This tiny country just south of Mexico on the Caribbean coast is a magnet for both once-a-year vacationers and long-term travelers passing through Central America. Tourism in Belize is big business, but almost always in a small way. With a total population of only around 300,000, Belize has no huge cities or resort strips. In fact, Belize City, the former capital, has about a quarter of the country’s population, but it isn’t really even part of the tourism scene here, other than as the nation’s transit hub.
The major Belize tourism attractions
Belize is most famous for its offshore islands in the north and beach areas in the south, but there are also interior cities where people can explore the jungle and visit Mayan ruins. Many people – particularly those headed to the islands or beach areas – will book a holiday in Belize planning on staying in one place for a week or two. But distances are short in this small country so it’s easy to hook up several locations on one trip if you want to see some contrasts while traveling.
A little background on Belize
Belize was part of the British Commonwealth until the early 1970s so it maintains a very unique feel compared to its Central American neighbors. English is the official language – although Spanish is also quite common in many places – so travelers to the country get a lot of exotic without a language barrier. And except for the jungle cities near the Mexican and Guatemalan borders, the entire country has very much of a Caribbean island feel. Reggae and its variations are commonly heard as the ongoing soundtrack to the days and nights, and the English is spoken with the unmistakable Jamaican-style accent.
The most popular destinations
Nearly all visitors will arrive in Belize City through the international airport, and most of them just move straight on to their next destination. The two famous islands that can be reached by a short scheduled boat journey from Belize City are Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye. Caye Caulker is closer, smaller, and tends to draw the backpacker and hippie crowds. Ambergris Caye is several times longer and is home to most of the area’s more luxurious and family-oriented hotels and resorts, although budget accommodations are certainly available. The cayes are perfect for just relaxing and are world-class diving and snorkeling destinations, but the beaches themselves are not great.
The best beaches in the country can be found in the southern peninsula of Placencia. The village at the end of the long and narrow peninsula is also called Placencia, but it’s only a small settlement of about 500 people that hold the local tourism infrastructure together. In addition to great beaches, there is also excellent diving and snorkeling in the area, and sailing expeditions are always coming and going. There are various hotels, resorts, and guesthouses along the Placencia Peninsula, and only a few in the village itself.
San Ignacio is the main draw in the jungle region. The town sits at the junction of two rivers so kayaking and water sports are popular, but a small group of Mayan ruins are nearby, and nature tours are popular there as well. San Ignacio is a popular stopover on the route between Belize City and the famous Mayan ruins of Tikal near Flores in Guatemala.