I’ve been thinking about an escape for the winter months for some time. Rather than pay the cost or points for flights back to the balmy climates of SE Asia, my thoughts turn closer to home, around Central and South America. Costa Rica merits more time, as does Nicaragua and Panama, but if there’s one country that’s a prime target for the low travel season, it’s Belize. Recently named one of the most ethical travel destinations of 2017, “Belize has several world-leading examples of sustainable tourism, and the organizations involved should be highly commended for their efforts, put forth as a true example of environmentally conscientious and sustainable tourism.”
“Lamanai” by Scott Ableman
One of the main draws of Belize, in addition to English being widely spoken, is a huge number of well preserved Mayan temples in a country the same size as Rhode Island. All are accessible from Belize City as an easy day trip. Lamanai in particular, as one of the archeological sites over a thousand years old, stands out in the Belize jungle.
While caverns in the United States are known for unusual formations of stalactites and stalagmites (and, on occasion, cave paintings from Native Americans), the caves in Belize were more utilized for living spaces and ceremonies by ancient Mayans. As a result, many ruins still contain remains of skeletons, pottery, and stone tools. Actun Tunichil Muknal, known locally as the ATM cave, is still home to The Crystal Maiden, a young child whose bones appear to be sparkling.
Belize is in such close proximity to Cancun many travelers might wonder why not simply make a shorter journey there instead of flying into Belize City? Well, there are a few reasons. Though Cancun certainly has beautiful beaches like Belize, the cost is anything but comparable, with nothing but five-star resorts with inflated prices for western tourists. Belize, on the other hand, has quite a number of scenic and more affordable beach resort areas to its name, including Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye.
Snorkeling and Diving
Forget taking a transpacific flight all the way to Australia: Belize has its town barrier reef less than a thousand feet off its shore full of coral and sea life rivaling its neighbor to the southwest. Though the Great Blue Hole evokes the same fear and uncertainty as the drop-off, divers can relax knowing it’s only 108 meters deep.
No tour of this Central American paradise would be complete without looking through the forests and jungles for whatever evolutionary miracles might be hiding. Belize stands with Costa Rica and other countries so rich in life for its native bird population: over 600 species and counting. However, black howler monkeys and jaguars usually top the list for wildlife seekers. The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary are good places to see all of them if you’re not in the mood to get off the beaten path.