Gotta See It to Belize it!

This country in Central America packs a mishmash of cultures that you have to see to believe.

Shortly after we got engaged, my wife and I took our first international trip together to visit family in Belize. A few years before I had never even heard of Belize but here we were landing in the Belize City airport and transferring onto our small passenger plane to meet my aunt and uncle in Dangriga. Neither of us had travelled in a small passenger plane with a single pilot before so we didn’t know what to expect. An awesome flight later (this dude clearly thought he was Maverick in Top Gun) and we were landing in Dangriga.

We met my aunt and uncle at the terminal building and headed towards Hopkins. We stopped at a Chinese restaurant (yes Chinese food in Central America!) for some amazing food along the way.

Hopkins

Main street of Hopkins

Photo credit: Roxanne Bell

Hopkins has the reputation of being the friendliest village in Belize. It certainly lives up to the reputation! The main street is lined with delicious restaurant patios, BNBs, backpacker hostels, and awesome local shops. Everybody says hi and asks how you’re doing. The coastal areas of Belize are dominated by the Garifuna culture that migrated here many years ago. The culture is distinctly Carribean with the language having English, French, and Spanish influences from long interactions with colonial people. As a result life moves a little slower in Hopkins and it has a laid back vibe.

Night time in Hopkins

Hopkins can is a gateway to many of the smaller cayes and the famous barrier reef the country is known for. Dive shops are plentiful in Hopkins for those looking to get out on the water.

The Cayes

We didn’t get out to Caye Caulker during our trip but we got a much more authentic experience. My uncle is friends with Boo from Seemore Adventures and he took us out fishing, snorkelling, and for a pint at Bread and Butter Cayes.

I challenge you to find something more relaxing than drinking a Belikin and watching pelicans fish from a sandy bar.

The local Belizeans tend to fish via a hand line. They’re remarkably skilled and it was such a fun experience learning from them. The locals have taken to using the hand lines because the salt water corrodes fishing rods over time.

We snorkelled offshore along one of the cayes we stopped at along the way. Much of the coral in this location had died but anemones and many species of colourful fish still called it home.

Bread and Butter Caye. A little piece of paradise.

Xunantunich, San Ignacio

On the top of El Castillo overlooking the city

Xunantunich is located on the western border of Belize, a mere kilometre from the Guatemalan border. As a result there is a military presence onsite due to crime occurring from across the border. The ancient city itself is all that remains of a once dominant Mayan city. There is a solemn silence to the site that makes it all the more awe inspiring. It is worth paying a guide to provide you with some of the history of the buildings and area. Howler monkeys can often be heard in the surrounding jungle as you explore the ancient city.

The cultural vibe on the western side of the country is distinctly Mayan and Spanish. Food at many restaurants feature traditional Mayan dishes. The people are still very friendly and San Ignacio is a good gateway to many attractions in the area.

St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park

To be honest, when we first heard of the concept of cave tubing we thought it was a little weird. Turns out it is easily one of the coolest things you can do in Belize. St. Herman’s Cave is massive. Kilometers of river passage connect this massive system. Turns out one of the best ways to see it is by floating on a tube through the cave. This cave like many caves in Belize were regarded by the Mayans as entrances to Xebulba, the Mayan underworld.

A short distance down the road is St. Herman’s Blue Hole which as you can probably surmise is connected to the cave. The Blue Hole is not the famous one in the cayes but in fact a 30 ft deep sinkhole surrounded by lush jungle. This is a perfect place to go swimming after tubing through the cave.

Mayflower Bocawina National Park

Antelope Falls

Mayflower Bocawina National Park hosts one of the coolest hikes I have ever done. The hike up the 1000ft Antelope Falls feature steep trails, scrambling over boulders, and dodging the odd nut dropped from the trees above by the birds.

Once you reach the top there is the most perfect swimming hole to cool down in.

The hike may only be ~5km round trip but it’s easily one of the best we’d ever done.

Placencia

Placencia is one of the biggest tourist destinations in mainland Belize. Featuring numerous resorts, stunning sandy beaches, and bars right on the water, it’s a prime party destination. Make sure to check out the Tipsy Tuna while you’re there. Stop in at the ice cream shop down the street for the best ice cream you will ever have!

Photo courtesy of Erika Winter

Ziplining in Stann Creek

On our final day in Belize we went ziplining with Mayan Sky Canopy Tour. It’s one hundred percent worth doing and one of the best zipline courses in the country.

Things to Know

  • The main spoken language in the country is English making it easy for almost all travellers.
  • Belize is known for having a relatively high crime rate per capita. The thing to keep in mind is much of this crime is Belizean versus Belizean. Tourists are generally not a target. To be as safe as possible, be vigilant in cities such as Belize City and Belmopan.
  • The exchange rate is approximately $1.00 American = $2.00 Belizean.
  • Belizean Guinness is better than Ireland’s Guinness.
  • Thongs has the best breakfast in Hopkins.
  • Driftwood pizza is a must do for dinner in Hopkins.
  • With the proper infrastructure this country could be the next popular Eco-tourism destination.

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