Belize: Small, Diverse and Ideal for Your Next Getaway

Tucked between Mexico to the north, Guatemala on the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east is Belize, the most diverse, English-speaking country in Central America. Formerly British Honduras, Belize’s population includes people of Mayan and European (known as mestizo), African, Afro-European (Creole), Mayan, Afro-Amerindian (Garifuna), East Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern and North American descent.

Due to its geographic location, Belize enjoys both the Central American and Caribbean climates as well as natural beauty.

Ancient Maya

Belize was once the center of the Mayan civilization. Although the settlements date as far back as 400 B.C., many of the excavations highlight preserved plazas, pyramids, temples, frescoes, tombs and ball fields built between 250 A.D. to 900 A.D. – the height of the Classic period.

Many of the ruins can be found across the country and it’s not difficult to spend an entire vacation doing nothing but tracing the history of the Mayans. However, if you have limited time, start by visiting Altun Ha and Lamanai in northern Belize and then make your way down to Xunantunich (the most impressive ruins), El Pilar, Caracol (the tallest Mayan building in Belize as well as the tallest man-made structure in the country) and Tikal (located on the Belize-Guatemala border, and the most excavated Mayan site).

Romance at a Jungle Lodge

The jungles of Belize are lush, alive and home to wildlife from black howler monkeys, iguanas, crocodiles, manatees and hundreds of tropical bird varieties. Most visitors travel to the region of Cayo where they can watch the wildlife on a river tour or stay at a jungle lodge.

If you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle, go to the Sleeping Giant Rainforest Lodge at the foothills of Sibun National Forest Reserve off the famous Hummingbird Highway. With only nine private cabanas overlooking the river, a thick canopy and oversized indoor/outdoor showers, it is the perfect place for a romantic getaway to rekindle with your partner. Listen to the sounds of the forest while lying in a hammock or watch the brilliantly lit star-studded sky from your outdoor Jacuzzi.

The lodge’s open-air restaurant serves regional Caribbean creations including lobster and conch curry which feature fresh and natural ingredients. Wake up early to have breakfast with toucans and monkeys and then go for a hike to the canopies from where you have a breathtaking view of the forest and surrounding citrus orchards.

Trace African Roots of the Garifuna

A large proportion of the Belizean population is Garifuna. It is believed that in 1635, two Spanish ships carrying Nigerian slaves sank off the coast of the island Saint Vincent. The slaves who survived and swam ashore found shelter in the existing Carib Indian settlements. Over the next century and a half, they intermixed, intermarried and eventually fused into a single culture, the Black Caribs or Garinagu, also known as Garifuna today.

The coastal village of Hopkins in East Belize is known as the cultural center of the Garifuna population. This small, vibrant community prides itself on good food, unspoiled beaches and genuine hospitality. The local bars and restaurants, although casual, serve local dishes, such as hudut, a savory fish stew with mashed plantains and cassava bread. The lone street of the village is dotted with B&Bs, resorts and neighborhood watering holes.

Almond Beach Resort and Spa is one of the top-rated hotels in the country, located right off the beach in Hopkins. Its ocean-view rooms and direct access to a clean sandy beach, kayaks and snorkels make it a haven for travelers looking to enjoy the sun and sand of the Caribbean. The resort offers free concerts on the weekends where one can hear rhythmic beats and watch dances performed by the Dangriga Garifuna Dance Academy.

Whether you are looking for a relaxing beach vacation, quiet time with nature or exploring local culture, the tiny country of Belize has enough to keep your attention.

To begin planning your next getaway to Belize, visit www.travelbelize.org.

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Sucheta is an award-winning food and travel writer who has traveled to 70+ countries and is on a mission to see the entire world. She is also the founder of the nonprofit organization, Go Eat Give and the author of a series of children's books on travel, "Beato Goes To" that teach kids about different countries and cultures. To learn more, visit suchetarawal.com.