Guide to Belize

Belize may be one of the smallest countries in Central America, but it packs a punch By: Sue Richter
Belize is known for its excellent fishing, snorkeling and diving opportunities.  // © 2012 Sue Richter
Belize is known for its excellent fishing, snorkeling and diving opportunities.  // © 2012 Sue Richter

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Belize may be one of the smallest countries in Central America, but it has plenty to offer. This country still maintains its native culture, a blend of Maya, Mestizo, Creole and Garifuna. English is still predominately spoken, although Spanish is slowly taking over.

The second largest barrier reef in the world meanders through the country’s turquoise Caribbean waters. The water temperature hovers from 80-85 degrees year-round, which makes for amazing diving or snorkeling. Staying on the islands of Caye Caulker or Ambergris Caye is more convenient to commute to the reef, less than one mile from world-class diving and snorkeling.

This gem of a destination has a total population of only 300,000. Much of the country is still raw and beautiful with rainforests, rivers, atolls, monkey grass and mountains on the west side. The people are friendly toward visitors and are often heard saying, “You better Belize it.”

What to Do

On the mainland of Belize, visitors will have plenty to keep them busy including Maya ruins, spotting howler and spider monkeys, horseback riding, hiking, cave tubing and ziplining. On the water, all the usual sports are available, from fishing and kayaking to parasailing and catamaran cruising.

Belize is consistently rated as one of the best places in the world to dive. The most common dive and snorkel sites are Shark Ray Alley, Hol Chan Marine Reserve (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the Great Blue Hole. If staying on the islands, these sites are less than a half-hour boat ride away, except the Great Blue Hole, which takes about 90 minutes by boat.

The Belize Zoo is a worthwhile half-day trip that is included in a few other excursions such as cave tubing. The zoo encompasses 29 acres and exhibits 150 indigenous animals, representing 45 species — a visit here a great way to learn about the local fauna. The zoo is a one-hour drive from the international airport or the main cruise terminal.

Where to Stay

Chabil Mar, located in the southern coastal area of Placencia, is a boutique luxury hotel. It offers full upscale dining options including dinner on the pier but also has a “you catch it, we cook it” philosophy. So on your next fishing or spear-fishing excursion, bring back the catch of the day to the hotel and let the chef work his magic. Prices begin at $250 per night.
www.chabilmarvillas.com

Victoria House, located on the island of Ambergris Caye, offers five-star plantation suites reminiscent of the British rule that lasted until 1981. The hotel is luxurious, and the staff is top notch. This hotel has hosted several television reality shows including a “Gene Simmons: Family Jewels” episode. Prices begin at $180 per night.
www.victoria-house.com

Seaside Cabana, located on the island of Caye Caulker, boasts some of the best bartenders on the island. This is a solid three-star resort, and continental breakfast is included with each room reservation. The pool area is a great location to socialize with other vacationers, swapping stories of the day’s activities while watching the Caribbean Sea ebb and flow. The staff is knowledgeable, friendly and highly professional. Room rates begin at $84 per night.
www.seasidecabanas.com

Getting There

Belize is easy to get to. It’s a 2½-hour plane ride from Houston, Dallas and Miami. American Airlines, Continental, Delta and TACA all provide service. Travelers coming from the West Coast will route through either Houston or Dallas. If clients take the early morning flight from the West Coast, they can be in Belize by 3 p.m.

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