After seven months in Mexico, we finally restarted out trip through the Americas. Our first stop? Belize! Now, I know a lot of people don’t even know where Belize is and anything about it; however, it’s quite an interesting country! Belize’s coast is outlined by white sandy beaches and blue Caribbean waters, which eventually turn into swamps on the coast, and finally a thick jungle dominates the interior of the tiny country. For my surprise, Belize’s official language is English—not Spanish–and its currency is the Belizean dollar. As for Belizeans, they are the most welcoming of hosts and there’s so much diversity–from the Mayans to the Kriol, from the blue-eyed Mennonites to the Chinese—which contributes to the country’s diverse culture.
Belize’s first inhabitants were the Ancient Maya, whose legacy can be traced back to 1,500 Bc, until the first European settlers arrived in the mid-17ht century. Since the early colonization of Belize, Spain and Great Britain disputed over the territory; however, the British eventually took control of the majority of Belize. Belize’s industry evolved around the extraction of logwood and mahogany, used for dye in Europe until the 1900s, then, the country’s main industry became the cultivation of banana, sugar cane, and citrus. Slaves were introduced to Belize in order to work in the logging business, and such act of inhumanity was only abolished in 1833 when slavery was banned from British colonies. Nowadays, a great percentage of the inhabitants of Belize are Kriols—descendants of slaves who adapted to the local costumes of the British and indigenous people of Central America. As a result, Belize became an ethnically diverse country, where British, African, and Mayan costumes merged with one another.
There are two places in Belize that I recommend visiting: Caye Caulker, a tropical getaway in the Caribbean, and St. Ignacio, a Disneyland for outdoor lovers.
This small, laid-back island is about an hour ferry ride from Belize City and is magnificent! Instead of going to San Pedro, which has become very touristy and crowded, we thought that Caye Caulker would be the ideal destination for us: compact enough to do everything on foot, “untouched” corals and abundant marine life, as well as great restaurants. The downtown is rustic, yet, quite charming in my opinion—dirt streets framed by local shops and cafes, dive shops and fruit stands, and the popular way to get around is either by biking or walking. But the main spectacle is the clear, turquoise water that meets the white sand and coconut trees.
If you ever find yourself in one of the cayes, you must go snorkeling or diving—no excuses! We set off to go scuba diving at the Blue Hole and two other dives near Half Moon Caye, which are about 2 hours away by boat from Caye Caulker (3 hours from Belize City). The Blue Hole is all about feeling the grandeur of the hundred-and-something meters deep crater as one descends 40 meters and is engulfed by the abyss’s walls, as if being sucked in by a black hole; however, the best view is seen from above rather than below the water. Conversely, the other two dives are all about marine life and multicolored corals: blue, purple, yellow, and orange. As for the marine life, hundreds of types of fishes swim about the reefs, their colors and shapes varying in the most diverse ways…even sharks, rays, and turtles can be spotted.
Another exceedingly fun activity to do in Caye Caulker, regarding the ocean, is to snorkel at the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve—a sanctuary for sharks, rays, manatees, and hundreds of different species of marine life. We snorkeled with French Angel Expedition—I highly recommend this company, and our guides were Cal and Phillip—who took us for three dives in the marine reserve. I absolutely loved the tour, cannot emphasize how good it was, and I must say it was the highlight of my trip to the Belizean coast!
Like I mentioned above, Caye Caulked has great restaurants, and some of my personal favorites were The Magic Grill, Il Pelicano, and Amor & Café (as well as a fruit stand who made the best watermelon juice).
Situated in the extreme West of Belize, the mountainous part of the country, St. Ignacio is famous for its numerous tours throughout the dense jungle, caves, rivers, and archeological sites. The town is quite small and can be easily explored on foot, and, unlike Belize City, St. Ignacio’s population consists mostly of Mayans.
What captivated us the most during our stay was Saturday’s street fair, which commenced at 4 a.m. and lasted until late evening, and the ATM Tour—Actun Tunichil Muknal (Mayan), translating to “The Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre”. The tour was incredible! We spent a few hours swimming, crawling, climbing, and sightseeing the dense jungles of Belize and archeological sites, which were found deep into a cave. After crossing a few rivers, our group entered the dark cave and followed the river stream for an hour or so—our headlamps being the only source of light. On an upper chamber laid innumerous Mayan artifacts: vases of many shapes, tools, knives, human bones, stingray spines (used for self-mutilation), and children and adult skulls. We were told by our guides that that specific cave was used for religious purposes, such as human sacrifices for the god of water, and that’s why many bodies were found tied up or missing their parts. Throughout my trip, I have learned that caves were always sacred for the indigenous people—either the tribes of North Dakota or the Maya of Belize—and symbolized the underworld, or a place where priests could connect with their gods through sacrifices. It was truly amazing to be able to see and learn even more about the Mayan culture in a different setting, the Actun Tunichil Muknal.
Ps. No cameras, phones, or any electronics were allowed in the ATM tour.