Links to all Articles & Photos:
Belize: Adventurer's Paradise
Belize--the name has a melodic ring to it, especially in the dead of winter. Belize, the only English speaking country in Central America, is said to be "where the Caribbean meets Central America." An apt description. This small country, about one third the size of West Virginia, afraid its Central American location will cause wrong conclusions to be drawn, would rather be associated with the Caribbean than Central America. Belize has avoided the civil unrest and political confusion suffered by many of her neighbors.
Located on the Yucatan Peninsula, just below Mexico and next door to Guatemala, Belize was part of the ancient Mayan empire. Over 1,400 Mayan sites have been located within the country. Europeans first discovered the area when Christopher Columbus made a voyage along the coast in 1502. English Puritans were the first European settlers in the area, starting Belize's long history of English-speaking. She was declared an English colony in the 1840's and named British Honduras. The name was changed to Belize in 1973, and the country was granted independence from England on September 21, 1981 following 17 years of previous self-government. Belize is more expensive than her neighbors and the running joke a few years back was, "that's the price of democracy."
Caressed by warm Caribbean waters, Belize has excellent weather, and an average temperature of 79 degrees. She has one of the longest barrier reefs in the world. Combine the warm weather and the reef and you have a water sports lover's dream. The sea, the cayes (over 200 of them) and 185 miles of reef, have been the primary tourist attractions in the past. However, there is much more to Belize. Visitors are beginning to discover the interior, which has much to offer the adventure traveler. Getting around Belize isn't difficult. There are roads for those who to travel by auto, but the quickest way to get around is by commuter air. The flights are relatively inexpensive and travel time is reduced by hours. Belize is a very informal country and casual apparel is appropriate for most all activities. Don't forget your sunscreen. Bug spray is a welcome amenity on jungle treks or along the southern coast. Bring along a day-pack for carrying water and snacks on daily outings.
Belize is only a two-hour flight from either Houston or Miami to Belize City. If diving, snorkeling or fishing is one's reason for visiting, the next stop will likely be Ambergris Caye--a short twenty-minute commuter flight from Belize City. The town of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye seems to be dive headquarters. The reason being the caye's proximity to the reef. Here the reef parallels the island's eastern shore. The reef breaks away from the coastline the further south one travels, making for longer boat rides to get on the reef. Ambergris Caye is the largest of Belize's cayes, and the most developed for tourists. Such development means that all the amenities expected by tourists are available--it also means plenty of tourists. There are no paved roads, the primary mode of transportation being golf carts and bicycles.
Most all the island hotels offer some sort of dive/snorkel package. While there I joined a snorkeling trip that went out to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and "Shark-Ray Alley." Here guests swim and interact with Southern stingrays and Nurse sharks while the trip leaders feed the animals.
One place I recommend eating on Ambergris Caye is the Rasta Pasta Restaurant located at the SunBreeze Beach Hotel. Enjoy a relaxed dinner in the balmy sea breeze while listening to live Reggae music. The menu is an eclectic mix of Caribbean/Mexican dishes--and the food is wonderful
If Ambergris Caye sounds too crowded, check out Caye Caulker--a forty-minute water taxi ride from Belize City. Here one finds a totally different atmosphere. The tourists are thinned out considerably. The island is primarily a conch and lobster fishing community and nobody gets in a hurry. Lobster traps are stacked in many yards--including Mike's Movie House. Mike's looks like a typical Caribbean home on stilts, laundry line-drying, not much going on--but if you want to rent a movie (or have e-mail service, buy conch shells, or hire a reef tour), Mike's is the place. The primary activities are diving, snorkeling, and fishing. If one gets tired of walking around the island, I saw a sign offering "golf cart taxi service." Caye Caulker is gaining attention as a prime fishing destination, especially after a new record was set for Blue Marlin in a 1997 Billfish Tournament when a 492-pounder was hauled in.
If beach is what one desires, lying on a peninsula jutting out into the Caribbean, Placencia is the place. Placencia has the best beaches in all of Belize. Here the reef lies several miles off shore and the beach is the main attraction. Located right on the beach, Rum Point Inn is a good place to relax and get away from it all. The inn has several cabanas just a few steps away from the beach. There are several inland excursions available from Placencia. One popular destination is the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary--the world's only jaguar preserve.
There are a couple of trips originating right in Belize City that shouldn't be missed. One is a trip to the Belize City Zoo and Tropical Education Center. The zoo is actually about a forty-five minute drive from Belize City. It was started, not as a zoo, but as a home for Belizean animals that had appeared in films. The zoo covers 28 acres and has a wonderful display of Belizean animals including the tapir, toucans, macaws, ocelot, puma, and my favorite, the black jaguar, to name a few species.
Another venture is out to the Mayan site, Lamanai, which means "land of the submerged crocodile." The best way to get there is by taking a boat up the New River--a thirty-one mile trip--after a forty-five minute drive from Belize City. An added bonus is the wildlife viewing along the way. We observed Sail Kites, Ospreys, insect bats, and several other species. One may also see a crocodile along the river or in the lagoon. The boats are operated by licensed guides that give a running commentary on the natural history of the species being observed.
The Cayo District offers an abundance of interior adventure, from caving, to canoeing, to jungle exploration. The Cayo airstrip has been closed to commuter flights, but charter flights are available. To make the one-and-a-half to two-hour auto trip, most people hire one of the tour companies to pick them up in Belize City. Eco-tourism is really catching on in the Cayo District. Actually, it is the term that is catching on. Some of the jungle lodges have been practicing eco-tourism for years. One example would be Chaa Creek Cottages, located along the Macal River. Chaa Creek has been operating as a jungle lodge since 1981--long before "eco-tourism" became part of the vocabulary. The folks at Chaa Creek are doing their part to preserve the flora and fauna of the region. They have established several facilities to educate the public while preserving the resources, such as the butterfly breeding program that sends Blue Morpho butterflies around the world. Another is the "medicine trail," where rainforest plants with medicinal value are grown. A hike along the trail educates one to the many medicinal values of rainforest plants. A natural history center offers information on the area's natural history.
Black Rock Lodge, located a few more miles up the Macal River, is secluded jungle lodge, offering outdoor activities such as tubing, canoeing, horseback riding, or whizzing down the mountain on a "zip line," to eventually be suspended 65' above the Macal River. The zip line, or "tyrolean traverse," was set up by Stu Legget, one of the world record holders for fastest and longest descent on a "zip line." Plans are to establish a zip line in the rainforest canopy. Some of the most relaxing time I spent in Belize was simply hanging out at Black Rock listening to the jungle sounds.
Belize's barrier reef provides some of the best fishing, diving, and snorkeling available in the western hemisphere and the interior of the country has much to offer the adventure traveler.
IF YOU GO:
Text and Photos [c] PROSE & PHOTOS