In my travel business, I have noticed a significant increase in people who want to vacation in Belize. This little country is located on the east coast of Central America facing the Caribbean Sea. Most Belize vacationers are looking for a Caribbean beach in a country that’s still relatively undeveloped. But Belize will also satisfy those who desire nature or history.
Belize is a small country of 8,868 square miles. For perspective, it’s slightly larger than Massachusetts. Belize’s topography is low compared to other Central American countries. Its highest point is 3,687 feet in the Southern Maya Mountains. Belize’s coastline is typically low plains. The northern plains are swampy and rise to a slight plateau in the west; and are heavily cultivated in sugar cane. Central Belize is comprised of sandy soil covered with tropical grassland known as savannahs. Largely uninhabited by humans, the region has an abundance of wildlife. South Belize, the nation’s rainiest area, supports agricultural products including citrus and bananas. Almost all of Belize is surrounded and protected by the Great Barrier Reef, which spans 190 miles.
The airlines in the U.S. fly to Belize City. If your destination is elsewhere in Belize, Maya Island Air or Tropical Air can shuttle you there. If your destination is Ambergris Caye (pronounced “key”), a more scenic means of transportation is the water taxi, which gets you there in about an hour and a half. But take the taxi at your own peril if you tend to become sea sick.
If you are headed directly to the beach, you will not need to spend time in Belize City, and that’s probably for the best. However, if sightseeing interests you, Belize City has something substantive to offer. You just have to get past its slummy look and reputation for crime. Beyond those things, you will find British culture and history, a wide range of dining choices and some good hotels. Moreover, Belize City is the country’s center of business. And no matter that the official capital was moved inland to the planned city of Belmopan in 1961 after another in a series of earthquakes devastated Belize City. The nation’s politicians and influencers still call Belize City their home.
As far as the beach goes, you have a few choices. If you like limited bustle, Palencia is an excellent beach destination. It’s in South Belize on the tip of the peninsula. The city and its nearby environs are in the midst of a boom, with hotels and condos springing up like weeds in the sand. As one of my clients put it, “Everything is for sale.” The Inn at Roberts Grove is my favorite place to send people. It’s quiet and features unparalleled service. You can spend part of your stay on one of two cayes. Roberts offers fine dining, fishing, diving, snorkeling and kayaking as well as an excellent spa.
Ambergris Caye, a popular beach option, is the largest and most populous of the more than 400 cayes (little islands) off the Belize coast. It’s for people who want some excitement mixed in with their relaxation. If you want nightlife, Ambergris is pretty much your only option. Ambergris certainly has its share of deluxe hotels and fine restaurants in San Pedro Town, its only center of population. Yet less urban activities such as fishing and diving, plus nature’s wonders, including forests, savannahs and lagoons, are here also. You can rent a bicycle or golf cart to explore the sights.
Caye Caulker is a terrific choice for a beach with peace and quiet. It has some very good hotels and restaurants, and like Ambergris, a rented bicycle or golf cart is the perfect way to get around.
An appealing attribute of both Ambergris and Caye Caulker is the availability of daily boat trips. You can sail from either island to Hol Chan Marine Reserve for snorkeling. In fact, you can literally swim with the sharks and stingrays in Shark-Ray Alley, a sandbar within Hol Chan. Boats also run from both cayes to Caye Chapel, location of an incredible par-72 golf course opened in 1999. Caye Caulker offers some special treats for nature lovers, including bird watching and nature walks. An unusual activity that I love is the manatee tour where manatees (or sea cows), which are friendly mammals, surface alongside the boat.
If you are an adventurer, I suggest you go caving. Belize is literally littered with caves, and some are immense. Cayo in the western area near the Guatemala border offers the best cave experience for most travelers. The region has numerous caves that are easy to navigate, and guided tours are available.
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