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Did You Know…?

  • Belize’s first permanent European settlers were British buccaneers and shipwrecked British sailors.
  • Part of “The Mosquito Coast,” based on a Paul Theroux novel, was filmed in Belize (1986).
  • Archaeologists estimate more than a million Maya lived in Belize 2,000 years ago, triple today’s Belizean population.
  • Forty percent of Belize is within nature and marine reserves.
  • President Abraham Lincoln secretly negotiated with Britain to create a colony for ex-slaves in Belize.

Where Latin America is English

Belize may be no larger than Massachusetts, but it has the varied attractions typical for Central America, including beaches, mountains, rain forests, a subtropical climate and great biodiversity. Plus, it has hundreds of Mayan ruins.

The small nation, which faces the Caribbean, is exceptionally well endowed with coral reefs (part of the world’s second longest reef system parallels its shores) and numerous coastal islands, called cayes (pronounced keys).

Uniquely for Central America, English is the official language because Belize, formerly British Honduras, was a British colony. Visitors will hear several other languages, too, including Spanish, a Creole and even the language of the Maya.

Because so much of Belize is set aside to protect the flora and fauna, nature is a top draw on land as well as on and in the water. Visitors head for ecolodges in the forests and spend time walking among or even ziplining over the trees to view wildlife; learning about plants and their medicinal applications, and visiting natural caves (sometimes tubing along underground rivers). Mayan sites, some of which are actually inside the caves, are on any well-rounded itinerary.

As for wildlife, this is bird-watcher country because hundreds of species live in or transit Belize; mammals of interest include Baird’s tapir, the country’s national animal.

In the south, the Toledo district is the country’s center for chocolate production; tourists visit cacao farms and chocolate factories, and, in the spring, attend the annual Belize Chocolate Festival.

The area’s reef system, numerous islands, coral atolls and the world-renowned Blue Hole make Belize a prime destination for scuba divers. There are equally attractive options for nondivers, including canoeing, kayaking and snorkeling plus deep-sea fishing and fly-fishing. Quite naturally, seafood is an important ingredient in the Belizean diet. This includes lobster, which is celebrated at several festivals.

Tourists have opportunities to interact with 21st century Maya or other members of the Belizean melting pot. On the other hand, Belize doesn’t offer much in the way of nightlife or staged entertainment.

Finally, crime, particularly in Belize City, is a concern. It is advisable to plan activities and itineraries with safety in mind.

Things to do for Venturers

  • If it’s on the menu, order gibnut, which is a rodent that is a national delicacy and was served to Queen Elizabeth II when she came calling.
  • It’s a must-do. Dive coastal waters to see marine life around the Great Mayan Reef, the Mesoamerican reef system that is the world’s second longest.
  • In the Toledo district, in southern Belize, experience the Mayan village culture at close range by participating in the Mayan home-stay program.
  • Go kite surfing or parasailing, taking advantage of Belize’s constant trade winds.
  • Ride a zipline as one way to get a good overview (literally) of Belize’s rain forests.
  • Get married in Belize. Choose a site with a Mayan temple in the background.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Go fishing and try for the Belizean grand slam, catching bonefish, tarpon and permit (a pompano) on the same trip. A catch-and-release policy applies to all three.
  • Walk the Rain Forest Medicine Trail in the jungle of western Belize; it takes you past native plants believed to have healing powers. You can walk the marked trail solo or on a tour. Look for iguanas, parrots and toucans.
  • Plan a themed itinerary built around several Mayan sites. For example, Altun Ha, Lamanai and Xunantunich are the most visited because they are fairly easy to reach and can include interesting nature tours.
  • Look for some of Belize’s hundreds of bird species in the Cooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary where more than 285 species live or visit while migrating. In fact, bird-watching is possible just about anywhere.
  • Dive or snorkel with whale sharks at the Gladden Spit Marine Reserve off Placencia.
  • Try the cave tubing (riding an inner tube in underground rivers) at Nohoch Che’en Caves Branch Archaeological Reserve near Belmopan. Or, join a guided cave tour where you may see Mayan relics and human skeletons. An example is Actun Tunichil Muknal, an underground place the Maya held sacred.

Things to do for Authentics

  • For your visit to the rain forest, book a posh lodge and take time for its spa services.
  • At Belize City, take the Belikin Brewery tour and taste the product.
  • Look for the striking blue of the blue morpho butterflies in Belizean rain forests. But if that fails, see this and other butterflies at one of Belize’s butterfly farms, such as Green Hills or Tropical Wings.
  • Attend a lobster festival — there are fests in San Pedro and Placencia in June, another in Caye Caulker in July. Feast on the seafood.
  • Attend the springtime Chocolate Festival, with events scheduled around the town of Punta Gorda. Besides sampling goodies, experience music and dance representative of several cultural groups. Other chocolate-y options at any season include tours of area cacao farms as well as factories such as the Cotton Tree Chocolate Factory in Punta Gorda.
  • Drop by the Belize Zoo outside Belize City to see some of the country’s unique mammals, especially the tapir that might not be so easy to spot in the wild.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Belize Tourism Board at