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Belize Travel Guide

Belize is a small and scarcely populated country in Central America. It is the only one without a coastline facing the Pacific Ocean. While it is sandwiched between Mexico and Guatemala, Belize is culturally different from both countries and other countries in Latin America. Belize has a Creole culture, an Anglo-Caribbean blend of the English-speaking Caribbean and the Spanish-speaking Central America. Belize today is largely an eco-tourist destination, a land of protected coral reefs and designated natural reserves of rainforests and waterfalls. In addition to the hotels and resorts along Belize’s Caribbean coast, you’ll find many eco-lodges inland.[1]

Belize’s main attraction is its 400 or so offshore cayes and islets just off of its eastern coast and situated on the Mesoamerica Barrier Reef, which is the largest coral reef in the Americas stretching from Mexico to Honduras. This coral reef system also happens to be the second largest in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Belize’s offshore cayes are part of a protected marine park and its crystal-blue waters are filled with innumerable bright-colored fish species and other marine life, which makes it a great scuba diving, snorkeling, and kayaking area. The only two cayes with tourist infrastructure are the Caye Caulker and the Ambergris Caye, the latter being the largest and the most popular caye in Belize.[2]

The interiors of Belize are home to the tallest waterfalls in Central America as well as streaming rivers, natural caves, and several national parks and forest reserves, which are habitats for exotic plants and animals. The Rio Bravo Conservation Management Area in the northwest of Belize, for example, protects a thousand acres of diverse terrain that includes forests, river valleys, plains, and swamps. The conservation is inhabited by hundreds of endemic tree species, tropical birds, and animals like monkeys, crocodiles, tapirs, and cats. The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve is another reserve, located in western Belize. Its rolling hills, gorges, peaks, tall waterfalls, and natural swimming pools are ideal for hiking, mountain-biking, swimming, and bungee-jumping.[3]

The southern parts of Belize offer a more cultural and rural experience, very different from the more westernized coast; you’ll find many small communities that are similar to the ones in Guatemala and you’ll get a chance to learn, participate, and engage village life. Many of the villagers in this region are culturally Garífuna or Native Mayan.[4]

Whether in the interiors or southern regions, you’ll find many ancient Maya ruins like the sites at Lamanai, Caracol, and Xunantunich. These ruins are not as famous or spectacular as Tikal but are full of interesting archaic structures hidden behind jungles. [5]

Belize was first inhabited by the Maya civilization around 1500 BC. The Mayans flourished in Belize until many of the city-states were abandoned around 900AD. The British were the first Europeans to settle in the country in the 17th century, many of them shipwrecked seamen. Gradually small towns developed along the coast and Belize eventually became a British crown colony. For whatever reason, the Spanish never showed much interest in colonizing Belize. In 1964, Belize became a self-governing British colony and eventually gained full independence as a country in 1981. Initially, Guatemala did not recognize Belize as a sovereign state and even to this day, Guatemala claims ownership to various parts of Belize with border disputes yet to be resolved.[6]

Belize is one of the safest countries in Central America and crime against tourists is infrequent. The only trouble spot is Belize City, the largest and most dangerous city in Belize. As long as you stay in the touristy and commercial areas of Belize City or otherwise avoid traveling alone or at night, you should not run into any problems.[7]

“Belize.” <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belize>

Brown, Polly Rodger, and James Read. First-Time Latin America: A Rough Guide Special. Rough Guides, 2003. ISBN: 1843530228.

[1] Brown,10
[2] Id.
[3] Id. at 10, 12
[4] Id. at 10
[5] Id.
[6] Belize
[7] Brown,10-11

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