Straddling the line between the verdant Central American jungles and the white-washed sands of the Caribbean, Belize is one of those inconspicuous destinations that holds surprises at the turn of every corner.
You’ll often hear locals say with pride ‘You have to see it to Belize it!’ And while this might sound like an endearing cliche at first, it’s not an empty one at that. As a young country with a population of merely 300,000 people, it can be hard to believe the enormous cultural diversity that thrives across this pint-sized nation. A mixture of ancient Mayan heritage, colonial Kriol culture, and aboriginal Garifuna customs come together to forge Belize’s unique cultural landscape, one that’s filled with enticing flavours, lively sounds and a relaxed, easy-going attitude that permeates throughout.
If this vibrant cultural melting pot is not enough, Belize’s natural diversity is sure to enamour you; From temple hopping in the tropical jungle and kayaking through sacred caves in the Maya Mountains, to diving in the second largest reef in the world or living out your wildest Robinson Crusoe fantasies in style, Belize has been gifted with an astounding amount of natural beauty that will set the scene for an unforgettable journey, both adventurous and relaxing.
Ambergris Caye owes its status as an island to the ancient Mayas, who in 200 B.C dug the canal which separated it from the Mexican Peninsula. Today, it is Belize’s largest island on the Reef, attracting those in search of a slice of Caribbean paradise without having to trek too far. Its wide range of daily activities, modern-day conveniences and easy accessibility means it’s one of the most popular destinations within Belize, having come a long way from its humble beginnings as a small fishing village. The island’s only town—San Pedro—is a busy, upbeat hub with a lively night scene.
This charming, low-key village on the Southeastern coast is perhaps Belize’s best-kept secret, having withstood the wave of mass tourism developments taking over other areas of the country. Set on a small strip of land between a peaceful mangrove-lined lagoon and the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, Placencia is the perfect gateway to the wild southern reef—offering unique diving experiences—as well as the tropical mainland jungle—a ideal place for wildlife observation, hiking and horseback riding. The village, minute in size, has managed to retain its old-world charm, calling for serene evenings riding bicycles, eating gelato, or indulging in fresh catch of the day on the pastel-coloured, pedestrian-only ‘main street’.
Mtn Pine Ridge
Mountain Pine Ridge is the largest protected forest in Belize, characterized by a unique natural landscape that offers a respite from the hotter, more tropical lowlands in the country. Legendary film director, Francis Ford Coppola, found within the reserve the ideal setting for his second home—a scenery which reminded him of the location where he filmed Apocalypse Now in the Philippines. Amongst the dense pine tree forest, deep ravines, imposing waterfalls, meandering rivers and mysterious caves set the tone for a slow-paced getaway filled with opportunities to explore the majestic beauty of the reserve.
Ever since early explorations by the famed Jacques Cousteau and others, Belize’s Great Blue Hole remains a source of fascination for divers and travelers alike. A natural sinkhole that emerged more than 10,000 years ago in the final stages of the Ice Age, it’s an almost-perfect circular formation measuring 300 meters in diameter, and 125 meters in depth. The Blue Hole lies at the centre of the Lighthouse Reef atoll, and the dramatic underwater stalactites, stalgmites, and passages found within its depths are home to rare dwellers, such as the blacktip tiger shark, bull shark, hammerhead shark, angelfish, giant groupers, and purple seafans.
Caracol & Xunantunich
The ancient archaeological sites of Caracol and Xunantunich are Belize’s greatest legacy from the ancient Mayan civilization. Hidden in the foothills of the Maya Mountains, these ruins were once the most important political centres of the Mayan lowlands, spanning over more than 200km, a range much larger than Belize City, the country’s largest metropolitan hub today.
As the largest and most intact reef system within the Northern Hemisphere, the Belize Barrier Reef comprises seven key marine reserve zones, over 400 cayes and three atolls. The reef’s crystalline waters are a haven for marine life—over 500 animal species, and more than 100 coral species—and an exciting eco system for divers and snorkelers to explore. The beauty of this unique natural wonder is as much below as above water. In 1996, Belize’s Barrier Reef was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its significant habitats and natural development.