The origin of the name 'Belize' is under some dispute. While some say that it has been derived from the name Wallace, who was one of the earliest buccaneers to come ashore here, others are of the opinion that the Mayan word 'beliz', which means 'muddy water', is where it comes from.
As a travel and tourism destination, Belize embodies the 'small packages sometimes contain big things' saying. This minuscule country in Central America has the largest Mayan city, Caracol; the longest barrier reef running continuously in the Western hemisphere; and the highest population of the biggest new-world cat, the jaguar. Belize also has the most easily accessible and extensive cave system, that attract both experienced and amateur spelunkers alike, and also a practically unending supply of some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling opportunities in the world.
Depending on what you prefer, you can choose to put up in a tent on a desert island, a secluded nature lodge in the middle of the Mundo Maya, or a luxurious and intimate hotel. Or, if you feel like it, you could sample them all. The best part about a Belize vacation is that because of its compact size, you can sample a wide range of world-class experiences and places in a short period of time.
Once known as the British Honduras, Belize got its independence from Britain as recently as 1981, which makes it the second-youngest country in the Western Hemisphere. With no big cities, and having a population of just 280,000, it is also one of the most sparsely populated countries. It is bordered by the Honduras on the south, Guatemala on the west, the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico on the north, and the Caribbean Sea on the east.
A traveler to Belize will discover that it is the only country in Central America where English is the official language, along with having a charming mix of ethnic languages, such as Mayan; Mestizo, a Spanish-Indian language; Creole, an African-European language; Hispanic; Garifuna, an African-Indian language; Mennonite; Asian; Middle Eastern; and Anglo-European.
Tourism being one of the fastest developing segments of its economy, Belize offers a wide variety of attractions to people who choose to travel to this destination, from ecotourism to active adventures to sun 'n' fun beach vacations.
Belize Vacation Must Sees
Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary
Situated in Northern Belize, this wildlife sanctuary is located in a swampy lowland where 250 species of birds make their home. It also serves as a sojourn for large numbers of migratory bird species. The largest bird in North and South America, the jabiru stork, which is an endangered species, also makes this sanctuary its main nesting site. Other wildlife can also be seen in this sanctuary such as howler monkeys, coatimundi, iguanas, and crocodiles. Crooked Tree can be best explored by taking a dugout canoe and paddling through the lagoon network.
Rio Bravo Conservation Area
Also in Northern Belize, this is a huge mixed tract consisting of virgin forest, areas where the forest is managed providing sustainable yield, along with areas that are recovering reforestation tracts. Nearly 200 tropical tree species and 400 species of birds exist in this area. This is also home to many of the new-world species of cats, and is one of the best places in North and South America to spot a jaguar. This area also has the La Milpa, one of the major Mayan ceremonial cities where excavations are ongoing.
The Cayes and Barrier Reef
As mentioned earlier, the Belize Barrier Reef, running along the country's entire coastline, is the world's second-longest barrier reef running continuously. Apart from some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling sites, the barrier reef is also lined with myriad cayes, or small islands, which are mostly uninhabited. These islands range in size from vacation destination islands that are fairly large, such as Ambergis Caye and Caye Caulker, to mangroves or patches of sand that are smaller than a football field. Whether you prefer the hustle and the bustle of the former, or the deserted island ambiance of a private or smaller caye, or a little of both, you have plenty of choices.
Arguably more magnificent than the barrier reef, along with its many cayes, are the three atolls that lie mid-ocean in Belize. Distinctive formations of reefs and small islands, which surround a saltwater lagoon in the middle of the ocean, atolls are a stunning, isolated, and unique phenomenon. There are three of them in Belize: Glover's Reef, Lighthouse Reef, and Turneffe Island. Being sparsely developed, a visit to these atolls will be infused with a sense of isolation, adventure, and romance.
Caves of Belize
Another unique natural feature in Belize is the extensive cave network, which the ancient Mayans considered to be a mystical realm between the netherworld spirits of those who died and the world of the living. They named this mystical region Xibalba. In practically every cave that has been explored in Belize, discoveries have been made of Mayan use, such as ritual altars, burial mounds, campsites, and fire pits. Innumerable pottery pieces, along with large numbers of bones, skeletons, and artifacts have also been found. Being quite accessible, on your vacation to Belize, a trip to Xibalba should be on the top of your itinerary.
Some of the other must see tourism spots in Belize are the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and the Cockscomb Basin Forest Reserve, in Southern Belize, and the Rio On Pools, located in Western Belize and Cayo District.
Belize Outdoor Recreation
Belize is a great tourism destination for the adventurous and active traveler. With the country being so compact, you can mix and match your itinerary; the quality of the local tour operators and adventures is very good; and the range of options available is wide. Whether you are interested in bird-watching, fishing, mountain biking, horseback riding, spelunking, sailing, snorkeling, or scuba diving, Belize offers some of the best opportunities and terrain.
With over 570 species of birds, both migrant and resident, making Belize their home, and a great variety of habitats and ecosystems, the country has an abundance of excellent sites for bird-watching. Lodges that offer the best bird-watching experience include the lodge situated at Big Falls, Toledo District; Pook's Hill, outside Belmopan; Lighthouse Reef Resort situated on Lighthouse Reef Atoll; Blancaneaux Lodge in the Mountain Pine Ridge area; duPlooy's, Chaa Creek, or any other nature lodge located outside San Ignacio; Chan Chich Lodge, close to Gallon Jug; and Lamanai Outpost Lodge, situated on the New River Lagoon.
Every angling enthusiast worth his/her fly fishing rod is well aware that Belize is a fishing destination of world-class reputation. Bonefish, tarpon, and permit fishing are the main attractions, and they are abundantly available on the saltwater flats along the barrier reef and along the entire length of the coastline. The Placencia and Punta Gorda in the southern part are where permit is particularly plentiful, while the rivers and coastal mangroves are where lively snook can be landed. Anglers can also snap up grouper, jack, barracuda, and snapper if they go a little beyond the barrier reef. April up to November is ideal for tarpon, while permit and bonefish can be caught through the year.
Organized Belize Adventure Tours
Because of the paucity of resources and time, many travelers find that adventure travel packages or organized tourism is an efficient way to combine several activities. For example, hiking, cave explorations, and bird-watching can be combined with sea kayaking, a few days of diving and snorkeling on one of the outlying cayes, along with visits to Mayan ruins.
Group travel in an organized trip has many advantages compared to independent touring. Your transportation and accommodation are arranged, while the package usually includes the cost of most of your meals. And unlike people traveling on their own, with an experienced tour operator you will be able to go to each destination quickly without the usual delays and snags. And another plus is that you will get to meet like-minded people interested in active activities and nature. Of course, since all of your arrangements will be taken care of in advance, it will be more expensive.
These tours are conducted by guides that are knowledgeable, who are either biologists or naturalists. When you choose a tour, ensure asking about the difficulty levels. While most tour operating agencies have 'soft adventure' packages, which people who are in moderately good shape can deal with, other adventure packages comprise more strenuous activities, which are meant for seasoned adventure travelers and athletic people. Usually, each group is limited to about 1020 people.
Dining and Nightlife in Belize
The cuisine of Belize is rich with Mayan, Spanish, Caribbean, Mexican, and African influences. Seafood is what Belize specializes in. Shrimp, lobster, fresh fish are abundantly available, especially on island and beach destinations. Another Belizean staple, rice and beans, comes as an accompaniment to practically all main dishes. Usually, the rice and beans are made together, with a dash of coconut milk.
Most dining experiences and meals are quite informal, and it's only a few restaurants in the whole country that can be thought of as semi-formal. None of the restaurants require a tie or jacket, although you can certainly wear them, if you like.
As for the nightlife, you won't find much of the club and bar hopping that is usually done in tourist resorts. Nevertheless, Belize does offer some unique after-sundown activities and destinations that you should not miss.
Given Belize's low population density and sparse development, there are some really spectacular stargazing opportunities on offer. The best spots for enjoying the astronomical wonders are the three mid-ocean atolls, rural mountain getaways, and isolated beaches.
If scuba diving is your thing, you should certainly try it out in the night. The reefs around Belize come alive especially at night, as many of the creatures there are nocturnal. In addition, the spectacular colors of the sea life and coral shine brilliantly in the powerful glare of an underwater light, which can be a truly eerie experience. All the major resorts and diving destinations have nighttime diving on offer.
Weather in Belize
Belize's weather, being subtropical, is generally like it is in southern Florida. The temperature on the cayes and coast hovers at around 27 degrees C (80 degrees F), although it does get considerably warmer in the summer months, especially during the day. It can get fairly nippy when the northern cold fronts reach out to the south, in the winter months. As a matter of fact, from the latter part of December to around February, the 'northers' usually hit the caye and coastal areas pretty hard, which can severely cramp any beach vacation. For guaranteed fun in the sun, the best months are March through to May. If you are skittish about hurricanes and rain, it is best to avoid Belize between the latter part of August and the middle of October. Nevertheless, if you do go there during these months, you are sure to get some great bargains.
Belize's tourism season begins from the latter part of November and carries on up to late April, which happens to coincide with the chill winter season that occurs in Canada, United States, and UK. This is also the driest season in Belize, so if you are looking for a little less rain on your sojourn in the rainforest and some unadulterated sun-worshiping on the beaches, this is the time to head for Belize. At this time, particularly around Christmas and Easter holidays, tourism is at full throttle, hence the prices will be higher, the attractions more crowded, and reservations have to be made well in advance.