About Belize, Belize
Belize is a nation on the eastern coast of Central America, with Caribbean Sea shorelines to the east and dense jungle to the west. It's known for its beaches, eco-lodges, scuba diving and sportfishing. Offshore, the massive Belize Barrier Reef, dotted with hundreds of cayes, hosts rich marine life. Belize’s jungle areas are rich with Mayan ruins.
Belize is a real jewel of a destination that is rapidly gaining popularity with travelers. It has so much to offer and has something for every taste, and the people are known to be very friendly. Topping the list are the Mayan ruins: this country was an ancient Mayan powerhouse in the day.
Other attractions include tropical jungles with exotic plants and animals, fishing, swimming, and diving in the sea with attractive reefs. The country has the second longest barrier reef in the world, as well as three major offshore atolls. Belize City, San Pedro and Placencia are the usual preferred places to stay.
Belmopan Currency : Belizean dollar Driver's License : An international driver's license is recommended. Otherwise you will have to obtain a temporary 90-day driver's license. Electricity : 110 V, 60 Hz Entry Requirements : A passport, valid 6 months beyond intended stay, and an ongoing or return ticket are required. It is the traveller's responsibility to check with the country’s Embassy for up-to-date information. GMT Time : -6 hr. Daylight savings time is not applied. Government : Parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy Land size : 22,966 km2 Language : English (official), Spanish, Mayan, Garifuna, Creole National Airlines : Maya Island Air, Tropic Air Population : 307,899 approx Religion : Roman Catholic 50%, Protestant 27%, other 14%, none 9% Required Vaccines : none Tourist Season : February through May
The primary meal found virtually everywhere is red beans, dirty rice, salad or coleslaw, and chicken. Most chicken in the country is prepared and served on the bone. A typical lunch can include: tamales, panades (fried maize shells with beans or fish), meat pies, escabeche (onion soup), chi mole (soup), and garnaches (fried tortillas with beans, cheese and cabbage). Depending on the region corn or cassava are a strong staple as well. Coastal towns serve delicious seafood and fish. Fruits are quite common. Conversation during meals, unless the topic is important, is considered impolite.
Belikin is the national beer and comes in four varieties: Belikin Premium, Belikin Beer, Belikin Stout, and Lighthouse Lager. One Barrel Rum is the locally-distilled molasses-tasting rum.
Culture Along the Caribbean it is culturally similar to many of Britain's former island colonies. The Belizean people are composition of Mestizos comprising 50% of the population, and Creoles at 25%. The rest is a mix of Maya, Garifuna, Mennonite German farmers, Central Americans, whites from America, and many other foreign groups brought to assist the country's development. Racial tension is very uncommon because of the multicultural environment of the society.
Belizeans are informal and friendly in greeting one another; it is considered rude not to hail even a slight acquaintance. A simple nod of the head or a wave is acceptable when passing someone on the street.
Punta is by the far most popular genre of Garifuna music and has become the most popular genre in all of Belize. It is distinctly Afro-Caribbean. A slower, more melodic variant, known as Paranda, has been catching on recently. Brukdown is a very popular modern style of Belizean music. It evolved out of the music and dance of loggers, especially a form called buru. Reggae, Dancehall, and Soca imported from Jamaica and the rest of the West Indies, and Rap, Hip-Hop, heavy metal and rock music from the United States, are also popular among the youth of Belize.
Geography The country is located between Guatemala to the west, Mexico to the north and the Caribbean Sea to the east. Belize, formerly the colony of British Honduras, is the only country in Central America without a coastline on the Pacific Ocean and the only one in Latin America with English as its official language.
Belize is located between the Hondo and Sarstoon Rivers, with the Belize River flowing down in the centre of the country. The north of Belize consists mostly of flat, swampy coastal plains, in places heavily forested. The highest point is Victoria Peak, at 1,160m above sea level.
History The Maya civilization spread over Belize between 1500 BC and 300 AD, and flourished until about 900 AD. European settlement began with British Jews, privateers and shipwrecked English seamen as early as 1638. The British and Spanish disputed the region in the 17th and 18th centuries; it formally became the colony of British Honduras in 1854. Territorial disputes between the UK and Guatemala delayed the independence of Belize until 1981. Guatemala refused to recognize the new nation until 1991.
Tourism has become the mainstay of the economy as the old agricultural products have lost ground. Current concerns include an unsustainable foreign debt, high unemployment, growing involvement in the South American drug trade, growing urban crime, and increasing incidences of HIV/AIDS.
Nature The flora is highly diverse considering the small geographical area. Examples include the low mountain range of the Maya Mountains, the Pine Ridge Mountains which are covered with pine, and the Caribbean coast which is lined with the Belize Barrier Reef and some 450 islets and islands known locally as cayes. This barrier reef is the longest in the western hemisphere and the second longest in the world after the Great Barrier Reef. There are about 4,000 different species of native flowering plants identified to date, along with about 700 species of trees and several hundred species of other plants. Most of the forest cover consists of mixed hardwoods (mahogany, cedar, and sapodilla). The coastal land and the cays are covered with mangrove. Fruits and nuts trees, orchids and medicinal plants abound.
No less then 5 big cat species call Belize home: they are the jaguar, puma, ocelot, margay and the jaguarondi. Also indigenous are the armadillo, opossum, deer, monkeys, iguanas and snakes, tapirs, manatees, dolphin, peccary, turtles, and crocodiles.
A real haven for bird watchers: over 530 bird species have been sighted here, including more than 200 migratory birds from North America who winter in the tropics. There are seven small mangrove cayes declared as bird sanctuaries. On these cayes are commonly nesting Wood Storks, Great and Cattle Egrets, Boat-billed and Tricoloured Herons, Reddish Egrets and White Ibis, as well as Magnificent Frigatebirds, Anhingas and other birds.
Sports Belize has the world’s second largest barrier reef and hundreds of small islands. Hence there are incredible sites for scuba diving and snorkeling off of Belize atolls, particularly of the southeast coast.
Those who love to swim will delight in the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea. And every water sports imaginable can be practiced here as well, such as windsurfing. Game fishing (snapper, barracuda, marlin and bonito) is popular year round. The country’s several river systems and smaller streams are ideal for kayaking and canoeing.
Nature and hiking trails abound in the National Parks and Reserves and archaeological sites. Horseback riding is also popular and a few places rent out bicycles as well.
The most popular sports are soccer and basketball, and there is enthusiastic support for league teams formed since the early 1990s. Other sports enjoyed in Belize include volleyball, track and field, boxing, cycling, and softball.
Banks & Money
The Belizean dollar is officially worth exactly half of a US dollar. Most hotels, resorts, restaurants, and tour operators will also accept US currency, traveler's checks, or credit cards. ATMs are available in the larger cities. Credit card use usually tacks on an additional 5% service charge to your bill.
Always clarify which dollar is being discussed when negotiating prices, offering Belizean first.
Climate The climate is tropical and generally very hot and humid. The rainy season lasts from May to November and dry season from February to May. Temperatures vary according to elevation, proximity to the coast, and the moderating effects of the northeast trade winds off the Caribbean. Average temperatures in the coastal regions range from 24° C in January to 27° C in July. The southern highland plateaus, such as the Mountain Pine Ridge, are noticeably cooler year round. Devastating hurricanes have occurred in the past (June to November), as well as floods.
For monthly average temperatures please refer to your destination of choice.
Communication The Belize country code is 501. Local phone numbers have seven digits. Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL) provides local and direct dialing between Belize and the United States and Canada. The BLT also supplies most hotels and internet cafés with internet access.
Mobile phone with GSM compatibility may be used. Contact BTL office or Digicell for activation. Cellular phones can also be rented for a few dollars a day.
Health Although potable water is available in most areas, it is advisable to drink boiled or bottled water. There are no serious diseases in Belize, but if you plan to visit the jungle, inoculation against malaria or dengue fever is highly recommended. Stomach upsets are the most common ailment.
There are no required vaccines to enter the country, unless you are arriving from a yellow fever affected destination. The following vaccines are recommended for any tropical destination: hepatitis A and B, rabies, typhoid, tetanus and yellow fever.
Official Holidays January 1 - New Years Day March 9 - Baron Bliss Day March/April - Good Friday/Easter May 1 - Labour Day May 24 - Commonwealth Day September 10 - St. George's Caye Day September 21 - Independence Day October 12 - Columbus Day November 19 - Garifuna Settlement Day December 25 - Christmas Day December 26 - Boxing Day
Safety It's highly recommended that you remain in the tourist zone that runs just north of the marina to the southern extension to the east of the main canal. Belize City can be dangerous if you wonder outside the tourist areas. The rest of the country is considered generally safe but it never hurts to be cautious.
Take advantage of the safety deposit boxes provided by the hotels, do not leave valuables unattended in public and carry your wallet and camera discreetly. Also make sure to lock your hotel room and rental car. Don't wander alone at night on the streets.
Shopping Mayan baskets, jewelery and embroidered linens, oil paintings, and carvings made of mahogany or other local woods make nice authentic souvenirs. Also great are homemade jams and pepper sauces, Punta music recordings and Belizean rum. Another cool buy are rain forest products and natural remedies that can be purchased in small jars.
Please note that most textiles and leather work are from Guatemala or Honduras.
Taxes & Tips The departure tax of around US $40, per person, must be paid when leaving the country. These fees are sometimes included in the cost of your airfare, please verify.
A government sales tax of 10% is added on most goods and services, hotels and restaurants. Hotels add a 10% service fee. If it has not been added, a 10% tip is recommended. This gratuity goes to the bellhop, maid, and porter who assisted you. Restaurants rarely include the service fee; therefore tipping servers 10 and 15% is appreciated.
Transportation The Philip Goldson International Airport is to the northwest of Belize City. There are two domestic airlines that serve the bigger Belizean towns on a daily basis. Arrival to the country by car and bus service is possible from Mexico via Chetumal, or from Guatemala via Tikal.
For interior travel, several competing bus lines operate on the main road in the north-south direction from Punta Gorda to Belmopan and Belize City. Car rental is also an option to travel around.