I’m a Belizer: Why Belize Offers the Best Latin-Caribbean Experience
I’ve tried Mexico, both coasts. I’ve been to most of the islands in the Caribbean, even Cuba before the embargo was lifted. I am an avid seeker of tropical sun and surf, and I can tell you honestly: There is no place like Belize.
If you want pristine beaches, Belize has them. If you want a tropical jungle, Belize has it. If you want a unique cultural experience, combining Latin, Caribbean and native elements, you better Belize you won’t find that anywhere but this relatively small, often forgotten paradise in Central America.
Not long after I first visited Belize, I knew I would never grow tired of its beautiful landscapes and one-of-a-kind people. If you aren’t certain whether a Belize vacation is for you, here are my top reasons to return to Belize again and again.
Belize boasts a shoreline along the Caribbean Sea as well as more than 200 offshore islands. Thus, as you might expect, Belize has plenty of beach to go around. Many of Belize’s beaches are local secrets, but even the touristy beaches are clean and comfortable. Here are a few of my favorite beaches and why I love them so:
Placencia. The longest stretch of beach in the country attracts much of Belize’s tourism, but the space and beauty make a day or two here worth it.
Ambergris Caye. Another top tourist destination, the beach on this island is made of the softest, whitest sand you can imagine - and the views of the ocean aren’t half-bad either.
Half Moon Caye. Another island paradise, Half Moon Caye is an uninhabited spit of land that isn’t easy to get to. However, it does offer serene beaches and stunning snorkeling opportunities, making the trek worthwhile.
Hopkins Village. Suffice it to say that this beach has as much beauty as the nearby village has culture and character. For a more detailed description of Hopkins and the Garifuna, keep reading.
Belizeans as a group are some of the most generous, most enthusiastic and most grateful people I have met in my travels, especially around the Caribbean. Belize is new to the tourism industry; its recent history is marked by political strife caused by colonialization and corruption. Thus, its recent economic boom due to tourism is helping most Belizeans improve their lifestyles considerably, making them endlessly ecstatic around foreigners.
However, the people I found most intriguing were the Garifuna, whose ancestors were a combination of indigenous populations, African slaves and Hispanic colonists. From these diverse influences arose an incredibly unique culture like nothing else in the Americas - or the world. Unfortunately, the Garifuna have been persecuted by centuries, causing them to flee or else assimilate into the larger, European population of Belize. Today, Hopkins Village boasts the largest concentration of Garifuna, and it is there you can hear their stories and appreciate their culture.
While much of Belize’s modern culture is informed by the colonial and decolonial periods of the recent past, but much of Belize is littered with evidence of a much older group: the Ancient Maya. Deep in Belize’s forests hide a dozen or more ancient sites, including cities, temples, and structures of unknown purpose. Here are the Mayan sites I visited, which I highly recommend:
Caracol. Arguably the most important of Belize’s Mayan sites, “the shell” is difficult to reach but stunning to see in person, standing stark white against the lush green of the rainforest.
Xunantunich. The “stone woman” requires a ferry ride to see, but it is the second-tallest ruin in all of Belize. Plus, it offers a nearby museum with more Mayan artifacts.
Altun Ha. Just north of Belize City, Altun Ha comprises the remains of an ancient trading center and ceremonial site. Jaw-dropping is the Maya Jade Head, which is an enormously important to Belize.
Mayan archaeological sites aren’t the only gems hiding in the Belize wilderness. Across Belize, fantastical wildlife roams, giving you the chance to see some exotic animals in their natural habitats. Plus, you have the opportunity to visit animal sanctuaries, like Monkey Bay, which aims to protect the natural lifestyle of a variety of indigenous Belize wildlife.
During my treks into the jungle, I spotted agouti, paca, tayra, and coati, all of which are large and relatively rare rodents. On Laughing Bird Caye, I heard the unique sounds of the laughing gull, which rival hyenas in their sounds of hilarity. Finally, on my dive into the Great Blue Hole, I saw an indescribable variety of fish, to include small reef sharks.
There is so much more to Belize than I can explain in a blog post - so you should just plan a trip for yourself.