Picture a country with tropical beaches, coral reefs, cave formations, exotic wildlife and a laid back Caribbean atmosphere. Along its coast lies the second largest barrier reef in the world while ancient temple ruins are scattered around its jungles. If you think such country doesn’t exist you’d be wrong. This is Belize, one of the top destinations in Central America.
The top tourist attractions in Belize:
Set in natural forest, 31 miles from Belize City, the Belize Zoo is one of the finest zoos in the Americas. Many of the animals in Belize Zoo are wild animals that were kept as pets by individual collectors and the zoo tries to recondition such animals for a return to the wild. It enables visitors to see the native animals of Belize at close quarters, housed in spacious enclosures that closely resemble their natural habitats. Unless you’re a seasoned wildlife photographer, this is likely to be the best place to get excellent photographs of the animals of Belize.
Actun Tunichil Muknal is a cave in the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve near San Ignacio. The cave was discovered in 1992, and was subsequently featured on the National Geographic Explorer film, “Journey Through the Underworld”. A sacred site for the Mayans, the cave contains many examples of pottery, ceramics and stoneware, as well as several sets of human sacrificial remains, one of which (known as the “Crystal Maiden”) has been almost entirely covered in limestone crystals by the natural processes of the cave.
The Maya ruins of Xunantunich are located atop a ridge above the Mopan River near San Ignacio, within sight of the Guatemala border. Most of the structures date from about 200 to 900 BC. Xunantunich consists of a series of six plazas surrounded by more than 26 temples and palaces. At 40 meters (130 ft) the pyramid known as “El Castillo” is the tallest structure in Xunantunich and the second tallest structure in Belize, after the temple at Caracol.
The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the biggest, protected destinations in Belize. The reserve was founded in 1990 as the first wilderness sanctuary for the jaguar. Although roughly 60 of Belize’s 700 jaguars are believed to live in the sanctuary, your chances of seeing one are very slim. However, it’s an ideal environment for plant-spotting, bird viewing or seeking out other wildlife, and the trail system is the best developed in any of Belize’s protected areas.
Ambergris Caye is the largest of several hundred islands in the northernmost waters of Belize. The island is the top tourist destination in Belize, and its lack of high-rise hotels or big city traffic gives the island a relaxed, laid-back feel. Most people get around Ambergris Caye by simply walking. There’s a great deal of quality hotels in town, and many resorts on the island are less than a mile from the town of San Pedro, the only urbanized area on the island. Many travelers enjoy renting golf carts, which are the dominant form of transportation, next to bicycles.
Located in northern Belize, Lamanai was once a considerably sized Maya city. The ancient ruins are not completely uncovered yet. Archaeological work has concentrated on the investigation and restoration of the larger structures such as the High Temple, a 33 meter tall temple. Since it was still occupied by the Maya when the Spanish arrived, Lamanai, which in Maya means “submerged crocodile”, is one of the few Mayan sites to retain its traditional name.
A popular peninsula in southern Belize, Placencia has the best mainland beaches, plus some of the most amazing offshore coral cayes. The eastern side of the Placencia Peninsula is a long expanse of white sand beach. The western side is bounded by a long and narrow bay. The beautiful beaches together with the abundant, inexpensive accommodation, make it a great place to relax and one of the attractions in Belize.
Sitting high on the Vaca Plateau, 500 meters (1650 ft) above sea level, Caracol is the largest Maya site in Belize. It was once one of the largest ancient Maya cities, covering some 168 square kilometers (65 mi²). At its peak around 650 AD it had an estimated population of about 150,000, more than twice as many people as Belize City has today. The largest pyramid in Caracol is Canaa (Sky Place), at 43 meters (143 ft) it is still the tallest man-made structure in all of Belize.
Caye Caulker is a small coral island in the Caribbean Sea and is accessible by high-speed water taxi or small plane. In recent years the island has become a popular Belize attraction for backpackers and other tourists for its (relatively) cheap prices, laid-back vibe, and abundance of restaurants and bars. The main mode of transport on Caye Caulker is simply walking. The paths are well defined, and crossing the island takes about 20 minutes. Bicycles and golf carts can also be rented.
The most popular dive destination in Belize, the Great Blue Hole offers divers interesting observations of limestone formations that mold its walls. This massive sinkhole under the water is near the Lighthouse Reef and creates a perfect circle of deep blue water. The deeper one dives into the Great Blue Hole, the clearer the water and the more breathtaking the scenery, as the array of bizarre stalactites and limestone formations become more complex and intense.