This little sliver of Central America lies to the south of Mexico, to the north of Guatemala and borders the Caribbean sea. With a diverse array of wildlife, stunning coastline and mountainous, jungle relief, this tropical destination is just the place to cure those winter blues. There’s so many reasons to visit Belize, but here are 7 good ones to tempt you.
1. The Belize Barrier Reef
Snorkeling and scuba diving enthusiasts take note: Belize Barrier Reef, which is part of the larger Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, is the second largest coral reef in the world (the Great Barrier Reef in Australia being the first) and home to over 500 species of fish, 65 of coral and endangered sea turtles. Starting near Cancun in Mexico and extending down the Caribbean coast, this Unesco World Heritage site is a breathtaking, awe-inspiring place to observe sea life in its natural habitat.
2. The Great Blue Hole
For those more adventurous scuba divers who are not afraid to delve into the depths of the sea, the Great Blue Hole is definitely where you’ll want to be. About 70 kilometers off the coast, the hole is a part of the reef and used to be a limestone cave about 150,000 years ago. The cave gradually flooded, collapsed and became what French underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau called one of the best dive sites in the world. Forming a perfect circle, the hole is 124 meters deep, 300 meters wide and boasts a diver’s dream list: calm, clear waters, plenty of sea life, and at least 3 species of sharks.
A dish rooted in Mayan traditions, but with influences from Mexico, Guatemala and the Caribbean, tamales, or ‘bollos’ are one of Belize’s specialties. Typically, Mexican tamales are made of cornmeal, stuffed with meat, beans and other fillings, wrapped in corn husks and then steamed. The Belizean version is wrapped in banana or plantain leaves, flavored with recado roja – an aromatic and distinctive red spice paste – and can include olives, red bell pepper, prunes, raisins, capers, or almonds. With chicken tamales being the most popular (amales de gallina), this is a great handheld snack or meal to grab on the go.
4. Explore the Cayes
With almost 300 kilometers of coastline, not only is Belize blanketed with gorgeous beaches and warm, clear Caribbean water, but just off the shores there are over 200 islands, or cayes to explore. Varying in sizes, you’ll find everything from the pristine, secluded beaches of South Water Caye, to the snorkeler’s paradise of Tobacco Caye, to the much more lively scene on Ambergris Caye, complete with gourmet restaurants, bars and a bustling village atmosphere.
5. Mayan Ruins
What once was the epicenter of the Mayan world remains to this day one of the best places to visit the stunning ruins left over from this civilization that has permanently marked Belize’s landscape. Some of the most striking ruin sites include Xunantunich (which means ‘maiden of the rock’ or ‘stone woman’ in Maya) and has 6 major plazas and 25 temples, the Altun Ha site, home to the Jade Head – the largest Mayan jade object, and Caracol, where you’ll find to the largest pyramid in Belize, at 140 feet tall.
6. Swim with Whale Sharks
Although this might sound terrifying to many, swimming with these gentle giants is an amazing, exhilarating experience. As the largest fish in the sea (growing up to 12 meters long!), these speckled and striped creatures like to eat plankton, not humans, making jumping in the water with them a lot easier to swallow. Swim alongside the whale sharks if you can keep up, or just marvel in their majestic beauty from a distance.
7. Go To The Zoo
The Belize Zoo was first started in the 1980s as a wild animal rescue sanctuary, but slowly grew to become a permanent home to these animals, and eventually developed into an education center as well. It houses over 45 different species native to Belize – either rescued, born or hatched there – and they all roam free in large enclosures that simulate their natural habitat. From spider monkeys, to white-tailed deer, toucans and Belize’s five wildcat species, you can even high-five a jaguar. How cool is that?
Take me to Belize, please!