Belize City Attractions
Keel-billed Toucan, National Bird of Belize
Belize brims with natural beauty. A top spot for eco-tourists, this fascinating country lies in Central America, between Mexico and Guatemala, and was known as British Honduras during its colonial days. Few countries offer such a rich diversity of ecosystems packed into a relatively small area. In addition to the world's second largest barrier reef, Belize is home to dense jungles with howler monkeys and jaguars, mountain pine forests, palm-fringed beaches, bonefish flats, rivers, caves, and coral atolls rimmed by fish-rich reefs. Not surprisingly, diving and snorkeling are superb. The Great Blue Hole is a UNESCO World Heritage dive site, and anglers flock here from all corners of the globe for fantastic flats fishing and deep-sea adventures.
Apart from all the natural jewels, Belize's friendly people are one of its top assets with origins as diverse as the landscapes. Mayans; Mennonites; English; Creoles; Mestizos; and the Garifuna people, of mixed Amerindian and African descent infuse an evocative mix of cultural influences. Visitors can learn about the ancient Mayan culture at the many relatively untapped archaeological sites. Though the capital of Belize is Belmopan, Belize City is the gateway to the country. Most travelers fly in here and explore the surrounding attractions before departing for adventures further afield. Besides diving, snorkeling, and fishing, travelers can kayak lagoons, cave tube along subterranean rivers, hike through jungles and pine forests, view stunning wildlife in its natural habitat, or simply collapse in a hammock and relax in this tropical paradise.
1 Ambergris Caye
Just off the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula, laidback Ambergris Caye is the largest of Belize's 200 cayes and a prime tourist destination. Off the coast, Hol Chan Marine Reserve is one of Belize's most visited diving and snorkeling sites. It's named after the Mayan for "little cut" and is one of seven reserves within the Belize Barrier Reef system, which is the second largest in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Top attractions in the reserve include a cut in the reef with steep coral walls; Cat's Eye, a crescent-shaped sinkhole; and Shark Ray Alley where divers can enjoy close encounters with nurse sharks and southern stingrays. The island's main town is the fishing village of San Pedro, a colorful jumble of clapboard houses, stray dogs, and clucking chickens, with cute cafés and hotels. Golf carts and bicycles are the most popular modes of transport, although these days an increasing number of cars and trucks zip along the sandy streets. The Ambergris Museum and Cultural Centre traces the island's history from the ancient Mayan traders to the present day. Saltwater fly fishing enthusiasts come to Ambergris Caye to cast their lines for bonefish, tarpon, permit, snook, and barracuda.
2 Lighthouse Reef Atoll and the Blue Hole
Lighthouse Reef Atoll and the Blue Hole
The farthest from shore of Belize's three atolls, Lighthouse Reef Atoll is nirvana for nature-lovers and divers. Six cayes surround a turquoise lagoon with gleaming white-sand beaches, coconut palms, and fascinating coral formations. The top draw here is the famous Great Blue Hole, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Natural Monument. Plunging into the sapphire-toned sinkhole, divers can see bizarre limestone stalactites protruding from the steep walls, and if they're lucky, the resident school of reef sharks. Half Moon Caye is the most visited caye of the atoll. Also a World Heritage site, the Half Moon Caye Natural Monument is a bird sanctuary that shelters a colony of about 4, 000 red-footed boobies and many other species of birds. Nature trails lead to observation platforms with bird's-eye views of nesting boobies and frigate birds. Visitors can also explore the island's lighthouse and relax on the beautiful beaches, while divers love the excellent wall dives and abundant marine life around the island.
Snuggled on the end of a 26-kilometer sandy peninsula, Placencia is a popular fishing village and beach resort. Travelers come here to bask on the beautiful white-sand beaches, eat fresh seafood at the excellent restaurants, fish, kayak the lagoon, and dive and snorkel in the Silk Cayes Marine Reserve. In the village, brightly-colored clapboard houses raised on stilts line the narrow concrete path where fishermen used to transport fish in wheelbarrows. Near Placencia, Laughing Bird Caye National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with hiking trails and coral reefs. Swimming, snorkeling, sea kayaking, and diving are popular activities here. The traditional Garifuna village of Seine Bight is also located on the Placencia Peninsula and offers a glimpse into the unique culture of these fascinating people of Amerindian and African heritage. From Placencia, nature lovers can organize a cruise through the mangroves on the Monkey River to see birds, howler monkeys, and crocodiles.