Belize is slowly moving up in the rankings as the new hot spot in Central America. Once the underdog with untameable jungles encompassing covert Mayan temples, colourful ramshackled villages and unexplored atoll’s, it was predominantly used as a training ground for the British Army. Nowadays, luxury resorts & holiday homes are cropping up along its coastline, sounding the horn for pampering beach retreats and first class diving.
Just 49% of the country’s territory is composed of land, encapsulating over 900 Mayan temples and primary jungle, home to the most striking species of native butterflies. The ocean is perhaps even more desirable, inhabited by the second largest living reef on the planet.
The peninsula of Placencia in the south, 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 the palm-fringed beaches are dotted with locals (known as Garifuna’s, or in other words, “the drummers”) finding refuge from the midday sun, chewing on Wangla, a Belizean candy, washed down with rum.
Internally, the untouched beauty of the rainforest and expansive rivers is enticing, even for the less 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 riverview suite, venture into the rainforest on foot or on horseback to visit the habitats of howler monkeys, armadillos or kinkajous. The nearby cave of Xibalba is believed to be the entrypoint to the Mayan underworld, and a trek to the top of the Mayan site of Xunantunich offers spectacular views across to Guatemala.
As Belize moves towards the limelight, the barely-trodden trail is starting to welcome the more intrepid travellers and the ideal itinerary ends with a relaxing beach finale. However, over the past 5 years the sumptuous sand beaches and crystalline waters have fallen victim to the sargassum (seaweed) problems, with most devastating effect to the upscale resorts of San Pedro in Ambergris Caye, Belize’s largest and best recognised island.
The solution is simple, take to the ocean where the destruction of the seaweed and all noise of fellow travellers falls away. The journey starts at Belize City, the port capital, where a helicopter tour over the Blue Hole offers jaw-dropping views across the contrasting shades of azul, emerald and inky blue from one of the world’s largest sinkholes. Another option for a new perspective, is to 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 on the deck. Jesse, the captain and an experienced diver, winds through to the secluded atolls and white-sand beaches, to reach the best spots for exploring the reef, illuminated by colourful fish, sea turtles and rays. As the sun fades into a blue-orange haze, 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 to life the bioluminescence, where small beads of light rise like fireflies to the deep blue surface.
The majority of the country’s diverse ecosystem is yet to be uncovered, and the ocean is arguably the most fascinating place to start.