Belize has seen its share of visitors throughout history. Pirates, traders, the British, slaves and loggers, at one time or another, have cut a life into the country’s wild jungles and Caribbean coastline. Today, a new visitor fuels the economy for Central America’s newest country: the tourist.
Most start in Belize City, the coastal town and former capital of Belize (the government moved to centralized Belmopan in 1970), which is accessible via cruise ship or by a handful of U.S. and Caribbean-based air carriers. As the cultural and business epicenter of Belize, allow a day or two to explore the city’s winding streets, peruse street vendors and shops, and soak in the varying architectural influences – from small shacks to the sturdy English colonial structures, some of the last remaining vestiges of the British colonization of Belize. That British influence is also why English is the country’s official language.
But tourists rarely visit just for the ambiance and history of Belize City. With the second longest barrier reef in the world, vast expanses of rain forest and mountains, and an abundance of Mayan ruins tucked within the lush surroundings, it’s what lies outside the city that has made tourism Belize’s largest industry.
The barrier reef, running parallel to the coastline for 185 miles, is a diver’s delight with a diverse eco-system of differing coral sizes, shapes, colors and aquatic species, including turtles, manatees and crocodiles. On the surface, the popular cayes (pronounced “Keys”; low-lying islands made up mostly of sand or coral) of Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye and their hotels, resorts and restaurants provide a pleasurable diversion from the reef activities.
Moving inland, tropical rainforests, caves and waterfalls make for spectacular adventures and photo ops. Hiding within the lush surroundings throughout the country are Mayan ruins. From Belize City, a favorite Mayan excursion is to the ruins at Altun Ha, a major ceremonial and trading post during the Post Classic and Classic periods and is the most excavated site in Belize.
With roughly 294,000 residents taking up a land mass about the size of Massachusetts (which by comparison, has over 6.4 million residents), there is plenty of space for visitors to explore Belize’s countryside and coastline without feeling crowded. For more information on Belize and the many educational and ecotourism adventures available, contact your local Carlson Wagonlit Travel expert.