White sand beaches, warm crystal blue currents from the sea, calls of a Howler monkey softly echoing though the jungle, and a Mayan civilization that beckons from a time long passed whisper to you in the mesmerizing country of Belize.
Departing the plane at Philip S.W Goldson International Airport quickens the senses for the journey that awaits in this land of unparalleled contrasts. Mountains, rainforests, and ancient pyramids diverge from the flourishing eco-system of the Caribbean Sea that encompasses the second largest Barrier Reef in the world. It all begins in Belize City, the gateway to the country. An overnight at the Radisson Fort George or The Great House to refresh before embarking on the first of many adventures either inland or sea.
Inland to the Rivers and Ruins
Orange Walk is a district in northern Belize 52 miles from Belize City. Drive time is 75 minutes on the paved Northern Highway. Buses leave Belize City every 30 minutes. What makes Orange Walk worth visiting is the river cruise down the scenic New River to Lamanai, a 3,000 year old Mayan archeological site.
The 26 mile boat ride to the site highlights the viewing of crocodiles sunning along the river’s edge and Howler monkeys swinging atop the trees while Toucans, Hawks, and Falcons keep watch. Nestled in the tropical forest of Lamanai are three Mayan temples: the Jaguar Temple, the Mask Temple featuring a 13 foot stone mask of a Mayan king, and the High Temple eclipsing the jungle surrounding it. For overnight accommodations to take advantage of bird watching, hiking, and horseback riding, the thatched roof Lamanai Outpost Lodge and Chan Chich Lodge offer all-inclusive rates.
San Ignacio is the base in the Cayo district for exploring caves, ceremonial Mayan pyramids, and cave tubing. San Ignacio is ensconced in lush jungle forests and rolling hills. On the outskirts of the city is Cahal Pech, a Mayan archeological site of 34 temple pyramids, the tallest 77 feet high, Mayan ball courts, altars, and courtyards. For the more adventurous, an hour down the road is Actun Tunichil Muknal featuring the cave of the Crystal Maiden, a skeleton of an 18 year old girl whose 1,100 year old calcified bones sparkle like crystal. Actun Tunichil Muknal, a Mayan site of sacrifice, translates to “Cave of the Crystal,” believed by the Mayans to be an entrance to hell. Touring Actun Tunichil Muknal is for the physically fit over 13 years of age.
To gain access requires an hour’s walk across a shallow river, swimming to the entrance of the cave, and then wading in water for a half mile into the inner cave. Another mile trek to the skeletons of the ritual sacrifices. While difficult to reach, Actun Tunichil Muknal is a once in a lifetime quest. A less strenuous yet exciting adventure is cave tubing through the crystal caves of the Caves Branch River. Overnight at the Lodge at Chaa Creek or the Blancaneaux is a fitting end to this truly remarkable journey.
It is time to return to Belize City for the sea adventure. A short flight to Ambergris Caye is waiting at the Belize City Municipal Airport.
To the Beaches in Belize
Ambergris Caye is the largest island dotting Belize’s coastland. The Caye is protected by the Belize Barrier Reef, a reef second in size only to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. The Belize Barrier Reef is a diver’s paradise that harbors the West Indian Manatee, loggerhead turtle, American crocodile, and breeding birds like the brown pelican and the frigate bird. The coral reef is thriving in an unspoiled habitat. The quantity of sea life makes the Caye also popular for snorkeling and fishing. Some of the best beaches in Belize are found in Ambergris Caye. Matachia Beach Resort, Coco Beach Resort, and Sueno Del Mar are top beach resorts on the Caye while the Five Star hotels include the Victoria House and El Secreto.
Good surfing in Belize is sparse. Long Caye comprises of several privately owned islands that surround Glover’s Reef where surfing is popular for intermediate and advanced surfers with many of the popular tourist beaches protected by the barrier reef.
Turneffe Islands, a coral atoll, is easily accessible from Belize City. It is a treasure-trove for diving and snorkeling with diverse marine life and coral. Boat transfers from Belize City to the atoll are arranged by the privately owned resorts. Blackbird Caye Resort is an affordable superior resort on the private island.
Back to Belize City for the southern beaches that line the shore. Hopkins and Placencia offer ocean front accommodations at the Chabil Mar and The Placencia Hotel in Placencia and the Hamanasi Dive and Adventure Resort in Hopkins.
Facts about Belize
- There are no direct airplane routes to Belize from Europe. Fly to Miami or Houston then hop on American or United Airlines for the 2 hour flight to Belize.
- Only a valid passport is needed from the United States, British Commonwealth and most other European countries.
- Check with your travel agent for up to date departure taxes.
- The easiest way to travel within Belize in by local airlines which offer affordable rates.
- The best time to go is November to May. Avoid the hurricane season which runs from June to October.
- Currency is the Belize dollar. Most places also accept credit cards and the U.S. dollar.
- All tropics are casual. Bring informal wear and lots of sunscreen and insect repellent.
- Roughly the size of Wales or the state of Massachusetts, Belize is an English speaking country in Central America that borders Mexico to the north, Guatemala to the south and southwest, and whose east shore hugs 180 miles of Caribbean waters.
Acknowledgements: Photo’s were kindly provided by Zoe from Absolutebelize.com one of Belize’s leading luxury travel companies.