White sandy beaches, quaint hotels, and crystal clear water are awaiting visitors in sun-drenched Belize. This once relatively ignored country has become a popular destination for both Europeans and Americans, receiving roughly 400,000 vacationers annually, most of whom will never make it past the beach.
But not all of them are margarita-drinking sun-worshipers. Ambergis Keye, a beach-goers literal paradise, still receives the bulk of visitors, but more and more people are discovering there is much more to explore in this tiny country than sand gnats and seagulls. You’ll probably be surprised by how much else there is to see and do in Belize and, with English being the native tongue, the country is quite easy to navigate.
If applying heavy coats of sunscreen isn’t to your liking, maybe some of these other exciting things will be.
1 Dangriga – For a Real Taste of Culture
Because Dangriga is the cultural capital of Belize, it’s very different from the typical tourist destinations. This is the real Belize. Various cultures come together in Dangriga. This is even evidenced by the style of music you’ll hear in the streets. While Dangriga is home to the traditional Belize Punta Rock, influences from indigenous styles of music have been melded in to create a unique new blend of fusion.
There are a few beaches here but the sand isn’t raked daily by a maintenance crew and no hammocks are stretched between palm trees. The lifestyle in Dangriga is urban, somewhat chaotic, and not everything glistens and sparkles like in the resort areas. But. The people are warm and receptive and it offers a real taste of their culture. You might even find yourself being tugged into a street dance or asked to beat a drum during an impromptu jam session.
2 Step Back in Time
If a trip to some ancient Mayan ruins and temples is not on your agenda you’ll miss a fascinating and mysterious part of world history. The ruins are what sets Belize apart from other typical tourist destinations. These ruins were not fabricated by engineers to lure people in. They stand as they have for centuries and many sub-ethnic groups in Belize are direct descendants though little is known about ancient Mayan customs.
The ruins and temples are scattered about the country so finding some to visit is an easy task.
3 Jaguars and Jungles
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary will have you wandering deep in the jungles of this 128,000 acre Jaguar Preserve. There is a 7-mile hiking trail for those wishing to get close up and personal with nature, or you can take a different route on a bus.
Staying the night in the preserve is a wonderful adventure. Camping is only $5 per person, or you can stay in the dorms for $20. If a private cabin suits you better expect to pay between $40 and $55. You have to bring your own food and water but cooking utensils and tents are available.
4 Go Canoeing or Kayaking
The Belize River runs completely through the country and was once the main source for supplies getting to the mainland. Imagine paddling through areas rich with fauna and wildlife as various species of birds, animals, and huge iguanas observe you floating past their natural habitats.
If fishing is on your list you can rent a powerboat to get around the many waterways. Every year avid canoeists turn out for the annual La Ruta Maya canoe races fro San Ignacio to Belize City.
5 Visit a Spectacular Zoo
Located 31 miles west of Belize City, the zoo is home to over 150 species of animals. Because the zoo started out as a wildlife refuge, there is no barbed wire protecting stark cement enclosures as seen elsewhere else. The enclosures are filled with types of fauna in keeping the habitats as close to natural as possible.
All of the animals were either born at the zoo, were orphaned, or have been rehabilitated. You can also visit the Tropical Education Center just across the highway where researchers conduct various wildlife studies.
6 Experience an Underwater River Run
One of the true natural wonders of the world, the ATM Cave has an underground river which eventually emerges through 30-miles of rainforest and additional caves, some being two-miles long. If you can imaging zooming along through an underground cave for that distance you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. This is a world unlike any you have ever seen.
From the tall limestone cave walls to the thick green jungles of a rainforest, this cruise leaves visitors spellbound.
7 Visit a Museum
The Belize Museum is located in the downtown area of Belize City. Built in the 1800’s, the original fully-restored brick building once served as Her Majesty’s prison until 1993. In keeping things historically accurate, a few of the cells have been restored to their original glory along with cat-o-nine-tails hanging from the walls. The cells were designed to hold one prisoner at a time but before it was closed, six to eight prisoners were sharing one cell.
Mayan artifacts dating back 2500 years are on display as well as other displays revealing Belize’s rich history and culture, to include artifacts from pirates who once invaded the country with regularity.
8 Go Hiking
The population of Belize is lfewer than 400,000 (less than the number of annual visitors) with a land mass of 8,866 miles meaning the majority of those miles are uninhabited. This equates to one person per 36 square miles. If wilderness hiking is a must do, Belize is the right place to be.
Jungle resorts, of which there are many options to choose, have plotted out courses for guests to follow. Some are navigatable by bicycle. If following a pre-marked trail is entirely too domestic, not to worry, the country is full of locations where it’s possible to blaze your own trail.
If laying out on a beach is still something you would like to experience while in Belize, there is no reason why this can’t be checked off your list while still taking advantage of everything else this magnificent country has to offer.