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Belize is a peaceful, English-speaking country on the Caribbean coast, nestled between Mexico and Guatemala. It is a mix of tropical rainforests rich with wildlife, rugged mountains, countless Mayan ruins, warm majestic beaches, tiny tranquil Caribbean islands, and sits along the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere.
Half of Belize is covered by dense jungle, and 80% percent of its rainforest remains under government protection with over 40% of the country protected as parks and natural reserves. Much of the rainforest here is still yet unexplored. These tropical forests provide habitats for a wide range of animals including jaguar, puma, ocelot, armadillo, tapir and crocodile. The country is also home to 4,000 species of tropical flowers, including 250 kinds of orchids. It harbors over 500 species of birds such as keel-billed toucans (Belize's national bird), the jabiru stork (the largest flying bird in the Americas), rare agami herons, hummingbirds, green-painted parrots, macaws, and egrets.
Located on the east coast in the heart of the country, Belize City is the gateway to exploring Belize. It is the main center of the country and entering point for most tourists that arrive either by plane or by cruise ship. Although Belmopan was named Belize’s Capital after a devastating hurricane in 1963, Belize City remains the main place for business. A population of approx. 80,000 makes it the biggest city in the country. It is sunny almost all year long with the exception of occasional showers during the rainy season.
Belize City is the hub of the country, with transport and boats going in all directions. Domestic flights leave from Belize Municipal Airport and the International Airport is just 30 minutes outside the city. Many colonial type houses can still be found in the Belize City. They are clearly distinct by their red roofs and wooden walls. Some places worth a visit while in Belize City are the Government House, the Anglican Cathedral, the Bliss Institute and the Paslow Building that houses the post office and the Magistrates' Court. The city offers hotels and guesthouses for all tastes and has good restaurants also. Security is an issue you should bear in mind, particularly with respect to theft. As elsewhere around the world, prudence is needed in carrying money and valuables around, and avoiding certain areas after dark.
The Maya site of Altun Ha is located near Rockstone Pond Village in the Belize District. The entrance to the ruins is approximately one mile from Mile 32 of the Old Northern Highway. Although there is no public transportation to the ruin, there are several reputable tour operators or tour guides who can provide service to Altun Ha.
Altun Ha, the most extensively excavated Maya site in Belize, was a major ceremonial center during the Classic Period, as well as a vital trade center that linked the Caribbean shores with other Maya centers in the interior. The site consists of two main plazas with some thirteen temple and residential structures.
The "Jade Head," representing the Sun God, Kinich Ahau, was the most significant find during Dr. David Pendergast's excavations. At approximately six inches high and weighing nine and three-quarter pounds, it is still to this day the largest carved jade object in the whole Maya area.
The Maya site of Caracol is located in the Vaca Plateau of the Cayo District. Caracol Camp, adjacent to the ruins, is located at approximately Mile 46 of the Chiquibul Road that connects the Western Highway with the western slopes of the Maya Mountains.
Currently, Caracol is one of the more inaccessible sites in Belize—especially during the rainy season. Plans are underway to improve the access road as it provides one of the most scenic drives in Belize.
Currently in the state of excavation and restoration, Caracol is the largest known Maya center in Belize. The largest pyramid in Caracol, "Canaa" (Sky Place), stands 143 feet high, making it is the tallest man-made structure in all of Belize. Since Caracol is located in the Chiquibul Rain Forest, there is a plethora of flora and fauna to enhance the true beauty of this magnificent Maya center.
Overlooking the Mopan River, the Maya Site of Xunantunich is located approximately eight miles west of San Ignacio Town at San Jose Succotz Village in the Cayo District. Xunantunich was a major ceremonial center during the Classic Period. The site is composed of six major plazas and surrounded by more than twenty-five temples and palaces. The most prominent structure located at the south end of the site is the pyramid "El Castillo" (The Castle) which rises 130 feet high above the plaza. "El Castillo" was the tallest man-made structure in all of Belize until the discovery of "Canaa" at Caracol. The most notable feature on "El Castillo" is the reconstructed frieze on the east side of the lower temple.
Orange Walk District
The Maya Site of Lamanai, one of Belize's largest ceremonial centers, is located on the banks of the 30 mile long New River Lagoon in North Central Belize. With one of the longest occupation spans in the Maya World, Lamanai was occupied continuously for over 3,000 years. The Lamanai Archaeological Reserve also contains a museum, the remnants of two 16th century Spanish churches and a colonial sugar mill that was established in 1860. Set in tropical forest and providing spectacular views from several of its large temples, Lamanai provides a unique experience into the culture of the Maya and the biological diversity of the tropical forest.
The natural wealth of northern Belize was not lost on the ancient Maya. Remains of an estimated 600 Mayan settlements lie scattered throughout the two northern districts of Belize, most neither unexcavated nor mapped. But the few that have been uncovered are spectacular. Lamanai, arguably Belize's finest archaeological reserve, picturesquely rises from the jungle along the New River lagoon. Fortress Cerros, perched atop a prominence jutting into Corozal Bay, guards the mouth of the New River. And Santa Rita, around which Corozal Town is built, was probably the ancient city of Chetumal.
Today, northern Belize is still populated by Mayans, by Spanish, and by Mennonite farmers. This mix of peoples provides a unique opportunity to experience the mysticism of Mayan lore, the celebration of life in Spanish dances, and the simplicity of life and worship of imported old world beliefs of the Mennonites.
The Maya Site of Cerros is located on a peninsula overlooking the Corozal Bay in Northern Belize. Just south of Corozal Town, the ruins are accessible by a short boat ride across the Bay. During the dry season, one can reach Cerros by road, and pass through the scenic villages of Chunox, Progresso, and Copper Bank and their beautiful lagoons.
Cerros was important as a trading center, during the late Pre-Classic Period. There are three large acropolises dominating several plazas that are flanked by pyramidal structures. Although two structures are known to possess facades of stucco masks, the masks have been covered to protect them from erosion. With the tallest structure rising 72 feet high above the plaza, it is possible to enjoy a panoramic view of the Chetumal Bay, Corozal Town, and the mouth of the New River that leads to the Maya Site of Lamanai.
Stann Creek District
Stann Creek is Belize's second largest district with 986 square miles. The Maya Mountains loom large over Stann Creek. Woodsy terrain slopes down to the coast, carved by sparkling rivers. Monkeys play in the trees while jaguars prowl the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.
The coast is dotted with small towns and fishing villages that offer cultural flavors in exotic combination, and access to crowd free cayes as well as the remote reaches of the Belize Barrier Reef. Beginning just a few miles inland, the territory hosts Maya villages, the world's first jaguar preserve, a wealth of tropical forests, and a good portion of the Maya Mountains including Victoria Peak. Along the coast, manatees glide through iridescent lagoons. Offshore secluded southern cayes, atolls, and the Belize Barrier Reef wait for water-sports enthusiasts.
Dangriga, the largest town in southern Belize, is the capital of Belize's Stann Creek District. In Belize it has gained the nickname "The Culture Capital" for its mix of diverse peoples and cultures, being the home of some of Belize's most innovative musical forms and sporting activities. Dangriga was first settled under the name "Stann Creek Town" as a trading and logging post in the late 17th century. Dangriga, Hopkins, and several smaller fishing villages preserve the unique Garinagu culture (also known as Garifuna and Caribs). Dangriga means "sweet water" in the Garifuna language.
The peaceful Hopkins Village is situated further south along the coast near the village of Sittie River, off the Southern highway and about 25 minutes south of Dangriga. The sleepy seaside retreat lures visitors with 12 miles of white beach, among the best in the country. Many day tours available from Dangriga also operate from Hopkins. Attractions such as Mayflower Bocawina National Park, and Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary await you less than an hour away.
The Placencia Peninsula is a destination with white, sandy beaches, clear blue waters and many cooling palms. There are plenty of attractions and it is a good base for all sorts of activities. Placencia is a small mainland costal-fishing village on the tip of the peninsula in the South of the Staank Creek District. The people of Placencia are Creoles – descendants of African slaves and European settlers. They were brought in for the logging industry about 100 years ago.
The area of Southern Belize around Punta Gorda boasts Rainforest, mountains, rivers, the Caribbean ocean with Coral Reefs and Mayan Villages. Trade winds have shaped the Caribbean coastline north and south of Punta Gorda. The Barrier Reef is about 35 miles offshore from the mainland and further inland it is blessed with a multitude of natural attractions, including caves and waterfalls spread out in the rainforest. Several protected areas have been declared wildlife reserves and include the most pristine rainforest in Belize. These natural treasures abound with wildlife and more than 2000 species of plants. Mayan ruins are mostly jungle-covered and some are still to be discovered.
Punta Gorda, the capital city of the Toledo District, is located about 100 miles South of Belize City or the International Airport. It is the largest town in Toledo and its 3.500 residents are mostly English speaking Garifuna and East Indians. The public dock just off Front Street marks the center of town for most visitors with Immigration, customs and the post office close by. Much like other destinations in the country, inland commuter flights to Punta Gorda are available upon your arrival at the Belize International Airport. The one-hour flight offers an incredible aerial tour of the country with excellent views of the coastline, Maya Mountains, Cayes and Barrier Reef. You will even fly the "Big Hill" in the rainforest overlooking the Caribbean just north of the Punta Gorda Town.
Lubaantun, situated above a tributary to the Columbia River, is located near the town of San Pedro-Columbia in the Toledo District. Since there is no public transportation to the ruin, you must make arrangements in Punta Gorda Town, if you wish to visit the site.
Built in the Late Classic period, Lubaantun is the largest ceremonial center in the area. Consisting of eleven major structures, grouped around five main plazas, the ruin is unique in that it was built entirely without the aid of mortar. Each stone was carefully measured and cut to fit with its adjoining stone.
Ambergris Caye is the most famous island off the coast of Belize, south of Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Ambergris is a new hot spot with mangroves populated with exotic birds, energetic nightlife and the Western Hemisphere longest barrier reef. For a bird's eye view of the white coastline and the reef, grab a window seat on the 20-minute flight from Belize City to San Pedro Town, the old fishing village that is in the heart of the island. Enjoy a romantic sunset on Ambergris Caye with the warm sun on your back, the cool Caribbean breeze in your hair, the relaxing sound of the waves washing up on the white-sand beaches and the serene sound of palm trees. That is the sunny paradise of Ambergris Caye.
Ambergris Caye is the largest of about 200 cayes (islands) located off the coast of Belize in the Caribbean Sea. This narrow strip of paradise surrounded by the azure Caribbean, is approximately 25 miles long and was once a part of the Yucatan Peninsula. Just a short boat ride from Ambergris Caye lays the incredible Barrier Reef (second only to Australia), making diving and snorkeling the favorite past times for most visitors. The abundance of tropical fish and other inhabitants of the Caribbean Sea such as barracuda and sea turtles make this exciting for everyone. Other activities on the island include all sorts of water-sports, bird watching, fishing and much more.
Ambergris Caye is warm and sunny during most of the year. This might be the reason why the island's slogan is "no shirt, no shoes, no problem". The water temperature is very comfortable with temperature ranging from 79-83 degrees Fahrenheit all year around.
Caye Caulker has all sorts of accommodations, typically budget to mid-range. The atmosphere on Caye Caulker is relaxed and slow paced, perfect for soaking up the sunrays and to enjoy the warm weather and the picturesque scenery. Caye Caulker offers lots of activities such as the traditional snorkeling and scuba diving, Manatee Tours, sea kayaking, bird and crocodile watching, mainland trips and much more.
The Blue Hole is a feature attraction of diving in Belize, especially for divers with an appreciation of geographical phenomena. Part of the Lighthouse Reef System, at approximately 62 miles from Belize City, the almost perfectly circular Blue Hole that has a radius of more than 1,000 feet and is 480 feet deep. It is one of the most astounding dive sites to be found anywhere on earth.
The coral actually breaks the surface in many sections at low tide. Except for two narrow channels, the reef surrounds the hole. The hole itself is the opening to a system of caves and passageway that penetrate this undersea mountain. In various places, massive limestone stalactites hang down from what was once the ceiling of dry cave system before the end of the last Ice Age. When the ice melted and the sea level rose, the caves were flooded. Today the Blue Hole is famed for its sponges, barracuda, corals, angelfish, and a school of sharks often seen patrolling the hole’s edge.
English is the official language of Belize. The actual language used is a mixture of English and Creole (a dialect based on English and African slave languages). Spanish has overtaken English as the first language of most of the population. Mayan groups speak their own languages.
The Belizean dollar is artificially fixed at a rate of $2 Belizean to $1 American. The actual rate exchange varies slightly depending on the establishment changing the money. Banks charge a 3% fee for changing currency, but merchants and hotels will often give a straight 2 to 1 conversion. Visa and MasterCard are becoming more widely accepted in industries that cater to tourists, however, a 5% fee is usually charged along with the price.
Mayawalk Tours http://www.mayawalk.com
Belize Tourism Board http://www.travelbelize.org
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