Belize is absolutely worth the trip, not only for the beauty of its scenery, but also because of the fantastic opportunities it offers to snorkel or dive in this natural paradise – a diver´s dream come true. Belize consists of more than 400 islands, and it has 298 km. of coastline. Belize´s big neighbor to the north is Mexico, with Guatemala to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east. The country has the lowest population density per square km in Central America with only 14 inhabitants per sq. km. So there´s certainly room for you ….and your fellow travelers. This island is a must for serious divers. This is where you will find one of the most intact and longest reefs in the world, the Mesoamerican Great Barrier Reef that stretches from the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico all the way down to Honduras. It is, in fact, the second largest reef system in the world. In general, the weather is hot, the prices are low and the atmosphere is laid back….a combination you might almost have forgotten existed! What´s not to like? Here are a few pointers to whet your appetite.
With its mountains, waterfalls, savannahs, wetlands, jungle, and coast, it is no wonder that this little country has a very unique ecological system with a huge variety of unusual animal, bird and plant species, not to mention fish, of course. Along the coast, are long stretches of mangrove swamps where the tides provide a unique habitat for both birds and mammals, such as the manatee whales –the gentle giants of the sea. Towards the south and west, the land is hilly with low mountain ranges. In the interior, there are large forested areas that have not yet been subjected to the type of destruction that is seen elsewhere on the planet. The many protected reserves give you an excellent chance of spotting some of the species you will seldom see elsewhere. The names themselves are enough to evoke exotic and colourful images: the beautiful big cats – the ocelot and jaguar (Belize has the world´s only jaguar preserve), the strange tapir, or okapi with its stripy hindquarters and legs, also known as the zebra giraffe, howler monkeys, and crocs; birds such as the toucan with its pretty beak, harpy eagles, laughing gulls, great kiskadees, great blue herons, and many, many more among the 500 species of birds. For plant lovers, there are 4,000 different species – 250 species of orchids alone including the rare black orchids. Mahogany trees and a whole range of “air plants” that live on other plants.
Belize also has the largest cave system in Central America and one of the most extensive cave systems in the world. These caves date back to the Mayan era when they were used by the Mayan peoples for spiritual rituals. The caves were considered to be the home of the gods and the entrance to the underworld or “Xibalba” (Place of Fear). Some, like the 300 ft. deep Black Hole, require ladder-climbing and rock climbing skills, while others such as the Rio Frio can be visited by beginners. Or explore Barton Creek Cave by canoe with a guide for a uniquely serene experience. Archaeology lovers will appreciate the Mayan artefacts, altars and art in the Chem Chem Ha Cave or Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave. This country has one of the world´s most interesting Indian cultures, the Mayan culture, and the country is dotted with hundreds of ruins.
Belize is the next hot destination for divers – this is where you´ll get real value for money – big experiences at small prices! This 300 km long coral reef offers world-class diving and snorkelling opportunities few other places on the planet can match. Divers come from all over the world to experience this exceptional, underwater world. It has the world´s largest “blue hole”- a strange geological structure which reaches depths of up to 124 meters. But you don´t have to be an expert to dive here – there is something for every level from beginner to advanced. You can swim alongside giant manta rays, see nurse sharks and graceful, white spotted, whale sharks – the world´s biggest fish but also the most gentle. The Hoi Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley is the smallest marine reserve in the world, but has one of the highest concentrations of sharks and rays on the planet in waters that are less than 9 meters deep. And you can dive here all year round; during March to December when marine conditions and marine life are optimal, or from August to October, the rainy season, when it is less crowded but still great diving. Again, the very names will entice you: blue land crabs, yellowtail damselfish, needlefish, or go to watch the turtles (Hawsbill, Hammerhead or Green Sea Turtles) lay their eggs on the beaches from June to August. And if you´re fond of reptiles, you are sure to catch sight of the Green Iguanas, one of the largest lizards in the world. The locals are so fond of them, they call them “bush chicken” or “bamboo chicken” – and have a number of good local recipes!
Speaking of chicken, don´t miss one of the essential island experiences – a ride on one of Belize´s local buses, “the chicken bus “ as it is fondly called, often packed with locals on their way to market. There are two categories of service- the regular chicken bus and the very slightly less dilapidated -express service! Both consist of a motley fleet of old American school buses painted and decorated in bright colours. Just wave your arms to flag it down and you´re away!
The island was formerly British Honduras and is a very small country of 22,800 sq. km, with a population of 387,879 (2017). It is located in Central America along the Caribbean coast, and borders Mexico to the north-west and Guatemala to the west and south. 75 km, away, across the Honduran Gulf, lies Honduras.
Area: 22,966 sq. km.
Currency: Belize dollar
Continent: North America
Population: 387,879 (2017).
Official language: English