Look Up! The man yells when walking from the bus station to the waterfront of Belize City. Hesitant, you worry that he is trying to distract you to relieve you of your belongings. After all, Belize City is known as one of the most dangerous towns in Central America. Instead, you are treated to a view of thousands of birds flying overhead as he says, “welcome to my country, enjoy the beauty of Belize”.
Whatever your vision of Central America is, check it at the door before entering this beautiful and welcoming country. Many travel guides will tell you to “get out of Belize City and head for the islands.” It is too bad really, because they are causing people to miss out on meeting the very proud and helpful citizens of this vibrant town.
Cruise ships stop here regularly and whisk tourists off to Tikal in Guatemala, or to Amgergris Caye off of the coast. The port is well developed and you can spend time walking around the shops in the comfortable terminal. However, walking around the city is where you get the true Caribbean flare.
Settled by the English in the late 16th century, Belize City is a mix Colonial buildings and Creole Culture. Eat international cuisine, or enjoy the local fare at Jembel’s Jerk Pit or Big Daddy’s Diner. Music pumps from inside shops as smiling people great you speaking perfect English, only to turn to their companion and talk in rhythmic Creole. The official language of Belize is English, but you will often hear a mix of Spanish, Creole, Mayan and German throughout the land.
After soaking up the culture and cuisine in the country’s largest city, catch a water taxi to head out to Caye Caulker. For $10, you will be transported to paradise. Far less crowded than its overdeveloped neighbor Ambergris Caye, this little island is a gem of a destination.
The laid-back vibe of the island has an air of Jamaica, and reggae booms from bars and restaurants. Walk along the dirt roads to look for a beach front hotel and you can spend as little as $20 for a room. Only golf carts drive on the island, so you won’t have to worry about exhaust pollution or noise. The resident’s work hard to preserve their culture and large-scale development is not in its future.
Located just 1 mile from the Belize Barrier Reef, it offers some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world. Hire a boat to take you out to Shark Ray Alley and you will swim with the sharks as manta rays brush up against you. A marine preserve for the past 12 years, the coral and marine life is second to none in the world. Dolphin sightings are commonplace and you will be sure to spot barracuda’s, octopus, stingrays, eels and lobsters.
For experienced divers, The Blue Hole is not to be missed. Made famous by Jacques Cousteau, dive 150 feet into this collapsed cave as sharks circle above the hanging stalactites. If you are not already a diver, take an open water diving course.
Prices are reasonable and you will experience the chance to see even more wildlife and gain an appreciation for the ocean.
Finding a company to go with is easy, just walk along the main dirt road and you will find dive operators and snorkel shops lined up to take you out.
If getting into the water with natural predators isn’t your cup of tea, take a sailing trip to visit other Islands. Belize has several islands and you can take a trip to have a picnic lunch on the beach or enjoy an island drink at an upscale resort on Ambergris Caye.
Caye Caulker may not be overly developed, but you can still enjoy great food ranging from Seafood, to pasta and barbecue. The nightlife isn’t wild, but you can find a nice bar to enjoy a drink or two, look out over the water while swinging on a hammock or listen to some live music well into the evening.
Belize is certainly full of many more sights. It boasts rainforest’s and islands, and the largest cave system in Central America. It is teeming with wildlife from Howler Monkeys to Jaguars. Like its surrounding neighbors, it has Mayan Ruins scattered throughout the country for you to enjoy and beautiful beaches can be found everywhere, the best being in Placencia on the mainland.
It would take weeks to truly discover everything that Belize has to offer, but if you have the time, it is certainly worth the investment.