Exploring Belize: The Central American Gem
With one foot in the Caribbean and another in Central America,
Belize already paints itself as an anomaly that offers the best of both worlds. Think Tulum, sans the crowds – a paradisiacal pocket-sized country the likes of which remain undiscovered. Tucked between Mexico to the North and Guatemala to the West and South, Belize is the ideal destination for clients looking for something more. You won’t find any cookie-cutter itineraries here – while the destination is largely popular due to its glittering beaches, Belize holds wild secrets spanning from mountain peaks all the way to the deep ocean.
Though more travel agents are becoming acquainted with Belize’s charms, it is still missing from many travelers’ radars – a mistake that is quickly rectified once they learn the wonders it holds. There is a reason Belize is popular with the savvy American traveler: English is its first language, the exchange rate is fixed (in favor of USD), and it’s accessible by most major airports in the U.S. If your client craves connection, cares for the environment, and wants to stray off the beaten path, Belize won’t disappoint.
Where To Go: Ambergris Caye
Rumored to have inspired Madonna’s hit “La Isla Bonita,” Ambergris Caye is an island about a 1.5-hour boat ride away from the mainland. Its only town, San Pedro, is Belize’s most visited destination. Once you step foot off the dock, you’ll immediately see why–apart from the wind-tousled palm trees and sunkissed sand beneath your feet, the warmth of the people immediately hits you. Here, no one leaves a stranger as Belizeans tend to be characteristically friendly.
Travelers can explore the tropical island on foot, or hop into one of the island’s ubiquitous golf carts – the stylish way of getting around. Apart from having ideal beach-bumming vistas, San Pedro also holds a vibrant nightlife, often enjoyed by travelers from all walks of life.
Considered the cultural mecca of the West, San Ignacio is a sleepy town teeming with historic culture coupled with adventure mere miles away. It is located about two hours from the international airport and is the central hub for thrill-seekers. Maya temples, waterfalls, and lush jungles surround San Ignacio, encasing it in a bubble of pure excitement.
Spend the morning at Cahal Pech, a Maya site within walking distance of downtown. Step back in time as you stand in this historic setting before heading into town to befriend the locals. On Saturdays, the farmer’s market is bursting with life— vendors, artisans, and farmers exchange stories as well as goods with anyone who passes by.
Hip restaurants, unobstructed sea views, and luxe hotels are the epitome of Placencia. Placencia is a village that sits at the tip of an 18-mile-long peninsula, flanked by a mangrove-lined lagoon on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other. Known locally as an ex-pat haven, Placencia boasts arguably some of the best panoramic views in the country. The drive to Placencia alone is enough to make one fall in love with Belize, but gazing upon fiery sunsets at the end of the dock will have you vowing to never leave—in fact, many don’t.
As mentioned, several globetrotters find themselves so smitten with the sleepy village that they move here permanently. This has only added to the vitality of the community, with gelato shops, chic boutiques, and charming cafes springing up.
What To Do: Xunantunich
You can’t visit Belize without seeing the Xunantunich in the flesh—it’s almost a rite of passage for first-time visitors. The hauntingly beautiful Maya site is home to the towering temple of El Castillo, which reaches 130 feet tall. History buffs will have a field day here, exploring the limestone-covered landmark and climbing to the top to admire the view. Tucked within the small village of San Jose Succotz, Xunantunich is about a 15-minute drive from San Ignacio. The best part? A hand-cranked ferry is how travelers can access the site, adding to the allure of an adventure straight out of an Indiana Jones movie.
Shark Ray Alley
Belize famously holds the world’s second-largest barrier reef, right after Australia. Except, clients don’t need to fly halfway across the world to experience underwater wonders. Much like Xunantunich, Shark Ray Alley is a must-do for first-time visitors. About four miles southeast of San Pedro, the marine reserve is home to stunning eagle rays, mellow manatees, and docile nurse sharks. For adventurers wanting to get up close and personal with wildlife, guests are encouraged to dive in and swim along with the sharks. Don’t worry, they don’t bite– but Belize takes pride in reminding folks to keep a respectful distance when it comes to our subaquatic residents.
Mountain Pine Ridge
Belize is one of the only countries considered to be both a part of the Caribbean and Central America, so while it touts world-class beaches, it also holds lush jungles for exploring. Deep in the mountains of the Cayo District lies the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. A mere couple of hours’ drive away from San Ignacio Town, the national park is reserved for nature lovers and adrenaline junkies.
Spanning 400 acres of dense foliage, Pine Ridge – as the locals call it – is brimming with gushing waterfalls and picturesque hiking trails. On your way to Rio on Pools, a set of mini-waterfalls cascading over a cliff, stop by Big Rock Falls. The 150-foot-tall waterfall is the ideal spot for a mid-morning picnic. Before leaving the reserve, travelers should visit the looming Rio Frio Cave–a massive open-air cave that is beginner friendly.
Before You Go
Belize only has two seasons throughout the year–wet and dry. This makes it easy to plan a trip as virtually any time is a great time to visit. While the rainy season spans from June to November, there are still many national festivals and events that make it worth visiting. And while Belize may not be as popular as its more touristy neighbors, travelers flock to the destination in the winter months so it’s best to start planning early.
For more information conntact the Belize Tourist Board at www.belizetourismboard.org
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