Once too wild for all but the hardiest of adventurers, Belize is emerging as Latin America’s hottest ticket. Chic boutique hotels, jungle lodges, and holiday homes dot a coastline of beaches, mangroves, and lagoons.
Just 49% of the country’s territory is composed of land, encompassing over 900 Mayan temples and primary jungle, home to the most striking species of native butterflies. The ocean is perhaps even more impressive, inhabited by the second-largest living reef on the planet.
In the south, the peninsula of Placencia (“pleasant place,” the Spanish called it), is arguably the best spot for witnessing the spectacular marine life; sea turtles, manatees, rays and whale sharks rule over the reef, a short boat ride from the coast. Further north lies the town of Hopkins, where locals (known as Garifuna’s, “the drummers”) sit in the shade of huge palms, chewing on Wangla, a Belizean candy, washed down with rum.
Inland, lush expanses of rain forest and rivers are a playground for the intrepid. Our favourite spot, Chaa Creek, is situated in a secluded corner of the Cayo District, in a 400-acre nature reserve. From the comfort of a treetop villa or river view suite, venture into the rain forest on foot or on horseback to visit the howler monkeys, armadillos and kinkajou. The nearby cave of Xibalba is believed to be the entry point to the Mayan underworld, and a trek to the top of the Mayan site of Xunantunich offers spectacular views to Guatemala.
Hop in a helicopter at Belize City and fly over the Blue Hole – extending 125m into the Earth’s crust and measuring 318m across, it is one of the world’s largest marine sinkholes. Views of the contrasting shades of emerald green and blues are spectacular. Thrill-seekers searching for a new perspective may skydive.
Returning to the port, a comfortable private catamaran awaits, the table adorned with fresh seafood & rum cocktails, to see in the lazy afternoon siesta. Jesse, captain and an experienced diver, winds through the secluded atolls and along powdery beaches, to reach the best spots for exploring the reef, illuminated by kaleidoscopic fish, sea turtles and rays. As the sun fades, the yacht settles inside a quiet cove for a refreshing dip. This area of the ocean is so unspoilt, any movement in the water brings the bio-luminescence to life, where small beads of light rise like fireflies to the surface.
The majority of the country’s diverse ecosystem is yet to be fully discovered, and the ocean is a dazzling place to start.