So, when you think of Belize – what comes to mind? Zip lining through rainforests? Meditating next to waterfalls? Climbing a Mayan Temple? Or just relaxing on a white sand beach next to clear blue water?
Well folks – no matter which of those popped into your mind – each and every one of them is possible in this Central American country making Belize a great destination for thrill seekers, soft adventurers, wellness buffs or beach bums.
Your Travel Guru (that’s me!) had an opportunity to sit down with Deborah Gilharry-Arana from the Belize Tourism Board to discuss all of the beautiful pieces that make Belize the fabulous destination that it is!
Below is a synopsis of the points Deb and I touched upon during our chat and I have grouped them into categories to make it easier for you to find the information you may be searching for. It’s not a comprehensive list by any means – but rather a neat and tidy little summary of our talk.
Getting There: Due to its location – situated south of Mexico, with Guatemala to its west and south, and facing the Caribbean Sea to the east - getting to Belize is made simple as you can access it via land, air or sea. Bonus – you do not need a visa to visit.
Language and Currency: Once you arrive in beautiful Belize – neither communication nor cash will be an issue for those traveling from the US. That’s because English is the official language - so no language barriers - and US currency is widely accepted, as are credit cards.
Transportation: Most visitors will fly into the Belize International Airport and be transported to Belize City. (One great aspect of Belize is that because it is such a small country it is quite easy to get from one area to the next.) From the city you will then “hop” to where you are headed either by land – i.e. – driving - or by flight - in what Deb affectionately refers to as sky ubers – or if you are heading to one of the cayes - by ferry.
Popular Areas: Belize is a destination with various districts that each offer distinct experiences. Here is a look at three of them.
Cayo – which is the western part of Belize - or Adventure Central – as Deb advised it is referred to as - is definitely well suited towards those that want to go off the beaten path. It is about a two-hour drive from the airport or just a quick 25-minute flight in the good old air Uber. Here you can visit the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve where you can go hiking, explore caves or swim among the pools and spectacular waterfalls. And for the very adventurous you can drive just north of San Ignacio and you and your vehicle can take the hand cranked ferry over the Mopan River to visit the famous Xunantunich Ruins - where you climb atop a Mayan temple to get breathtaking views of the country.
In the Southeast part of the country – which is referred to as the culture capital (its predominately Garifuna culture) - you will find both Hopkins and Placencia Villages. Hopkins is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive and Placencia is a three-hour drive. However – the drive is absolutely beautiful! You will take the Northern Highway to the most scenic road you will probably ever encounter - Hummingbird Highway. On it you will travel through mountains and overlook rainforests and lush greenery. It truly looks like it is straight out of a story book!
The islands - or cayes - off the east coast of Belize are numerous and quite easy to get to.
You have the option to either fly or take a ferry over from Belize City. The ferry trip to Ambergris Caye takes about an hour and a half. To Caye Caulker it is about forty-five minutes.
Sightseeing and Activities: As we noted in the beginning of this overview there are plenty of things to see and do in Belize. In fact - it’s pretty much an off the beaten path haven! Here’s a rundown of some of the cool things Deb and I touched on.
Belize has a huge barrier reef where you can swim with some pretty amazing marine life– it’s the second largest in the world after Australia’s! Belize is also home to the iconic Blue Hole. Sooo… now I’m fairly sure you figured out that this is a diver’s paradise! Note: If you are not PADI certified – I can help you make that happen!
There are a lot of health and wellness opportunities in Belize – in fact – it’s an oasis of them, as the entire country lends itself to a holistic experience. Of course, there are spas and yoga – or the conventional wellness experiences – but there are also unconventional ones – such as taking a pontoon boat to get up close and personal with a waterfall. Or there are soft adventures such as kayaking or canoeing - that revive the mind, body and spirit as they refresh and recharge your batteries.
And for the more adventurous – there’s cave exploring like at Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave where you can check out the skeletal remains from a Mayan family burial that remain intact as they have calcified over the years. Or you can take a bicycle tour and discover the lush flora and fauna of the rainforest. And we can’t forget zip lining where you can go souring through the subtropical rain forests - which ensures a great way to view the country!
For animal lovers a trip to The Belize Zoo is a must! Now, this is not your typical zoo – it’s more of a rehabilitation center or a rescue center - so you will get to see howler monkeys, black panthers and more in their natural habitats. Another must for animal fans? The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve which is the ONLY jaguar reserve in the world.
History: Mayan culture has really blended into the Belize way of life which means you get the opportunity to go into the villages and learn how the Mayans did things – giving you authentic Mayan cultural experiences. In fact – in The Living Maya Experience - which is a mutual cultural exchange – not tourism – visitors can actually live with a family for several days. During this time, you’re treated as extended family – like an aunt or cousin. You’ll sleep in a hammock (no private rooms here!) bath and do laundry in the nearby creek, eat what the family eats (corn based meals, eggs, beans), learn how to make tortillas and more. In other words, you are living like a local in this true cultural immersion. And you are guaranteed to come out of it with friends for a lifetime!
The Garifuna culture is also very accessible to visitors. You can go to a local’s home where they will give you lessons on what their life and culture is like. Or you can take cooking classes where you actually change into traditional Garifuna clothes prior to the lesson. Food is such a great opportunity to have a cultural immersion and this is a true immersion as you learn about the people making the food and the history behind it. You can also take a drumming lessons and discover how to beat the drums like they do in the Garifuna culture. And finally, you’ll also find that a lot of the resorts incorporate some aspect of the Garifuna and Mayan culture into their properties to maintain that connection to their past.
Gastronomy: Ok so Belize is comprised of ten different sub-cultures due to their proximity to other countries which makes it a remarkably diverse destination. And of course, that means its home to many different cuisines – aka it’s a foodie’s paradise! You’ll discover it’s a mix of Caribbean and Central American influences as well as it’s Mayan roots. From the Creole culture’s Boil Up
to Mayan chimole to the typical Belizean breakfast of fried jacks (a must try!) to Sunday lunch – or what they refer to as Sunday Dinna – featuring stewed chicken or fresh fried fish, rice and beans cooked in rich coconut milk, fried plantains and potato salad – there is an amazing variety of food to make anyone’s trip a memorable one for the palate!
You will find that there are a lot of farm to table and sea to table healthy foods in Belize - or - as I like to say they are utilizing everything mother earth gave us! A lot of resorts even have their own gardens where they grow organic vegetables using natural fertilizers just as the Mayans used to - and some resorts even offer tours of them.
And because there is so much fresh food, there are a plethora of great local markets right on the side of the roads - where you can enjoy the local delicacies of the country just as the locals do!
And we cannot forget Belize’s love of food festivals! There are way too many to list and chances are there will be one going on while you’re there! There’s even a festival dedicated to chocolate – now that is my kind of festival! And if you like chocolate too – there is a great chocolate making tour you can take to learn how to make fresh chocolate in Belize!
PS – They make a lot of their own wines there as well. That is all Wink, wink.
Type of Traveler: Oh gosh Belize is good for all types of travelers whether you’re the soft adventure type, a full-on adventurer, a total wellness guru or just enjoy hanging on the beach. Families, couples, singles and more will all find something to do in this fabulous destination!
Miscellaneous: Belize is the safest country in Central America and a very warm and friendly destination who welcome visitors with open arms. Since there is so much to see and do, both Deb and I recommend a week and a half to two weeks to experience the entire destination in one trip.
Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing travel is permitted to Belize. However - all travelers must download the Belize Health App and input the required information no more than 72 hours prior to landing in Belize and bring along a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival in Belize, or test upon arrival if you are unable to bring a negative PCR test.
For the CDC’s most up to date information on COVID-19 cases click here. And for the most up to date entry requirements click here.
Now, after reading through this – you should probably have a good understanding why Deb noted that “Belize is where Jaquez Cousteau meets Indian Jones” – no? I thought so. And we couldn’t agree more.
Of course, as stated above this is not anywhere near a complete list of the information that I can provide you with on Belize – it’s simply intended to highlight some of its key features. For more details on things to see and do, where to stay, it’s price point points and more - contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!
During the shutdown of Covid19, Loulu Lima began interviewing many tourism boards, destination management companies and suppliers whom BHGH works with in the curation of your itineraries.