The surprising culture... of Belize
Belize is a surprising destination packed with wildlife, marine attractions and a mix of cultures, all in a country barely larger than Wales. As a former British colony, it is the only country in Central America with English as its official language, making it even easier to explore. Here we take you through the cultural highlights of the country, which you can also explore using the interactive map at the end of the article.
Ancient Mayan templesBelize was the epicentre of the Mayan civilisation, and is home to a number of impressive Mayan temples. Most can be found either in the Cayo district or in the lesser-visited Toledo district in the south. Lamanai Once a major city of the Maya, Lamanai is noted for its long occupation. Established in 16th century, the site was occupied until the 19th century when the British built a sugar mill. The remnants of the mill can still be seen, entangled by the surrounding jungle. The Mask Temple was named after the impressive 4.5-metre masks carved into the side. Keep your eyes peeled for the endangered black howler monkeys that can be heard through the trees.
The Mask Temple, LamanaiXunantunich One of Belize's most impressive Mayan archaeological sites, Xunantunich's claim to fame is its temple’s sculpted friezes. It is also home to 40-metre El Castillo – the second tallest structure in Belize after Caracol – that has panoramic views, making it well worth the climb.
"El Castillo" at XunantunichCaracol The ancient Maya archaeological site of Caracol was founded in 900 B.C. and is home to Caana Temple, which remains the largest man-made structure in Belize to this day. Surrounded by lush jungle, the entire ancient site in its prime covered 80 sq miles and was home to 150,000 people.
Caana Temple, Caracol
Wildlife and natural wondersFor such a small country, Belize is packed with a huge range of wildlife, from elusive jaguars and howler monkeys to cotamundis and an impressive 570 species of bird.
Wild collared aracariWith a number of protected nature reserves, each with varying landscapes, there is plenty to experience. Here are three of the best: Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Reserve This jungle reserve was the first established jaguar sanctuary in the world and has the highest population of these cats in the wild. Setting eyes on a jaguar is rare, as are sightings of the other big cats in the park – puma, ocelot, margay and jaguarondi. Thankfully, there is plenty more to see in the reserve - over 300 recorded species of bird, coatamundi, peccary (wild pigs) and the endangered black howler monkey also call it home.
JaguarCrooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary This wetland sanctuary protects a number of endangered species such as the central american river turtle, but the real draw is its birdlife. One of the great birdwatching destinations, the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary is home to over 400 bird species, including numbers of Jabiru stork, peregrine falcon, the vermilion flycatcher and the snail kite bird of prey.
A jabiru storkMountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve Dotted with caves and waterfalls, the higher elevation of this area provides relief from the heat, and the landscape of pine trees is a distinct contrast from the country's other jungle reserves. It’s home to Baird's tapir, the national animal of Belize, plus other large mammals like the white-nosed coati. Bird watchers will appreciate the many species of birds, like acorn woodpeckers, rufous-capped warbler and orange-breasted falcon.
Rio on the Pools, Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve
Barrier reef and marine lifeBelize’s barrier reef is part of the second longest reef in the world and stretches for 190 miles off the east coast of the country. Easily seen from space, it is one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth and is easily accessible from the many beautiful cayes dotted offshore. It is part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, which was designated a Unesco world heritage site in 1996.
The Belize barrier reefCaye Caulker Time seems to slow on this laid back beach paradise, which provides access to the Caye Caulker Marine reserve. This is where a portion of the barrier reef is found, alongside a turtle-grass lagoon. Snorkellers can spot angel fish, redband parrotfish and – for the lucky ones – turtles or manatees.
A swimming turtleAmbergris Caye This relaxed island on the Caribbean Sea provides easy access to snorkelling in the Hol Chan Marine reserve, with a spectacular coral reef and sea grass. The habitat attracts nurse sharks, southern stingrays and moray eels. The range of accommodation options cater to every taste and a stay by a pristine, white-sand beach is the perfect way to relax and unwind after exploring the cultural wonders of Belize.
Ambergris CayeCox & Kings’ Central American Explorer and Mayan Triangle private tours take in the highlights of the Central America region before ending with a stay in Ambergris Caye. Cox & Kings also offers tailor-made holidays to Belize. See how you could travel around Belize, or call one of our Central America Tour Consultants on 020 7873 5000.
This article was produced in conjunction with the Belize tourist board.