This drop-dead beautiful Central American nation with a distinct Caribbean flavour has something for everyone: stunning reefs for divers, colourful wildlife for bird watchers, rare archaeological finds for history buffs and vibrant markets for culture vultures. Beautiful Belize’s natural delights and historic highlights will capture your imagination, and steal your heart.
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Beneath the surface in Belize
Posted on Fri, 02 Jan 2009 by Sue Elliot
If you are searching for a real adventure that takes you off the regular tourist trail, then join Intrepid’s Jill Petrella as she reveals that hidden beneath the forested hills [...]Read more
Intrepid believes half the fun of experiencing a new country is getting there, and getting around once there! Where possible, Intrepid uses local transport options and traditional modes of transport - which usually carry less of an environmental impact, support small local operators and are heaps more fun.
Depending on which trip you're on while in Belize, you may find yourself travelling by:
Travelling with Intrepid is a little bit different. We endeavour to provide travellers with an authentic experience to remember, so we try to keep accommodation as unique and traditional as possible.
When travelling with us in Belize, you may find yourself staying in a:
At a glance
- Trips Available:
- Capital city:
- Belmopan (population 6,000)
- Time zone:
- (GMT-06:00) Central America
- Type A (North American/Japanese 2-pin) Type B (American 3-pin) Type G (Irish/British 3-pin)
- Dialing code:
Best time to visit Belize
Belize’s subtropical climate sees high temperatures and humidity most of the year, but the fresh sea breezes generally make life more comfortable. The dry season is from December to May, and this is the best time to visit Belize if you’re looking for sunshine and warm temperatures.
The wet season is from June to November where rain is more frequent. Belize can get quite busy during the main holidays of Christmas and Easter so be prepared to share the beaches with other travellers during this time.
Culture and customs
With a large percentage of the population being Christian, Easter and Christmas are important times for Belizeans. Drawing on many different cultural influences, Christmas is celebrated with a range of multi-racial rituals including old European traditions like decorating a Christmas tree and baking fruitcake, as well as other traditions like Creole cooking and Garifuna dancing. Due to a high level of racial harmony and tolerance, the people of Belize are free to celebrate various religious and ethnic holidays in relative peace.
Eating and drinking
Intrepid believes that one of the best ways to experience a country is by eating! Whether you're sampling street food, savouring a cheap eat or indulging in a banquet, there are endless options to choose from wherever you are in the world.
Things to try in Belize
Belize’s seafood is undisputedly among the best in the world. A steady supply of lobster, crab, mussels and Creole-style fish stew should keep seafood-aficionados happy.
2. Hot Sauces
Marie Sharp's famous habanero sauces, jams and condiments are served almost everywhere - and with everything - in Belize. You can also visit this local success story’s factory in Dangriga if you’re nearby.
3. Fry Jacks & Johnny Cakes
Served at breakfast instead of toast, these doughy delights often accompany bacon and eggs. While not good for the diet, they are delicious and you’ll soon get used to a side of fry jacks instead of bread.
4. Fruit Shakes
Street carts and cafes make use of the wide variety of tropical fruits that grow in Belize. Ingredients range from the usual suspects (papaya, lime, bananas), to sweet additions (cinnamon), to the darn right weird (seaweed shake anyone?). Either way, choose what you want in your shake for a quick and healthy refreshment.
Geography and environment
Boasting one of the most impressive reef systems in the world, Belize also has an abundance of marine life - including nimble reef sharks, colourful clownfish, gentle manatees and giant whale sharks.
It's estimated that more than 60% of Belize is covered in forest, and with a recent increase in conservation consciousness, hopefully Belize will retain much of this precious vegetation that is full of rare and protected flora and fauna.
Bordered by Mexico and Guatemala (and the Caribbean Sea), this small nation has the lowest population density in Central America, and therefore people live with freedom and space. The major cities are quite slow paced, low-density housing is common and much of the colonial heritage has been preserved in the buildings, churches and the streets.
History and government
Belize enjoyed relative economic prosperity up until the Great Depression of the 1930s, which caused wide-scale unemployment and hardship due to falling timber prices, and subsequent collapse of the industry. Further to this, a damaging hurricane hit the colony in 1931 causing loss of life and infrastructure.
In 1964, Belize was granted the right to self-govern, with George Price becoming the country’s first Prime Minster. Nine years later, British Honduras was officially renamed Belize and in 1981, Belize was granted its independence. More recently, Belize elected its first black Prime Minister when Dean Barrow was sworn in to office in 2008.
Once part of the great Mayan Empire, Belize was occupied for centuries before the Spanish arrived. The Spanish colonists were largely unsuccessful when first trying to colonise Belize as they were repelled by local inhabitants.
However, the British arrived in the 17th century and Belize soon became a part of the British Empire under the name of British Honduras (after many battles with Spanish settlers).
Prior to the abolition of the slave trade in 1838, many African slaves were sent to Belize to work in the timber industry, namely mahogany extraction. Conditions were tough and fraught with danger, but many slaves chose to stay in this line of work after their emancipation due to their inability to receive work elsewhere or own land. Belize’s current population reflects the rich African culture that the slaves brought to the area centuries ago.
Top 10 Outdoor Experiences in Belize
1. Scuba Diving
Experienced divers will jump at the chance to explore Belize’s epic Great Blue Hole. Declared one of the top ten scuba diving spots in the world by scuba-legend Jacques Cousteau, this sinkhole has enough groupers, grey nurses and reef sharks to astound diving veterans.
2. Sea Kayaking
Caye Caulker is one of the best places in the world to explore the sea in a kayak. Glide over the clear Caribbean waters and spot graceful marine life, stop and rest at sandy beaches, and experience the quiet and beauty of uninhabited islands.
3. Zip Lining
Make like Tarzan and speed through the Belizean jungle with the wind rushing through your hair on a zip line. This exhilarating ride gives you a different perspective of the jungle while you fly freely across the canopy way, from tree to tree, above the forest floor.
Whether you’re seeking fast mountain biking thrills or prefer slow cycling past sleepy villages, farmland and cornfields, seeing this charismatic country by bike might just be one of the best ways to get to know the brilliance of Belize.
There’s no better way to travel the rivers of San Ignacio than in a tube. For a fun and relaxing ride, just hop in a tube and float through caves, past cascading waterfalls and over gentle rapids - taking in the surrounding jungle landscapes along the way.
With more than 500 species of birds present in the tree-filled jungles of Belize, this is a paradise for ‘bird nerds’ and nature enthusiasts. Have fun spotting magnificent toucans, tiny hummingbirds, glorious eagles and curious woodpeckers.
Floating in the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea is a sure fire way to forget your troubles. Cheaper than therapy, daily ocean dips should be mandatory on all holidays. Luckily Belize has enough coastline to ensure that both locals and tourists can share the beaches without it getting too crowded. Phew!
Enjoy brief encounters with some of the world’s most elusive animals while hiking in Belize. Apart from world-famous birds, you can also find howler monkeys, jaguars, ocelots and tree frogs lurking in Belize’s jungles, forests and national reserves.
Cool, clear water, golden sunshine and reefs full of colour and life combine to create the perfect conditions for some pretty sensational snorkelling.
Explore a mysterious, subterranean world while caving in some of Belize’s spectacular caves. Some feature underground rivers, sinkholes and waterfalls, others have mystical Mayan artefacts held within – either way, Belize’s caves are not to be missed!
The nature-lovers playground of Belize is not well known for its shopping – the best action definitely happens on the beaches and in the jungles. Despite this, there are still enough markets and shops to keep most entertained – look hard and you’ll find some genuine finds among the standard (overpriced) touristy trinkets.
It's also a good idea to check with your local customs officials to ensure that you are able to bring certain items back into your home country. Australia and New Zealand generally have strict quarantine laws.
Things to buy in Belize
1. Traditional Drums
Hand-made by the Garifuna, drums are an excellent musical memento. Made from natural materials without the use of machinery, this is a great item to buy if you want to support and celebrate local culture.
2. Hot Sauces and Condiments
Locally made hot sauces, jams and seasonings are a great way to take a taste of Belize home with you. Marie Sharp’s Fine Food Store is a one-stop shop for hot condiment lovers.
Vibrant art by local artists can be found in city galleries, shops and some markets. From traditional ethnic art to more modern pieces, there’s a wide range to choose from.
One of the most popular items bought by visitors to Belize. Before buying, check with customs officials to see how much rum you can legally bring home with you.
Festivals and Events in Belize
Lobster lovers will be in heaven during lobster season! Several ‘Lobsterfests’ are held at the start of lobster season with the biggest being in San Pedro, Placencia and Caye Caulker. Featuring music, dance, block parties, rum and lobster cooked in hundreds of different ways, this is a chance to savour lobster omelettes, tacos, kebabs and cocktails.
Belize National Day
Starting in the first week of September, Belize National Day kicks off a three-week period of raucous festivities featuring parades, parties, fireworks and feasts in celebration of Belize’s independence. All night beach parties and dancing all round!
FAQs on Belize
Glass of rum at a bar = 6 BZD
Simple meal at a local restaurant = 10 BZD
Lobster meal at a high-end restaurant = 50 BZD
For more information on insurance, please go to: Travel Insurance
Mar 9 Baron Bliss Day
May 11 Commonwealth Day
Mar 29 Good Friday*
Mar 30 Holy Saturday
Apr 1 Easter Monday
May 1 Labour Day
Sep 10 St George’s Caye Day (National Day)
Sep 21 Independence Day
Oct 12 Columbus Day
Nov 19 Garifuna Settlement Day
Dec 25 Christmas Day *
Dec 26 Boxing Day
* These holidays usually last a week
Please note these dates are for 2013. For a current list of public holidays go to: http://www.worldtravelguide.net/Belize/public-holidays
Australia: Not required
Belgium: Not required
Canada: Not required
Germany: Not required
Ireland: Not required
Netherlands: Not required
New Zealand: Not required
South Africa: Not required
Switzerland: Not required
United Kingdom: Not required
USA: Not required
Health and Safety
Intrepid takes the health and safety of its travellers seriously, and takes every measure to ensure that trips are safe, fun and enjoyable for everyone. We recommend that all travellers check with their government or national travel advisory organisation for the latest information before departure:
From New Zealand?
Go to: http://www.voyage.gc.ca/
Go to: http://travel.state.gov/
Go to: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/
The World Health Organisation
also provides useful health information:
Go to: http://www.who.int/en/
Belize Travel Tips
Intrepid is committed to travelling in a way that is respectful of local people, their culture, local economies and the environment. It's important to remember that what may be acceptable behaviour, dress and language in your own country, may not be appropriate in another. Please keep this in mind while travelling.
Top responsible travel tips for Belize
1. Be considerate of Belize’s customs, traditions, religion and culture.
2. For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. Fill a reusable water bottle or canteen with filtered water instead.
3. Always dispose of litter thoughtfully, including cigarette butts.
4. Shop for locally made products. Supporting local artisans helps keep traditional crafts alive.
5. Refrain from supporting businesses that exploit or abuse endangered animals.
6. Please ask and receive permission before taking photos of people, including children.
7. The precious reefs of Belize need to be preserved and protected. By all means, admire the coral, but never touch or remove coral from reefs. Also, avoid buying souvenirs that have been illegally removed from the reef.
|The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw||Bruce Barcott|
|Belize Survivor: A Darker Side of Paradise||Nancy R Koerner|
|In the Heat||Ian Vasquez|
|Lonesome Point||Ian Vasquez|
|Understanding Belize: A Historical Guide||Alan Twigg|