Welcome to Belize: small, yet so diverse!
he turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea lap against our shores, while the Belize Barrier Reef protects our coastline. Most visitors seek this second longest reef in the world–a UNESCO World Heritage Site–eager to dive the world’s top underwater sites, and explore our islands. But once here, they realize that Belize offers so much more. As the President of the Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA), I am thrilled to have you in the Jewel of Central America. Our BTIA members thank you for choosing Belize. You have picked the perfect destination to awaken your childlike sense of wonder, and recharge at the same time.
German) or Maya languages, aside from English, our official language. Making friends in Belize is as natural as wandering outside, and you will likely end up sharing meals over cold Belikin beers, or dancing the night away to punta, our Afro-Belizean rhythm.
“You have picked the perfect destination to awaken your childlike sense of wonder, and recharge at the same time.”
The reef is indeed our pride and joy–a haven for sea turtles, stingrays, nurse sharks, dolphins, and permits, among hundreds of other species. Our diversity in culture and inland natural wealth, however, are just as astounding. We treasure our multiple ethnicities and indigenous groups. Our landscapes are blessed with vast rainforests, mountains, waterfalls, manatee-teeming rivers, and bird sanctuaries. Hiking Maya medicinal trails, spotting fresh jaguar tracks –our jungles protect five wild cat species– and crossing rivers on hand-cranked ferries: Belize is a place of endless thrills. Past the big outdoor surprises, our people and villages will pull you in with their welcoming spirit. You will meet the Maya, the Garinagu, the Mestizo, the Creole, the East Indian, and the Mennonites. Each group preserves its traditions, and language. Listen closely for Spanish, Garifuna, Kriol, Plautdietsch (Mennonite Low
There’s so much to do, see and experience in our complete little package of a country. It’s no exaggeration when I say that in one day, from dawn to dusk, you can go from snorkeling off the beach to hiking a rainforest. Or make chocolate in a Maya village, go waterfall rappelling, and catch a legendary sunset: there is something here for everyone. Along the way, don’t miss sampling our flavorful, diverse foods–our culinary scene will surprise you.
At BTIA, we are committed to a sustainable tourism industry. With this publication, Destination Belize, we guide you to experience the best of the Jewel during your time here. The only thing you have to do is get curious. Leap into our mesmerizing outdoors, meet our wildlife, and immerse in our local cultures. Belize will awaken your body, feed your soul, and bring you back for more. Sincerely,
OS M A N Y SA L AS PRESIDENT B E L I Z E TO U R IS M I N D U ST RY ASS O C I AT I O N W W W. D E ST I N AT I O N B E L I Z E .CO M 5
From the moment you pass through the departure gate, a life-changing journey begins. To the ancestral heartland of the Maya, refuge of an AfroAmerindian people, land with a Caribbean soul, and a backdrop of rainforests, islands, and reefs. BY L E B AW I T L I LY G I R M A
P H O T O C R E D I T: L E O N A R D O M E L E N D E Z AT M C AV E , C AY O D I S T R I C T
t first, Belize’s small size might fool you. Laying on the beach on Ambergris Caye, you’ll begin to wonder what lies beyond the idyllic island scenery. You explore the iridescent blues of the Barrier Reef, made more brilliant with colorful fish, and living corals. Feeling braver, you leap into a sea of sharks, spotted rays, and turtles. Nights are spent strolling barefoot under the stars, wondering about the creatures you hear flapping below the docks. In the daytime, as you venture these island streets, you snack on foods with curious names: chaya, fry jack, and dukunu. The pull for adventure gets stronger, and you heed the call to trek the rainforests of Cayo. The vast expanse of green hugging your tree house, and a chorus of howler monkeys tempt you into a daring nighttime hike. The next day, you climb Caracol, standing on what seems like the roof of Belize. You learn that this archaeological wonder is indeed the tallest man-made structure in the country. The panoramic view over the forest is magical, making you feel like the toucans gliding above this once-royal palace. Fascination takes over fear, and you head south on the Hummingbird Highway, toward the drumbeats of the Garifuna. The air in Dangriga is filled with a language you’ve never heard: Mabuiga! Welcome! To the enigma that is Belize. You absorb the snail pace of Garifuna villages, but wander into national parks to chase waterfalls. Along the way, you rest on the sands of Placencia, or on the south cayes where your sole companions are of the feathery kind. Thrill seeker, you continue on to the villages of the Deep South. A stay in a traditional Maya thatch hut, and hiking surrounding cacao farms invigorate your being. If the southern tip of Belize astonishes, the jungle-covered north throws you into a world of Mestizo and Mennonite villages, lining rivers dotted with water lilies. And then–it sinks in. You realize that in Belize, curiosity is your friend. It fills your days with intrigue, and discovery. And when you let it take over your senses, it leads you into the heart of a small place with big surprises.
P R O D U C E D A N D P U B L IS H E D BY M C N A B P U B L IS H I N G LT D. B E L I Z E C I T Y, B E L I Z E
PUBLISHER TA N YA M C N A B P U B L IS H E R + C R E AT I V E D I R E CTO R M C N A B P U B L IS H I N G LT D.
P H O T O C R E D I T: K R I S T E N M AT U S
A QUESTION I GET ASKED ALL THE TIME- AND WITH DESTINATION BELIZE, WE ANSWER IT WELL BEYOND GEOGRAPHY. TRAVEL: it leaves you speechless, and then turns you into a storyteller. It gives you memories you’ll share at the dinner table for years to come–with your friends, your children and your grandchildren. Of all the places I’ve been fortunate to visit, my favorite stories are still from Belize, my home. Although it’s a small nation, Belize’s diversity and all that it offers continues to astound me. It’s those joyful moments I’ve had while exploring here, discovering all kinds of natural beauty, that inspired me to take on the Destination Belize Magazine. This issue marks my first edition for our thriving tourism industry. I’m excited to showcase my country to you, our visitor. Redesigned and re-invented, Destination Belize reveals Belize’s natural and cultural magnificence. As the country’s official visitor guide, the publication plays a vital role in marketing the country–delving into Belize’s six districts, sharing informative articles, and advertising our best tourism offerings. Destination Belize also aims to be your must-have travel companion while in the country. My goal with the publication is to offer you an almost tangible experience. Sharing the country’s extraordinary sights and activities with you, such that you’ll be eager to travel deeper, and immerse in Belize. With technology changing the landscape of travel, and the way we explore, I am thrilled to introduce the Destination Belize App. This easy access to dynamic and thorough content will make your visit more enjoyable, and stress free.
AS YOU ENJOY OUR BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY, I HOPE YOU’LL BECOME YET ANOTHER ONE OF OUR UNBELIZEABLE STORYTELLERS.
Last but not least, Destination Belize is a special initiative because of the ongoing collaboration between our private sector–the Belize Tourism Industry Association–and the Belize Tourism Board. It was a pleasure to produce this issue, working with a range of talented professionals, and being a part of this blossoming initiative.
E D I TO R I A L CO M M I T T E E TA N YA M C N A B J O H N M . B U R G OS JA N E L L E C H A N O N A N O R I KO GA M E R O WAY N E M C N A B LO U IS E R O E OS M A N Y SA L AS S E N I O R E D I TO R L E B AW I T L I LY G I R M A L I LY IS A N AWA R D -W I N N I N G T R AV E L J O U R N A L IST, P H OTO G R A P H E R , A N D AU T H O R O F S E V E R A L CA R I B B E A N G U I D E B O O KS F O R U.S. - P U B L IS H E R M O O N T R AV E L G U I D E S ( H AC H E T T E B O O KS ), I N C LU D I N G M O O N B E L I Z E A N D M O O N B E L I Z E CAY E S. O R I G I N A L LY F R O M E T H I O P I A , S H E CA L LS H E RS E L F A “C U LT U R E - H O L I C ”– F LU E N T I N F O U R L A N G UAG E S, S H E H AS L I V E D I N E I G H T CO U N T R I E S, I N C LU D I N G B E L I Z E , JA M A I CA , A N D T H E D O M I N I CA N R E P U B L I C. C R E AT I V E T E A M TA N YA M C N A B, C R E AT I V E D I R E CTO R K R IST E N M AT U S A N D C I N DY R UA N O, G R A P H I C A N D L AYO U T D E S I G N E RS M A R K E T I N G, SA L E S A N D A D M I N T E A M WAY N E M C N A B, P R OJ E CT D I R E CTO R CA R L A M C N A B, A D M I N IST R AT I V E D I R E CTO R LO U IS E R O E , M A R K E T I N G A N D SA L E S D I R E CTO R P R OJ E CT CO O R D I N ATO R TA L I A T I L L E T T, BT I A SA L E S CO O R D I N ATO R PAT R I C I A R O D R I G U E Z A N D C H A N T E L GA R C I A , SA L E S AG E N TS CO PY R I G H T T H E T I T L E O F D E ST I N AT I O N B E L I Z E IS A R E G IST E R E D T R A D E M A R K O F T H E B E L I Z E TO U R IS M I N D U ST RY ASS O C I AT I O N . N O PA RT O F T H IS M AGA Z I N E M AY B E R E P R O D U C E D W I T H O U T W R I T T E N P E R M ISS I O N F R O M T H E P U B L IS H E R .
is readily available in local stores. G E T TO K N OW T H E CO U N T RY !
Belize is located in Northern Central America facing the Caribbean Sea and bounded by Mexico to the north and Guatemala to the west and south. English is the official language, and is spoken throughout Belize. Dry Season is from March to May, and all other months are “green season”. The local currency is the Belize Dollar. The U.S. exchange rate is a steady US$1 to BZD$2. Electricity in Belize is 110 volts/60 cycles and is available throughout the country. Tap water is treated and safe to drink in cities, towns and major villages. Purified bottled water
Independent from Britain since 1981, Belize has a democratically elected parliamentary government, and is a member of the British Commonwealth. Children under the age of 18 must have proper documentation, including a valid passport and a letter of parental consent. Pets must have a veterinary certificate issued by a registered veterinarian from the country of origin, and an import permit from the Belize Agricultural Health Authority. All international credit cards are widely accepted throughout Belize. Small establishments may require cash only.
H OS P I TA LS
BY A I R Commercial airlines land at the Philip Goldson International Airport (PGIA or BZE) in Ladyville, Belize, about ten miles northwest of Belize City. Traveling to all major towns and the cayes is possible with daily flights on domestic airlines.
BY L A N D Traveling by land around Belize is easy. The bus is the most affordable way, and there are routes serving all districts. Rental cars are available at the PGIA, Belize City, and in major towns. All of Belize’s major highways are paved. Most villages have graded dirt roads. Belize has standard international traffic laws, and driving is on the right side of the road.
BY S E A Seaports are located in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize City, Big Creek, Stann Creek District and in Punta Gorda, Toledo District. Customs and Immigration are present at these ports. Local water taxi transport to (and in between) both Caye Caulker and San Pedro is provided daily.
Valid Passport Money and credit cards
Public and private hospitals are available. Hospitals are located in urban areas of the country. Rural areas are equipped with medical clinics and nurse practitioners.
Comfortable clothing and shoes
Medication and insect repellant
I M P O RTA N T N U M B E RS Police Emergency: 911 Fire and Medical Emergency: 90 Belize Tourism Board: 1-800-624-0686
Sunglasses, swimwear, hat and sunscreen
Camera and reading material
YYZ (4.45 hrs)
ORD (4 hrs)
LAX (4.5 hrs)
DFW (3 hrs)
EWR (6.5 hrs)
CLT (3.5 hrs) ATL (3 hrs)
IAH (2.5 hrs) HOU (2.5 hrs)
MIA (2 hrs) CUN MID (1.45 hrs) (1.5 hrs)
BELIZE RTB (1 hr) FRS (45 mins)
SAL SAP (1 hr) (45 mins) PTY (2.5 hrs)
This casual beachfront hotel provides unpretentious ocean stays, while the onsite bistro serves creative, thoughtfully prepared contemporary dishes derived from Belizean and other Caribbean cuisines.
DESTINATION BELIZE: AS MINISTER OF TOURISM, WE KNOW THAT YOU ARE ALWAYS ON THE GO AROUND THE COUNTRY. WHEN YOU GET A DAY OR EVEN SOME TIME TO YOURSELF, HOW DO YOU LIKE TO SPEND IT?
Honorable Jose Manuel Heredia, Jr. (JMH): When I do have time to myself, I take pleasure in visiting my constituency in San Pedro and Caye Caulker, speaking to the residents, to the business owners, and even our visitors. These two islands have become tourism meccas, and the feedback I receive gives me a great gauge as to how we are doing in tourism, and what measures we must take in order to continue improving. I also enjoy spending time with my family, and once in a while I even get an opportunity to do one of my favorite things in life–to go fishing in our beautiful Caribbean Sea. BELIZE HAS A VERY STRATEGIC LOCATION, WHICH ALLOWS IT TO BE A PART OF BOTH THE CARIBBEAN AND CENTRAL AMERICA. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY SETS BELIZE APART FROM OTHER SURROUNDING DESTINATIONS?
H O N O R A B L E J OS E M A N U E L HEREDIA JR. B E L I Z E M I N IST E R O F TO U R IS M A N D C I V I L AV I AT I O N
ONE-ON-ONE WITH BELIZE’S MINISTER OF TOURISM
he Honorable Jose Manuel Heredia, Jr. has served as the country’s Minister of Tourism since 2008. A native of San Pedro, and former fisherman by trade before his love for country led him to politics, his passion and knowledge for tourism run deep. Destination Belize Magazine spoke with him to get his insights on visiting the country, and his vision for Belize’s future in tourism.
JMH: Our location is indeed strategic, but what sets us apart is our Belizean warmth and hospitality, and our ability to showcase our vast endowment of natural and cultural resources. While our landscape may be similar to that of our neighbors, we are blessed with the second largest barrier reef in the world. We also boast one of the largest cavern systems in the western hemisphere, the first ever jaguar reserve in the south of the country, a plethora of ancient Maya sites, and lush rainforests to explore. And it also helps that we are the only English speaking country in our area, and are only two to three hours away from major airport hubs in the US. WHEN IS THE BEST TIME OF THE YEAR TO VISIT BELIZE?
JMH: Belize can be enjoyed year-round. There’s never a bad time to visit. Our tourism peak season, however, runs from November to March. We haven’t really seen a slow season in years, but there are months that are more peaceful, if that’s what you prefer. The months of April to October have incredible festivals taking place. September alone offers a month-long calendar of independence celebrations, with parades, parties, fireworks, and much more happening in every destination across the country. BELIZE IS WELL KNOWN FOR SOME OF THE BEST DIVING IMAGINABLE. WHERE ARE SOME OF THESE SPOTS?
JMH: You can find amazing dive spots along the entire coast of the country. There is diving available for every level–whether you’re looking to get certified or you’re a divemaster looking for challenge. We are home to the world renowned Great Blue Hole, which is about 450-feet deep. There’s also whale shark diving in the south around the months of March to June. WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR TOURISM IN BELIZE?
JMH: My vision is to have Belize grow as a premier vacation destination, guided by policies which will preserve our natural wonders, and promote our cultural integrity for generations to come. We certainly want our tourism figures to grow within all corners of Belize, and will continue to welcome sustainable, high-value, low-impact tourism investments throughout the country. It is our goal to ensure our visitors receive value for their money, and that our beautiful nation continues to thrive and grow. I want Belize to continue to be a haven for “discovering how to be,”as our slogan says so well. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a little about our beautiful and interesting country from my perspective, and I know you will enjoy reading more about what it has to offer in the pages to come.
BELIZE AND I WELCOME YOU! 14
P H O T O C R E D I T: L E O N A R D O M E L E N D E Z A M B E R G R I S C AY E
here could I possibly begin when telling you about my favorite travel experiences across our beautiful Belize? It’s difficult to pick a single place. As Belize’s Director of Tourism for the past two and a half years, I’ve had the opportunity to see more of my country than ever before, giving me a sincere appreciation for all that it has to offer. But when I thought deeper about Destination Belize Magazine’s current theme of “traveling curious” and experiences that transform, I realized there was a single journey that changed the way I look at travel, and fueled my desire for more. On a recent visit to the southeastern coast of Belize, I joined a snorkeling excursion. While I’ve been on many similar tours in the past, this was the first time I had heard the captain shout excitedly, “Look! To your left!” As the boat slowed, I rushed to see what he was pointing out. And there it was–the largest turtle I had ever seen in my life!
K A R E N B E VA NS D I R E CTO R O F TO U R IS M B E L I Z E TO U R IS M B OA R D
“It’s a loggerhead turtle coming up for air,” the captain explained. The turtle’s name comes from having an oversized head that resembles a log, and a jaw strong enough to crush its prey–such as conch, and crabs.
I may travel for work all the time, but that one trip made me realize that it’s those unexpected, wondrous moments that make a visit memorable, and exciting.
When I returned to shore that evening, my husband and I went to a local restaurant to enjoy one of my favorite dishes–seafood chowder, made with fresh coconut milk. The cool breeze rustled through the palm trees, I had a delectable tropical drink in my hand, and the rhythmic sound of Garifuna drums filled my ears. Yet I couldn’t help but think of the turtle I’d seen earlier that day, wondering if it was also having crab for dinner.
I may travel for work all the time, but that one trip made me realize that it’s those unexpected, wondrous moments that make a visit memorable, and exciting. It is my privilege to welcome you to Belize. The Belize Tourism Board thanks you for choosing to be here. As you make your way around Belize, keep your mind open to our unique Belizean experiences. You’ll taste new dishes, hear different musical sounds, see lush natural environments that will take your breath away, and make new friends. Belize will feed your curiosity. Be bold and adventurous–zip-line through rainforests, climb Maya temples, and dive the Great Blue Hole. Or simply relax by our turquoise, clear sea. I guarantee your unBelizeable adventures will leave you transformed.
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Map of Belize
Calendar of Events
Magazine Directory 118
WESTERN BELIZE BELIZE BARRIER REEF NORTHERN ISLANDS CENTRAL COAST NORTHERN BELIZE SOUTHEAST COAST SOUTHERN BELIZE
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ON THE COVER
The World’s Most Sacred Cave
Meeting Belize’s Underwater Friends
Deep in the heart of Cayo is Belize’s most heart pumping adventure. It begins with an exhilarating hike through the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve, crossing three river streams, to reach Actun Tunichil Muknal. “ATM” is first on National Geographic’s list of the world’s most sacred caves. Wet, muddied, you’ll wonder if entering this once-sacrificial site is a point of no return. But with guided steps, spelunking past stalactites and perilous submerged rocks, you’ll marvel at preserved ceramic pots and stoneware. And just when you think you’ve met the challenge, nearly a mile in, a wooden ladder appears. It takes you up a narrow crevice to the Crystal Maiden’s chamber, where a young girl’s sacrificed, calcified skeleton rests in the dark.
In Belize, getting up close and personal with nature is par for the course. On water, there’s a ritual for Barrier Reef newbies: jumping in waters teeming with sharks. The journey to Hol Chan Marine Reserve–a 30feet deep natural cut in the reef–takes you across turquoise seas teeming with vibrant corals and Caribbean critters. At Shark Ray Alley you may get nervous when over twenty nurse sharks–four to six feet in length– circle and splash around your boat, eager to greet you in the flesh. Jump right in! They merely swim and glide around you in these protected waters, dazzling you with their speed and beauty. Venture north to Mexico Rocks where stingrays and turtles join the underwater party. Soon you can’t imagine getting back on the boat.
The Most Untouched Place in the World On a visit to perform at the Annual Lifeline Foundation Gala, American Idol finalist Stefano Langone fell in love with Belize. AS TO L D TO TA N YA M C N A B W R I T T E N BY L E B AW I T L I LY G I R M A
y first day in the country was the highlight of my trip–squeezing into a little plane to go to San Pedro, and flying over the water. I had never experienced anything like it. I came to Belize in March 2016 to perform at the Lifeline Foundation’s Black & White Gala. My friends and I stayed at Ramon’s Village Resort. We moved around in golf carts, ate at Elvi’s Kitchen, and spent a lot of time on the beach. It was all so beautiful; I felt like I was a part of the island. We went to the reef, and I jumped right in at Shark Ray Alley! I’ve wanted to swim with sharks my whole life. I was a fish in Belize–the water was so perfect, I was in it the whole time. We explored the nightlife in San Pedro, but we also bought a bottle of rum in town, and enjoyed it on the beach. As friends, those are the moments you never forget.
The gala performance in Belize City was a validation of how great it is doing what you love to do, and though it’s supposed to be a job, it doesn’t feel like it. In the end, what struck me the most about Belize is how authentic it is. When you go to many other countries, they’re Americanized. They have their culture, of course, but you also see McDonald’s, or Starbucks. I loved the fact that in Belize, everything was home grown, and proud. That’s what made it beautiful to me. The people were the same way–honest, working hard to preserve the mom-and-pop shops, and that gorgeous water.
BELIZE IN THREE WORDS: UNTOUCHED, BEAUTIFUL, SURREAL.
Aside from swimming with the sharks, the sandbar at St. George’s Caye was my favorite experience. It was like out of a movie–there we were, in the middle of nowhere, enjoying drinks and talking with the Lifeline team. Everyone was so real. Between the scenery and the people, it was a once-in-a-lifetime
experience for me–this was just the third time I’d ever been to the Caribbean.
The whole experience was like a dream, and I put it in some of my lyrics. I have a song that will be coming out called Juice. It starts out with these couple of lines: “Saw
it like a movie scene/ Felt it like a looser dream.” There was no doubt in my mind that I was in the most beautiful, untouched, and serene place in the world. I cannot wait to go back, and stay longer.
P H O T O C O U R T E S Y: S T E FA N O L A N G O N E
“THIS EXPERIENCE WAS UNDENIABLY THE BEST I’VE HAD IN CENTRAL AMERICA. IT WAS THE BEST TRIP I’VE EVER TAKEN.”
ST E FA N O L A N G O N E
orn in Kent, Washington, Stefano Langone went from teaching himself Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” on the keyboard at four years of age, to becoming a fan favorite on Season 10 of American Idol. Finishing in the Top 10, he wowed Jennifer Lopez with his smooth, slick, and soaring voice, and captured the attention of the entire country. In the show’s aftermath, Langone made countless television appearances, signed with a major record label, and embarked on two national radio tours with the singles “I’m on a Roll” and “Yes to Love.” After numerous incredible moments with American Idol and with
Hollywood Records, he realized the importance of knowing where one wants to go in life to be able to get there. For Langone, that answer had to come from within. After tuning out the outside noise, he learned how to embrace his classical and jazz background in a very popdriven industry. No longer covering up the essence of who he was as an artist, it became his mission to stay true to himself, and let his soul speak. Stefano launched his own production company, while making a name for himself in the performing and song writing communities in Los Angeles. His current focus is his first solo album, set to release at the end of the year. 21
Jewel of Nature
BY L AU R E N B U R N CO M M U N I CAT I O NS O F F I C E R , PACT
Of the 8,867 square miles of Belizean national territory, over 28 percent is protected. This provides a myriad of opportunities for nature enthusiasts, from green nature trails leading to waterfalls and peaks, to a wide world of sea and surf. Conservation and low-impact, responsible tourism have always been a priority in Belize–environmental protection laws in this former British colony date back to 1817 with the passing of the Colonial Land Ordinance. The Forest Ordinance of 1927 later established five forest reserves and one nature reserve. As a proud independent nation for the past 35 years, the environmental will of Belize has strengthened with time. There are now 97 protected areas across marine and terrestrial regions, making up 70 ecological systems–home to an estimated 145 species of mammals, at least 300 species of birds, and over 100 of reptiles. The country’s Protected Areas Conservation Trust (“PACT”) helps fund and promote the sound management of these rich environments, thanks in great part to a US$3.75 conservation fee collected from overnight visitors.
P H O T O C R E D I T: D A R R E N L A M B CAPTURE THE COVER WINNER
Navigating through Belize’s wildlands leads to a closeness with nature you’ve likely never experienced in one place–from wetlands and coral atolls to tropical rainforests hugging Maya temples. Go ahead and wander into our most popular and accessible protected sites, teeming with wildlife on and off land.
B I R D SA N CT UA R I E S Man-O-War Caye: Boobies and frigatebirds
N AT I O N A L PA R KS
Bird Caye: Egrets, herons, anhingas, White Ibis, and Double-Crested Cormorants
Guanacaste National Park: White-tailed deer, jaguarundi, kinkajou, armadillos, birds (BlueCrowned Motmot, Woodpecker, Magnolia Warbler, and Belted Kingfisher)
M A R I N E R E S E RV E S
Billy Barquedier National Park: Nature trails and waterfalls
Turneffe Atoll: White-spotted toadfish, dolphins, eagle rays, stingrays, sea turtles, green moray eels, Giant jewfish, trunkfish, and others
Rio Blanco National Park: Nature trails and waterfall
Glover’s Reef Atoll: Spawning site for the endangered nassau grouper (closed to fishing)
St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park: Caves, sinkhole, and nature trails
Hol Chan: Nurse sharks, Sea turtles, and Stingrays
Laughing Bird National Park: Birds, sea turtles, nurse sharks, barracuda, and angelfish Mayflower Bocawina National Park: Nature trails and waterfalls
N AT U R E A N D F O R E ST R E S E RV E S Chiquibul National Park and Forest Reserve: Scarlet macaws, the Natural Arch–a geographical formation–and the Chiquibul Cave System (the largest in Central America)
Caye Caulker: Manatees, yellow gorgonians, star coral, and queen angelfish Bacalar Chico: Wild cats, crocodiles, manatees, sea turtles South Water Caye: Boobies, frigatebirds, sea turtles, manatees, spotted eagle rays, black grouper, and nassau grouper Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve: Whale sharks
N AT U R A L M O N U M E N TS
Mountain Pine Ridge: Wild cats, and birds (Warbler, Common Crossbill, King Vulture, Blue-Crowned Motmot, and Keel-Billed Toucan)
Blue Hole Natural Monument: Stalactites at over 100 feet of depth, and reef sharks
W I L D L I F E SA N CT UA R I E S
Half Moon Caye Natural Monument: Red-footed boobies, magnificent frigatebirds, osprey, egrets, and others
Swallow Caye: Manatees Gales Point: Sea turtles and manatees Crooked Tree: Jabiru Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, Blue-Winged Teal Duck, and other birds Cockscomb Basin: Wild cats (jaguar, jaguarundi, ocelot, puma, and margay) the tapir, and birds
Victoria Peak Natural Monument: Birds (Crested Guan, White-Collared Manakin, parrots, and toucans), wild cats, armadillos, gibnut, and agouti.
P R I VAT E R E S E RV E S Community Baboon Sanctuary: Howler monkeys, birds, iguanas, and armadillos. 23
WESTERN BELIZE BELMOPAN + SAN IGNACIO BY L E B AW I T L I LY G I R M A
rom the riverbanks and sinkholes of Belmopan to pedestrian friendly San Ignacio and historic Benque Viejo del Carmen, Belize’s western interior boasts rural scenes straight out of a watercolor painting.
Small towns hug the gushing Macal and Mopan rivers, mahogany trees tower over grazing horses while locals cool off in the water, and lush rainforest trails hide archaeological ruins, against the backdrop of the Maya mountains. Once the heart of Belize’s ancient Maya civilization, Cayo is the breadbasket of Belize. It’s also the adventure capital of the country, with outdoor activities ranging from river tubing to spelunking past skeletal remains in sacred caves, while your screams echo in dark chambers. Ride a hand-cranked ferry to Xunantunich, meander down San Ignacio Town’s cobblestoned streets, and discover new foods at the weekly farmers’ market. Close to town are easily reached wildlife havens. Learn about the endangered rhinoceros iguana at the Iguana Conservation Project, admire Belize’s orchid abundance at the Belize Botanic Gardens, and explore the medicinal trails at Chaa Creek. Deeper in the district, a trip through Barton Creek throws you into a traditional Mennonite village, complete with horse and buggy carriages and a bull-operated sawmill. Secluded lodges await in the far-flung Mountain Pine Ridge, amid a stunning landscape of pine trees, deserted waterfalls, and exclusive jungle lodges. Whether from a campsite or luxurious tree house in Cayo, relaxing to the sound of birds or the sight of sapodilla trees, butterflies, and cattle herds: the Cayo District captures hearts many a time over.
P H O T O C R E D I T: M E LV I N D I E G O J R .
Belmopan BY L E B AW I T L I LY G I R M A
TUCKED BETWEEN THE MAYA MOUNTAINS AND THE BELIZE RIVER, SITTING IN THE HEART OF THE COUNTRY, THE TINY CAPITAL OF BELMOPAN IS THE GATEWAY TO THE CAYO DISTRICT.
It’s said that size isn’t everything, and Belmopan, the official capital of Belize since 1970, is proof. After Hurricane Hattie destroyed Belize City, the government moved their seat to this inland location. Tucked between the Maya Mountains and the Belize River, sitting in the heart of the country, the tiny capital of Belmopan is the gateway to the Cayo District. Beyond the government buildings, courts, banks and embassies, this city packs a whole lot in its seemingly small punch. Within its urban center, cafes and international restaurants are on the rise. At the central bus station, the aroma from the lively Belmopan Market entices along rows of food stalls. Vendors sell fresh made Belizean and Latin specialties, enjoyed on site on wooden picnic tables. Heading out from the city center will lead into various directions befit of a great Belizean adventure. You will find the riverside lodges, tucked amid verdant forests and farms, and the signature Cayo outdoor activities: horseback riding, river canoeing, tubing, birding, and hiking. Driving down the scenic, snaking Hummingbird Highway, which begins at Belmopan’s entranceway, more discoveries await. Dip in the sinkhole of the Blue Hole National Park, and take on a handful of extreme adventures across 58,000 acres of rainforest and caves at Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Jungle Lodge– all of which will tempt you to stay longer. Meanwhile, a short drive west from Belmopan are Cayo’s most visited caves and Maya sites. Still one of Belize’s best-kept secrets, Belmopan is a small capital with big surprises. 25
Deep in the Wilderness Touring the largest national park reveals the countryâ€™s true natural splendor, while supporting critical conservation efforts. BY R A FA E L M A N Z A N E R O E X E C U T I V E D I R E CTO R , F R I E N DS F O R CO NS E RVAT I O N A N D D E V E LO P M E N T
P H O T O C O U R T E S Y F R I E N D S F O R C O N S E R VAT I O N A N D D E V E L O P M E N T C H I Q U I B U L N AT I O N A L PA R K
P H O T O C R E D I T: L E O N A R D O M E L E N D E Z
he Chiquibul National Park, stretching along the western edges in the Cayo District, is the largest protected area in the country with over 285,000 acres. Located in the Chiquibul Forest–which makes up nearly eight percent of Belize’s land mass–this area is home to the largest population of scarlet macaws in the country and the largest cave system in Central America. Over 34 miles of cave passages have been mapped, with more to be explored. Jaguars, crocodiles, tapirs, harpy eagles, and white-lipped peccaries live here. This critical forest area also provides water to at least 40 percent of Belize’s population. Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD)–an established non-profit organization based in Cayo–comanages this protected site and allows the adventurous visitor to explore the Chiquibul’s wilderness. The park’s border location with Guatemala, coupled with its rich resources, have made it a target of illegal extractions and environmental damage. Your visit through Ecoquest Expeditions, a tour company operating in collaboration with FCD, is therefore a chance to contribute to one of Belize’s most fragile ecosystems. Tour fees go directly to support the Chiquibul area’s conservation programs that FCD runs, including wildlife monitoring, sustainable livelihoods, research, and environmental awareness. In return, you get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
to experience one of Belize’s most impressive and important parks, while learning about the intricacies of nature. Your wilderness experience will begin at Las Cuevas Research Station, located in the heart of the ChiquibulMaya Mountains. From there you’ll head out with a naturalist guide to explore the Chiquibul Cave System, hike the Maya temples at Caracol, or go birding and monitoring for macaws. This unique adventure will challenge you to become a spectator, a responsible traveler, and a student, while becoming a part of the ongoing effort to protect the park and the Chiquibul Forest. Your presence and engagement will have a positive impact long after your departure, beyond the pictures you’ll take or the footprints you’ll leave.
F O R M O R E I N F O R M AT I O N O N E X P E D I T I O NS TO C H I Q U I B U L N AT I O N A L PA R K , P L E AS E V IS I T: W W W. E CO Q U E ST E X P E D I T I O NS.O R G W W W. L AS C U E VAS.O R G W W W. F C D B E L I Z E .O R G
THE BEST LITTLE ZOO IN THE WORLD
BY S H A R O N M ATO L A F O U N D E R O F T H E B E L I Z E ZO O
ocated just 29 miles west of Belize City, and stretching across 29 acres of tropical savanna, is the Belize Zoo. It’s a place visitors have described as “extraordinarily exciting,” and “simply unbelievable.” Only species of Belizean wildlife reside here, and because it provides a “home for the homeless,” the Belize Zoo doubles as a rescue center. The animals that now bring so much joy and knowledge to visitors were former pets, confiscated by the Belize government, or rehabilitated from serious and permanent injury. No longer able to survive in the wild, they receive a roomy home in natural enclosures, and quality care. When you visit, prepare for a thrilling day of up-close animal encounters.
Offering an immersive wildlife experience, the Belize Zoo is one of the country’s most iconic sights.
T H E B E L I Z E ZO O’S B E G I N N I N GS
When I started the zoo, it was a sanctuary for a few species left over from a wildlife documentary film project. After working as a film assistant, I dreamed of pursuing a career in wildlife conservation. When I started hearing mythical comments from Belizeans about their animals, I became committed to changing these misconceptions. For instance, locals believed that the Central American tapir– Belize’s national animal and a gentle, plant loving creature– was dangerous because it could “skin you alive with its flexible nose.” I was in a unique position: I could help the wildlife of Belize have a more secure future, and I could create a place for “animal adventure and awareness fun” for Belize’s children. The days were long and difficult at first, but I could always see the potential in my project’s positive impact. After opening in 1983, the little backyard sanctuary grew popular. With years of diligent work, and support from conservationminded Belizeans, the zoo moved to its current site in 1991. It has since become one of the most visited and cherished destinations in Belize. It’s also the only outdoor recreation spot in the country accessible for wheelchairs, strollers, and walkers. Children of all ages, adults, and the elderly make their way down a shaded, rosecolored entrance pathway to begin discovering Belizean wildlife. Most of the species at the Belize Zoo are officially considered rare or endangered. Our animals serve as “ambassadors” for their counterparts in the wild, and play an important educational role for the visiting public.
T H E B I R DS A joy to see flying in the wild, you’ll meet the Keel-billed Toucan–Belize’s national bird. Its colorful bill is made of keratin, like our fingernails. This allows it to fly without being weighed down. He never tires of photographs, and feeding him invites the question, “does he bite?” But fear fades as this colorful fella gently takes the papaya slice from the visitor’s hand. It’s impossible not to be in awe of a scarlet macaw when you’re “eyeto eye” with this endangered and beautiful, bright red parrot. And you’ll be riveted at the sight of the magnificent, and extremely rare harpy eagle. A special-arranged tour brings you a wing’s distance from this raptor–one of the largest predator birds in the world. Other bird delights include the critically endangered Yellow-headed Parrot–a subspecies found only in Belize, and only in the uncommon pine savanna habitat. Meanwhile, the commonly found barn owl–also a Belize resident–has dealt with an unflattering myth for ages: that it’s the “bird of evil and misery.” To counter this undeserved reputation, we have an aggressive educational program about the barn owl’s important role in the country’s ecology. For instance, it eats more rats and mice than any other animal on the planet. When you visit, meet our barn owl ambassador, Happy.
T H E B I G CATS Seeing a jaguar in the wild is extremely rare, but here, you’ll stand close to one–that’s part of the zoo’s dynamic appeal. In 2003, we implemented a Problem Jaguar Rehabilitation Program, offering the option of safely trapping problem jaguars, and bringing them to the zoo. Daily training transforms these cats into people-friendly zoo stars. Unable to be reintroduced to 29
the wild, the rehabilitated jaguars meet and greet visitors, allowing for close encounters. We also have the other four species of wild cats found in Belize– the ocelot, the margay, the jaguarundi, and the puma–living happily in their forested enclosures.
T H E R E PT I L E S No visit is complete without meeting our boa
constrictor, Queen Green. Over seven feet long, she’s ever so comfortable hanging around the necks of our visitors. The largest snake species in the country, boa constrictors kill and eat many rats. This nonvenomous snake may look powerful, and scary, but its demeanor is mild, not wild. How many times in your life have you held a crocodile? The American crocodile is one of the largest species of crocodiles in the world, and one of the most timid. Rose was hand-raised, and lovingly handled since she hatched from her doomed egg. Her American crocodile mother laid a clutch of eggs in a polluted drainage ditch. The one containing Rose was assumed to be a “bad egg.” But one day, the egg hatched. The baby crocodile arrived at the zoo, and received a ton of care and attention. Rose turned into a cool crocodile, and is an important Ambassador for her species around the world. Just as exploring our barrier reef and Maya sites is a must, discovering the “best little zoo in the world”– as guidebooks have described us–belongs on your Belize adventure bucket list.
P H O T O C R E D I T: H A N N A H M O N T E R O, CAPTURE THE COVER WINNER
P H O T O C R E D I T: S C O T T H O U S T O N , C A P T U R E T H E C O V E R W I N N E R B I G R O C K FA L L S , C AY O D I S T R I C T
San Ignacio BY L E B AW I T L I LY G I R M A
THE CAYO DISTRICT’S MOST POPULAR HUB, SAN IGNACIO, DRAWS THE MAJORITY OF VISITORS TO ITS HILLY, PICTURESQUE RIVERSIDE TOWN.
The Cayo District’s most popular hub, San Ignacio draws the majority of visitors to its hilly, picturesque riverside town. Its Latin and Maya flavors are difficult to resist–from the buzz of cobblestoned Burns Avenue to the roadside steaming grills, and the bridges towering over rivers. There’s no dull moment here; the outdoors beckon, while history and culture are felt every day around the narrow streets and alleys. Saturday is the week’s highlight, when the diverse ethnicities that inhabit this area converge for Market Day. Mestizos toss and cook fresh pupusas as you wait, while Mennonites sell their fresh made cheeses and desserts. The district’s “bread basket” nickname is revealed in the vibrant display of fruits and vegetables. A short ride from town are the country’s most renowned Maya sites, sacred caves, and rainforests dotted with medicinal and pine trees. Whether you take daily walks along the Hawkesworth Bridge over the Macal River–the only suspension bridge in Belize–or rappel 300 feet into a rainforest, San Ignacio challenges your flair for adventure. River canoe to town, horseback ride in the jungles nearby, spelunk the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave or spend the afternoon with iguanas: every day, you’ll make friends of various species. Nights are no less lively, with the outdoor restaurants at the Welcome Center. Dance late into the night at local bars and nightclubs to shake off the day’s adrenaline. San Ignacio is a healthy, happy slice of Belize countryside living. 31
Journey through the underworld AS BELIZEANS WE BOAST ABOUT OUR CAVES, BUT WE ’FRAID FI DUENDE. BY G O N Z A LO P L E I T E Z
hen the Maya gods created their perfect world, it took the form of a tiered universe. In the upper layer or heaven were the sun, moon, and planets. Humans lived in the middle on earth, while the bottom layer–the underworld–was the place of evil and death, entered through a cave. The Maya feared the latter the most; they called it xibalba (pronounced “shee-bal-ba”)–a place of fright, darkness, death, stench, and a home of earth monsters and malevolent gods. According to geological studies, however, these solution caves were a result of a cataclysmic event that uplifted the seabed, thus creating mountains and caves. The landscape of Belize was formed leaving features resembling chunks of Swiss cheese–with holes piercing throughout the land. The entire country is riddled with so many caves, that we often jest about Belize having more miles of underground systems than paved highways. Indeed our current research keeps leading us to more cave sites, and we spend more time off-road trying to get to them. For the Maya, caves were the refuge of malevolent gods who expected humans to offer them gifts, and in return the gods would provide to mankind. Archaeological studies of material evidence left behind have revealed details on the Maya past, and the function of caves in prehistory. Studies at sites like Chechem Ha confirmed that by 1100 B.C., the Maya were already conducting cave rituals. Some early traditional offerings involved corn and chocolate, but as populations grew over time and resources depleted, cave rituals intensified. Evidence indicates that by the mid-Classic period, around 600 A.D., the Maya were no longer just offering basic gifts but were beginning to conduct human sacrifices. We Belizeans love to talk big about our world of caves, but we are afraid of the duende. The duende is a mythical cave dweller, a trickster who can change into human form and protects the underworld. The duende
MUST DO TO P P I CKS: T H I N GS TO SE E A N D D O
Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park Xunantunich, Cahal Pech, and Caracol Archaeological Sites THE IGUANA CONSERVATION PROJECT P H O T O C R E D I T: D AV I D D I A Z CAPTURE THE COVER WINNER B A R T O N C R E E K C AV E
can take your thumbs away and put curses on you for trespassing into the caves or home of the gods. Myth aside, Belize is home to an amazing underground world worth exploring, with a little for everyone to enjoy. From Blue Creek Cave to Barton Creek–explored by canoe–Chechem Ha, Actun Tunichil Muknal, Caves Branch, and many others across the country, our underground chambers are a sight to behold. Each reveals unique characteristics and remnants of a Maya past. Step back in time in one of these chambers located within the vast, dense tropical rainforests. Put your helmet on, switch on your headlamp, and turn into a spelunking enthusiast as you cross sacred grounds. Deep into the ancient underworld, as you pass stalagmites, pottery shards, and bones, you’ll begin to imagine the gods of darkness receiving their offerings. You might even feel their presence, in the trickle of the water or the chilling silence of the cave. There’s only one way to find out. 34
Barton Creek Cave Saturday Market Day in San Ignacio Big Rock Falls and Rio On Pools– Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve H O RS E BAC K RI D I N G , RI V E R CA N O E I N G A N D T U B I N G
Maya Culture in San Antonio Village CHIQUIBUL NATIONAL PARK
Some places on earth breathe new life into the soul. Hidden Valley Inn & Private Reserve
Waterfalls BY M O L L I E T I C H Y
The Maya Mountains rise sharply from the coastal planes and savannahs of Belize and are the hallmark of the country’s interior. Traveling to this region, the landscape dramatically changes from flat grasslands to lush green forests filled with an abundance of verdant life among crystal rivers and beautiful waterfalls. Nowhere in Belize are waterfalls more pristine and dramatic as in the Maya Mountain region. Here, the underground rivers push their way to the mountain tops then descend, carving their way down over bluffs and ridges before escaping over the escarpment. These waterways, form teal-colored swimming holes lined with orchids, bromeliad and palms, all fed by beautiful falls.
HIDDEN VALLEY INN, CAYO, BELIZE (877) 773-1774 • +501-822-3320 HiddenValleyInn.com
With numerous tucked away cascades, including Belize’s Thousand Foot Falls, the experiences are as varied as the terrain but nearly all are pristine and uncrowned. In the Mountain Pine Ridge area, the Hidden Valley Inn Reserve offers a truly private experience of some of Belize’s most unique waterfalls. Miles of hiking trails are accessible only to guests of the Inn and feature over a dozen magnificent cascades including: Butterfly Falls, an 80-ft single drop waterfall that ends in a beautiful pool surrounded by a rock face and flora; Secret Falls and Pools, a perfectly secluded fall and a jade pool where a catered champagne lunch immersed in nature is possible: and Belize’s Thousand Foot Falls, largest of its kind in the country and Central America, a slender veil that juts out over a precipice and disappears into the virgin forest below. The Mountain Pine Ridge is also home to Rio On Falls and Pools, uncrowded yet publicly accessible. Rio On Falls and Pools features large flat rocks on a wide and gradual sloping river–a great location for sunning, swimming, and picnicking and for the adventurer. Many waterfalls bespeckle the interior of Belize. Seeing these masterpieces of nature in their most pristine state is a memorable experience.
P H O T O C R E D I T: P H I L I P R . C H A R LT O N B U T T E R F LY FA L L S , M O U N TA I N P I N E R I D G E
Dear Friends of Belize,
BELIZE BARRIER REEF BY L E B AW I T L I LY G I R M A
elize’s 180-mile long Barrier Reef graces the country’s coastline and is the crown jewel of tourism, drawing visitors in search of once-in-a-lifetime underwater experiences. National Geographic described this most abundant section of the Mesoamerican Reef as being “in many ways more remarkable” than its Australian counterpart. But the Barrier Reef, second longest in the world, isn’t just a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s every Belizean’s pride and joy, and home to a valuable underwater life: over 300 species of fish, 70 hard coral, 36 of soft coral species, thriving in environments ranging from seagrass to coastal lagoons, and mangrove cayes. Along the reef is where you’ll spot the 400-feet deep Blue Hole– an emblematic, striking blue circle visible from the air, contrasting against an iridescent turquoise sea. But even more impressive are the surrounding three coral atolls, north to south: Lighthouse, Turneffe and Glover’s, where vibrant coral walls plunge hundreds of feet and stingrays often graze the shores. At the Half Moon Caye Monument, you’ll marvel at 100-feet wall dives, white beaches, and the only red-footed booby sanctuary in the western hemisphere besides the Galapagos. At Turneffe’s renowned The Elbow, divers go down a steep drop-off where shoals of snappers and predators roam. Farthest from the mainland, Glover’s Reef is as isolated and blissful as it gets, with camping options that bring you even closer to nature. Whether above or underwater, Belize’s Barrier Reef and atolls offer the most paradisiacal display of Belize tropical wealth, from sand to sea. 39
P H O T O C R E D I T: L E O N A R D O GONZALEZ
On the 20th anniversary of the Belize Barrier Reef’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the commitment to protect this rich resource remains stronger than ever. BY O C E A N A
We are a “land by the Carib Sea,” as our anthem proudly states. A Belizean sea that is the lifeblood of our nation’s economy; it runs through our veins, is in the salt of our patriotic tears, and in the sweat on our fishermen’s brows as they haul in the catch of the day. And when we are near this sea, as the light dances through the coconut fronds overhead and our toes are buried into the sugar-fine sands, a feeling of home washes over our soul. Recognizing this lifelong, inextricable connection to the sea and reef protecting our shores, the Government of Belize asked the United Nations Educational
Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to designate the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System as a World Heritage Site. To obtain this status, sites must be of outstanding, universal value. The fact that Belize is home to a unique array of reef types in one self-contained area, with many Belizeans living on the coast and depending on marine resources as a source of livelihood, made for a convincing case. In 1996, the Belize Barrier Reef was officially named a World Heritage Site–with seven specific marine reserves included in this designation. It became one of only 47 marine sites around the world with this status. Twenty years later, the Belize Barrier Reef and its surrounding sea are still a special place, and the personal connection continues to be a reality for hundreds of thousands of Belizeans. This reality, however, now includes threats to the integrity of the system. Belizeans still rely on the reef for their livelihoods–more than 200,000 living in coastal and island communities depend on tourism, making the industry account for almost 25% of the country’s gross domestic product. Another 15,000 Belizeans are directly dependent on Belize’s fisheries. More than ever, Belize’s reef and marine life need protection and love from all visitors, whether local or foreign.
planning and management of the region. This holds true for Belize–with the help of the Belize Tourism Board, the private sector, and managers of marine protected areas, our World Heritage status has become our brand. After all, to be as unique as the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador, the Pyramids of Egypt, or the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is an incredible distinction. It encouraged Belize to focus on increasing visits to the reef through stronger management and improved visitor facilities. In turn, these changes enhanced national pride, and gave Belizeans a sense of responsibility in the country’s most precious resource.
THE REEF’S SEVEN WONDERS For hundreds of years, a small sized population and minimal traffic helped to maintain the natural beauty and bounty of life under our seas. Famous explorers recognized our natural wealth. Naturalist Charles Darwin described Belize as having some of the most “remarkable reefs” in the West Indies. And the “father of diving” Jacques Cousteau told the world that Belize’s Great Blue Hole was one of the top ten diving destinations on the planet.
MORE THAN EVER, BELIZE’S REEF AND MARINE LIFE NEED PROTECTION AND LOVE FROM ALL VISITORS, WHETHER LOCAL OR FOREIGN.
MORE THAN A SYMBOLIC TITLE World Heritage status is special because of its universal application–such sites “belong” to everyone, worldwide. The inscription of a property on the World Heritage List can also produce numerous benefits for a destination. Local communities receive increased employment opportunities and income, as well as improved
If the world is aware of the Belize Barrier Reef’s natural splendor without even visiting, Belizeans are even more in tune with its value. We’re taught from childhood that we are custodians of one of the most biologically diverse marine environments on the planet. One of the first fun facts we learn about Belize is that it’s home to the second longest barrier reef in the world. Lesser-known facts are that three of four atolls in the Western Hemisphere are located in our waters, and that seven specific sites within the reef were granted World Heritage status. During your time here, don’t miss experiencing one of these seven wonders of the reef–they represent its most abundant areas. 41
SOUTH WATER CAYE MARINE RESERVE In Southern Belize, South Water Caye is an easy island hop from the coastal town of Dangriga. Patch reef snorkeling and diving opportunities are excellent day or night. Under starry skies, visitors can spot eagle rays cruising through iridescent waters. On the neighboring island of Carrie Bow Caye is a branch of the Smithsonian Institute–scientists have been using the area as a natural laboratory for more than two decades.
P H O T O C O U R T E S Y: B E L I Z E T O U R I S M B O A R D
THE GREAT BLUE HOLE AND HALF MOON CAYE NATURAL MONUMENT Visible from space, the Blue Hole is Belize’s bestknown marine site and the holy grail of diving. Descending to over 100 feet to explore stalactites is a
LAUGHING BIRD CAYE NATIONAL PARK Traveling further south brings you to the stunning shores of Laughing Bird Caye National Park. The cackling of seagulls blends with the lapping waves washing along the sandy white beaches of this tiny island. Snorkelers can wade into patch reef habitat right off the beach, or make a quick trip to nearby Gladden Spit during the months of March through May to dive with whale sharks.
GLOVER’S REEF MARINE RESERVE
unique experience, because it’s as close to cave diving as one can get without actually doing so. Located some 55 miles off the coast of Belize City, a day trip to dive the Blue Hole offers the added bonus of visiting another World Heritage Site as a rest stop: Half Moon Caye Natural Monument. Half Moon Caye was Belize’s first protected area. Beyond incredible diving and snorkeling sites, the island boasts a nesting ground for turtles and red-footed boobies.
BACALAR CHICO MARINE RESERVE Ten miles north of the country’s number one tourist destination of San Pedro, Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve feels like an isolated
The Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve covers Glover’s Reef Atoll. The ring of reef and coral islands boasts some of the most idyllic tropical scenes in the country. Most easily accessed from Belize City and Dangriga, popular activities include diving, snorkeling, camping, kayaking, and paddleboarding. Stargazing, sunset or sunrise watching should also sit high on your list.
SAPODILLA CAYES MARINE RESERVE Last but not least, sitting on the deep southern tip of Belize’s sea is the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve. This string of tiny cayes is home to a Coast Guard base within the reserve. Ideal for camping, as well as diving and snorkeling, the sands on the “Saps” are typically busiest during the Easter break.
commune with nature. Kayak through mangroves to spot wildlife, and on water, discover manatees and roseate spoonbills. The more curious snorkelers can try to figure out what caused the ojos or indentations on the seafloor.
These seven protected areas make up approximately 12% of Belize’s entire reef complex–a place that is home to numerous endangered species, including the West Indian Manatee, the American crocodile, and three different species of sea turtles.
PROTECTING A NATIONAL TREASURE Despite its unique attributes, and the hundreds of thousands of Belizeans who depend on the country’s marine resources as a source of livelihood–fishing, and tourism in particular– there are serious threats impacting the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System. These include the overharvesting of marine resources, coastal development, industrial development, proposed oil and gas exploration, and exploitation in Belize’s territorial and Exclusive Economic Zone. These threats landed the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System on the List of World Heritage In Danger in 2005. The Government has since enlisted UNESCO’s support in creating an action plan to get Belize off this list, on which it remains as of publication time.
along the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System. Government and non-government organizations continue to present additional protective measures, thus ensuring that Belize’s environmental values remain intact.
In Belize, we have a solid leadership in conservation– rooted in the reality that the health of our natural resources is a key factor to our national economic well-being. As such, we find it critical that management regulations and policies be designed for the sustainable, long term use of resources. The country has made notable strides towards this ideal over the past 20 years, including the legal passage of a Coastal Zone Management Plan, a moratorium on offshore oil exploration, and as of December 1, 2015, a permanent ban on oil related activities
public sector entities partnered with
In addition, a handful of Oceana initiatives have helped raise awareness about the value and health of the Belizean reef. These include Reef Week, Hands Across the Sand, and the Responsible Fishing Campaign.
EVERY YEAR DURING REEF WEEK, BELIZEANS CELEBRATE AND LEARN MORE ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF PRESERVING THE COUNTRY’S MARINE RESOURCES.
the importance of preserving the country’s marine resources. The theme for this year’s event was “Not just my reef, it’s our way of life!” Private and the conservation community–over 15 organizations–to plan fun outdoor activities from March 6 to March 12. There were classroom presentations, field trips to marine destinations, clean-up campaigns above and below the waterline, the annual swim across the historic English Caye Channel, art exhibitions, Instagram competitions, and an annual bike ride from the
National Assembly Building in Belmopan to the Belize City coastline. Oceana also hosted informational fairs, and the Reef Fair in Belize City.
P H O T O C R E D I T: S C O T T H O U S T O N S O U T H WAT E R C AY E
The Responsible Fishing Campaign advocates for a phase out of gillnets over two years in order to protect endangered species and livelihoods dependent on tourism and fishing. Oceana’s gillnet ban campaign has received public endorsement from a broad range of local and international organizations, including the Belize Game Fish Association, the Belize Coast Guard, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Bonefish Tarpon Trust, among others. A number of successful public awareness and outreach activities have increased public knowledge on the negative impacts of catching and consuming juvenile fish. Oceana Belize’s outreach has included the support of the country’s most acclaimed chefs, such as Sean Kuylen and Jennie Staines, who encourage cooks across the country not to purchase or use juvenile fish in the preparation of their dishes. This initiative has evolved into a more comprehensive effort under a new name–Fish Right, Eat Right.
EXPLORING WITH A PURPOSE
P H O T O C R E D I T: A N G E L O G I A M P I C C O L O
On May 21, 2016, Belizeans around the country joined in a moving
Thanks to our World Heritage status, Belize continues to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. It’s the kind of natural and cultural wealth that is irreplaceable, and represents a source of life and inspiration for us all. The support of visitors allows Oceana to carry out targeted campaigns to end overfishing, limit by-catch, protect habitats, and curb ocean pollution. With your help, we can have victories that will restore the ocean’s biodiversity and abundance for generations to come.
year, activists and ocean-lovers host a Hands Across the Sand day round the world to “draw a line in the sand,” say no to filthy fuels, and say yes to clean energy. They implore leaders
When you’re out exploring and admiring the reef’s wealth and depths, you’ll quickly become part of our growing circle of ocean advocates, helping to protect this national treasure that belongs to Belize and to the world.
and decision-makers to end dependence on oil, and embrace a clean energy future. In Belize– one of 83 countries to observe this event–residents from Orange Walk Town, Dangriga, Belize City, Placencia, Corozal Town, San Ignacio, Hopkins, Sarteneja, Punta Gorda, Caye Caulker, San Pedro, and Belmopan held hands on beaches, across bridges, along sea walls, and in other public areas around the country to make a statement against offshore oil development in Belize’s marine environment. As Janelle Chanona, Vice President of Oceana Belize, explained on that symbolic day: “The damage from offshore oil to Belize’s marine environment, whether here or as far away as the Gulf of Mexico, is far reaching–from lost tourism revenue to worsening
stood united against such activities.
1. Don’t touch or chase after stingrays or other ocean animals. Respecting their lives and homes help to protect their population for the future. 2. Ask about the origin of your seafood. You’ll be supporting those who are fishing sustainably and protecting the environment, while consuming our best seafood. 3. Don’t take “natural” souvenirs away–wild flowers and plants, pebbles, seashells, and seahorses, among others, should all be left where you found them. 4. Leave any site you explore better than when you found it; always dispose of litter responsibly, and nowhere near the sea.
SINKHOLES, STEEP WALLS, AND NATURAL AQUARIUMS: BELIZE’S REEF IS UNPARALLED. BY R A L P H CA P E L I N G
It’s no secret that Belize tops the avid diver’s bucket list. Exploring the warm turquoise seas along the Belize Barrier Reef, diving the pristine waters of three remote atolls, and daring to descend 100 feet into the Blue Hole–first discovered by Jacques Cousteau–are just a few of the possibilities. The lucky ones will also scuba dive with whale sharks in season. Most divers new to Belize stay on the northern cayes for their proximity to the mainland, and because Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker offer short boat rides to the Barrier Reef. This means being able to sleep in after a night out, and still squeezing in two dives the next day. Others head for one of Belize’s three atolls. Sitting well outside the reef, these coral rings offer the most unspoiled conditions, and the greatest variety of marine life. Belize’s top three underwater sites are also found here–prepare to dive, and dive all day long, in the most vibrant environment you could imagine. It’s no exaggeration to say that you shouldn’t visit Belize without exploring at least two of these atolls. Lighthouse Reef’s Blue Hole, where hammerheads roam, and Half Moon Caye National Monument are a must, while Turneffe’s The Elbow is legendary with its steep drop off filled with gorgonians, snappers, and goliath groupers. The most remote of all, Glover’s Reef Atoll is the ultimate in pristine and diverse marine environments, offering over 20 sites with sharks, eels, rays and other tropical critters, with good visibility even on poor weather days. On the south coast of Belize, Placencia and Hopkins offer solid dive options, and also include easy access to a plethora of inland adventures. From jungle trekking to river boat rides, ziplining, cave tubing, river tubing, and hiking Maya sites, these are ideal destinations for families, or for couples with a nondiving partner.
P H O T O C R E D I T S ( T O P & R I G H T ): MARLENE LOEWEN
BELIZE BARRIER REEF
THE ELBOW, TURNEFFE ATOLL See large schools of snappers, goliath groupers and eagle rays along this 100-ft drop-off. HALF MOON CAYE WALL, LIGHTHOUSE REEF ATOLL Spot turtles, groupers, nurse sharks and large stingrays at this popular site. If you’re lucky, you might even see a hammerhead shark. THE BLUE HOLE Belize’s emblematic site is considered the holy grail of diving, with underground formations at 100-ft in depth. GLOVER’S REEF ATOLL The most southern of all the atolls–spanning close to 80 square miles–offers spectacular diving. GLADDEN SPIT For ten days following the full moon in the months of March, April, May, and June, dive with whale sharks, the largest mammals in the universe; an opportunity you do not want to miss.
© Wild Wonders of Europe / Ole Joergen Liodden / WWF-Canon © 1986 Panda symbol WWF ® “WWF” is a WWF Registered Trademark
INCOME GENERATOR Snorkelling and diving attract more than 800,000 tourists to Belize each year. Will you help us to safeguard this precious resource?
NORTHERN ISLANDS SAN PEDRO + CAYE CAULKER BY L E B AW I T L I LY G I R M A
norkeling and diving bliss, along with sheer isolation, make Belize’s islands among the most unique in the Caribbean region. Jewels in Belize’s Caribbean crown, not least for their idyllic landscape of sand and iridescent blue waters, over 200 cayes dot the country’s shoreline north to south. Hugging the magnificent 180-mile long Belize Barrier Reef, these isles range from mangrove plots to bird colonies, and coral islands for overnight stays. Couples, escapists and Robinson Crusoe wannabe’s fill the water taxis from the nearest mainland gateway to reach Belize’s dreamiest tropical backdrops. The northern cayes are the most populated and visited–from Ambergris Caye to Caye Caulker–while the southern cayes are breathtaking with their pristine diamond white sand beaches, where the shoreline seems to melt into the water. The deeper south one ventures, the greater the reward. Swing in a hammock on your overwater porch on Tobacco Caye, or marvel at the sunrise from your bed on South Water Caye or snorkeling right off the beach before breakfast. Off the coast of Placencia and Punta Gorda are the most remote and protected isles–including Laughing Bird Caye National Park, with easy access to a healthier reef and a world of underwater exploration. It’s a world where every day scenes involve stingrays along the docks, or dolphins and manatees traveling alongside boats. On any Belizean caye, you’ll find yourself experiencing island life as it was meant to be lived–barefoot, sailing, kayaking, swimming or catching your meal of the day–all while frigate birds and pelicans hover overhead.
P H O T O C O U R T E S Y: SAN PEDRO SCOOP PHOTO CREDIT
B Y R E B E C C A C O U TA N T
With over 200 cayes dotting its Caribbean Sea, island hopping in Belize is a bona fide activity. And there’s no reason to stick to a single plot.
wooden homes, sandy streets, lobster grilling outdoors, and lively crowds at “The Split”–one of the island’s popular swimming and socializing corners.
Start on the biggest and most populated island: Ambergris Caye. Its town, San Pedro, offers a wide variety of activities, international restaurants, bars, live music, and nightly entertainment. No matter where you stay on the island, whether in a budget room in town or a poolside cabin up north, the reef is just a half-mile offshore. A chartered guide can also take you to the deserted, leeward side of the Ambergris Caye for more amazing scenery, including a swimming stop at one of the sandbars along these uninhabited southern shores. Cool off in the sea, unload a cooler of Belikin beer and chill out.
From Caye Caulker, head out to Lighthouse Reef Atoll to explore Belize’s Great Blue Hole, approximately 71 miles away. Hop on a chartered plane for a memorable aerial view, or opt for a boat excursion to explore the waters all day long. Half Moon Caye, located within the atoll, is not to be missed with its postcard-like scenery of white sand beaches, towering palm trees, hermit crabs, and nesting red-footed boobies.
Catch a 30-minute water taxi from Ambergris to neighboring island Caye Caulker; you can also head there on a slow catamaran. Sought out for its laid back atmosphere, Caye Caulker’s daily fishing village scenes include colorful
For the ultimate in island hopping, throw in a trip to the idyllic south cayes. You’ll sail down from Caye Caulker to Placencia for three whole days along Belize’s gorgeous barrier reef. Drift in a traditional Belizean sailboat, the way the Caribbean was meant to be seen, or charter a catamaran with captain, and chart your own course. The reef always in view, you’ll fish and snorkel along the way, and camp overnight on picture perfect cayes. 49
San Pedro BY L E B AW I T L I LY G I R M A
BELIZE’S PRIMARY ISLAND TOWN LURES VISITORS WITH ITS PROXIMITY TO THE BARRIER REEF, ITS SLICE OF BELIZEAN ISLAND LIFE, AND PERKS OF A MODERN CARIBBEAN ESCAPE.
P H O T O C R E D I T: L E O N A R D O M E L E N D E Z S H A R K R AY A L L E Y, A M B E R G R I S C AY E
Belize’s primary island town lures visitors with its proximity to the Barrier Reef, its slice of Belizean island life, and perks of a modern Caribbean escape. Lying south of the Mexican mainland and stretching 24 miles into the sea, San Pedro is a place of contrasts. Fishing village scenes blend in with trendy, multicultural amenities ranging from fine dining and resorts to swanky beachfront condominiums. Locals love to infer that Madonna’s La Isla Bonita was born here; in truth, dreaming of San Pedro is easy. Days offer what vacations prescribe: water and beach excursions galore, and evenings of al fresco fine dining and dancing. Indulging in Maya-inspired dinners at Elvi’s Kitchen and snorkeling at Hol Chan Marine Reserve are signature San Pedro picks. Go north of town to find seclusion at some of Belize’s most exclusive resorts, near snorkel sites few have explored. But it’s not just about water, beaches, and hammocks. History and nature are there if you seek. Visit the San Pedro House of Culture, with permanent Maya exhibits on the island’s first inhabitants, or hike the protected Marco Gonzalez Archaeological Site, revealing Maya presence dating back to 250 A.D. Up north, the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve is a habitat for over 190 bird species, and a vital turtle-nesting site. In recent years, San Pedro’s development has skyrocketed, with more upscale lodging, and modern outdoor activities. But its cultural rhythm remains–from patron saint fests to lobster feasts, San Pedranos know how to celebrate.
SHARK RAY, MEXICO ROCKS AND HOL CHAN: SNORKELING ADVENTURES B Y R E B E C C A C O U TA N T
Snorkeling along the Belize Barrier Reef is an incredible experience that should not be missed.
From the Northern Cayes, with the reef less than a mile from shore, striking snorkeling spots are a short boat ride away. Hol Chan Marine Reserve, south of San Pedro, is the first marine reserve in Belize, and is home to a wide array of vibrant coral, fish, and turtles. If lucky, you might even spot a manatee.
Mexico Rocks, off North Ambergris Caye, and Coral Gardens off Caye Caulker, are akin to giant aquariums, filled with coral heads and teeming with sea life.
Off the Southern Cayes, the reef is no less spectacular. Explore from the beach at South Water Caye, ideal for beginners at under 20 feet of depth. Venture to the Silk Cayes Marine Reserve and jump into its Shark, Ray and Turtle Alley–you’ll gasp at the sight of three-feet long loggerhead turtles, enormous stingrays, and schools of lemon and nurse sharks. Whether you swim around the shore, go on a night snorkel tour or befriend nurse sharks along the reef, you will have the time of your life.
P H O T O C R E D I T: L O U I S E R O E
P H O T O C R E D I T: L E O N A R D O M E L E N D E Z
P H O T O C R E D I T: W E S L E Y W I T T CAPTURE THE COVER WINNER
MUST DO TO P
P I C KS:
T H I N GS
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IN SAN PEDRO
Hol Chan Marine Reserveâ€“Shark Ray Alley and Mexico Rocks Breakfast on the Beachfront
Rent a golf cart for the day and explore the island S A N P E D R O H O U S E O F C U LT U R E
Marco Gonzalez Archaeological Site
BELIZE FOOD TOURS Betting at The Chicken Drop
G O PA R ASA I L I N G Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve LIG HTHOUSE REEF ATOLL, THE BLUE HOLE AND HALF MOON CAYE NATIONAL MONUMENT 53
Belize’s Hotspot: Ambergris Caye BY DA N I E L H A RT I N
riginally discovered as a small fishing village, where coconuts were harvested for additional income, Ambergris Caye has since become famous for offering
some of the best fly-fishing and scuba diving in the Caribbean, if not the world. What used to be a quaint little island is now a bustling hub offering modern amenities and rustic scenery, along with plenty of culture. It’s no wonder then, that Belize’s number one destination has seen an increase of over 50 percent in tourism. And with more than 80 million baby boomers retiring in the next 10 to 15 years, and more direct flights than ever from the United States, the island is set to keep attracting expats and retirees. Perhaps it’s time to see for yourself the numerous business and retirement opportunities that so many are enjoying. Along the way, you’ll understand why residents call their home La Isla Bonita.
READY TO RETIRE? From varied regions and lifestyles to incentive programs, English-speaking Belize is a retiree favorite. B Y TA N YA WA D E
P H O T O C R E D I T: J O S E L U I S Z A PATA
ood things come in small packages, and for the retiree, tiny Belize’s ideal location–nestled in the heart of the Americas, facing the Caribbean–as well as its varied landscapes, culture, and activities make it an attractive choice. The official language is English, which makes communication easier for North American retirees. The only thing you’ll need to remember is that now you’re on island time– move at your own speed, and all you have to do is enjoy your new tropical surroundings. Shop outdoor markets filled with locally grown fruit and produce or browse fully stocked supermarkets throughout the country, relax at outdoor cafes, or savor gourmet meals at local and international restaurants. Immerse in Belize’s numerous, vibrant annual celebrations, from carnivals to lobster festivals, or escape to the jungles and rivers–teeming with so much flora and fauna, it could awaken the botanist in you. For the history buff, explore our landmarks, archaeological ruins, and ancient caves. Belize offers as exclusive a lifestyle as you choose–world-class fishing, yachting, and scuba diving. Spend days biking, beachcombing, or swaying in your home’s beachfront hammock. The adventure is as continuous as you wish–in part thanks to domestic and international airports that ease travel to and around Belize. It’s also
“COMFORTS AND PRACTICALITIES ASIDE, BELIZE IS A COUNTRY THAT OFFERS PLENTY TO EXPLORE AND EXCITING DISCOVERIES YEARROUND, NO MATTER HOW LONG YOU RESIDE HERE.” this unique mix of luxurious living coupled with opportunities to explore a fascinating backyard that make it a great place to retire. From a practical standpoint, real estate deals with low taxes make home ownership possible–from condos and apartment rentals, to mortgages. This explains Belize’s large expatriate presence inland, and on the cayes. Last but not
least, a stable foreign exchange rate welcomes U.S. currency, and you can expect fairly reliable utilities, internet, banking, and communication services. Updated medical, fitness, and spa facilities with certified health care providers offer well-being options. Comforts and practicalities aside, Belize is a country that offers plenty to explore and exciting discoveries year-round, no matter how long you reside here.
A NATIONAL QUEST TO SAVE BELIZE’S ABUNDANT MARINE LIFE –FROM SEA TO TABLE. BY O C E A N A
he old proverb states, “Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” At Oceana, we believe: “Teach a fisherman to fish sustainably, and he can feed the world forever.” Fishing–commercial, recreational and subsistence– is one of Belize’s oldest livelihoods. It’s a respected tradition, often passed on from father to child, allowing a hard day’s work on the waves to support one’s family with dignity. Today, savoring seafood is a pastime for the average Belizean, beyond Lobster Festival gatherings on coastal and island destinations to kick off the start of the lobster season. But how many of us really think about the fish we eat? We like to believe it is “fresh”–that the fish we’re consuming goes from panga to plate, and palate in the same day. Yet below the scales are the facts that aren’t told. What if you learned the fish was caught using destructive gear? What if you discovered the amount of Belizean seafood that foreign fishermen export to other countries? That fresh fish is actually farmed fish from Vietnam, imported via Mexico? What if, as a result of today’s choices, there’s a real chance no fish will be left in our seas in 10 to 20 years? As populations grow, demands for tasty seafood are rising. Marine ecosystems and local fish populations already face a number of serious threats: overfishing, destructive fishing, pollution from sewage and wastewater, ocean acidification and climate change. Left unchecked, these threats compromise our collective future.
P H O T O C R E D I T: A L E X A N D E R E L L I S , © O C E A N A
T H E F IS H R I G H T, E AT R I G H T I N I T I AT I V E According to Belize’s Fisheries Department, fishing is one of the country’s top five foreign exchange earners, directly employing more than 3,000 fishers, and directly benefiting more than 15,000 Belizeans. Fresh, natural seafood is as economically important in Belize as it is culturally relevant. That’s the story we want to keep telling–it explains why a future in fishing is important: as a source of food and employment, an income earner, and foreign exchange generating sector of our economy. For you, the explorer and consumer, it means buying local– Belizean-caught seafood. In turn, this will help the businesses that fishermen depend on, and the right seafood suppliers, retailers, restaurants and hotels. How can you identify what’s local, you might ask? This is where Fish Right, Eat Right comes in: it’s a new initiative to identify the chefs, cooks, vendors, and establishments in Belize that are sourcing seafood responsibly. Currently in its pilot phase, the program will make it easier for consumers to make sustainable purchase choices. Businesses demonstrating knowledge of and compliance with the Fisheries Regulations will receive special recognition, while complying fishermen will have preferential access to these reliable markets. Fish Right, Eat Right primarily targets restaurants and hotels, and will contemplate expanding to include cooperatives, fish markets, supermarkets and other seafood purveyors in the near future. An advertising campaign for tourists and the general public to support these compliant, recognized establishments is under way. The initiative will also help restaurants identify alternative seafood options for consumption, and reduce fishing pressure on species that are overexploited, threatened, or endangered. For instance, eating fewer juveniles and more lionfish–an invasive species in these parts–builds resiliency and restores abundance. Doing the right thing will not only 59
Buying • Selling • Leasing Condos • Villas • Land Commercial Real Estate Locally Owned and Operated
P H O T O C R E D I T: © S A N D Y P O I N T R E S O R T S
1 Barrier Reef Drive, San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye, Belize Phone: 011-501-226-3737 Fax: 011-501-226-3379 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.sunriserealty.bz
enhance trust with customers, but maximize the value of Belize’s marine products and resources well into the future.
PA RT N E R I N G W I T H LO CA L C H E FS Critical to this Fish Right, Eat Right initiative, then, are the chefs, because they know their fishermen. Chefs can identify if destructive gear like gillnets were used, by looking at the ribbing left on a whole fish. They are our gatekeepers, because after being buttered, battered and fried, most of us are unable to tell what kind of fish sits on the table. And the most expensive kind, including grouper and snapper, are often the ones being mislabeled. The weight of this responsibility is why a number of Belizean chefs are leading the mission in encouraging fishers to “fish right” and consumers to “eat right.” Jennie Staines, Head Chef at the renowned Elvi’s Restaurant in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, was one of the first to put responsibly caught fish and shellfish on the menu. Her decision to become a pilot partner of the Fish Right, Eat Right program was a natural fit to her ethos. 60
P H OT O C R E D I T ( A B O V E A N D R I G H T ): A L E X A N D E R E L L I S , © O C E A N A
“Sustainable seafood is one of the biggest things for me,” says Chef Jennie Staines. “This partnership is proof that the restaurant industry can be successful while being sustainable.”
B E L I Z E ’S S U STA I N A B L E F IS H I N G TEAM Aside from local chefs, the Fish Right, Eat Right partners are as diverse as our marine ecosystems. They include restaurants, markets, fishers and suppliers, government and non-governmental organizations– including the Belize Tourism Board, the Belize Tourism Industry Association, the Belize Fisheries Department, Oceana, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Environmental Defense Fund. These groups have a common goal to serve or provide sustainable, ocean-friendly seafood. The decisions we make today, as consumers, will
determine the future welfare of tens of thousands of Belizeans. If we vote with our forks and make informed seafood choices, we can continue to depend on the sea as a source of fresh, natural, local, safe fish products.
T H E R I G H T F IS H TA L E As a consumer, you can partner with us on this journey to turn the Belizean fish tale into a success. The “skin tag” left on fillets–the result of a government initiative–helps you identify what type of fish you are being sold. The next time you’re dining out, be as inquisitive as you are when exploring Belize. Ask where your seafood comes from, and look for the blue fish with the Fish Right, Eat Right logo. It ensures you’re supporting fishers who are operating sustainably and protecting the environment, while enjoying the best local seafood. If you don’t see the Fish Right, Eat Right label at your favorite restaurant, don’t be afraid to ask, “When are you joining up?” And you’ll be a part of the quest to save our seas, and to encourage the sustainable use of Belize’s rich natural resources.
P H O T O C R E D I T: J O S E L U I S Z A PATA
Perfect Match BY LO U IS E R O E
Exotic landscapes and thrilling adventures have made Belize a sought-after location for a destination wedding.
icture saying “I do” against a beautiful blue backdrop, with your feet deep in the sand. Or perhaps you’re saying it while standing at the top of a Maya temple overlooking an expanse of green, or next to a waterfall deep inside a rainforest. These are all possible settings when getting married in Belize. But it’s not just the spectacular scenery that will make you want to tie the knot here. As the only Central American country where English is the official language, planning your wedding abroad is a whole lot easier. As a less crowded and less populated destination than its neighbors, you can choose from a variety of secluded spots–including an island all to yourself. And you won’t have to worry about your family and friends traveling far, as Belize is just a two to three hour flight from major airports in North America.
P L A N N I N G T H E B I G DAY Hotels across the country have caught on to the magic of saying “I do” in Belize, and provide couples with an array of packages for their special day. Many prominent beachfront properties in San Pedro are among the most popular wedding locations. Resorts offer experienced wedding coordinators to help plan your big day, from greeting you at the airport to coordinating all of your required marriage paperwork. The lessercrowded Caye Caulker and the Placencia Peninsula also make for dream wedding locations, with a variety of beachfront boutique hotels. Excellent wedding planners abound to assist with all your needs, from catering and decorating, to photography and entertainment. Belize’s major advantage as a wedding destination is that it’s just one of a few countries that allow wedding ceremonies to take place on sacred Maya sites. Shrouded in mysticism, it’s no wonder more lovebirds are climbing up these temples to seal their love close to the sky, as if celebrating with the gods of this ancient world. Aside from temples, you can journey into the Maya underworld, with an inland ceremony at the entrance of a cave deep in Belize’s jungle, like the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve. You could also escape to a private island, or share vows across the Caribbean Sea on a chartered yacht, for a more intimate ceremony. In the excitement of choosing the perfect setting, remember to consider the varying seasons. While Mother Nature can be unpredictable, December through the first quarter of the year is usually the ideal time, with breezy and sunny days. The summer months are the rainiest and muggiest, with the hurricane season running from June through November–but there are plenty of sunny days as well.
P OST-W E D D E D A DV E N T U R E S
The only thing left after a fabulous ceremony is a memorable honeymoon in Belize. You could charter a helicopter ride to your chosen resort and explore Belize’s abundant natural sights from above. Whether you’re looking for a romantic escape from it all, or an adrenaline-packed adventure for two across the country’s rainforests or barrier reef, the options are endless. Relax in a private villa, enjoying spa treatments, candlelit dinners under the stars, beach walks, and even a sunset cruise. Go diving or snorkeling along the Great Blue Hole, zip lining, hiking and exploring Belize’s ancient Maya sites and caves–there’s plenty to discover. Whatever activity you choose, you’ll end your days sharing stories at sunset, and contemplating your next journey.
B E L I Z E ’S W E D D I N G R E Q U I R E M E N TS »» Couples are required to stay in Belize for three days before applying for a marriage license. If that’s not possible, there’s the option of applying for a special license, at an additional fee.
»» A senior justice of the peace, a boat captain, or a minister of a registered church must perform the wedding ceremony.
»» Both parties must show proof of citizenship–with a passport or birth certificate. If either party was previously married, a certified or original copy of a divorce decree or a death certificate is required.
»» The minimum age of legal marriage in Belize is 18. Below the age of 18, parental or guardian consent is required.
»» There’s a one-day processing period to pick-up the marriage license.
»» Two witnesses must be present.
For more information, consult your wedding planner or your chosen destination wedding resort. P H O T O C R E D I T: L E O N A R D O M E L E N D E Z
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P H O T O C O U R T E S Y: B E L I Z E T O U R I S M B O A R D
Caye Caulker BY L E B AW I T L I LY G I R M A
NEWCOMERS HOPPING OFF THE WATER TAXI ARE GREETED WITH CAYE CAULKER’S OFFICIAL MOTTO: “GO SLOW.” 66
Blessed with some of the most glorious sunsets on these northern shores, it’s little wonder 18th century pirates chose Caye Caulker as their refuge. Belize’s second largest inhabited island is a small fishing village sitting a mile west of the Barrier Reef, and just 21 miles northeast of Belize City. It’s an island where the majority of residents live in colorful wooden houses, on streets named Front, Middle and Back. Newcomers hopping off the water taxi are greeted with Caye Caulker’s official motto: “Go Slow.” Paved roads and cars are non-existent here. Instead, bicycles and golf carts crush the sand-covered streets. But the sweet, Caribbean-slow pace of Cayo Hicaco, as it was originally named, contrasts against its thrilling outdoor adventures. Snorkeling at the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve, a half-mile from shore, reveals a world of nurse sharks, stingrays, and turtles. Kayaking along the island’s coastline invites exploration past dense mangrove swamps, while bird watching along the way. Fly-fishing with tournament winning locals or kite surfing to the island’s constant trade winds are daily possibilities. An evolving Caye Caulker now offers boutique guesthouses and international restaurants, but its local pulse beats on, as deeply as its commitment to the environment. Friends of Swallow Caye, based here, protect the West
Indian manatees offshore, and Ocean Academy’s Kayak with Purpose pairs visitors with trained students to learn of the island’s ecology. Past the sun, salt water and reggae beats, that’s what makes Caye Caulker special, along with having the friendliest islanders you’ll find in Belize.
P H O T O C R E D I T S ( B E L O W ): A N D R E W U S H E R , M AYA I S L A N D A I R
Ranked by Sport Fishing Magazine in 2014 as “One of the best
places in the world to catch an inshore slam,” Belize is truly
a fishing haven boasting pristine flats, as well as opportunities for deep sea, reef and river fishing. Before casting your line, be sure to get your license as legally required and help to support the sustainable management of the sport fishing industry in Belize. Visit us online to Purchase a Sport Fishing License
Fishing On The Fly Chasing tail in Belize is a world class sport, on the bucket list of anglers worldwide. It’s also part of a key industry in need of protection. BY O C E A N A
very year, hundreds of fly fishers make the
pilgrimage to Belize’s tidal flats, lagoons, rivers, and seas for the most revered achievement in fly fishing: the Grand Slam. Anglers rise long before dawn to ready themselves to catch bonefish, tarpon, and permit in one day. Landing all three, plus snook, is an extra feather in an angler’s cap–the Super Grand Slam. To find these species the same day is tricky business, but that’s where a gifted guide comes into play. Whether in the north, central or south Belize, these dedicated professionals plan for every potential obstacle, from bad weather to fussy fish. Passionate fly fishers themselves, they understand their clients’ superstitions, hopes, and dreams once on the boat. Spend a day on the water with one and experience the passion for this sport, which is growing every year in Belize. You’ll feel the thrill of catching and releasing, and learn the importance of protecting our magnificent species for current and future generations of Belizeans.
A T H R I V I N G S P O RT For centuries, men and women have worked at mastering the art of luring prey to the fishing hook. It started with hand lines and hooks, while today there are high end graphite and bamboo fly rods, or 68
titanium fly reels with floating or sinking lines, with straight or circle hooks. The equipment might vary, but it’s always designed to enhance performance and get the fly to the fish. Fly tying itself is said to originate from Roman times. The exact date is hard to pinpoint, but anglers have long used their fingertips to hold fish hooks, and have painstakingly crafted colorful imitations of natural prey, with feathers and fur, to lure the fish. Fast forward to the present use of a vice to hold the hook in place, and little has changed–save for the creativity in naming flying techniques: Black Death, Christmas Island Special, Squimp, and Crazy Charlie, among others. Preferences for the types of material tied to the hook may vary, but it’s all about studying the resulting weight and movement of the fly. Some anglers, especially the ones that consider themselves “purists,” mainly use flies that swim close to the surface to experience the excitement of positioning the fly perfectly in the path of a feeding fish. Then they watch the fly as it gets sucked-in–a sight described as incomparable. Most fly fishermen see themselves as lifelong students– on the water, class is always in session. It’s not just about keeping tabs on time, tides and moon phases.
P H O T O C R E D I T: ALEXANDER ELLIS, © OCEANA
Keen eyes must religiously scan the water to look for telltale signs. Nervous water or surface movement reveals the presence of different species. This gives the angler a target to cast, with the anticipation of a possible hook up. When the latter happens, it’s exciting to play the fish, watching it make spectacular jumps or runs in a fight that can last anywhere from five minutes up to two hours, depending on the species. But there’s no guarantee of bringing the fish to the boat for a photo or two, because it might still spit the hook. Even if it escapes, anglers know they would have released, letting the fish survive for another day and another angler.
A N A B U N DA N T F IS H E RY While it’s a small country, Belize’s fishing grounds are large, and vary countrywide. Every day here is great for fly fishing–it’s a year round fishery for all sporting species, including the protected bonefish, permit, snook, and tarpon. A fair number of those days are also good catching days for other types of fish. Each fishing lodge guide has a favorite time to look for different species. Your chosen fish and time of year will determine where you should travel–north, south or central Belize. Sportfishing can get very exciting from March through September, when large
migratory tarpon–weighing between 100 lbs to 180 lbs–move through Belize’s waters. Schools can be as small as three or four large tarpon, or greater than a hundred fish per school. And yes, these species can be caught in several Caribbean destinations, but there’s another hook to fishing in Belize: in between casts, you and your non-fishing family members can explore the country’s other incredible marine assets. This includes the second longest barrier reef in the world after Australia’s, three of the Caribbean’s four atolls, and the seven marine reserves within Belize’s World Heritage Site designation.
P R OT E CT I N G O U R F U T U R E Game fishing has taken place in Belize for decades, but today the sector is one of the country’s key economic drivers. More than 2,200 Belizeans are employed in various aspects of the industry. The diversity of species, professionalism of the personnel, and the natural beauty of Belize continuously draw anglers to the country. The economic impact study commissioned by the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust in 2013, suggest that the Belize flats fishery injects more than $100 million Belizean dollars (US$50
million) annually into the national economy. Despite this economic benefit, the integrity of Belize’s game fisheries is under threat. For more than 20 years, fishermen–commercial, subsistence, and recreational– have advocated for a ban on the use of gillnets in Belize’s waters, inshore and offshore. Fly-fishing and conservation go together like hook and line–in the past, sports fishermen were successful in obtaining protective status for tarpon, permit, and bonefish. Belize’s fishery remains healthy, but the use of destructive gear continues to harm it and its species. The indiscriminate nature of gillnets results in hundreds of pounds of Belizean fish caught and killed annually, including game fish and mammals. This compromises the health of the stocks themselves, and it represents a dramatic loss in revenues for Belize. For example, according to the Belize Game Fish Association, one snook sold at the market for roughly 50 Belizean dollars (US$25), or at five Belizean dollars (US$2.50) a pound, could be caught and released approximately five times during its lifetime. In other words, the same fish could generate approximately 3,000 Belizean dollars (US$1,500). This shows the need to ensure healthy stocks and the sustainability of these protected species, so that fly-fishing can continue to be a major revenue earner for Belize. Banning gillnets will keep our fish in the waters for local and visiting anglers to catch and release them for years to come. Sustainable fishing must also be practiced in all other areas of fishing, beyond the sportfishing industry. 70
P H O T O C R E D I T: A L E X A N D E R E L L I S , © O C E A N A
When you get in that boat and head out to the lagoons, tidal flats, rivers, or sea with your fly fishing guide, you’ll spot our beautiful bonefish, tarpon, and colorful permit, among numerous species. And in the fun of chasing tail, you’ll understand our passion for fishing, and our mission to protect Belize’s sea life for generations to come.
D E S T I N AT I O N BELIZE
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MUST DO TO P
P I C KS:
T H I N GS
S E E
A N D
IN CAYE CAULKER Swimming and Sunset at The Split
KAYAKING FOR A PURPOSE Paddleboarding and Kitesurfing Caye Caulker Marine Reserveâ€“Shark Ray Alley and Coral Gardens
Manatee Spotting at Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary
SAMPLING LIZARD JUICE
TRY F LY B OA R DI N G BIKING TO SOUTH POINT
Caye Caulker Marine Reserve
CENTRAL COAST BY L E B AW I T L I LY G I R M A
he nation’s most important transportation and commerce hub, the Belize District is also the primary gateway for most first-time visitors.
Sitting on the central coastline, Belize City–originally the capital until Hurricane Hattie hit in 1961–reveals more than meets the eye. Meandering the city center–stretching along the banks of the Haulover Creek–the Creole influence is on full display. Local restaurants dish out heaping plates of rice and beans, men slam dominoes in Central Park, and roadside fruit vendors holler at passersby. Walk the iconic Swing Bridge, tour the House of Culture’s relics from the British colonial days, and stare out at the Caribbean hugging shoreline from the Marine Parade Fort George. Amid the history and local pulse are trendy cafes, waterfront sports bars, and fine dining. Renovated green spaces dotted with food trucks and playgrounds invite more urban adventure. Outside the city, nature calls at the cozy lodges of Burrell Boom, hugging the Belize River with its mangrove cathedrals, birds, and iguanas. Nearby, the Community Baboon Sanctuary’s trails lead to howler monkeys–sometimes spotted from the road, as if welcoming visitors. On the way to the Altun Ha Maya Site, past more Creole villages, vendors hawk homemade cashew or blackberry wine. And like a cherry on top of the pie, the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary–a prime birding hotspot in Central America–sits 33 miles northwest of Belize City. Romantic cabins face the freshwater lagoon in this secluded fishing and farming community of Crooked Tree Village, taking you a thousand worlds away.
WITH ITS MAJOR PUSH TOWARD DEVELOPMENT AND PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP, BELIZE MAKES FOR A PROMISING HOME. BY C H R IST Y M AST RY, A I A / M . CO R P. A PA B
You’re probably sitting back in one of Belize’s exotic corners while reading this article, already intrigued by your experiences and eager to learn more about what this country offers. You might even be contemplating a second visit to explore more of our inland destinations, filled with nature and history, or one of our islands for your next permanent escape. Whether considering Belize as a future second home or as a retirement spot, you’ll be pleased to know that investment opportunities are no longer limited to real estate. You’ll find a country eager to open the doors to its advancing and emerging sectors, and one that welcomes the opportunity to partner with you. Those of you who have visited Belize in the past will quickly notice the changes that have taken place over the past several years, and the investment opportunities that have emerged. You’ll see the growth in airlift choices as you make your travel plans, the diversification in hotel stock, and the wide range of cultural offerings available across our regional escapes–all of which motivate today’s traveler in search of a meaningful journey. Belize has transformed its landscape with a strategic eye toward infrastructure investments. A commitment to development
IE is Belize’s premier investment liaison when it comes to creating new developments in this country. With an emphasis on architecture and construction, IE is the ﬁrst point of contact for investment groups providing sustainable growth scenarios, networking and business strategies.
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remains at the forefront for the government, as the country continues to expand its transportation network–through road, sea, and air–to open access to evolving destinations across Belize, and to continue the effort to streamline service delivery. Investments in public open spaces, particularly parks and recreational facilities, have enhanced the quality of life in urban areas, and an ongoing investment in the tourism market has resulted in a steady rise in visitor numbers which is outpacing our regional competitors. As exceptional growth in tourism continues, the government of Belize is actively looking for partnership opportunities to expand on this already growing infrastructure, and to diversify investment in emerging sectors of the economy where the private sector has proven capable, efficient, and most successful. Direct foreign and local investments are thriving in the tourism, agriculture, banking, and technology sectors. The initial framework has to be set, but this growth trajectory will not continue without private investment. Economies prosper when the private sector is invited to invest within a platform that streamlines the development process, vets and prioritizes projects, and creates clarity in a country’s vision while offering strong government assistance. As such, the government of Belize is now introducing public-private investment opportunities to construct a more mature partnership climate throughout the country.
BELIZE’S OFFICIAL VISITOR GUIDE AT YOUR FINGERTIPS
Whether you‘re enjoying your first visit to the Jewel or noticing all the progress made since your last stay, the work here continues and development never stops. That’s what makes this country one of the top favorites for retiring Central America–one you might soon consider making your new home. For more information contact: Belize Infrastructure Ltd. 6th Floor, The Matalon, Coney Drive, Belize City Phone: +501-223-0494 Fax: +501-223-2711 Email: email@example.com Growing Investments for the Government of Belize
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TOP PICKS: THINGS TO SEE AND DO
IN BELIZE CITY
St. Johnâ€™s Cathedral Baron Bliss Lighthouse, Fort George Belize City House of Culture
MUSEUM OF BELIZE
Belize River Boat Ride COMMUNITY BABOON SANCTUARY
THE BELIZE ZOO Altun Ha Archaeological Site
Bird Watching at Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary SAMPLING CREOLE FOOD
+501-222-4129 INFO@OLDBELIZE.COM 5.5 MILES GEORGE PRICE HIGHWAY BELIZE CITY, BELIZE
Cruising to The Jewel BY M A R I A G U E R R A C R U IS E CO O R D I N ATO R , BT B
EVEN A DAY’S VISIT REVEALS “HOW TO BE” IN BELIZE. 80
he only English-speaking country in Central America, Belize is a popular cruise destination for its fascinating outdoors and diverse cultures. Visitors flock here on several cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises, AIDA Cruises, and MSC Cruises. The Belizean journey begins with a fifteen-minute scenic tender to Fort Street Tourism Village, Belize City’s cruise port entrance. The Village is conveniently located along the banks of the Haulover Creek, and in the heart of downtown Belize City. It’s an entertaining area filled with local artisans, from jewelry makers to a Belizean chocolate shop. Enjoy Belize’s city center, the commercial and social hub, where you’ll find more shopping, art galleries, and local and international restaurants. Stroll down the Swing Bridge–one of the only manually operated ones left in the world–and take in the bustling Creole spirit of the city, past fruit vendors and 19th century colonial architecture. Tour historic sights like the Museum of Belize, the House of Culture, and the seafront Fort George neighborhood. With eight hours in Belize, you can also explore the country’s most beautiful, and intriguing spots. Climb the Maya temples in the Cayo District, or go on caving adventures in its rainforests. Snorkel the second largest barrier reef in the world off Ambergris Caye, swimming alongside rays and nurse sharks, then enjoy island beaches on Caye Caulker, less than an hour from Belize City. Along the way, you’ll meet our friendly people, and taste our flavorful foods. Once you get a feel for how to be in Belize, you’ll want to come back with your family and friends. Whether you opt for another cruise or a longer stay, plan your epic return with our website, at www.travelbelize.org
We’ll be delighted to welcome you back.
firstname.lastname@example.org +501-671-2946 www.ayinha.com
BEST SHORE EXCURSIONS H A L F - D AY C U LT U R A L TOU RS Travelers not looking to venture beyond Belize City’s limits will find cultural and historical landmarks located right near the port. Discover Belize’s colonial history on foot, horse-drawn carriage, on an open trolley, or aboard a luxury party bike. You could also take a short walk to shop at the many gift stalls on Fort Street.
St. John’s Cathedral: Across from The House of Culture sits the oldest Anglican Cathedral in Central America, dating back to 1812.
Old Belize Historical Tour: Located a short distance from the city, this recreational center offers a historical exhibition, a restaurant, and a manmade beach.
The Museum of Belize: On the site of the old jail, the museum has a permanent display of Maya artifacts, as well as special exhibitions.
Luba Garifuna Museum: Learn about Belize’s Garifuna culture right in the city. This educational museum, located near the St. Martin De Pores area of Belize City, is filled with arts and crafts, traditional utensils, and a whole lot of Garifuna history.
Belize House of Culture: Once the seat of the Colonial Government, this elegant building now houses historic displays from the British colonial days, and special exhibits.
Baron Bliss Lighthouse: Even though it’s small, this lighthouse is an important monument in Belize. It also offers a gorgeous view of the sea and Haulover Creek harbor.
Major sights include:
Image Factory Art Foundation and Gallery: Belize’s most innovative art gallery. Open daily, it’s a great place to purchase Belizean art, crafts, and books.
F U L L - D AY A D V E N T U R E TOU RS - CAV E T U B I N G A N D CAV I N G - Z I P- L I N I N G - V I S I T I N G A M AYA S I T E ( A LT U N H A , L A M A N A I , O R XU N A N T U N I C H ) - A I RBOAT A DV E N T U RES O N T H E B E L I Z E RI V E R - H O RS E BAC K RI D I N G - V I S I T I N G T H E B E L I Z E ZO O - RI V E R K AYA K I N G O R CA N O E I N G - DAY T RI P TO T H E CAY ES FO R S N O RK E L I N G A N D B E AC H ES - DAY T RI P TO O L D B E L I Z E ’S KU KU M BA B E AC H A M U S E M E N T PA RK 81
picture speaks a thousand words, and with a country as beautiful as Belize, we think it says even more. In April 2016, Destination Belize launched a Capture the Cover contest using the ever wide-reaching, powerful tool that is social media. The goal was to inspire participants, and to find that perfect cover photograph showcasing our country’s unparalleled natural and cultural wealth. It was designed to involve local minds in the creative process of choosing a theme for the new Destination Belize Magazine. Ultimately, the photo contest revealed the beauty of our country through the eyes of many. From Belize’s rich history to its melting pot of cultures, its marine blues and rainforest greens, the entries were nothing short of postcard perfect.
final “Travel Curious” cover. There were no boundaries set on the team to get the shot. Whether trekking through Belize’s lush and remote jungles in the Cayo district, or learning to swim in crystal clear blue waters at Mexico Rocks, and conquering one’s fear of sharks at Shark Ray and Turtle Alley–it was an exhilarating process.
We received over 80 submissions, and 10 photographers were rewarded for inspiring the publication’s design and theme. Out of these ten images, three reflected the magazine’s inquisitive and adventurous angle, and were used to direct photographer Leonardo Melendez in capturing the cover. In the end, there was no way to capture it all in one cover, and so we decided to share the best of both worlds.
Photographers that inspired the actual cover of Destination Belize 2016/2017 are:
The Destination Belize team scouted locations near and far across Belize to find the ultimate, perfect spot for the
This was possible with the collaboration of many, including McNab Visual Strategies, Leonardo Melendez Photography, Ambergris Divers, River Rat Expeditions, Raggamuffin Tours and The Institute of Archaeology and The National Institute of Culture and History. With teamwork, patience, and persistence, the final covers were captured for our readers to feel Belize’s irresistible pull for adventure.
DAVID DIAZ, FEATURED ON PAGE 34 DAREN LAMB, FEATURED ON PAGE 22 WESLEY WITT, FEATURED ON PAGE 52 We also believe that Belize’s timeless natural beauty is one that should be shared year-round, for the world to see. Share your moments with us on Instagram @destination.belize or #destinationbelize 83
NORTHERN BELIZE COROZAL + ORANGE WALK BY L E B AW I T L I LY G I R M A
he northern interior of Belize is a treasure trove for culture lovers, naturalists, and archaeology fans. Conveniently located between Mexico and Ambergris Caye, Corozal’s turquoise shores and diverse landscape–from beaches and historical sights to a nature reserve–draw visitors in search of a relaxing, less touristic escape. In town, cultural heritage and historical remnants are on full display. Examine the gun turrets at Fort Barlee, used during the 19th century Caste War, the vibrant Corozal Town Hall mural depicting the district’s history, and the Maya temple of Santa Rita, where Belize’s mestizo population was born. Corozal is also home to an East Indian population, whose 19th century arrival to work on sugar cane fields is revealed at the Window into the Past Museum. The district’s diversity further shines at Art in the Park, a mid-monthly tradition celebrating local arts and crafts, music, food and the community spirit of Corozal. At sunset, families and lovers cool off in the bay, frolic along “Miami Beach” or stroll the town’s waterfront, where the sunsets are among the most breathtaking in Belize. An hour ferry ride east from Corozal, you will encounter the sleepy fishing village of Sarteneja which produces Belize’s traditional wooden
sailboats; those curious can peek into the impressive workshops. Venture deeper into Sarteneja and you’ll find the Shipstern Conservation and Management Area, one of the most ecologically diverse areas of Belize. From mangrove shorelines to rainforests, and botanical trails, inside the reserve thrive 300 bird species, 270 butterfly species, manatees, and crocodiles. And if you’re fortunate to hit Sarteneja’s shores at Easter, its annual sailing regatta is one of the most unique events in the country.
A RT IN TH E PARK
Cerros Archaeological Site
Shipstern Conservation and Management Area 85
P H O T O C R E D I T: J U A N C A R L O S M E N Z I E S C A P T U R E T H E C O V E R W I N N E R , C O R O Z A L B AY
ORANGE WALK A
n hour north of Belize City, Orange Walk– affectionately called “Shuga City” for its sugar cane production– is home to the majority of the country’s mestizo population. Beyond the tempting rum factories, Orange Walk is the authentic, raw Belize. A place where it’s not far-fetched to go for a morning rainforest run, and spot an ocelot stealthily crossing jungle trails. On water, gliding down the New River lagoon–Belize’s largest fresh water body at 28 miles long–is a veritable safari. You will feel the stare of Morelet crocodiles, while hanging high on trees are drooping bird nests, and gliding black vultures hunt from the sky. Maya temples abound–Lamanai’s beautiful rainforest protects hundreds of bird species, including Belize’s national birdthe Keel-billed Toucan. The daily soundtrack: the howler monkey’s guttural roar. Hike deeper
P H O T O C R E D I T S ( A B O V E ): L E O N A R D O M E L E N D E Z L A M A N A I R U I N S . O R A N G E WA L K D I S T R I C T
into the bush, and explore medicinal trails in the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area with Programme for Belize. After emerging from these adrenaline-inducing experiences, meals bursting with Latin flavor await you in these northern parts. Sample the signature salpicón or spicy pork ceviche–so tasty it draws Belizeans from around the country. And ask about the best street side chree-fi-dala (three for a dollar) tacos, a sure conversation starter. As surprising as Orange Walk’s wild landscape: its fun-loving spirit. Enjoy colorful festivities in Orange Walk such as Sugar City Rum Festival, Fiestarama, and September Carnival Parade, with each beat as vibrant and cheerful as the soul of an Orange Walkeño.
THE MUNDO MAYA
A LT U N H A ( R O C K S T O N E P O N D )
Altun Ha is the closest Maya site to Belize City and the most visited in Belize. This is where the largest jade carving in the Maya world was discovered, and one of Belize’s greatest treasures: a jade head sculpture of Kinich Ahau, the sun god.
C E R R O S ( M AYA H I L L ) Located on the northern coast of Belize, Cerros was an important trade center for imports like obsidian and jade. Still only partially excavated, the site has three large buildings and several plazas surrounded by pyramids. The tallest structure stands 72 feet high above the plaza.
S A N TA R I TA Corozal Town sits where the ancient city of Santa Rita once flourished. It was an important part of the trade route, with products like cacao, vanilla and honey exported from here. Only a few original structures are still standing, but the main temple provides a gorgeous panoramic view of the town.
LAMANAI (SUBMERGED CROCODILE)
A 26-mile boat ride up the New River leads you to this site, boasting 700 mapped Maya structures, including the Temple of the Jaguar. Lamanai is one of the biggest and most beautiful Maya sites in Belize, and was continuously occupied for over 3,000 years.
A handy checklist of top archaeological sites.
P H O T O S ( A B O V E ): L E O N A R D O M E L E N D E Z
L A M I L P A ( M AYA F A R M ) The third largest Maya site in the country, located in Orange Walk, La Milpa features over 80 structures. Only a few are open to the public, but visitors who come in late April to early July get a chance to see and participate in archaeological digs.
CA R AC O L ( S N A I L )
C A H A L P E C H ( P L AC E O F TI C K S )
Located deep in the Chiquibul Forest, this Maya site is home to the tallest manmade structure in Belize–the 143-feet high temple of Canaa (Sky Place). The site is also known for its immense agricultural field system and city planning.
Once a home to an elite Maya ruling family, Cahal Pech boasts an impressive 34 structures in an area of just over two acres. A royal burial chamber was discovered in one of the structures filled with the ruler’s necessities for the afterlife. Shell and bone ornaments, pottery vessels, obsidian blades, and a jade tile mosaic mask were among the treasures found.
PHOTO: © BENEDICT KIM, ESOTERIC VISION PHOTOGRAPHY
E L P I L A R ( WAT E R H O L E )
XUNANTUNICH (MAIDEN OF THE ROCK)
Located near the Belize/Guatemalan border, El Pilar is the largest site in the Belize River area. It features 25 plazas and hundreds of other ancient structures, though most remain inaccessible to the public. The house site Tzunu’un is accessible and shows a glimpse of a traditional Maya home and forest garden.
Travel across the Mopan River via handcranked ferry to reach this stunning archaeological site hosting 25 temples. El Castillo temple rises 130 feet above the plaza and features intricate hand-carved friezes and stelae.
N I M L I P U N I T ( B I G H AT ) The site was named after a carving on the longest stelae discovered there–at 55 feet, it’s the longest discovered in Belize. The stelae depicts a ruler wearing a diadem or big hat. There’s a Plaza of Royal Tombs, and one tomb discovered held five people buried with their worldly possessions.
LUBAANTUN (PLACE OF THE FALLEN STONES) Occupied for about 150 years, Lubaantun’s structures are unique because they were constructed without the use of mortar, and each stone was cut to perfectly fit other adjoining stones. A flawless crystal skull was discovered at this site, which also had many administrative buildings, homes for the elite, and three ball courts.
P H O T O S ( A B O V E ): © B E N E D I C T K I M , ESOTERIC VISION PHOTOGRAPHY
PHOTOS (BELOW): LEONARDO MELENDEZ
vines hang from boulders above the cave, and the entrance is carved out from where the water bubbles up from underground.
ACT U N T U N I C H I L MUKNAL ( ATM CAV E )
Located in the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve in the Cayo district, this popular cave holds much evidence of Maya sacrifices–from pottery to a fully crystallized skeleton known as the “Crystal Maiden.”
T I G E R CAV E
Accessible only by canoe, this wet cave runs over four miles long, and was once used for Maya ceremonies and burials. Even though most of the cave has been excavated, it still holds many visible artifacts.
Poisonwood Water–holds numerous Maya artworks and artifacts. The cave’s entrance is decorated with Maya motifs, and its interior walls are lined with large storage jars.
CAV ES B R A N C H ( N O H O C H CHE’EN)
ACT U N C H A PAT A N D ACT U N H A L A L
BA RTO N C RE E K CAV E
Float on an inner tube along the Caves Branch River as it takes you through this series of caves. There are various pottery shards remaining as evidence of ancient Maya ceremonies.
RI O F RI O CAV E Located in the Mountain Pine Ridge area, Rio Frio is impressive just because of the sheer size of its chamber. The entrance has a phenomenal 65-foot tall arch that allows visitors to see the entire half-mile length of the cave.
C H E C H E M H A CAV E Discovered by a farmer just outside of Benque Viejo del Carmen, Che Chem Ha–the Cave of
Actun Chapat or the Centipede Cave, and Actun Halal, the Dart Cave, are located 19 miles south of San Ignacio. They have man-made features–including terraces and raised platforms. Human remains and artifacts have been found here.
This cave, named as such because villagers once saw a dog chase a jaguar cub into the cave, is about an hour-and-a-half hike from the village of San Miquel, in the Toledo District. The hike to the cave passes through modern-day Maya farms and milpas.
ST. H E RM A N ’S CAV E Located within the Blue Hole National Park, near the city center of Belmopan, country’s capital, this cave holds important cultural and archaeological significance. Pottery vessels used for collecting Zuh Uy Ha (virgin water) from dripping speleothems were found here.
H O K E B H A CAV E Ancient artifacts found at Hokeb Ha–meaning “where the water enters the earth”–show that the Maya used the cave specifically for ceremonial purposes. The outside is as interesting as the inside–long 89
BELIZEâ€™S OFFICIAL VISITOR GUIDE AT YOUR FINGERTIPS
D E S T I N AT I O N BELIZE
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MUST DO TOP PICKS: THINGS TO SEE AND DO
IN ORANGE WALK Lamanai Archaeological Site
New River Boat Safari
Tacos at the park SHIPYARD MENNONITE VILLAGE VISIT
Picnic at Honey Camp HIKING AND BIRDING
Sample Maya and Mestizo Cuisine Visit Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area Local Rum Distillery Tour P H O T O C R E D I T: L E O N A R D O M E L E N D E Z N E W R I V E R , O R A N G E WA L K D I S T R I C T
Birding Wonderland BY B E L I Z E AU D U B O N S O C I E T Y
A DIVERSE W ENVIRONMENT OF FORESTS, COASTLINE, AND ISLANDS OFFERS A PERFECT INTRODUCTION TO TROPICAL BIRDLIFE.
ith an estimated 600 bird species, and six internationally recognized Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs), Belize is one of Central America’s premier birding destinations. Over 100 protected areas make up 40% of the critical habitats needed for resident and visiting species. Avid birders from around the world come to these hotspots to see large quantities, as well as a great diversity of species.
The smallest district, Corozal remains quite “unbirded.” Yet a total of 337 species thrive here, from the mangroves in the Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary to brackish wetlands in Shipstern Nature Reserve. Highlights include the Pinnated Bittern, Altamira Oriole, Yucatan Jay, Yucatan Vireo, and Reddish Egret. By contrast, Orange Walk District boasts 432 species. Scan the New River Lagoon while on a boat excursion to Lamanai, journey inland to the Rio Bravo Conservation Area, or go birding at Chan Chich Lodge to see the Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Botteri’s Sparrow, Crested Eagle, Gray-breasted Crake, Herons and Yucatan Nightjar.
B E L I Z E D I STRI CT
No other wetland area attracts congregations of birds like the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. Hop on a boat tour to discover the five-foot tall Jabiru Stork, the bright pink Roseate Spoonbill, the Blue-winged Teal duck, or the elusive Agami Heron. They wade through receding waters, feeding on fish and freshwater eels. Watch hundreds of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Muscovy Ducks, and Jacanas surging from the surface. Contact Bird’s Eye View Lodge for experienced guides.
T H E C AY E S
The most vulnerable of habitats in Belize, the cayes’ forests serve as a critical stopover for migratory birds, and as roosting and nesting areas for resident birds. Visit Man-O-War Caye, off the south coast, to see Magnificent Frigatebirds. Take a trip to Half Moon Caye National Monument, a World Heritage Site, to witness the only white-phased, Red-footed Booby rookery in Belize. On San Pedro and Caye Caulker, the most interesting of 180 species include the Brown Booby, Black Catbird, Mangrove Yellow Warbler, and Caribbean Elaenia.
P H O T O C R E D I T: L E O N A R D O M E L E N D E Z S H I P S T E R N C O N S E R VAT I O N A N D M A N A G E M E N T A R E A
C AY O D I S T R I C T Cayo is Belize’s leading birding destination, because several of its birds are difficult to spot elsewhere. Out of 467 species, top sightings include the King Vulture, Stygian Owl, Solitary Eagle, Hepatic Tanager, and Keel-billed Mot Mot. Start in Belmopan, along the 50-acre Guanacaste National Park, to see the Blue-crowned Mot Mot, Black-headed Trogons, and Pygmy Owl. Heading west, stay at Black Rock Lodge or Crystal Paradise Resort, in the higher elevations of the Mountain Pine Ridge, in search of the rare Red Crossbill, Oscellated Turkey, and Orange-breasted Falcon. Before traveling south, stop at St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park to see the Emerald Toucanet, Keel-billed Toucan, Collared Aracari, and other melodious friends like the Nightingale Wren. Don’t forget to cool off in the park’s sinkhole.
SOUTHERN BELIZE Stann Creek District has rich, and varied habitat types. There are 457 species from the mangroves and beaches of Dangriga, Placencia, and Hopkins, to the savanna plains and mountaintops of Tiger Fern waterfall, inside Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. The intrepid travelers climb Victoria Peak, Belize’s second highest point, in search of the Violet- crowned Woodnymph. But for a special treat, visit Red Bank Village between November to March. Grab a guide from Scarlet Macaw Bed and Breakfast, and go find flocks of vibrant Scarlet Macaws converging on hillsides. The rainy Toledo District’s lusher forests and landscapes, from the coastal marshes to the ridge-top of the Maya Mountains, are home to a whopping 502 bird species. While there, team up with Lee Jones–author of the acclaimed
Birds of Belize field guide–to go birding for the elusive Great Potoo, Black-crowned Antshrike, Bandtailed Barbthroat, or White-necked Puffbird. Spend the night at The Lodge at Big Falls, and complete your checklist.
THE RARE BIRDS Seldom spotted gems are the Solitary Eagle, Keel-billed Mot Mot, Scarlet Macaw, and Orangebreasted Falcon. Visiting Belize between November and May brings even more surprises with birds that have arrived from North America–like the Wood Thrush, or the Prothonatory Warbler. In December, you can join the Audubon Society for the annual Christmas Bird Count hosted in locations across the country. Year-round, when you’re out hiking rainforests, river tubing, canoeing or relaxing at your lodge in any of Belize’s six districts, keep your eyes and ears open for our numerous brightly-colored, feathered friends. 93
SOUTHEAST COAST DANGRIGA, HOPKINS + PLACENCIA BY L E B AW I T L I LY G I R M A
elize’s southern Stann Creek District beckons the independent traveler with a journey that stretches along the Southern Highway, past colorful fields of citrus and banana.
From Dangriga to Hopkins, Placencia and the offshore southern cayes, this is Belize’s Afro-Caribbean pulse, where predominantly Garifuna villages face this beach-blessed coastline. Declared an endangered group by the United Nations in 2001, the Garinagu–an Afro-Amerindian people–continue to live on their ancestral lands. In time, however, other populations have steadily moved here. This blend of Maya, Garifuna, Creole, and Mestizo now make this district one of Belize’s melting pots. But Stann Creek’s great outdoors are no less impressive. This is where you’ll find fewer crowds exploring pristine environments: the world’s only jaguar preserve at Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, the secluded emerald falls at Bocawina National Park, reached after adventurefilled hikes and rappels, and the verdant pools at Billy Barquedier National Park. The more intrepid can take up the challenging Victoria Peak, the second highest point in the region. From Dangriga to Hopkins and the outstretched Placencia Peninsula, agricultural life blends with Afro-Caribbean drum beats, fishing canoes contrast against catamarans, roadside tamale shacks next to upscale dining, and accommodations ranging from hostels to lavish beachfront resorts. Offshore, protected cayes and marine reserves give an unparalleled experience of the Belize Barrier Reef. Sighting giant turtles, spotted rays or whale sharks in season is a sure thing. Stann Creek’s astounding range of experiences are for those who never tire of discovery, a place where every day brings with it a new story.
BY L E B AW I T L I LY G I R M A
P H O T O C R E D I T: M E LV I N D I E G O J R ., CAPTURE THE COVER WINNER
Known as the culture capital of Belize, Dangriga is a bustling, rustic agricultural and commercial town, where the orange, banana and shrimp industries thrive. It’s also the primary hub of the UNESCO-protected Garinagu people, who settled on these shores in the 19th century. There’s no missing the Drums of Our Fathers monument at the town entrance, welcoming you in Garifuna: Mabuiga! If you’re here on November 19, you’ll witness the sunrise reenactment on Garifuna Settlement Day, with canoes at sea headed for shore, while drumming and dancing fill the town streets. Every other day, Dangriga pulls in photographers with its bridges and rivers, or culture lovers with its majority Garinagu population. Daily scenes range from the fishermen hawking their catch by the North Stann Creek River bridge, to pelicans gliding over the beach and thatch hut bars lighting up with punta music after dusk. Those curious about Belize’s Afro-Amerindian heritage will find opportunities to immerse. Austin Rodriguez’ drum making workshop on the beach, the Gulisi Garifuna Museum, and Pen Cayetano’s art gallery are a solid start. Off the coast of ‘Griga, some of the most stunning overnight escapes lie just 14 miles south. Tobacco Caye and South Water Caye hug the South Water Caye Marine Reserve, offering cabanas ranging from budget to luxury. Inland, the jaguar preserve is a mere 20 miles away for thrilling hikes and wildlife spotting. Even if you’re just passing through for the day, you’ll be intrigued by Dangriga’s landscape of “sweet still waters”–as its name promises–and its rhythms. 95
P H O T O C O U R T E S Y: B E L I Z E T O U R I S M B O A R D, C O R O Z A L
A World of Festivals to Discover BY L E B AW I T L I LY G I R M A
Fiesta, bash, fedu: there are as many ways to say “party” in Belize as there are celebrations of the Jewel’s diverse heritage. Opportunities exist year-round to experience the country’s cultural pulse–from Afro-Amerindian to Maya, Creole, European, Latin, East Indian, Lebanese, and Chinese. History, food, music from the various districts are revered, and traditions continued. If immersing in Belize’s glorious outdoors is one part of the picture, the other is feeling the celebratory and united spirit of its people. Whether north, south or west, one of these annual festivities will help you do just that. 96
P H O T O C O U R T E S Y: B E L I Z E T O U R I S M B O A R D
F O O D F E S T I VA L S Punta Gorda’s Chocolate Festival (May) pays tribute to the region’s organic cacao with tastings, a wine and chocolate evening, and traditional Maya and Garifuna music. Hopkins Mango Festival (May) shows off its mango harvest, and is a great time to feel the Garifuna community spirit. In San Pedro, lobster takes center stage at the annual Lobsterfest (June) to kick off the crustacean season, with fun food contests, restaurant specials, live music, beachside food booths, and raffles. Placencia and Caye Caulker also host their own Lobsterfest versions in June.
TRADITIONAL EVENTS The East Indian Festival (May) is celebrated in Corozal, with food tastings, dahl roti cooking classes, henna painting booths, and masala dancers. The Orange Walk district’s marching bands fill the streets for their annual Carnival Parade (September). Día de San Pedro (July) commemorates the island of Ambergris Caye’s patron saint with parades, and beach front family entertainment. In the Deep South, the Maya Deer Dance Festival (August) is an ancient ritual that bewilders with an elaborate, costumed reenactment of a deer hunting to the sound of Maya harps and violins. 97
MUST DO TOP PICKS: THINGS TO SEE AND DO
Garifuna Settlement Day celebrations (November 19) take part in Dangriga, primarily, Hopkins, and Punta Gorda. Expect vibrant costumes, all night drumming and dancing on the eve of the 19, and a reenactment at sunrise of this cultural group arriving along the coast of Belize in canoes. The merriment continues all day with church ceremonies, and parades in the streets.
Pen Cayetano Studio Gallery
GULISI GARIFUNA MUSEUM
S E P T E M B E R C E L E B R AT I O N S
September 10th, St. George’s Caye Day, marks the beginning of Belize’s patriotic celebrations.
South Water Caye Marine Reserve and Glover’s Reef Atoll HIKING, BIRDING, A N D WAT E R F A L L S AT C O C K S C O M B BASIN WILDLIFE SA N CT UA RY
Summiting Victoria Peak Turtle Alley, Silk Cayes National Park
Overnight on Tobacco Caye
P H O T O C R E D I T: O L I V E R A R U S U
Belize’s Independence festivities stretch for three weeks around the country–the longest of any other Caribbean nation. Among the highlights are concerts in the capital featuring Belizean artists, a full-blown Caribbean carnival road march in Belize City, and a Creole steel pan concert. The parties end on Independence Day (September 21) with a uniform parade in Belize City and a grand carnival parade in Orange Walk, sponsored by the rum companies.
P H O T O C O U R T E S Y: S C O T T H O U S T O N
Hopkins BY L E B AW I T L I LY G I R M A
IT’S A PLACE THAT DRAWS THE ADVENTUROUS TRAVELER IN SEARCH OF IMMERSION, SUN, AND FRIENDSHIP.
The coastal village of Hopkins is blessed with a near five-mile long stretch of sand facing the Caribbean Sea, and a rich Garifuna culture. Though a rising tourist hotspot in recent years, Hopkins’ cultural beat is alive and well. It’s a place that draws the adventurous traveler in search of immersion, sun and friendship. Hopkins’ main road links its various neighborhoods with pedestrian and bike paths, matching its tranquil and friendly vibe. Sounds of Garifuna drums echo in the day or night, at beachfront weekly shows or during private drumming lessons at the Lebeha Drumming Center. Thatch roof restaurants like Laruni Hati serve hudut–mashed plantains with a fish coconut sauce–away from the blazing sun. This Afro-Amerindian cuisine contrasts against the best gourmet meals in the country at Chef Rob’s, south of the strip. But culture, food and vacation thrills wouldn’t complete Hopkins’ allure without venturing into its great outdoors. Offshore, the Barrier Reef and Glover’s Reef Atoll are a boat ride away. When heading south, past an astounding range of boutique resorts lies wild Sittee River, where crocodiles and birds tempt you to stay longer in a waterfront cabin. At nearby Mayflower Bocawina National Park, waterfalls and rocky trails aren’t for the faint of heart, but bring rewarding nature experiences. Meanwhile, at Maya Centre, H’men Herbal Center reveals the mysteries of medicinal remedies to those who venture here. You might even leave with a Maya blessing. 99
Serpon Sugar Mill Historical Reserve HOPKINS BEACHFRONT Waterfall Rappelling and Zip-lining at Mayflower Bocawina National Park
Garifuna Music Lessons at Lebeha Drumming Center Biking in Hopkins Village
FLY & SPORT FISHING Birdwatching in Sittee River VISIT OFFSHORE CAYES
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1-800-456-7150 / 501- 522-7271
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501- 523- 7259 501- 622- 6830
Like its kaleidoscope of cultures, Belize’s culinary landscape–from stickto-your-ribs stews to streetside tamales–begs exploration. BY LY R A S PA N G
elize’s dual Caribbean and Central American identity leads to flavorful cuisines across six districts. There are surprising options beyond the national plate of coconut rice and beans, with stewed chicken. Start with this primer, and then add your own discoveries. FAS T F O O D S In the morning, bite slowly into an oven-hot meat pie, the spicy ground beef filling bursting out of a flaky crust. A personal favorite is the Johnny cake–a coconut milk based unsweetened biscuit stuffed with your choice of refried beans, cheese, ham or shredded chicken, or if you prefer something corn based, get your chicken tacos street side. For lunch, burritos are a good fix; restaurants serve enormous sized ones, but I go street side. In Placencia Village, my pick is a three-dollar breakfast burrito from the small stand across from Wallen’s Hardware. Eggs and flour tortillas are cooked while you wait; the refried beans and freshly made salsa are sprinkled with homemade habanero pepper sauce, and it’s all topped with grated Dutch Edam cheese. Now that’s Belizean fast food! You’ll find similar spots across Belize.
M AYA A N D M E S T I Z O BITES Corn-based foods are ubiquitous, thanks to our Mestizo and Maya heritage. Aside from tacos, try garnaches, crispy fried corn tortillas smeared with refried beans and grated cheese with a squirt of sweet ketchup. Panades are small, deep fried empanadas filled with pulled fish, chicken or refried beans. Savor with a vinegary habanero and onion garnish. Ask locals for the best stands to sample these snacks. Belizean tamales are wrapped with plantain or banana leaf, filled with seasoned meat, usually chicken or pork immersed in a spicy, orange-colored sauce called col. Maya villages in the south have tastier versions, stuffed with beans or gibnut–the “royal rat” delicacy the Queen of England was served when visiting Belize in 1985. A F R O - C A R I B B E A N F L AV O R S When I’m starving, my favorite lunch pick is hudut–a dish from Belize’s Afro-Amerindian Garifuna culture, found mostly on the south coast. Mashed green, ripe plantains are served with a bowl of fish stew, simmered in coconut milk gravy. I eat hudut the traditional way, with my fingers, but you can dig in with a spoon. Dare to buss di peppa or break open the fiery habanero found floating in the stew. A Creole specialty often found in Belize City, boil up is a platter of boiled root vegetables, including cassava, carrots, and cocoyam
topped with flour dumplings, fried or steamed fish, and salty, brined pigtail. Topped with an onion and tomato sauce, it’s a delicious and filling meal. S O U P PA S S I O N A serious hangover might give you the courage to try the Belizean booze cure: cow foot soup, rich in gelatin to soak up the alcohol. Get more adventurous, and visit Punta Gorda to taste caldo–a savory, cilantro-laced chicken broth with smoked chile. In the surrounding villages, ask for one of our most unique vegetables: the heart of the jippi jappa palm tree. Maya women sew beautiful baskets out of the leaves, but the heart is delicious when braised with a couple of smoked bird peppers. Enjoyed with fresh corn tortillas, it has an artichoke heart texture, and is meaty like a mushroom. Belizeans’ love for soup runs deep, thanks to our mestizo roots. Chilmole combines tender chicken pieces and hard-boiled eggs into a well-spiced, midnight blue broth. Escabeche is a light, allspice-scented, onion-based chicken broth, with pickled jalapeño peppers. Dip into your soups with hot corn tortillas.
Chocolate Company, and Moho Chocolate. In Cayo, try Ajaw Chocolate, and Lamanai Chocolate. In Placencia, Goss Chocolate bars are sold in grocery stores. Better yet, make your own chocolate with heirloom stone tools at Ixcacao Chocolate, Belize’s original Maya chocolatier. This farm-totable enterprise produces dark chocolate in ginger, coconut and sea salt flavors. Take a shot of their chocolate nectar before you leave. FO O D TOU RS In San Pedro, sign up for a food walk with Belize Food Tours. In Placencia, I run Taste Belize Tours–the first culinary tour company–and we offer hands-on culinary excursions, and cooking classes. For more ideas on Belize’s fascinating foodscapes, pick up a copy of Flavors of Belize magazine. Wherever you end up, exploring Belize and embarking on a food adventure go hand in hand. Along the way, stop and ask what’s cooking–savor our traditions.
SW E ET TO OTH You’ll discover a myriad of sweet treats during your stay. Don’t pass up cuttobrute, a coconut candy, or plastic cake, a starchy, sweet cassava root treat baked in coconut milk, with grated ginger. In the past three years, chocolatiers have opened shops across Belize, selling creations made from our cacao beans. On Ambergris Caye, visit Belize 103
P H O T O C R E D I T: © B E N E D I C T K I M , E S O T E R I C V I S I O N P H O T O G R A P H Y
Placencia BY L E B AW I T L I LY G I R M A
“THE PLACENCIA PENINSULA IS HOME TO AN 18-MILE BEACH STRETCH DUBBED “BAREFOOT PERFECT.” 104
Jutting out into the sea from Belize’s southeast coast, like an outstretched leg, the Placencia Peninsula is home to an 18-mile beach stretch dubbed “barefoot perfect.” Three distinct neighborhoods make up this long tropical slice of land, each offering its blend of ethnicities and lifestyles. Placencia Village’s funky, traditional fishing village vibe leads to Seine Bight’s Garifuna culture and rustic scenery, before ending in the secluded beachfront resort enclave of Maya Beach, where gourmet restaurants impress. The Village is the Peninsula’s main hub, with a host of fishing opportunities, dining spots, and arts and crafts shopping. Colorful happy hour locales are scattered along the renowned Sidewalk. Days in Placencia can be as simple or elaborate as you choose. Rent a budget cabana in the village, explore the coastline on a chartered catamaran, or paint the village red at night, from drumming nights to disco lights. For a taste of the wild, a boat safari to Monkey River
Day & Overnight Yacht Excursions
wild orchid private caye
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will take you upstream, before hopping offshore to hike Payneâ€™s Creek National Park, a thick jungle forest where the mystical aura of Mother Belize permeates. Off the peninsula, uncrowded isles offer more idyllic tropical moments. Snorkel at Laughing Bird Caye National Park and the Silk Cayes, chase tail on Tarpon Caye, go whale shark sighting from March to June, or relax on your private rented island at French Louie, waking to the perfect blue sea and sky scenery of Belize.
email@example.com www.wildorchidbelize.com +501-523-3392
ISLAND PH: +501-533-4446 N16 28.010 W88 04.102 PLACENCIA PH: +501-523-3337 E: CONTACT@HATCHETCAYE.COM WWW.HATCHETCAYE.COM
MUST DO TOP PICKS: THINGS TO SEE AND DO
IN PLACENCIA Placencia Village Sidewalk BEACHES OF PLACENCIA VILLAGE, SEINE BIGHT, AND MAYA BEACH Swimming with Whale Sharks
FORMERLY A FISHING VILLAGE, PLACENCIA NOW OFFERS SOME OF BELIZEâ€™S BEST INLAND ADVENTURES AS WELL AS DIVING, FLY FISHING, SNORKELING, AND WHALE SHARK WATCHING DURING THE FULL MOONS BETWEEN APRIL AND JULY OF EACH YEAR. 106
MONKEY RIVER B O AT R I D E Laughing Bird Caye National Park Turtle Alley, Silk Cayes National Park
Bunches of Fun Banana Farm Tour EXPLORE COCKSCOMB BASIN WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
P H O T O C R E D I T: © B E N E D I C T K I M , E S O T E R I C V I S I O N P H O T O G R A P H Y
Journey to Wellness L BY D E B O R A H WA L DVO G E L
Rich in natural elements and indigenous rituals, Belize is an ideal destination to restore body and mind. 108
ong ago the concept of wellness was limited to diet and exercise. Today, it is broadly defined as “quality life experiences,” and includes voyages of discovery. Days that are filled with extraordinary outdoor and cultural interaction lead to invigorating, enriching moments. It’s no surprise then that Belize is gaining in popularity among travelers seeking renewal and restoration. Whether engaging in physically challenging adventures on land and sea, or immersing in culinary, musical, and spiritual encounters: options for well-being abound.
AT T H E S P A The core of any wellness program for the traveler includes a spa and fitness center. In Belize, the age-old question of whether size matters does not apply, thanks to the majority of intimate boutique resorts. What matters, however, is a program and environment focused on the client’s personal growth, while incorporating uniquely Belizean elements.
Nature Soothing warm seawater, refreshing rivers and lagoons, and the tranquil, yet powerful force of the rainforest: ecology is at the base of wellness. To this backdrop, natural products are added, including seaweed, fresh fruits and organically grown produce.
Culture Products inspired from local cultures–using coconuts or Maya cacao–help relax, refresh and renew. Body scrubs and lotions containing citrus blossoms and aloe create a cool and soothing treatment, transporting you into the heart of the nation’s abundant orchards. Resort spas combine ginger and ylang-ylang with native ingredients to create custom massage oils, foot salts, and clay treatments. These relax sore muscles, and calm your traveling, stimulated mind after a long day of exploration.
P H O T O C R E D I T: C Y N T H I A G I O VA G N O L I CAPTURE THE COVER WINNER
INDIG ENOUS RITUALS Wellness programs can incorporate meditative ceremonies. Respected Maya healers used native botanicals and traditions that have influenced medical practices, beliefs and lifestyles for generations. Shamans combined offerings, prayer, and medicinal plants to help restore physical, spiritual, and emotional balance. As an example, your restorative program could involve placing a small amulet near your heart that contains gumbo-limbo, life everlasting, rosemary, copal grains and cacao seeds, for protection and guidance. It also helps absorb your thoughts and intentions like a spiritual sponge. Or copal, still considered to be a powerful spiritual cleanser by the Maya, is placed in aroma burners and essential massage oils, creating a delicate scent.
O UT D O O R ACT I V I T I ES Focusing on indigenous treatments and products doesn’t take away from globally inspired activities. You could participate in yoga sessions, meditate at sunrise, and go for a beach run or a rainforest hike.
P H O T O C R E D I T: © B E N E D I C T K I M , E S O T E R I C V I S I O N P H O T O G R A P H Y
In the end, just like your traveling journey, it is a matter of taste. And whether yours simply lead you to chaya and ginger smoothies, or dark chocolate gelato–discovering wellness in Belize is inspiring, and fun. 109
R E N D E R I N G S C O U R T E S Y: I T ’ Z A N A B E L I Z E , PL ACENCIA PENINSUL A
Buying property here isn’t as difficult as you might think.
Imagine owning a home in a country where you can swim with dolphins or whale sharks, view sea turtles in their natural habitat, hike through rainforests to the sound of howler monkeys, or step back in time exploring where the ancient Maya lived. It might sound like one of those too-good-to-be-true, late-night infomercials–except it isn’t. Belize is known for offering some of the most secluded and luxurious locales, making it ideal for those who wish to make it their vacation, investment, or permanent home. Purchasing real estate here is straightforward, and foreign buyers often feel relief when they realize how easy it is to obtain land, even beachfront. In many respects, it’s no different than buying property in Canada, or the United States. You should hire a well-established and knowledgeable agent–one who knows your region of interest, and knows
HOUSE HUNTING IN BELIZE BY DA N D U N B A R
the locals well enough to present you with listed properties, as well as properties that aren’t yet on the market. As Belize still lacks a Multiple Listing Service system, picking the right agent is even more important. It’s also advisable to look into building codes for hurricane protection, and hire a real estate attorney to run title searches. All property documents will be prepared in English, and follow English traditional law. At closing, you’ll pay a stamp duty or transfer tax of five percent of the home’s purchase price–the first US$20,000 are exempt–while the seller will cover the real estate agent’s commission.
Deciding on the area in Belize that appeals to you most–culture, beach, riverside or in the hills–is the fun part, while cost is the other determining factor. Property values tend to be highest in the areas most in demand, such as north Belize City, Ambergris Caye, and Placencia, while it’s lowest in remote rural areas.
In the end, you’ll be pleased to know that the cost of purchasing property here is a lot lower than in the U.S. or Canada, with more bang for your buck. The real estate market in Belize is booming, and there’s never been a better time to make an investment. During your stay, explore all that the country has Best of all, if you decide to resell your to offer, inland and property at a later date, you won’t PHOTO CREDIT: © BENEDICT KIM, ESOTERIC VISION PHOTOGRAPHY owe any capital gains tax. And annual PLACENCIA PENINSULA offshore, and you’re property taxes are so low, that you’ll be taking a likely to find your future home in one of its magical second look in disbelief when receiving your first corners. statement. 111
SOUTHERN BELIZE BY L E B AW I T L I LY G I R M A
traddling the Caribbean Sea on the east, its interior dotted with Maya village huts, and covered in dense jungle: Belize’s deep southern tail feels like a step back in time.
But this district’s continued stronghold on tradition, while increasing tourist amenities–including unique jungle lodges–is proof that it is anything but “forgotten,” as locals like to tease. The primary hub, Punta Gorda, affectionately called “PG,” is a tranquil seaport and fishing town. Its main road begins where the Southern Highway ends, snaking along the water and taking you straight into a bustling Front Street, where Maya women proudly display their fruits and jippi jappa baskets on market days. This most diverse part of the country counts 7,000 inhabitants of Maya, Latino, Garífuna, East Indian, and Creole heritage. This translates into unique experiences–from the annual Chocolate Festival to the Maya Deer Dance Festival and Creole drum nights. It also means tortilla-making lessons, homestays in Maya villages, and cacao farm visits. Thirty-minutes out of town, the district’s lush landscape opens up to the explorer. It reveals intriguing sights, among them the cascading, emerald pools at Rio Blanco, Blue Creek Cave, and the Maya site of Lubaantun. Not least impressive are the offshore turquoise waters covering the most untouched parts of the Barrier Reef. Fly fishing for permits, snorkeling and diving off the Snake Cayes, or watching the sunset from the deserted Sapodilla Cayes: the Deep South is a deep plunge into nature and culture, all while reminding you to “take it Belizy.”
P H O T O C R E D I T: © BENEDICT KIM, ESOTERIC VISION PHOTOGRAPHY
Come experience Southern Belize at its best!
Joe Taylor Creek, Punta Gorda Town, Belize
+501-722-0070 / +501-604-3548
Set in the verdant hills above the Caribbean coast of southern Belize, Belcampo is a sanctuary from the everyday world. The definition of agritourism-chic: a Jungle Lodge, organic farm and a 12,000-acre nature reserve, Belcampo Belize offers the best in local food and culture, active adventures, wildlife viewing, saltwater fly-fishing, and world-class hospitality. At the hear t of Belcampo Belize is the Main Lodge with The Jungle Farm Restaurant, The Rum Bar, the Jungle Spa, lounge areas, a swimming pool, and observation decks that open to stunning vistas of the coast, the Maya Mountains and a seemingly endless pristine rainforest. Our 16 individual, spacious suites and 3 bedroom family villa are well appointed with plush beds, screened fresh-air verandas, and spa-style bathrooms with floor to ceiling tropical rainforest views. Walk down 365 steps or take the private tram to the riverside dock where kayaks and canoes are available for complimentary use, or visit our air-conditioned gym. From the dock you can embark on tranquil cruises on the jungle reaches of the Rio Grande, or guided snorkeling and fishing adventures on the Caribbean Sea. Let us help you design an unforgettable Belcampo Belize experience.
Punta Gorda BY L E B AW I T L I LY G I R M A
THE TOWN’S ECLECTIC AND HIGH CONCENTRATION OF MAYA, EAST INDIAN, CREOLE, AND GARIFUNA GROUPS MAKES IT ONE OF THE MOST COLORFUL CORNERS OF THE COUNTRY.
Its main road hugging the Caribbean Sea, with a beautiful boulevard that makes for dreamy sunrise and sunset promenades, small Punta Gorda Town’s bite is bigger than its small size. The capital of the Toledo District is awash with cultural scenes–whether on market day, at one of its yearround festivals, or on a night of drumming at local hotspots. Fishing is a prime industry here, while farmers grow organic cacao, fruits, and sugarcane, among other produce. Water sports and Belize’s abundant reef begin a mere half-hour boat ride away to the Snake Cayes, where you’ll rarely spot anyone else. The few who venture down to “PG Town” are indeed rewarded with a most pristine and preserved edge of the Belize Barrier Reef offshore, while inland the largest number of Maya villages in Belize await–where time seems to have stopped–along with a plethora of nearby outdoor adventures. Go caving, river kayaking, hiking Maya temples, and dipping in waterfalls. Or stay in town and enjoy a bowl of Maya caldo soup, take a Garifuna drumming lesson, stroll the breezy waterfront, and take in Punta Gorda’s blissfully slow Caribbean pace.
MUST DO TO P P I CKS: T H I N GS TO SE E A N D D O
IN TOLEDO P H O T O C O U R T E S Y: BELIZE TOURISM BOARD P H O T O C O U R T E S Y: BELIZE TOURISM BOARD
Maya House of Cacao Warasa Garifuna Drum School and Creole Drum School Laguna Cave, Tiger Cave, Blue Creek Cave, and Hokeb Ha Cave RIO BLANCO NATIONAL PARK
Punta Gorda Market Days Maya Village Homestay P H O T O C R E D I T: MONICA GALLARDO
Traditional Chocolate Making Tour NIM LI PUNIT AND LUBAANTUN A R C H A E O L O G I CA L S I T E S
Snake Cayes and Sapodilla Cayes SPICE FARM TOUR 114
P H O T O C R E D I T: Â© BENEDICT KIM, ESOTERIC VISION PHOTOGRAPHY LUBAANTUN RUINS
CA L E N DA R OF EVENTS
Keep an eye on this calendar during your visit and take part in Belize’s most significant events of the year. Note that dates and venues are subject to change. For more details, visit www.travelbelize.org/things-to-do/events.
JA N UA RY
Sittee River Easter Monday Fair and Canoe Race– Stann Creek District
KREM New Year’s Day Cycling Classic–Corozal District - January 1st
San Pedro Lagoon Reef Eco-Challenge–Ambergris Caye
Horse Race–Burrell Boom
Semana Santa (Holy Week)–Benque Viejo del Carmen, Cayo District
F E B RUA RY Placencia Sidewalk Arts and Festival–Placencia Village: February 11th - 12th Belize Game Fish Association’s International Bill Fish Tournament Carnaval de San Pedro– Ambergris Caye: February 26th - 28th Sugar City Rum Festival – late February
M AY Labor Day: May 1
National Agriculture and Trade Show–Belmopan, Cayo District: May 6th -7th Cashew Festival–Crooked Tree Village, Belize District: mid-May Belize Chocolate Festival – Punta Gorda, Toledo District: May 19th - 21st
J U LY Caye Caulker Lobster Festival: June 30th - July 2nd
Pan-American Day: October 12th
Stann Creek Lion Fish Tournament– Stann Creek, Dangriga
N OV E M B E R
Benque Fiesta–Benque Viejo del Carmen, Cayo District Fiestarama–Orange Walk Town, Orange Walk District: end of July Orange Walk Park Fest – July 15th
International Costa Maya Festival–San Pedro, Ambergris Caye: early August
Holiday Lighted Boat Parade–San Pedro, Ambergris Caye
Tres Pescados Slam Tournament–Ambergris Caye: early August
Tourism Expo – Orange Walk: August 26th
Mango Festival–Hopkins, Stann Creek District: May 27th - 28th
National Heroes and Benefactors Day: March 6th
Northern Belize Reef Week–San Pedro: mid-May
Burrell Boom Horse Race– Belize District
East Indian Festival – Corozal District
Battle of St. George’s Caye–Parades in Belize City and Belmopan: September 10th
Easter Weekend: April 13th- 17th
San Pedro, Caye Caulker and Placencia each celebrate the opening of the lobster season with various events and activities.
Holy Saturday Cross Country Cycling Classic– Roundtrip Belize City to San Ignacio: April 15th Burrell Boom Horse Race– Belize District
San Pedro Lobster Festival: June 17th - 18th Placencia Lobster Festival: June 23rd - 25th
Mistletoe Ball –Placencia Village, Stann Creek District: December 9th
San Joaquin Fiesta– Corozal District
Carnival Road March – Belize City: midSeptember
International Heroes and Benefactors Day: March 9th
Taco Festival–Orange Walk Town, Orange Walk District
Pibil Fest–Progresso, Corozal District
Belize Expo Market Place – Belize City, Belize District
La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge–San Ignacio to Belize City: March 9th - 12th
Belize International Film Festival–Belize City, Belize District
Garifuna Settlement Day– Dangriga, Hopkins Village, and Punta Gorda: November 19th
Belize Commonwealth Day (Sovereign’s Day Holiday): May 22nd
Battle of the Drums–Punta Gorda, Toledo District: November 17th-19th
Belize Independence Day–Countrywide parades: September 21st Orange Walk Carnival Yamaha Saltwater Fishing Tournament–Placencia
O CTO B E R TIDE Fish Fest–Punta Gorda, Toledo District: early October.
PROTECTE D SPECIES SEASONS Conch Season Close July 1 Open October 1 Whelks Close January 2 Open September 30 Nassau Grouper Close December 1 Open April 1 Sea Cucumber Close July 1 Open December 31 Spiny Lobster Close February 15 Open June 15
A C C O M M O D AT I O N S
A C C O M M O D AT I O N S
A C C O M M O D AT I O N S
T O U R O P E R AT O R S
T R A N S P O R TAT I O N
C O N S E R VA T I O N
BUSINESS AND INVESTMENT
P H O T O C R E D I T: M O N I C A G A L L A R D O CAPTURE THE COVER WINNER H U M M I N G B I R D H I G H WAY
SAVOR YOUR BELIZE EXPERIENCE AT
Trade Exhibition Only - May 3 - 5 $399 USD
Trade Exhibition & Post Tour - May 3 - 8 $599 USD
• Two night’s accommodation • All Meals • In-country Transportation • One-on-one Meeting Sessions
• Five night’s accommodation • All Meals • In-country Transportation • One-on-one Meeting Sessions • Tailored site visits and tours • Belize Travel Expert Certification
Join us at BETEX on May 3 – 5, 2017 and take advantage of one-on-one meetings and networking opportunities with our professional local tourism suppliers. Sign up to stay a few extra days and experience the destination first-hand by participating in tailored post tours that feature Belize’s rich diversity for nature-lover’s and adventure-seekers through May 5 – 8, 2017.
Register today at www.betex.bz Email: firstname.lastname@example.org 126
Then official visitor guide of the Belize Tourism Industry Association