Sandwiched between Mexico, Guatemala and the shimmering Caribbean Sea, Belize occupies a slice of paradise that is packed with culture, wildlife and a wondrous selection of historical sites. Much of the mainland remains swathed in jungle, where the vestiges of ancient cities punctuate verdant forest canopies. Caracol is the most famous. Its crumbling temples and stone pyramids stand as powerful reminders of the Maya civilisation.
The history is fascinating for sure, but most people visit Belize to see its natural wonders and admirable conservation work; the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary was the first jaguar sanctuary in the world; the island of Half Moon Caye has been entirely dedicated to the conservation of birds; and the protected Belize Barrier Reef harbours an incredible array of marine life. Visitors can swim with sharks and stingrays along colourful walls of coral, or explore the Blue Hole, renowned as one of the world’s best dive sites.
Numbering fewer than 335,000, Belizeans have surprisingly diverse roots: the country is a melting pot of Creole, Garifuna, Mestizo, Spanish, Maya, English, Mennonite, Lebanese, Chinese and East Indian heritage. Racial harmony, religious tolerance and a relatively peaceful political culture, have allowed these different elements to blend successfully and have given Belize a reputation as a friendly, laidback destination.
Belize’s towns and cities are small and, on the whole, pleasantly unexciting. San Ignacio is a charming enough stop-off for those disappearing into the jungle and Punta Gorda offers insightful home stays with some of the country’s last remaining indigenous communities. The somewhat bland capital, Belmopan, however, is hardly worth going out your way for and bustling Belize City, though energetic and ruggedly charming, is used largely as a gateway to the islands.
And what exquisite islands they are. Caye Caulker, Ambergris Caye, Cayo Espanto (to name a few) are everything you expect from the Caribbean and more; swaying palms, pellucid waters, sandy shores, ramshackle beach bars and charming restaurants. All that’s missing are the crowds. Go figure.