8 reasons Belize should be on your travel bucket list
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You may be familiar with popular destinations like Mexico and Costa Rica when dreaming about a Central American vacation. I recently traveled through the region and fell in love with the lesser-known country of Belize.
While you may not be able to travel right now, if you’re stuck at home, now is a great time to research new adventures for when you can travel again. Here’s why you should consider adding Belize to your bucket list.
1. No Spanish required
Belize is the only country in Central America with English as its official language. Why? The country was declared a colony of the British Empire in 1862, known then as British Honduras. While many locals also speak a native, regional Creole language (and many also speak Spanish given the country’s close geographic proximity to Mexico and Guatemala), most speak fluent English.
You won’t have any issues speaking English 100% of the time with locals there, which makes it very easy to travel through the country.
2. There’s a fantastic mix of Caribbean and Latino culture
The first thing that struck me about Belize when I arrived in the country was the accents — locals sounded far more like they were from Barbados rather than Spain. Why is this? Because Belize is known as the bridge between the Caribbean and Central America. While geographically in Central America, the British colonization has added a culture similar to British-colonized Caribbean Islands. This proved to be a great mix — for example, cuisine-wise you can expect to find the Mexican food you’ll know and love but also delicious Caribbean food like jerk chicken and fresh, simply grilled seafood.
To drink, there’s tequila sitting right alongside rum punch.
Both the Central American and Caribbean cultures are vibrant and colorful, especially when it comes to music and scenery, and they go wonderfully well side by side in Belize.
3. Caye Caulker is possibly the most relaxing place in the world
My favorite place in Belize was the tiny island of Caye Caulker, which is an easy boat ride from Belize City, the largest city in the country. It is un-Belize-ably relaxing. The island’s motto is “go slow,” which means slow down, relax and take it easy. A local actually politely reminded me of this as I was walking down the street — I needed to relax and slow down.
So I did.
And it was wonderful.
If you have a picture of a beautiful remote tropical island with hammocks and palm trees gently swaying in the breeze, Caye Caulker is all that and more. Brightly painted little beach huts, no cars, freshly cooked seafood and endless sunshine was a perfect mix to bliss out in. The caye is so narrow you can easily walk from one side to the other in five minutes. This means there are no worries about transport around the island — you easily (and slowly!) walk everywhere.
4. World-class snorkeling
You may not know this, but Belize has the second largest barrier reef in the world. The largest is the famous Great Barrier Reef in Far North Queensland, Australia. I’m Australian and have snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef several times. I would rate the snorkeling in Belize as good, if not better, than Australia. In a single snorkeling trip, I saw:
- Hundreds of fish
- Huge stingrays
- Turtles (this was the highlight!)
- Dozens of nurse sharks
I’ve snorkeled all over the world and can’t remember anywhere else where I have seen so many different aquatic animals all in one place. You don’t need a scuba diving qualification to see all these — just a snorkel.
5. From the beach to the rainforest
Most visitors to Belize split their time between a beachy destination like Caye Caulker or Ambergis Caye, and a rainforest stop farther inland — San Ignacio is a popular forest base to explore nearby attractions. Given the small size of the country, you can easily get from one to the other in half a day.
For me, this was the best of both worlds — waking up at the beach in Caye Caulker, having one last walk down the peaceful, relaxing island and then heading into the lush, green, beautiful rainforest farther inland to continue the journey. San Ignacio is famous for eco-lodges where you can truly get back to nature.
6. Caving adventures
There’s plenty to do and see around San Ignacio, but the main reason people come is to visit the Actun Tunichil Muknal caves, more commonly known as the ATM caves. The National Geographic Society has declared the ATM caves to be the most sacred caves in the world. Visiting them was a unique experience, combining the adventure of caving with unique Mayan history. With our expert guide, we walked through the rainforest and then into the caves where the terrain ranged from dry rocks through to deep water.
It was a fun and exciting way to learn about how the ancient civilizations used the cave system and also a great way to get some proper exercise while traveling.
7. It was not as expensive as I was expecting
In my research before visiting Belize I had consistently heard the same thing — for Central America, it was expensive. Not Maldives or St Lucia expensive, but noticeably more expensive than its neighboring countries that are very cheap to visit.
While it was slightly more expensive than Mexico and Guatemala it was not an overly costly destination. Especially in Caye Caulker, you just need to be sensible about the realities of being on an island. Items that could be sourced locally were very affordable. A liter of (very) freshly squeezed orange juice was only $2.50. Happy Hours could score you two glasses of rum punch for $5 (total). Freshly caught seafood, grilled and served with rice and beans and salad was affordable, too.
A local specialty is “Fry Jacks’ — a delicious mix of breakfast ingredients (like bacon and eggs) inside a fluffy, deep-fried dough that looks a little like a Cornish pasty. These are made fresh to order, will definitely fill you up and cost all of $2.50.
If you are looking for imported ingredients they will be expensive because of the importation process — there was an Italian restaurant on Caye Caulker serving Italian cheese and wine that was not cheap at roughly about $30 per person for pasta, wine and dessert.
8. Mayan ruins everywhere
While neighboring Guatemala and Mexico are well known for their Mayan ruins, Belize actually has more Mayan ruins per square mile than any other country. There’s plenty to choose from and San Ignacio is also very close to the Guatemalan border if you want to pop over to see the nearby famous Tikal ruins.
How to get there on points and miles
There are plenty of flights from major U.S. gateway airports.
You can fly American Airlines from Dallas (DFW), Miami (MIA), and Los Angeles (LAX) to Belize City. Fly Delta from Atlanta (ATL). I would recommend spending as little time in Belize City as possible — the best the country has to offer is outside of the city.
Belize surprised and delighted me — again, you’d better Belize-it! It was an easy, affordable, beautiful country to visit that had everything I was looking for to relax, educate and excite me.
While you may not be able to travel right now, you should definitely add Belize to your bucket list.
Featured photo by Elliot Pelling/Gettys Images.
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