Just the mere mention of “Belize” conjures up scenes reminiscent a 1980s soft drink commercial: visions of swaying in a hammock over a beach of white sand, as an orange sun sits heavy on the horizon above slowly moving turquoise water. However, while the Belize beach life undoubtedly lures travellers the world over, the country also consists of large, relatively untouched swaths of jungle vegetation, ancient Mayan ruins and, above all, friendly, easygoing people who’ll roll out the welcome mat for those that visit.
From its tropical rain forests, to its remnants of ancient Mayan cities and burial sites, diverse flora and fauna and near never-ending white-sanded beaches it is little wonder that the small, eclectic and undoubtedly beautiful country of Belize is fast becoming one of the most popular travel destinations. Here are seven reasons why Belize has to be the next stamp in your passport.
The Lamanai Ruins
Ever dreamt of being chased down a gravel path by a giant rolling boulder while wearing a fedora and carrying a sizable leather whip? Well, luckily no visit to Belize would be complete without unleashing your inner Indiana Jones and witnessing the Lamanai Ruins first-hand. While you’re unlikely to encounter any life-threatening obstacles on your visit to the ruins, Lamanai offers a unique chance to live and breathe the Mayan culture. Located on the shore of the New River Lagoon in the north of Belize, Lamanai is one of the largest Mayan ceremonial sites within the country. It consists of more than 800 structures, which are surrounded by lush jungle. Meaning “submerged crocodile” in ancient Mayan, Lamanai was occupied as early as 1500 BC and some parts remain unexcavated today.
Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauce Factory
For those with a mild palate, getting a meal in Central America that doesn’t erode half of your tongue can be a challenge at times. However, for travellers who like to take their taste buds on an adventure with them when they hit the road, there is no better place in Belize to test out the integrity of your stomach lining than Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauce Factory.
Marie Sharp's Hot Sauce is an institution in Belize and one of the most used spicy condiments in Central America. Marie Sharp started developing recipes for sauces and jams while experimenting with fresh habanero peppers, vegetables and fruits from her farm in 1980. She initially started production in a small kitchen with help from relatives, but the business today has grown to include more than 20 employees and is a proud local success story. Of course, no visit to the factory where this spicy delight is made is complete without a tongue-testing tasting session!
The San Ignacio Farmers Market
To visit the San Ignacio Farmers Market is to walk through the unique cultural mix that makes up modern-day Belize. The market regularly sees Creole, Mestizos, Mayas, Asians and Mennonites intermingling soon after the sun rises in a plaza near the centre of town. While the market runs seven days a week, Saturday — when locals gather to sell their produce and handmade arts and crafts — is the day to visit.
The laid-back market atmosphere is ideal for a morning of strolling and sampling food. Travellers are encouraged to ask the sellers about anything they don’t recognize, as they will be happy to tell you its name, whether or not the fruit is ripe and how to eat it. Those travellers interested in curing any ailments (perhaps an upset stomach after overindulging in a hot sauce tasting) in the Mayan tradition are also in luck as the market regularly features traditional herbalists who specialize in ancient Mayan natural remedies.
Home to the second-largest barrier reef in the world, Belize has close to 300km (186 m) of coral sitting right off its picture-postcard shoreline. With a huge array of unique fish and sea life (including some species that are found nowhere else in the world), the Belize Barrier Reef is a must visit for any water lover, and offers some of the best snorkelling locations in the Northern Hemisphere.
The most easily recognizable wonder in the Belize reef system was made famous by Jacques Cousteau in the 1970s. Looming like a bottomless pit next to the Lighthouse Reef, roughly 70km (43 m) off the coast of Belize, is one of the world’s best-known aquatic wonders. The Great Blue Hole is a perfectly circular limestone sinkhole more than 400m (1312 ft) across and 145m (475 ft) deep. The site is regularly cited as one of the best diving destinations in the world with crystal clear blue waters that offer unparalleled aquatic views.
The Crystal Maiden
It is inaccessible, underground and disturbing, but also one of the most unique travel experiences in all of Central America. The skeleton of an eighteen-year-old girl lying on a cave floor with her back broken was discovered in a remote jungle cave in the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve in 1989. The Crystal Maiden skeleton is more than one thousand years old and completely calcified, meaning that the bones sparkle eerily in its underground resting place.
To view the Crystal Maiden first-hand, travellers need to hike 45 minutes to the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave entrance, then wade or swim through deep pools, carefully trek past calcite formations, vast caved rooms such as “the Cathedral” and skeletons of the ritual sacrifices made by the Maya to their gods. Wearing a helmet and headlamp, travellers will not only be able to see the Crystal Maiden light up, but also see the result of the Maya’s violent belief system through the remains of other sacrificed peoples aging from one year old to adult.
Learn Garifuna drumming
Descendants of West African, Central African, Island Carib and Arawak people, the Garifuna live along the Caribbean Coast in Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras. Believed to include descendants from a wrecked slave ship, the Garifuna people living in Belize today are proud of their culture. There is no better way to learn of the Garifuna’s rich history than through interactive lessons in traditional drumming and dancing in one of the many specialist schools, where a sense of rhythm is not mandatory, but the a willingness to shake your hips is.
Manatee spotting in Caye Caulker
You know you're somewhere that takes relaxing seriously when the only traffic sign on the island instructs golf carts and bicycles to “go slow.” The tiny sun-drenched island of Caye Caulker permanently houses only around 1,000 people, but is becoming increasingly popular with travellers that are drawn to the island’s warm Caribbean waters and charmingly slow pace of life.
Caye Caulker is also one of the best places on the planet from which travellers can witness the endangered manatees in their natural habitat. Boat tours run daily from Caye Caulker to the Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary where turtle grass coats the ocean bed and provides food for a population of West Indian manatees. The Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary operates with strict guidelines and no swimming with the manatees is permitted, but photos and the collective projecting of “oohs” and “ahs” upon witnessing these majestic slow-moving sea animals is encouraged.
G Adventures runs a number of departures in Belize encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater for different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.