both ancient and natural Belize. Following a 45-minute drive from San Ignacio and a 45-minute hike through the beautiful Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve with numerous jungle steams crossing, visitors find a crystal-clear stream flowing from the cave opening.
A short swim into the cave and a guided hike through the underground realm is rewarded by one of the most impressive Maya sites in Belize, including massive pots, ceremonial chambers and human skeletal remains cemented in limestone.
Rio Frio Cave
Rio Frio Cave is located in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve and reveals an impressive 65-foot arch at its opening. Only one-half mile in length, this is a great choice for the first-time caver. From the opening visitors have a striking view of the entire cave and the stream running through it.
Barton Creek Cave
Hidden in the small Mennonite community of Barton Creek, along the Chiquibul Road in the Cayo District, are the cool, dark caverns of Barton Creek Cave. This cave was used by the ancient Maya for ritualistic activities such as human sacrifices, bloodletting rituals and fertility rites.
Flowing west of the Sibun River, Caves Branch River caves into limestone walls deposited by ancient reefs to form a massive cave system. The river dips in and out of these caves, allowing visitors to float through the filtered light of the jungle foliage. 1,000-year-old pottery shards, statues of fertility gods and embedded human footprints can be seen along the way.
Turneffe is the closest to the mainland of Belize’s three atolls and only a short distance from the Barrier Reef. Surrounded by small orchid- strung mangroves islands, the spectacular underwater formations make this a popular dive and fishing location.
Lighthouse Reef Atoll
Lighthouse Reef Atoll is another marine lagoon bounded by reefs and sand islands. A nesting site of the rare Red-footed Booby is located on Half Moon Caye.
This atoll and the surrounding waters from the first protected area in Belize; an observation tower and picnic facilities make this an ideal stop between dives.
Glover’s Reef Atoll
Fifteen miles outside the Barrier Reef and some 70 miles from Belize City is Belize’s most remote atoll. On the southeast end, the six coral isles sitting atop the reef provide easy access for diving, snorkeling and sea kayaking.
The Blue Hole
Six miles north of Halfmoon Caye in lighthouse Reef, is the Blue Hole, the result of a cave which collapsed centuries ago. The Blue Hole is nearly 1,000 feet across and is ringed by corals, making for an excellent snorkeling adventure. The base of this fringing reef gradually slopes to 50 feet, then into a seemingly bottomless underwater cavern.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve & Shark Ray Alley
Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley are located only 4 miles from San Pedro Town and 36 miles from Belize City, making them easily accessible and popular diving and snorkeling sites. The shallow waters offer even the novice swimmer a chance to encounter docile nurse sharks and rays.
San Pedro, Ambergris Caye
Ambergris Caye is Belize’s largest island approximately 36 miles from Belize City, and is the birthplace of Belize’s tourism. From the cobblestone streets of San Pedro Town outward to the northern and southern ends of the island, there is a wide assortment of accommodations, restaurants, bars, shops and tour operators to suit all budgets.
The island of Caye Caulker is five miles long and a half-mile wide with a population of approximately 1,200 people. Once known for producing traditional wooden sailboats, residents now embrace the thriving fishing and tourism industries. Many islanders own and operate restaurants, hotels, bars, gift and dive shops, offering an authentic Belizean island experience.
This 16-mile peninsula of white sand bordered by calm lagoons on the west and the blue Caribbean on the east hosts the picturesque village of Placencia at its tip. Once a scarcely populated fishing village, Placencia has become a thriving tourism center as the quaint seaside resort with a local flair, while the peninsula offers modern resorts, vacation rentals and condominiums.
The Belize Zoo
One way to see Belize’s native animals in their natural surroundings is at the Belize Zoo. No iron bars here; the animals live under the forest canopy in natural settings within large fenced enclosures. The zoo operates an environment education program and a refuge and rehabilitation center for over 125 species of Belizean wildlife.
Maynor Ovando and a driver took us to two places for birding, plus a spectacular breakfast at Cerro San Cristobal. After birding around the restaurant, we went to Finca de Pilar, where there is a path up into the mountain as well as hummingbird feeders. Maynor was very knowledgeable about the birds and the area, really knows (and loves) the birds, and his English was also quite good. Thanks, Maynor!
One more full day in Antigua, Guatemala. I highly recommend travel to this country. If you want to travel in Guatemala safely and comfortably...I recommend having David Reyes plan your tour. Does not matter how many people are in your group. David guides one person...to a group of 16-18 people. I thought that our group of 14 was ideal. David has a degree in Tourism. He is highly knowledgable.
This trip was 5 star! You cannot beat the organization and agenda skills of Kathy partnered with David’s “on the ground” knowledge, skill set and personal interest in every individual. We smoothly sailed into and out of Honduras and for those with special interests such as birding or hiking, David did not disappoint. It was all there!!!