It’s been three years since my last visit to Belize and this time I’m on a five-day excursion to visit various parts of the country. As I get closer to arriving at my destination I feel a level of excitement growing. Much the same way one would anticipate the arrival of a loved one in a new relationship.
A former British Colony, the landscape of Belize is bordered in the north by Mexico and Guatemala in the west and south. The eastern part of the country includes miles of white sand beaches and ocean beachfronts with hundreds of small and large islands. What makes this country so intoxicating?
Well here are a few things that stand out:
When arriving in Belize one of the first things that captures your attention is the diverse makeup of people. The population includes people from Maya, Mestizo, Garifuna, Creole, Mennonite, East Indian and Chinese culture and of course many expats — its unrivalled in Central America. The second thing you notice is how friendly and welcoming everyone is. No other country can match up to the level of responsiveness you experience here. On my travels throughout the country I met many individuals from all walks of life — farmers, taxi drivers, restaurant servers and business owners each person stands out in their own way.
I met Elwin Ariola, a Garifuna gentleman, while being driven from Hopkins to Dangriga airport. Ariola runs “Ariola & Son’s Tour Business” with his wife and son. During our commute, he recounted numerous stories about family, friends and Dangriga’s Garifuna celebrations. He is most definitely the man to call, if you need assistance and advice for travelling around Belize
The Water of Life
The Belize barrier reef is one of the most beautiful places to explore the majestic ocean. One could say the reef is the sea’s rainforest. Whether you’re snorkelling in Hol Chan or around one of the Cayes expect to see the most colourful fish: Goat Fish, Snappers, Spanish Grunts, Reef Squids, Golden-tail Eel and Southern Stingrays are just a few of the sea life you may view. In the deeper depths it’s possible to come face to face with a Loggerhead Turtle, as I did.
On a snorkeling excursion with Splash Dive Center to Silk Caye (two deserted islands on the protected Belize Barrier Reef) my instructor Max Canelo gave tips on how to snorkel and pointed out just about everything we encountered in the ocean. I was relieved to have him nearby when massive Nurse Sharks and Stingray’s were just a little too close for comfort.
If you’re into diving then the Blue Hole is your prime destination. You will most definitely encounter a few sharks at the lower depths. But rest assured, they will leave you alone if you don’t disturb them.
The Belize experience is only half-complete without a visit or stay in the tropical rainforest. There is nothing more fascinating than taking a hike through the jungle and coming across the various wildlife. Listening to the Howler Monkeys is your jungle wake up call. You never know what you will encounter as you walk through the jungle fauna. Keep your eyes open when you see the Cahone trees and you may witness bats on a tree taking naps or see panther paw prints in the mud.
Lucky travellers may spot an alligator sunning itself on a river bank or colourful turtles sitting comatose on logs.
The ancient Mayans, some of Belize’s first known inhabitants, have been growing and harvesting cacao for a centuries. I tasted my first roasted cacao bean at Belcampo, an organic farm and lodge located just outside Punta Gorda. The farm grows papaya, cassava, avocados, plantains and bananas, along with vanilla, cocoa and coffee. As a coffee lover I was delighted to see firsthand how it’s grown and harvested. I was in heaven when Kelly Sayle, the resident coffee expert, gave a lesson on how to roast coffee and bag it for consumption. The Lodge’s kitchen, headed up by Rene Everett, uses ingredients from the farm and develops the menu based on what is available that day.
I devoured the most the delicious chilled watermelon soup with cilantro.
Food adventurers can visit local markets all over the country and observe what is grown locally. In Punta Gorda, Mayan farmers twice weekly set up stalls to sell their produce.
Just be and go barefoot
Belize is a place where you can just be. Do nothing other than listen to the gentle swells of the ocean, lie in a hammock and allow your body to relax. If you want to be a slacker, then you’ve come to the perfect paradise. You can master the art of idleness and walk around barefoot. Your biggest contemplation maybe “what to have for dinner.”
For such a small country, Belize has a diverse geography; from the second largest barrier reef to a tropical jungle that is home to hundreds of different species not to mention many ancient Mayan Ruins. How could one not fail to be seduced and fall in love with the beauty of this country?