Our very own colleague Marcus has just arrived back from our Quetzal Highway Tour. He helpfully has put together a handy guide with everything you need to know about the stunning country that is Belize!
Situated between Spanish-speaking Central America and the Caribbean, Central America’s youngest nation has a lot to offer the intrepid traveller. It has 240 miles of coastline and hundreds of paradisiacal islands, which offer plenty of opportunities for incredible swimming and marine wildlife encounters (the country is home to the world’s second largest barrier reef). Natural beauty also abounds in the country’s hinterland, where you’ll find colossal caves and rivers carving their way through the dense rainforest.
Culture & Cuisine
The country’s culture is very diverse thanks to its unique history as a host to several European colonial powers. Previously known as British Honduras, Belize is officially an English-speaking nation, though you will hear Spanish, Kriol, Garifuna and Maya languages spoken as you travel around the small yet diverse country. Belizeans are really friendly and relaxed – they don’t stress about the little things and they are always open to share a beer and find out your story!
San Ignacio & the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Caves
Near Belize’s Western border with Guatemala lies the sleepy town of San Ignacio. Typical of Belizean culture, life is relaxed here, with children swimming in the local river or riding horses around the town. The town has an attractive main plaza with bakeries selling some of the best cinnamon buns you’ll ever eat! On Saturdays the San Ignacio market attracts farmers, craftspeople and local merchants from all over the Cayo region, and is a great place to see the different strands of Belizean society come together.
If you’re in San Ignacio you can’t miss a trip to the nearby Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve to visit the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Caves. You’ll spend about an hour twisting and turning between jagged rocks in the cave until you reach the main atrium, a colossal hall with impressive stalactites towering above you. But that’s not all – you’ll see broken ceramic pots and even whole skeletons which have not been moved since the last of the dying Maya civilisations carried out sacrificial ceremonies here in a last-ditch attempt to save their civilisation over 500 years ago. It is a spooky yet incredible experience that is not to be missed if you’re in Belize!
Caye Caulker, the Belize Barrier Reef and the Blue Hole
Caye Caulker is a beautiful small island about 40 minutes by speedboat from Belize City. With no paved roads, most of the locals cycle around the island’s sandy roads. Life here is as chilled out as it gets, and there are countless street signs telling you to ‘go slow’ (locals will even tell you to slow down if you’re walking too fast!). Grab a bucket of ice cold bottled beers from a local bar and watch the sunset from the Split at the Northern end of the island, where a wooden jetty hosts countless backpackers soaking up the Central American Dream in all its glory.
Most people take a full day snorkelling excursion on a sail boat out to the nearby barrier reef, where you’ll stop at three different sites to witness the reef’s varied ecosystems. With some very charismatic locals captaining the ship, you’ll sail through the Caribbean Sea between each spot on the reef, listening to Bob Marley, drinking rum punch and trying some of the delicious local seafood. When you’re snorkelling off the reef you’ll most likely be swimming with sea turtles, stingrays and even sharks – so take a deep breath and dive into one of the most exhilarating experiences of your travels to date! If you have a deep-sea diving licence, you can also dive the spectacular Blue Hole, a 122m-deep sinkhole complete with stalactites and home to a variety of reef sharks including hammerheads and tiger sharks.
If you’re looking for that perfect combination of adventure activities, beautiful tropical scenery, authentic local culture and some down-time on the beach, look no further than Belize.
About the Author: Marcus Hunt is one of the Sales and Marketing Executives at Tucan Travel. He has travelled independently throughout Europe and North, Central and South America, and has studied or worked in France, Italy and Brazil. You can find him on Google+ or read his other contributions here.