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BELIZE

Return to Central America

Ambergris Caye, Belize
Ambergris Caye, © Can Stock Photo / slickspics

Belize is a narrow strip of land on the Caribbean coast line of Central America.  It is about 300 km (180 mi) north/south and 110 km (70 mi) east/west.  Its northern border is shared with the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, while its western and southern borders are with Guatemala.  Belize was formerly known as British Honduras and in 1981 it became an independent nation in the British Commonwealth.  The Mayan civilization inhabited the area prior to the Spanish conquest.  In 1798 at the Battle of St George's Caye, the British gained control of the country from Spain.  The population of Belize is just under 400,000.  The capital is Belmopan, whose name reflects the Maya heritage of the Mopan, Yucatec Maya.  The largest city is Belize City, with a population under 100,000.  English is the official language of Belize.  Power is provided with standard North American receptacles.  

One of the main attractions to Belize is the snorkeling and diving associated with the country's location along the Belize Barrier Reef that is second in size only to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.  There are hundreds of small islands, call cayes, along the coast.  Belize also has extensive rainforest, which provides habitat for flora and fauna typical of the Central American countries to the south.

Visas:

Many countries do not require a visa to enter Belize.  Exempt nations include those of the Caribbean, the USA, the European Economic Union and the Commonwealth.   Check your specific country at VisaHQ.   For a list of exempt countries, visit Project Visa.

Currency:

The officicial currency of Belize is the Belize dollar.  It is pegged to the US dollar at a rate of 2 Belizean dollars per US dollar.

Weather:

Average highs are around 29 C (84 F) and average lows are about 24 C (75 F).  Temperatures are only a couple of degrees higher than this in the summer months of June and July, while in winter it is a couple of degrees cooler.  Rainfall is the main determinant for tourism, with the dry season extending from February to April and coinciding nicely with spring break in North America.

Transportation:

There is an international airport outside Belize City and cruise ships also visit Belize City by tender.  US dollars are widely accepted.

Xunantunich, Belize

Xunantunich, © Can Stock Photo / slickspics

Things to see and do in Belize:

  • Snorkel and scuba diving - A number of reefs and atolls form the barrier reef off shore from mainland Belize.  At Ambergris Caye, visit Shark Ray Alley and snorkel with the sharks.  The famous Great Blue Hole is a perfectly circular hole in the barrier reef that is 1,000 feet across and 450 feet deep.  It's located about 80 km (50 mi) east of Belize City in shallow waters by Half Moon Caye.   Half Moon Caye is serviced by regular tour boats and is a nesting spot for Red Footed Boobies.  Other well known locations are Long Caye's "Aquarium" and Glovers Reef Atoll.

  • Head to the beach - Ambergris Caye is the largest caye in Belize and the main center for the tourist industry.  It was once a peninsula attached to the Yucatan and Mexico.   Caye Caulker is between Belize City and Ambergris Caye.  It is a more budget oriented tourist location.   Visit the Split where the island of Caye Caulker was divided into two sections in 1961 by Hurricane Hattie.  Hopkins is a great beach located more than 2 hours south of Belize City.  Placencia Caye and Maya Beach are located on a long thin peninsula an additional 1.5 hours south of Hopkins.  Bannister Caye is a frequent excursion location for the cruise ship industry. 

  • Mayan Ruins - The easiest Mayan ruin to reach from Belize City is Altun Ha, which is located a half hour north of Belize City.  Wildlife in the area includes armadillos, coati, tapirs, crocodiles and numerous varieties of birds.  Xunantunich Mayan Ruins are located about 2.5 hours from Belize City.  Visiting the ruins offers the added adventure of taking a hand cranked ferry across the river at the town of San Jose Succotz.  Cahal Pech is located in San Ignacio, about 1.5 hours from Belize City and on the route to Xunantunich.  Caracol is the largest Maya site in Belize and one that is not easy to reach.  It's located 2.5 hours from San Ignacio and is accessed by traveling through the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve.  Lamanai is a 36 mile boat ride up the New River from Orange Walk Town, just over an hour northwest of Belize City.

  • Mountain Pine Ridge is a full day tour of the caves, lakes, rivers and waterfalls that form the wilderness of Belize.  Visit the Rio Frio Cave, Rio on the Pools, Big Rock Cave, Hidden Valley Falls and Barton Creek Cave.  Mountain Pine Ridge is about 45 minutes from San Ignacio and around 2.5 hours from Belize City. 

Belize City, Belize

Belize City, © Can Stock Photo / nik0s

  • Bird watching - the Belize Audubon Society hot spots are Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary (also a chance to see jaguars, pumas and ocelots), Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, Aguacaliente Wildlife Sanctuary, Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, Ambergis Caye and Caye Caulker, Caracol Archaeological Reserve, Half Moon Caye Natural Monument and Red Bank Village.  The society cares for 9 protected areas.

  • Limestone caves - Cave of the Crystal Maiden (Actun Tunichil Muknal Natural Monument or ATM) is located in the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve, 45 minutes from San Ignacio, which is itself about 1.5 hours from Belize City.   A 45 minute hike is necessary to reach the cave.  Nearby, the Caves Branch River cuts a river cave through the limestone that is large enough for cave tubing, except in the dry season from Feb - June.  It's a 45 minute hike to this site.  Two tour companies from San Ignacio operate in the ATM - Pacz Tours and Mayawalk ToursSt Herman's Blue Hole National Park is located close to Caves Branch River and it offers caves, waterfalls and a small blue pool.  This is not the same as the Great Blue Hole, which is located in the barrier reef.  Also try Chukka at Jaguar Paw for cave tubing on the Caves Branch River, plus ziplining.

  • Rafting, canoeing and kayaking - The Mopan River and the Macal River merge to form the Belize River, providing many opportunities on all three of these rivers.

  • In and around Belize City - Museum of Belize, St John's Cathedral, Orchid Garden Eco-Village, Old Belize Adventure - a tourist attraction with a water slide, rainforest and cultural exhibits at Cucumber Beach outside of town.  The Belize Zoo is located about 45 minutes from town.

  • Dangriga and Hopkins - Dangriga is where Punta Rock music started.  These towns provide a modern day cultural experience.

Things to see and do near Belize:

  • Tikal Mayan Ruins - 3.5 hours from Belize City, in Guatemala.  If you are touring ruins, then Cahal Pech and Xunantunich are on the route to Tikal.

Savor the Tastes of Belize:

  • Taco stands in the streets of Ambergris Caye are common.

  • Try Wish Willy Bar and Grill for inexpensive food in Caye Caulker.

Belize Tours:

Hotels Listings for Belize:


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