Belize Book of Lists

Best of the Caribbean Coast

Visiting Belize is confusing, isn't it? There are so many choices, and they all sound good in the brochures.

At BELIZE FIRST, we're trying to help by providing our lists of the best of Belize and the Caribbean Coast. The best jungle lodges, restaurants, and beach resorts. The best itineraries, the best sources of more information, even our choices for the best honeymoon destinations.

We've gone out on a limb to give you our opinion. And it is just that -- OPINION.

Our little "Book of Lists" contains informed judgments based on many visits by BELIZE FIRST staff, on sharing notes with leading guidebook authors covering the region, and from comments from hundreds of BELIZE FIRST readers and other Belize travelers.

If you disagree with our conclusions and our rankings, tell us. Give us YOUR opinion, and the reasons for it.

One thing, however, you don't have to worry about. The opinions expressed here are NOT based on the influence of advertising dollars or politics or Belize boosterism. BELIZE FIRST is independent, ad-free, and obligated to no one. We tell you what we really think ... even if it hurts to say so. While we love Belize, we're not in the business of promoting it. We're in the business of candidly reporting on it.

Finally, a word of caution: Things change. What was wonderful yesterday may, with the loss of a key person or other untoward event, take a turn for the worse today. Especially in Belize.

5 Reasons to Visit Belize

Belize isn't for everyone. But what it does offer, it offers in glorious plenty.

# 1 Diving/snorkeling

Regardless of your level of ability or physical condition, there's a place and mask for you in Belize. Diving around the atolls is world-class, excellent on the reef off Stann Creek and Toledo districts, and not bad even around the more-visited parts of the barrier reef such as near Ambergris Caye. Snorkeling is also excellent, though except from the cayes directly on the reef such as Tobacco, Goff's, and English, it requires a short boat ride to the reef. A caution, though: The Caribbean here can see rough seas, making snorkeling iffy on windy or stormy days. Long dive boat rides can be a very queasy experience.

# 2 Mayan ruins

Belize was the heart of the Maya world, and today dozens of ruins can be visited without the hordes of tourists common in Mexico and elsewhere in the region.

# 3 Ecotravel: Birds, wildlife, and nature

Most of Belize remains lightly populated by humans and untouched by developers, so it is a paradise for wild critters and birds. More than 500 species of birds have been spotted in Belize. Animals rare or extinct elsewhere still thrive in Belize's bush. Nature is still natural here. A surprising number of Belizeans have a real commitment to protecting the environment.

# 4 Adventure Belize is a great place for adventure, soft or otherwise. Come for hiking, canoeing, kayaking, windsurfing, and caving. Indeed, Belize offers some of the best spelunking anywhere, with huge cave systems, some yet unexplored, in the Maya Mountains and elsewhere.

# 5 Culture

No, not the kind you get from museums; Belize offers the visitors a laboratory of human culture, all in a small and accessible space. Belize is a truly multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-lingual society. Far from perfect, with dangers as well as pleasures, a trip to Belize can be an education. Come with your eyes, and mind, open.

5 Reasons NOT to Visit Belize

If you love Cancun, you probably won't like Belize.

# 1 Golf

Although the British played golf here in British Honduras days, there are now no links in the country (except for a private driving range on Caye Chapel and a few private holes north of Belize City).

# 2 Shopping

Shopping in Belize may remind you of Hobbes' description of working class life in olde England -- nasty, brutal, and short. While there are several modern supermarkets and stores in Belize City, and a few shops of visitor interest in San Pedro and Cayo, prices for almost everything but rum are high and selection is limited. Neither does Belize have the rich craft tradition of nearby Guatemala.

# 3 Great beaches

Those coming to Belize expecting the wide white sandy beaches of Anguilla, the BVI, or parts of Mexico's Yucat\'87 n are likely to be disappointed. The barrier reef all along the coast of Belize provides for rich underwater life but also blocks the sand deposits of less-protected shores. Seagrass is common off most beaches. Ambergris Caye has some small, human-helped beaches, the small ribbons of sand at Hopkins/Sittee Point and Placencia/Seine Bight/Maya Beach can be pleasant, and a few of the remote cayes have postcard-style strips of sandy beach, but no beach in Belize would make the world's top 100 list.

# 4 Nightlife

If you like to party hard, consider going elsewhere. Even Belize City shuts down early, and only the animals walk at night. San Pedro has the most action, what with the chicken drop at the Spindrift Hotel, and about 20 bars, some of which blast 'til the wee hours. At the jungle lodges and remote resorts, guests are usually in bed by nine or ten, tired from the day's activities.

# 5 Gourmet dining

You CAN get a satisfying meal in Belize, but Guide Michelin will not need to come to Belize anytime soon.

10 Most Commonly Asked Questions about Belize

Here are the questions we get most often from first-time travelers to Belize (other than questions on specific hotels), along with abbreviated versions of our answers.

# 1 "Is it safe?"

Yes, with routine precautions, Belize is as safe as most vacation destinations. Drugs, unemployment, the large percentage of Belizeans in the high-crime teenage and young-adult years, and the influence of U.S. television contribute to crime in Belize City and elsewhere, but Belize police do their best to stop criminals and solve crimes, which is more than you can say for many other countries in the region.

# 2 "What's the cheapest way to get to Belize?"

In most cases, the cheapest way to get to Belize from North America or Europe is is to fly into Cancun (which gets about 20 times as many visitors as all of Belize and thus a lot of charter and low-fare air service) and then take a bus for the five- to six-hour ride to Chetumal at Belize's northern border.

# 3 "We want to relax at the beach but also see some of mainland Belize -- where should we go?"

The classic "surf and turf" in Belize is a few days on Ambergris Caye (or Caye Caulker for budget travelers) and then a few days in Cayo. That's still a good option, especially for those with limited time, but there's plenty to see in most areas of Belize. The quintessential Belize experience may be a week on a remote caye. For travelers who like to get a bit off the beaten track, Corozal and Orange Walk districts in the north are well worth exploring, and Placencia and the Hopkins areas south are pleasant without being touristy. Toledo is Belize's frontier and a jumping off point for Caribbean Guatemala and Honduras.

# 4 "Should we rent a car?"

Yes, if you can afford to do so, having your own wheels gives you the chance to see areas of Belize you can't easily reach by bus.

# 5 "Where's a good place to snorkel directly from the beach?"

Belize has world-class snorkeling, but in most cases it requires a boat ride to the barrier reef. Among the exceptions are cayes such as South Water Caye and Tobacco Caye which are directly on the reef.

# 6 "Where's the best diving in Belize?"

The best diving is around the atolls far off the coast of Belize -- Turneffe, Lighthouse, and Glovers. The second-best diving is along the barrier reef from around Dangriga south. Recreational divers will enjoy the diving off Ambergris Caye.

# 7 "We want to see a Mayan ruin -- which one should we see?"

If you don't have much time, see Xunantunich or Altun Ha. If you have more time, see Caracol or Lamanai. If you have at least a full day and preferably longer, do Tikal in Guatemala.

# 8 "Is summer a bad time to visit -- how hot and rainy is it?"

It depends on where and when you're going. In general, the farther south you go, the more rain you'll get, and the more months the wet season lasts. It's hotter inland than on the coast, where there's usually a trade wind or breeze blowing (though the winds occasionally die down.) The "green season" in Belize isn't like the monsoon season in Asia. It's more like southern Florida where you may get rain or intense storms for a few hours, and then periods of beautiful sunshine. The main effect is on dirt roads especially in the south, which at times become impassable. We actually prefer the off-season in Belize. There are fewer tourists, and prices are lower. If we had to pick a single time to come to Belize, it probably would be right after Easter, when prices drop, water viz is excellent, the tradewinds still are blowing, and it's still too early for hurricanes or severe tropical storms. Belize averages about one hurricane every ten years, usually hitting in late summer.

# 9 "Is Belize a good place for kids?"

Yes, if your kids can make their own entertainment and enjoy the water and the outdoors.

# 10 "Do we need shots to come to Belize?"

None is required, and in fact most tourists heading to the cayes or to a posh jungle lodge don't get any. However, malaria is present in Belize, and if you're spending any time outside the main tourist areas, it's better to be safe than sorry, with chloroquine. Any traveler should be up-to-date on polio and tetanus, and sticks for Hep A and B can be a good idea for some. Dengue fever is present in Belize, although there's no pretentive for it except avoiding the Aedes aegypti mosquito. For the latest word, contact the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

10 Best Jungle Lodges

Here are our picks for the best jungle lodges in Belize. There are so many good ones, and the difference among several of them is so small, that we're probably fools to try to rank them. You'll be happy at any of these spots. And, as well, at the ones that didn't quite make our top 10 this year.

# 1 Chan Chich, Gallon Jug, Orange Walk District

Barry Bowen's little lodge is smack dab in the middle of nowhere, which is exactly how guests like it. Jungle all around, birds above, Maya ruins underneath, a class operation in every direction.

# 2 Chaa Creek, near San Ignacio, Cayo

Beautiful grounds, nearly bug-free, superbly trained staff, savvy owners, delightful for guests.

# 3 Lamanai Outpost, near Lamanai ruins, Orange Walk District

The late Colin Howells built this one right and ran it like a pro. Although it's now under new management, we expect it to continue to be one of Belize's top ecospots.

# 4 Duplooy's, near San Ignacio, Cayo

This lovely small cottage colony inn should be renamed Belize's Arboretum, thanks to Ken Duplooy's wonderful plantings of trees, shrubs and flowers.

# 5 Blancaneaux, Mountain Pine Ridge, Cayo

Francis Ford Coppola's inn has a lot going for it -- good food, lovely setting, luxurious villas.

# 6 Hidden Valley Inn, Mountain Pine Ridge, Cayo

The Bull Headley paradise on 18,000 acres offers waterfalls, streams, peace and quiet, and comfortable digs.

# 7 Jaguar Paw, near Belmopan

New and luxurious, with 16 air conditioned and rooms, large caves and river next door.

# 8 Mountain Equestrian Trails (M.E.T), Mountain Pine Ridge, Cayo

Marguerite and Jim Bevis (now sadly back in the States) have treated the land with great respect, and established a good place.

# 9 Ek'Tun, near San Ignacio, Cayo

Very small but very nice.

# 10 Maya Mountain, near San Ignacio, Cayo

Good value, run with concern and care.

Other wonderful jungle lodges which could have made our Top 10 list, and may next time: Banana Bank Ranch, Warrie Head, Pook's Hill, Five Sisters, Nabitunich, Windy Hill, Black Rock (all in Cayo District), Chau Hiix (Orange Walk District), Fallen Stones Butterfly Ranch (Toledo District), and Santa Cruz (Corozal District).

10 Best Mainland Seaside Resorts

Mainland beaches aren't Belize's strong point, but you'll have a great seaside vacation at any of these small hotels.

# 1 Kitty's Place, Placencia

Informal, barefoot spot; not fancy, but just about perfect.

# 2 Rum Point Inn, Placencia

The most luxurious -- and perhaps most eccentric -- lodging in Placencia; the best guest library in Belize; unusual free-form cabins; the owners are highly knowledgeable but with a reputation for being reserved.

# 3 Green Parrot, Maya Beach (Placencia)

Hard-working on-site owners make the difference; more a cabin colony than a full-service resort.

# 4 Turtle Inn, Placencia

Relax, kick-back, and enjoy a little bit of the South Pacific.

# 5 Jaguar Reef Lodge, Sittee Point/Hopkins

The first real resort in beautiful setting at what eventually will be another Placencia.

# 6 Nautical Inn, Seine Bight (Placencia)

Rooms, in octagonal prefab units, are not at all Belizean, but the setting and service make up for it.

# 7 Serenity Resort, Placencia

Florida-style cottages and a new 10-room hotel building and a conference center; now, there's even a bar.

# 8 Tony's, Corozal Town

An old favorite, with a great beach bar and some of the coldest air conditioning in Belize.

# 9 Hotel Seine Bight, Seine Bight

One of the most architecturally interesting contemporary buildings in Belize, with a good restaurant, and a casual atmosphere.

# 10 Pelican Beach Hotel, Dangriga

Many visitors don't care for Dangriga, but the Raths' hotel just to the north of town has an "Old Florida" look and atmosphere, and it makes a great jumping-off spot for the offshore cayes.

10 Best Ambergris Caye Hotels

Ambergris Caye is the most-popular destination in Belize, with close to one-half of international visitors heading here. While it's developing rapidly, and prices generally, and regrettably, aren't competitive with those at many resorts in the Yucatan (but are well under resort prices on most Caribbean islands), Ambergris Caye remains a fine place to vacation. There are more cars now, but the streets are still sand, and development is mainly low-rise. Much of the new development on Ambergris Caye is taking place to the south of town (a golf cart or taxi ride away) and on North Ambergris (a ferry or water taxi ride). These resorts offer more privacy and often a secluded tropical atmosphere. Properties in or at the edge San Pedro Town will appeal to those who want to be close to restaurants and bars.

Three other facts you should know before making a decision to visit Ambergris, besides the fact that prices aren't cheap, at least by Central American standards: 1) Snorkeling off the beaches is at best fair -- you'll need to pay US$10 or $15 per person for a boat to take you the few hundred yards to the reef -- once on the reef, snorkeling is wonderful, 2) Swimming off the beaches is also only fair, due to sea grass, and 3) On some days, rough water and strong winds will make it difficult or uncomfortable to go out on the water.

# 1 Villas at Banyan Bay

If you're in the mood for a condotel rather than a full-service resort, this Belizean-developed project is one of the newest and most luxe in all of Belize. St. Matthews University Medical School has temporary facilities in this area.

# 2 Caribbean Villas

Not the most luxurious hotel, no beach to speak of, no pool, but friendly management by Wil and Susan Lala makes all the difference in this comfortable suites/apartment-style resort south of San Pedro Town.

# 3 Victoria House

Lovely beach-front setting about two miles south of town; potential, not always realized, of being one of the best resorts in Belize; variety of accommodations, some very pricey and indeed overpriced. We've had some recent complaints that some facilities are getting ragged.

# 4 Belizean Reef Suites

Just at the south end of San Pedro Town; beautiful luxury suites at a fair price. First-floor units open on the beach.

# 5 Captain Morgan's Retreat

In many ways, this is what visitors to Belize come looking for -- thatched cabanas on a stretch of beach; on the north end of Ambergris Caye, next to the Essene Way. Captain Morgan's is now for sale.

# 6 Belize Yacht Club

Originally mainly a real estate project, new management is taking these Mexican-looking condos more towards a suites hotel concept; beautiful pool. South of town, but within trekking distance.

# 7 Coconuts

Friendly, casual spot with big attractive rooms, good beach bar, south of town.

# 8 The Palms Condominiums

Attractive condos, with small but beautiful pool (NOT Royal Palms, which is a timeshare). At the south edge of town in the same area as Ramon's, Belizean Reef Suites, Mayan Princess, and Sunbreeze. # 9 Mayan Princess

Another attractive condotel at the south end of town.

# 10 Essene Way

An Orlando food-supplement magnate has poured millions into what was the former The Belizean resort on North Ambergris. The result is a lavish but, some think, kitchy resort-cum-New Age/religious retreat. Originally, the idea was that the Essene Way would be a place for terminally ill adults to enjoy a last vacation, but the hotel and restaurant are now open to the public.

# 10 Sunbreeze (tie)

A recent makeover including pool has turned this Holiday Inn-style motel into one of the better, and best-located, choices on the island. Big sparkling rooms, with all the modcons.

Other recommendable spots, some in medium to budget price ranges: Ramon's Village, Capricorn, El Pescador, Rock's Inn, Paradise Villas, Changes in Latitude B&B, Mata Rocks, Green Parrot, Barrier Reef Hotel, Ruby's (budget spot, one of the best values on the island), San Pedro Holiday Hotel, Paradise Resort Hotel, Caribe Island Resort, Aquarius, Green Parrot, Emerald Reef, Casa Caribe, Caye Villas, Tropica

5 Relaxin' Getaways on Remote Cayes

Some of Belize's most appealing resorts are on remote islands and atolls. Most are oriented to divers or anglers. You'll have to make your own entertainment, and shopping is non-existent.

# 1 Lighthouse Reef Resort, Northern Two Caye

Glorious isolation on 1200 acres; great diving and fishing around the atolls; good beaches; even A/C -- three types of accommodations of varying luxury and privacy.

# 2 Turneffe Island Lodge, Caye Bokel

Fish-camp style lodge on Little Caye Bokel.

# 3 Blue Marlin Lodge, South Water Caye (tie)

Simple, pleasant fish/dive lodge with cabanas.

# 3 Pelican Beach Resort Cottages, South Water Caye (tie)

The Heron Cottage is what many believe Belize should always be. SWC offers fine snorkeling just off the beach.

# 5 St. George's Lodge, St. George's Caye (tie)

Dive resort with good food about 8 miles off Belize City.

# 5 Cottage Colony, St. George's Caye (tie)

The other resort on this historic caye -- colonial-style cottages.

5 Best Hotel Libraries

For sophisticated travelers, hotel libraries are important. Even some of the best resorts in Belize have remarkably poor libraries for their guests. One reason is that books are expensive in Belize. Here are five hotels with good libraries, most heavy on nature and ecology titles.

# 1 Rum Point Inn, Placencia

Superb book and video library, easily the best hotel library in Belize.

# 2 Hidden Valley Inn, Mountain Pine Ridge

Like the library of a country home in England.

# 3 Colton House, Belize City

Oriented to ecovideos and books.

# 4 Lamanai Outpost Lodge, Lamanai

Good selection of nature and other books.

# 5 Chan Chich, Gallon Jug

Comfortable corner nook with books.


6 Hotels with Old British Honduras Atmosphere

Hurricanes, termites, and time have destroyed most of the British Honduras colonial architecture. Here are some remaining jewels:

# 1 Four Fort Street Guest House, Belize City

One of the few places in Belize City with old-time atmosphere.

# 2 Barrier Reef Hotel, Ambergris Caye

Wouldn't it be great if all the buildings on Ambergris looked like this? This classic is now for sale.

# 3 Colton House, Belize City

A 1920 West Indies style home, one of the most charming in all of Belize.

# 4 Manatee Lodge, Gales Point

A beautiful setting on the Southern Lagoon.

# 5 Pelican Beach Resort, Dangriga

On the water, with verandahs.

# 6 Cottage Colony, St. George's Caye

Collection of colonial-style cottages.

5 Most Luxe Digs

Most resorts in Belize are comfortable rather than luxurious. Here are five that are both.

# 1 Villas at Banyan Bay, Ambergris Caye

New condos, with tasteful furnishings, whirlpools, full kitchens, and more.

# 2 Jaguar Paw, Belmopan Area

Rarity of rarities: air conditioning in the jungle.

# 3 Blancaneaux, Mountain Pine Ridge

The villa units are huge and luxurious (and pricey), with original art and appealing furnishings.

# 4 Belizean Reef Suites, Ambergris Caye

The suite life at the south end of San Pedro Town.

# 5 Radisson Fort George Hotel, Belize City

The recent renovation helps keep this hotel in a class of its own among Belize City "international-style" hotels.

10 Great Lodging Values

These are not the least-expensive places in Belize by any means, but all offer relatively low prices and solid value for what you pay.

(Alphabetical Order)

Cahal Pech Village, San Ignacio

Great views and a good value in either the cabanas or hotel rooms.

Cockscomb Jaguar Sanctuary Cabins, Maya Centre, Stann Creek

New rooms (shared bath and common kitchen) offer true jungle experience.

Deb & Dave's Last Resort, Placencia

Clean, comfortable, friendly.

Glover's Atoll "Resort," North East Caye

Very basic, but you can spend a week here for what a night costs at many Belize resorts, and transportation to the island is included.

Hok'ol K'in, Corozal Town

While not in the budget category, rooms are new and attractive, and tour prices are among best in Belize.

Tom's Hotel, Caye Caulker

One of a number of Corker digs offering clean, safe budget sleep (also check out Marin's, Rainbow, Tree Tops, 1788 Motel, Jiminez Cabanas, and Tropical Paradise)

Ian Anderson's Cave's Branch Camp, Belmopan Area

Range of accommodations and outdoor adventure aplenty.

Parrot's Nest, Bullet Tree Falls, Cayo

Stilt houses in the trees.

Ruby's, Ambergris Caye

Squeaky clean basic rooms, some with water views, a bargain on this expensive island; for budget with a pool, Hideaway is a good choice.

Seaside Guest House, Belize City

Favorite budget spot, run by the Friends, a Quaker service group.

10 Green Hotels

These are hotels where the owners seem highly interested in maintaining the environment. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and most members of the Belize Eco-Tourism Association appear dedicated to sustainable tourism.

(Alphabetical Order)


Belize First Editor's 10 Favorite Places to Stay

These are some of the favorite spots of Belize First Editor Lan Sluder:

# 1 Chan Chich, Gallon Jug

A class act all the way, and a remarkable place to stay.

# 2 Kitty's Place, Placencia

We could stay for weeks in one of the beachfront cabanas. # 3 Chaa Creek, Cayo

Run by real professionals, and nearly bug-free to boot.

# 4 Lamanai Outpost Lodge, Lamanai

Anyone opening a lodge in Belize ought to study the design of this place, built by the late Colin Howells.

# 5 Hidden Valley Inn, Mountain Pine Ridge

A large private estate with remarkable discoveries at the end of every trail.

# 6 Caribbean Villas, Ambergris Caye

Hands-on management makes the difference.

# 7 Blancaneaux, Mountain Pine Ridge

Italian/Scots/Belize hospitality in the Mountain Pine Ridge.

# 8 Colton House, Belize City

One can only wish all of Belize City were as nice as this.

# 9 Tony's, Corozal Town

We can't explain exactly why we like it, but we like it.

# 10 Victoria House, Ambergris Caye

Would that we could afford to stay in one of the owners' villas here.

Honorable Mention: DuPlooy's, Cayo; Fallen Stones, P.G.; Captain Morgan's, Ambergris Caye; Jaguar Paw, Belmopan; Jaguar Reef Lodge, Hopkins/Sittee Point; Turtle Inn, Placencia; Rum Point Inn, Placencia; Green Parrot, Seine Bight; Hotel Seine Bight, Seine Bight; Nautical Inn, Seine Bight

3 Dependable Car Rental Agencies

These are three Belize City rental agencies which have proved to be reliable. We've had good luck with some of the other renters at the international airport, too. Regardless of which car renter you choose, always check out the car carefully, as the roadability of the specific cars available can be as important as the reputation of the agency. Be sure the tires are good, and that there's a usable spare and a jack with all necessary parts. Ask for the lowest-mileage vehicle available. A Belize car with 50,000 miles is the equivalent of a car in Canada or the U.S. with at least 100,000 miles. Confirm that the company will send someone to service your car if it breaks down.

# 1 Budget

Good selection of late-model Suzuki vehicles; well-run operation with generally dependable cars and country-wide service

# 2 National

Suzuki and other vehicles, mostly in top shape

# 3 Jabiru

Vehicles may not be as new as at the two "majors" above, but usually they are still in good shape, with (sometimes) lower prices

Other recommendable places: Crystal Auto Rental

10 Can't-Miss Places to Eat

It's not true you can't get a good meal in Belize. While the country has no five-star restaurants, you can enjoy excellent seafood, and sometimes nothing tastes better than a plate of rice and beans. This list does not include resort or jungle lodge restaurants which cater primarily to guests. Some of these, such as the restaurants at Blancaneaux, Pretty See Ranch, and Jaguar Paw, are excellent. (If the restaurant attracts many who are not guests at the hotel, such as the Hotel Seine Bight, it qualifies as a "stand-alone" restaurant for this list.) In Belize, as elsewhere, restaurants can change overnight, so always ask locally.

(Alphabetical Order)

Four Fort Street Guesthouse, Belize City

The atmosphere is as enticing as the food.

GG Cafe and Patio, Belize City

Creole food and burgers.

The Grill, Belize City

Steaks, pasta and other dishes; more upscale than most restaurants in Belize.

Jade Garden, Ambergris Caye

Chinese, and more, in a quiet and pleasant setting.

Rasta Pasta, Ambergris Caye

They'll take good care of you.

Lily's, Ambergris Caye

Fresh and family-style seafood.

Little Italy, Ambergris Caye

Italian and seafood.

The Reef, Ambergris Caye

Local food, cheap and cheerful.

Sandbox, Caye Caulker

Popular spot, with seafood and other dishes.

Hotel Seine Bight, Seine Bight

Eccentric and interesting.

Other recommendable spots: Barracuda & Jaguar Inn's Pickled Parrot Grill, Placencia; Bellevue Hotel Caribbean Room, Belize City; Bullfrog Inn Restaurant, Belmopan; Celi's, Ambergris Caye; Duke's Place, Ambergris Caye; Elvi's Kitchen, Ambergris Caye; Flamboyant, Placencia; Lagoon, Ambergris Caye; Green Parrot, Maya Beach; Macy's, Belize City; Serindib, San Ignacio; Tentacles, Placencia; Tropical Paradise, Caye Caulker; Martha's, San Ignacio

6 Most-Scenic Drives

Belize does not have the drop-head breathless scenery of highlands Guatemala or Costa Rica, but Belize's small population, uncut forests, and diverse ecosystems provide a uniquely Belizean brand of beauty. Emory King's Driver's Guide to Beautiful Belize and the ITMB Traveller's Map will keep you from getting lost.

# 1 Hummingbird Highway

Hands down, this road from Belmopan to near Dangriga is the most beautiful drive in Belize, and beyond the first 19 miles near Belmopan, it is also the best road in Belize. (The remaining 19 miles are due to be resurfaced "soon.") The beginnings of the Maya Mountains, green and lush, are interrupted by the occasional citrus farm. You can't see them, but these limestone hills are laced with vast networks of caves.

# 2 Road to Caracol

The road to Caracol begins with the bone-jarring routes from Georgeville or San Ignacio into the North Georgia-like scenery of the Mountain Pine Ridge. But once beyond Augustine/Douglas DeSilva, the real beauty begins. It is a vast and unpopulated area, close to Guatemala, and the road, though improved, is still no superhighway. When the butterflies are flying and the sky is blue, this is a magical, if rough, trip to the ruins of Caracol.

# 3 Road to Sarteneja and Progresso Lagoon

This little-traveled area of northern Belize provides glimpses of beauty to make up for the unpaved roadway. En route from Orangewalk Town, you'll enjoy seeing the Progresso Lagoon, prosperous Mennonite farms, and the isolated villages of Chunox and Sarteneja, on the Bay of Chetumal. On your return, if past the Progresso Lagoon, you turn right instead of going back to Orange Walk, you can visit the village of Copper Bank and, in good weather, the ruins of Cerros.

# 4 Road to Chan Chich

Most people fly to Gallon Jug, but driving is a better way to see some of the real Belize (advance permission is needed to travel the private parts of this route). This part of Orange Walk District is a country of Mennonite and other farms, small rural villages, and wild bush. As you drive through Programme for Belize and Gallon Jug lands, you'll likely see oscellated turkeys and other rare wildlife. This is also one of the region's last remaining mahogany forests. The road to Lamanai, which turns off at San Felipe Village, is also a great drive.

# 5 Road to Gales Point and Southern Lagoon

The new coastal highway, or "shortcut" from Democracia to Stann Creek, is mostly an awful road, dusty in the dry season and muddy or flooded after rains. But the short section of unpaved road, from around Melinda about 10 miles north of Dangriga, to Gales Point, ending at the Colonial-style Manatee Lodge, is loaded with simple charm and unexpected beauty. The charm comes from the small, unspoiled Creole village of Gales Point, and the beauty from the Southern Lagoon, home to crocodiles, jabiru storks, and manatee.

# 6 Roads to Maya Villages near PG

While not an area of tremendous scenic beauty, the roads off the Southern Highway to the Maya villages near San Antonio and beyond are an education in history and culture. In rainy weather, the roads can become impassable even for four-wheel drives. Regrettably, some timbering activity by a large Malaysian company is going on in this area.

5 Must-See Mayan Ruins

Belize has literally hundreds of ruins, many still undiscovered or unexcavated. Of the dozen or so "major" ones, the wonderful thing about them is that they are almost totally untouristed. Unlike in the Mexican Yucat\'87 n or even at Tikal, where hordes of visitors swarm over the ruins, in Belize you may be alone with the caretaker, or one of only a handful of visitors, at an ancient Mayan city.

# 1 Caracol

The largest known site in Belize, and larger in area even than Tikal, this Classic Maya city-state was rediscovered in the 1930s but only since 1985 has excavation been underway. With an improved access road, and less bureaucratic red tape, it is now easier than ever to visit this awe-inspiring place. Caracol's highest pyramid is still the tallest man-made structure in Belize. The drive to Caracol is beautiful and not difficult, except in wet weather.

# 2 Lamanai

Lamanai was an important Maya community for three millennia, and this site has buildings dating back to 700 B.C. The setting is beautiful, at the edge of the New River Lagoon. You can drive here, via a newly improved all-weather road, though the approach by boat is inspiring.

# 3 Xunantunich

This Late Classic site is small but impressive. Don't miss the view into Guatemala from El Castillo, a 135-foot tower that is the second-tallest structure in Belize. A plus is its easy access from the Western Highway -- you cross the Mopan River on a small hand-cranked ferry. A new visitor center is open.

# 4 Lubaantun

Not by any means the largest, most important, or most impressive site, Lubaantun has a mysterious appeal. One reason is its setting, near the remote villages of Toledo with their population of present-day Mayans, some of whom may shyly offer to sell you crafts or small trinkets at the Lubaantun site. Another is the famous Crystal Skull, which may or may not have been discovered here in 1926 by the daughter of archeologist F. A. Mitchell-Hedges, and which may or may not be authentic. A third is the style of construction, of carefully hand-cut limestone blocks laid without mortar. Lubaantun is on an isolated ridge near the village of San Pedro Columbia off the Southern Highway.

# 5 Chechem Ha Cave

Many caves in Belize contain Mayan relics. This one, on private land in Cayo District, can be visited on a guided tour. Most who make the effort to see this come away awed by the pottery which dates to the time of Christ. One access is via a long drive on the "hydro road" from Benque Viejo.

5 Good Museums and Such

Belize doesn't have much in the way of fancy museums, but here are five of interest:

# 1 Belize Zoo, Western Highway near Belmopan

Absolutely fantastic place! See jaguars, April the mountain cow, and more, all in a natural setting.

# 2 Natural History and Blue Morpho Butterfly Centre, Chaa Creek, Cayo

Privately operated center with growing collections of materials and displays, plus butterfly breeding centre.

# 3 Maya Centre, Cockscomb Preserve

Small but informative displays on Cockscomb Preserve area.

# 4 Maritime Museum, Belize City

Newly opened, devoted to marine and local history.

# 5 Ix Chel Farm/Rainforest Trail, Cayo

Adjoining Chaa Creek, this private project of Rosita Arvigo highlights rainforest remedies.

Honorable Mention for effort to date: Ambergris Museum

6 Wonderful National Parks and Reserves

Belize is making a terrific effort to preserve its natural land and sea resources for future generations. Here are six national parks and reserves which won't disappoint you:

# 1 Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Preserve, Stann Creek District

The world's first jaguar preserve, this lush jungle reserve of more than 100,000 acres is a must-see for anyone interested in natural Belize. New trails are open to Victoria Peak, one of the highest points in Belize.

# 2 Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve, Cayo District

More than 300 square miles of nearly unpopulated land in Western Belize. Controlled logging is allowed.

# 3 Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area, Orange Walk District

More than 150,000 acres of jungle, including mahogany forest, in Orange Walk District, privately managed by Programme for Belize.

# 4 Half Moon Caye Natural Monument, Lighthouse Reef

Belize's first nature preserve, Half Moon Caye is a beautiful island on Lighthouse Reef, with 10,000 acres of surrounding reef.

# 5 Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, Crooked Tree

This is bird city in Belize. The sanctuary boundaries include several large lagoons, including Crooked Tree (which unfortunately has been partly drained) and Revenge.

# 6 Community Baboon Sanctuary, Bermudian Landing

More than 1,000 black howler monkeys are now safe in the eight villages making up the sanctuary.

Other highly recommended parks and preserves:

Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve, Ambergris Caye

Blue Hole National Park, Belmopan Area

Five Blues Lakes National Park, Belmopan Area

Hol Chan, Ambergris Caye

Great Honeymoon Destinations

Belize is a popular honeymoon spot. With some prior planning, visitors even get married in Belize. Here, in no particular order, are our suggestions for great honeymoon destinations in Belize.

For Soft Adventure in the Jungle

Here are four jungle lodges where you can enjoy nature with creature comforts and privacy:

For Luxury

For a sybaritic honeymoon, consider one of these options: Budget Honeymoon

\bullet Stay in a tent at a "safari" camp at Chaa Creek near San Ignacio, or at M.E.T. in the Mountain Pine Ridge
  • Honeymoon in a "tree house" at Parrot's Nest near San Ignacio
  • Rough it on the reef in a cabin on Tobacco Cay, Ranguana Caye, South Water Caye, or other small caye
  • Camp at Cockscomb Preserve -- common kitchens are available to cook your own meals Kickback and Relax Honeymoon

    For a low key, no-pressure honeymoon, try one of these: Get Away from It All


    10 Delightful Denizens of the Wild

    # 1 Jaguar

    Panthera onca, often called tiger by Belizeans, is the largest cat in the Western Hemisphere. Both the spotted jaguar and the black jaguar are the same species. Although there may be more than 1,000 jaguars in Belize, youneed extraordinary luck to see one of these incredibly beautiful nocturnal animals, except at the Belize Zoo, which has both spotted and black jaguars. Belize has four other species of wild cats.

    # 2 Mountain Cow

    The tapir, or mountain cow, the national animal of Belize, though large, eats only veggies and is shy and nonaggressive.

    # 3 Jaiburu Stork

    This is the largest bird in the New World, which can grow to a height of five feet with a wingspan of 12 feet. It can be seen at Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary and the Southern Lagoon.

    # 4 Manatee

    The West Indian Manatee, a distant relative of the elephant, is a gentle herbivore. It is an endangered species, but there have been recent reports of the slaughter of families of manatees in Toledo District by Guatemalan fishermen. Manatees can be seen in the Southern Lagoon and along the coast and lagoons near Placencia, Hopkins, Punta Gorda, and elsewhere.

    # 5 Black Howler Monkey

    Howlers, sometimes called baboons in Belize, are rare, found only in parts of Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico. Almost wiped out by disease in the 1950s, they are making a comeback in Belize, thanks to efforts at protection, such as at Community Baboon Sanctuary, and through reintroduction in Cayo and Stann Creek districts and elsewhere.

    # 6 Blue Morpho Butterfly

    Belize has thousands of types of butterflies and months, but the Blue Morpho is perhaps the most beautiful.

    # 7 Keel-billed Toucan

    This is the national bird of Belize and, like the jaguar, appears on T-shirts and hotel logos everywhere. You can spot it in the wild in many parts of the country. # 8 Iguanas

    Several species of iguanas make their home in Belize. An effort is underway now to promote the raising of green iguanas, locally prized as a chicken-like dish. The "Jesus Christ Lizard," a basilisk, is so called because it can literally walk on water. # 9 Ocellated Turkey

    This rare bird, one of more than 500 birds sighted in Belize, can be seen around Chan Chich Lodge, on Programme for Belize Lands, near Caracol, and elsewhere.

    # 10 Quash

    Coatimundis, relatives of the racoon, are cute as the devil. They're smart and have a keen sense of smell.

    10 Wild Things to Watch Out For

    As a sub-tropical and tropical country, Belize is rich in life forms, including some that are not very nice to human beings. Fortunately, most visitors to Belize aren't bothered by these denizens of the wild, save for the occasional mozzie or no-see-um bites.

    # 1 No-see-ums (sandflies, sandfleas, midge gnats, purrujas)

    These buggers are twice as mean as mozzies -- watch out for them near mangrove swamps and on a windless day on the coast or cayes; Avon Skin-So-Soft may help some.

    # 2 Mozzies

    Some mosquitoes in Belize do carry dangerous diseases including malaria and dengue fever. Many visitors to Belize are surprised, though, that mosquitoes are not as bad as they feared. The nearly constant winds on the cayes keeps mozzies at bay, and much of Cayo District escapes the plague of these bugs. They are worse in the late summer after periods of rain, and in southern Belize, which gets more rain than any other part of the country.

    # 3 Botfly

    This little horror, happily not a problem for most visitors, gets the help of a mosquito to place its egg under your skin. The larva then grows to the size of your thumb-- yecch! Lure the "doctor fly" out with a slab of fatback or bacon placed over the entrance; kill it by smothering it to death with vaseline or glue; or apply the sap of the bot killer tree, or some say, a piece of tobacco.

    # 4 Yellow-jawed tommygoff (fer-de-lance)

    This highly poisonous snake attacks aggressively. It has heat-seeking fangs and can strike accurately even in the dark. Avoid it, and if by rare chance you are bitten get medical attention immediately. Belize has about 20 types of poisonous snakes of which "only" nine are deadly.

    # 5 "Alligators"

    Called thus by many Belizeans, but Belize actually has only crocodiles, the larger American and the smaller Morelet's. Occasional attacks on humans are recorded in Belize.

    # 6 Scorpions

    These are common all over Belize. They are often present in the walls of buildings (avoid leaving wet towels out) or in thatch roofs. For most species in Belize, the sting hurts, but not too much worse than the sting of a wasp, and isn't fatal.

    # 7 Warries (White-Lipped Peccary)

    Peccaries are related to pigs. White-Lipped Peccaries, now rare in Belize, travel in large herds. If you hear loud bellowing, screeching and tooth-clacking (and don't happen to be in Big Daddy's late at night), climb the nearest tree, as warries can be hazardous to your health.

    # 8 Killer bees

    The stings of Africanized bees hurt no more than those of ordinary honeybees, but killer bees are far more aggressive and ill-tempered. They have killed many cattle and other livestock in Belize, and in Costa Rica at least 16 human deaths have been attributed to killer bee attacks. Virtually all the honeybees you see in Belize are now Africanized and are present in most areas, even Ambergris Caye. If you stumble on a hive, try to get under a roof (bees usually won't follow you under a shelter) or into water.

    # 9 Tarantulas

    You may see one of these furry balls of fun on the rainforest floor or even on a village sidewalk. Their bite can be painful but isn't serious. Some people keep these as pets.

    # 10 Jaws and other sea critters

    Belize has all the usual denizens of the deep -- sharks, stingrays, barracuda, moray eels, fire coral, etc. Most of these are as harmless as sheep dogs, as least according to the guys at the dive shop.

    Honorable Mention:

  • Vampire bats Belize does have vampire bats, whose bite may cause rabies, but unless you sleep outside a lot without clothes on, don't worry. Belize's many species of bats do worlds of good, from eating mozzies to pollinating fruit.
  • Rat bats These ratty looking bats love to make their home in the attics of houses. Many -- if not most -- homes in Belize at some time will have bats in the attic.

    5 Friendliest Places

    Belizeans, by and large, are warm, open, and welcoming to visitors. You can make friends easily anywhere in Belize.

    # 1 Corozal Town

    Generally safe town with Mexican influence and very nice people

    # 2 Hopkins/Sittee Point

    Small and unspoiled Garifuna area with warm, friendly folks

    # 3 San Ignacio

    Relaxed community with a Maya and Mestizo heritage

    # 4 Punta Gorda

    Population is a mix of Maya (especially in areas outside PG), Garifuna, Creole, Mestizo -- generally hassle-free except at bars at night

    # 5 Belize City

    Belize City has a well-deserved reputation for crime and hassle, but it also has some of the hardest-working, friendliest people in Belize -- too bad the rascals are what most visitors hear about.

    5 Best Belize Guidebooks

    # 1 Belize Handbook, by Chicki Mallan, 3rd ed., Moon Publications, 1995

    It's beginning to get a little long in the tooth, but this Moon guide remains the best-organized, most thoughtfully designed, and well-researched guide to the country.

    # 2 Rough Guide to Guatemala and Belize, by Peter Eltringham and Mark Whatmore, 3rd. ed., Rough Guides/Penguin, 1996

    Solid, reliable research and especially good coverage of less-expensive options mark this guidebook, one in a wonderful series put out by self-described "English eccentrics." Peter Eltringham first came to Belize with the Royal Air Force.

    # 3 Emory King's Driver's Guide to Beautiful Belize, Tropical Press, 1997-2001

    This mile-by-mile guide, by one of Belize's best-known personalities, is a must for anyone on a do-it-yourself trip to Belize, even if you're not driving.

    # 4 Belize, Adventures in Nature, by Richard Mahler and Steele Wotkyns, 1st ed., John Muir, 1997-2001

    Excellent on the natural side of Belize. Up-to-date and refreshingly different from other guides.

    # 5 Guide to Belize, by Alex Bradbury, 2nd ed., Bradt, 1996

    At present the most up-to-date general country guide to Belize. Some inexplicable omissions but its currency and candid coverage makes it a worthwhile traveling companion.

    Honorable Mention:

    New Key to Belize, Stacy Ritz, 2nd ed., Ulysses Press, 1995 Insight Guides Belize, Tony Perrottet, ed., Houghton-Mifflin, 1995

    Adventure Guide to Belize, Harry Pariser, 3rd, ed., Hunter Publications, 1995

    10 Best Belize Web Sites

    Possibly no destination in the world -- and certainly no other country the size of Belize -- has so many informative and interesting Web sites as Belize. In fact, Belize may soon have more Web home pages than actual homes ... or tourists. Out of fairness, we didn't include our own Web sites at or www.turq.com/equator/.

    # 1 (tie) Belize by Naturalight (http://www.belizenet.com)

    Tony Rath has put together a terrific site, with stunning graphics, beautiful photos (but what else would you expect from one of the Caribbean Coast's premier shooters?) and tons of good information. Even the ads are informative. Live chat area and newsgroup. Also excerpts from a daily show from Love-FM Radio in Belize. Tony uses a Mac, and it shows.

    # 1 Belize On-Line (http://www.belize.com)

    Although a commercial site, Belize On-Line is packed with news, facts, figures, links, and other help. The Belize newsgroup is fairly active. Susan Garcia and Manolo Romero were early pioneers of the use of the Web to promote Belize, and the professionalism and experience are evident.

    # 3 You Better Belize It (http://www.belizeit.com)v Belizean-owned site with something of a mish-mash of information and promotion, but lively and with frequent visits by Belizeans living outside Belize. Now has the most-active Belize newsgroup.

    # 4 Ambergris Caye (http://www.ambergriscaye.com)

    Everything you always wanted to know about San Pedro.

    # 5 Belizean CyberWeb (http://www.belizeanweb.com)

    Technically advanced site with all kinds of bells, whistles, java juice, and frames. For British Honduras buffs, Neil Fraser's collection of old photos is posted here.

    # 6 The Reporter (http://www.belizenet.com/reporter/reporthp.html)

    Tony Rath's approach to putting The Reporter on the Web is a beautifully simple and intelligent design solution. Excellent archiving of past issues. The Reporter is also on the Belize Online site.

    # 7 San Pedro Sun (http://www.ambergriscaye.com/sanpedrosun/)

    Like the newspaper, this home page is friendly, chatty, informative, and upbeat.

    # 8 Xibalba (http://www.xibalba.com/xibalba/belizeca/)

    Eclectic site by Shawn Brisbin, with varied and extensive information on Belize (some of it a bit hard to read due to the backgrounds). Excellent links section.

    # 9 Belize Audubon Society (http://www.belizeaudubon.org )

    Wonderful new site from Belize's premier conservation group. Another tremendous design job by the Belize by Naturalight folks.

    # 10 Belize Tourist Board (http://www.turq.com/belize.html)

    Good "official" overview of what to expect in Belize. Honorable mention:
  • Amandala On-Line (http:belizemall.com/amandala/~) A Web edition of the weekly newspaper Amandala
  • Belize Culture Group (http://137.245.64.17/) This, along with Ian Cawich's home page, are tied to the Belize Culture Internet Mailing List, an active mailing list. (To subscribe to this mailing list, send to bz-culture-request@psg.com the message: subscribe).
  • BelizeWeb (http://www.belizeweb.com) This site is run by Belize Telecommunications, Ltd., Belize's phone company.
  • Lonely Planet - Destination Belize (http://www.lonelyplanet.com/dest/cam/belize.htm/) Lonely Planet's well-regarded site has an informative section on Belize.

    5 Best Newspapers

    # 1 The Reporter

    Improved design and an independent stance make this the best weekly in Belize.

    # 2 Belize Sun

    The new entry by the owners of the San Pedro Sun is just what Belize tourism needed.

    # 3 San Pedro Sun

    Chatty and cheerful island weekly.

    # 4 Amandala

    Opinionated, independent weekly.

    # 5 Caye Caulker Village Voice

    Good effort by young publisher; benefits from a woman's touch.

    6 Best Places to Live in Belize

    Many North Americans and Europeans have a dream of living where the water is blue, the air is warm, the rum is cheap, and the living is easy. Belize may, or may not, live up to your expectations in those regards. Many who do make the leap to Belize end up frustrated, unhappy and broke, so investigate thoroughly before you decide to move to Belize. Expats in Belize are now clustered mostly in San Pedro, the Belize City suburbs, Placencia, and near Corozal Town. Here are our own picks for the best places to live and buy in Belize.

    # 1 Corozal Town/Consejo

    Most visitors to Belize either never get to Corozal or pass through quickly en route somewhere else. But the Corozal Town area and nearby Consejo offer a lot for those staying awhile -- low prices, friendly people, a generally low-crime environment, the beautiful blue water of the bay, and the extra plus of having Mexico next door for cheap shopping.

    # 2 Rural Cayo District

    Cayo has a lot going for it: wide open spaces, plenty of land, few bugs, and friendly folks. This might be just the place to buy a few acres and grow some oranges.

    # 3 Hopkins/Sittee Point

    This is what Placencia was 20 years ago, almost as pretty and even friendlier. If you want a place on the beach, prices are still relatively affordable here, but as anywhere in Belize, do your "due diligence" before putting out cash.

    # 4 Ambergris Caye

    This is the most-popular, but most-expensive, place for expats to live in Belize. For some, it's too touristy, but others love the fact that there are other North Americans in residence.

    # 5 Southern Toledo District

    If you can stand the rain and the mosquitos, the far south of Belize has some of the lowest land prices and nicest people in the country. When the paving of the Southern Highway is finally completed, it will open this area up to a new blush of tourism and development.

    # 6 Rural Orangewalk District

    Orangewalk Town isn't such a wonderful place, but out in the district, around August Pine Ridge or beside a lagoon, you may find your little piece of isolated paradise.

    Honorable Mention:

    Sarteneja: If you don't mind being near the ends of the earth, this is a beautiful area

    Caye Caulker: Corker's fans are legion

     

    Back to the Belize Book of Lists Main Menu


    Belize First Home Page
    Belize First
    Home Page

    This page, and all contents, are Copyright © 1996-98 Belize First Magazine. All rights reserved.