Situated along the northeastern coast of Central America, Belize stands out from its neighboring countries, Guatemala and Mexico, due to its distinct Caribbean ambiance. A journey to this region unveils a remarkable array of attractions and experiences, ranging from trekking through lush jungles to discovering enigmatic Maya ruins and venturing into national parks abundant with wildlife. Below, we highlight five extraordinary places that should not be overlooked.
- The Remarkable Great Blue Hole
Belize boasts a world-class reputation as a diving haven, thanks to its rich marine life and the Western Hemisphere’s longest unbroken barrier reef. One of the most unique diving sites globally, the Great Blue Hole, can also be found here. With dimensions stretching 1,000 feet in width and over 400 feet in depth, this colossal sinkhole presents an astonishing underwater realm populated by extraordinary marine creatures, resembling a gateway to an otherworldly marine domain. While diving in this location requires courage, Ambergris Caye, located nearby, offers numerous certified schools that cater to various skill levels, providing scuba diving and free-diving instruction.
- The Captivating Ambergris Caye
Whether you’re a diver or not, Ambergris Caye should hold a prominent place on your Belize travel itinerary. As the largest and arguably the most exquisite of over 200 islands in the country, it serves as Belize’s tourism hub. The island offers a diverse range of accommodations, from charming thatched-roof-style lodgings to private islets. Activities heavily centered on water adventures, including diving, snorkeling, sailing, and jet-skiing, dominate the scene here. The standout attraction is the Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve, showcasing magnificent coral reefs and the opportunity to swim through a channel created by the ancient Maya civilization around 1,500 years ago.
- The Enigmatic Xunantunich
Across Central America, remnants of the powerful Maya empire dot the landscape. While renowned sites like Mexico’s Chichén Itzá draw substantial crowds, the lesser-known Xunantunich in western Belize remains relatively undiscovered. Comprising plazas, palaces, and pyramids, this archaeological site preserves the vestiges of a vibrant ceremonial center. Abandoned circa 1000 CE and left to deteriorate, the site’s intricate details were unveiled through excavations in the 1960s. Today, visitors can immerse themselves in a city that potentially housed a population of 10,000.
- Exploring the Cayo District
Snuggled along the Guatemala border, the Cayo District boasts some of Belize’s densest jungles, creating an haven for both wildlife and adventure seekers. Within this region, visitors can choose from an array of hiking trails, uncover ancient temples, navigate extensive cave systems, and leisurely paddle along rivers in kayaks. One intriguing location is the semi-aquatic Barton Creek Cave near San Ignacio, which can be explored via canoe. This cave network provides access to a haunting underground realm where the Maya once laid their deceased to rest. Those who prefer to remain above ground can journey through the jungle to reach the ancient Maya site of Caracol, making stops at Rio Frio Cave, Rio on Pools, and Big Rock Falls along the way.
- Belize City’s Multifaceted Charm
Although Belmopan claims the title of administrative capital, much of Belize’s commerce and industry is centered in Belize City, nestled along the Caribbean coast. The city’s vibrant, eclectic streets showcase numerous structures from the British colonial era, including the historic Courthouse and St. John’s Cathedral. The waterfront is adorned with lively parks, bustling shopping districts, and sailing vessels gently bobbing at the mouth of Haulover Creek. For an immersion into the country’s history, the Museum of Belize offers compelling exhibits and historical photographs within its former role as the city’s largest jail. Furthermore, the Image Factory, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting local artists, presents innovative exhibitions, book launches, and sculptures that are well worth exploring.
Planning Your Journey
While direct flights from the UK to Belize are currently unavailable, various airlines offer connecting flights through the US, Mexico, and Canada. For organized travel plans spanning Belize, Trailfinders presents multiple options that encompass the Cayo District and Ambergris Caye. For additional information, visit travelbelize.org. To stay connected with the latest from National Geographic Traveller (UK) magazine, you can subscribe here (available in select countries only).
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Exotic Destinations
What makes Belize a unique travel destination?
Belize stands out with its Caribbean ambiance, distinct from its neighbors, Guatemala and Mexico. It offers diverse attractions, from jungles to Maya ruins.
What is the Great Blue Hole?
The Great Blue Hole is a remarkable diving site in Belize, featuring a massive sinkhole filled with extraordinary marine life, making it a must-visit for divers.
What can visitors experience in Ambergris Caye?
Ambergris Caye offers a variety of water-based activities, such as diving, snorkeling, sailing, and jet-skiing. It’s also home to the Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve.
What sets Xunantunich apart from other Maya sites?
Xunantunich in Belize remains less crowded than some other Maya sites, allowing visitors to explore well-preserved plazas, pyramids, and palaces from the ancient civilization.
What attractions are found in the Cayo District?
The Cayo District offers dense jungles, hiking trails, ancient temples, and captivating cave systems. Notable spots include Barton Creek Cave and the ancient Maya site of Caracol.
What highlights can be found in Belize City?
Belize City showcases British colonial architecture, including the Courthouse and St. John’s Cathedral. It also offers seaside parks, shopping areas, and cultural attractions like the Museum of Belize and Image Factory.
How can I plan a trip to Belize?
For travel to Belize, consider connecting flights via the US, Mexico, or Canada. Trailfinders offers organized itineraries covering destinations like the Cayo District and Ambergris Caye. Visit travelbelize.org for more information.