Difference between revisions of "Belize"
Revision as of 21:52, 28 September 2011
Belize,  formerly the colony of British Honduras, is the only country in Central America without a coastline on the Pacific Ocean (only the Caribbean Sea to its east), and the only one in the region with English as its official language. The country is located between Guatemala to the west and south and Mexico to the north.
With a long Caribbean coast, Belize is culturally similar to many of Britain's former West Indian island colonies, with a majority creole or Afro-Caribbean population. Inland are the native Maya people, and especially in the north and northwest of the country Spanish is often spoken. In the south east along the Caribbean coast live the Garifuna (Black Caribs) an Afro-Amerindian culture. German speaking Mennonites also call Belize home.
World class attractions include exploring the lush jungles with exotic plants and animals, deep sea fishing, swimming, snorkeling and diving in the Caribbean sea with its attractive reefs, and visiting the Mayan ruins. Income levels are still very low and the infrastructure is very basic. The Belizeans are very proud and friendly to visitors and the tourist industry grew greatly in the last decade.
Like the neighboring parts of Guatemala and Mexico, this area was settled for thousands of years by the Maya people. They are still here, an important part of Belize's people and culture. While the Spanish Empire claimed the area in the 16th century, the Spanish made little progress in settling here. The British settled first on the coast and offshore islands for logging. In 1798 British Belizian forces defeated a Spanish attempt to drive them out in "the Battle of St. George's Caye", whose anniversary is still celebrated as a holiday each 10 September.
The colony of "British Honduras" grew in the 19th century. At first Africans were brought in as slaves, but slavery was abolished here in 1838. Many refugees from the 19th century Caste War of Yucatan escaped the conflict to settle in Belize, especially the northern section.
The government of Guatemala long claimed to have inherited the Spanish claim to Belize; the territorial dispute delayed the independence of Belize until 1981. Guatemala refused to recognize the new nation until 1991.
Belize escaped the bloody civil conflicts of the 1980s that engulfed much of Central America, and refugees from the conflict in Guatemala arrived, mostly settling in the west. While Belize has not been immune to the rampant drug crime and grinding poverty of its neighbors it is a comparatively safe destination in a conflict prone part of the world.
Tourism has become the mainstay of the economy as the old agricultural products -- sugar, banana, and oranges -- have lost ground. The country remains plagued by high unemployment, growing involvement in the South American drug trade, and increased urban crime. In 2006 commercial quantity oil was discovered in the Spanish Lookout area.
Tropical; very hot and humid; rainy season (May to November); dry season (February to May). Hurricanes season (June to November) brings coastal flooding (especially in south).
Flat, swampy coastal plain; low mountains in south. Highest point: Victoria Peak 1,160 m. Lowest Point: Caribbean Sea, at 0 m.
American, Mexican, Canadian, Singaporean, Jamaican, Australian, Malaysian and EU passport holders do not need a visa, but need a valid passport. Cruise ship visitors do not even need a passport. The Belize Tourism Board  maintains up-to-date information. When leaving country by land, prepare to pay border tax (around B$38) in cash.
The Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport (IATA: BZE) (ICAO: MZBZ) is in Ladyville, to the northwest of Belize City where it receives international direct flights from Atlanta, Charlotte, Newark, Miami, Dallas, Houston, Flores, San Salvador, Roatan and San Pedro Sula.
Several cruise lines call on Belize City. Unfortunately they usually stay only one day, which doesn't allow the opportunity to really see Belize. You can visit one of the Maya ruins, ride an airboat in the salt marshes just outside the city, shop, go to the museum, go to the zoo or take either a short cave rafting trip or go snorkeling, but that's about it. That means about 70% of the things most tourists would like aren't available, not mention the eco-tourism points of interest.
To Puerto Cortés, Honduras, the Gulf Cruza, a small rickety speed boat (20 people) leaves Placencia each Friday at around 9:30AM (4h US$50), going first to Big Creek. It returns to Placencia on Monday. Tickets are sold in the tourist office next to the gas station. Stop by immigration first.
Small speedboats operate on a daily basis between Puerto Barrios in Guatemala to Punta Gorda, cost is around US$20 one way. On Tuesday and Fridays, boats operate from Livingston in Guatemala to Punta Gorda. The ride take no more than 1 hour. Its B$50. There is also a B$30 departure tax plus B$7.50 marine park fee. Foreigners are required to pay departure taxes and a conservation upkeep fee when leaving Belize via land, air, or water. These fees are only applicable to locals when flying.
San Pedro Belize Express  has over 25 daily departures, 14 first class boats, 4 unique destinations, and first class service to get you to, from and around Belize. Travel to Caye Caulker, Belize City and San Pedro has never been easier. Just recently they have teamed up with several hotels to offer you fantastic Caribbean travel vacation packages.
Getting to and Around the Cayes Belize is undoubtedly the “it” place in travel and tourism in Central America and the Western Caribbean. Not only is the culture attractive for foreigners as an English speaking nation, navigating to and around the Cayes of Belize has become very easy. Below are some travel tips for getting to and around Belize with San Pedro Belize Express .
From Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula Chetumal, Quintana Roo The connecting hub from Mexico to Belize is Chetumal, Quintana Roo. From Chetumal, take the San Pedro Belize Express water taxi from Muelle Fiscal (Municipal Pier). Travelers through Mexico can either take the ADO bus to Chetumal or fly from Mexico City to Chetumal on Interjet.
Mahahual, Quintana Roo Take the ADO autobus from the Mahahual station to the Chetumal station. This trip is approximately 2.5 hours on an air-conditioned, coach bus from Mahahual to Chetumal. From the Chetumal bus station, take a $2.00 US taxi to the San Pedro Belize Express Water Taxi terminal at Muelle Fiscal (Municipal Pier).
Mexico City, Mexico Take a flight on Interjet from Mexico City, Mexico. From Chetumal Airport, take a cab to the San Pedro Belize Express Water Taxi terminal at Muelle Fiscal (Municipal Pier).
From Flores, take a bus with Linea Dorada .
Guatemala City Take a bus from Guatemala City’s Fuente del Norte bus station in Santa Elena, a five minute auto-rickshaw ride across the causeway from Flores island.
From Guatemala City (travel time: 8 to 10 hours), you have the following options to Belize: Altobuses del Norte (ADN) . Linea Dorada , first class buses leaving Guatemala City at 9:00pm for US$30,"first class" buses at 10:00am and 12:00pm for US$22 and an economy bus leaving at 10:00pm for US$16. Fuente del Norte  has 15+ departures from Guatemala City per day. Most of these are local runs with second-class buses (older pullman coaches without air conditioning), but they also operate a few first-class express buses (with toilets and air conditioning) leaving from Guatemala City at 10:00am, 2:00pm, and 10:30pm, and a deluxe bus leaving from Guatemala City at 9:00pm.
Belize is a fairly small country, and transportation between most destinations is rarely long and tedious.
Tropic Air  and Maya Island Air  both have multiple flights daily to various towns around the country and to Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. They fly out of both of Belize City's airports, but flights from Belize City Airport (IATA: TZA) are often significantly cheaper than those out of Phillip Goldson International (IATA: BZE). Domestic flights are generally pretty reasonable, and thus popular if your time is limited and budget is not. Most flights are in small Cessnas that seat around 8-15 people.
Several competing buslines operate on the main road in the north-south direction from Punta Gorda to Belmopan and Belize City. There are bus stations in the main towns, or simply stand on the side of the highway and wave at an approaching bus. Most buses have a conductor in addition to the driver, who stands by the door and will come to your seat to collect the fare at some point during the trip. Fares run anywhere from BZ$2-25 depending on distance traveled.
Express buses can save up to an hour and a half (depending on the distance of your trip); they do not stop for passengers waiting on the roadside, making only scheduled pick-ups and drop-offs in towns.
Most buses in Belize are retired US school buses (Bluebirds), that have been given a slight makeover, a luggage rack installed, and sometimes a new paint job. They generally aren't too crowded, but you may have to stand occasionally.
Children selling snacks and soft drinks often board the buses at stops, and this is an inexpensive way to have a snack if you've exhausted what you've brought along or just want to try some home-made travel foods.
By Water Taxi
For those wanting a truly Belizean experience, take the water taxis from city to city. The San Pedro Belize Express  departs from the Brown Sugar Terminal in Belize City with scheduled runs at 9:00 a.m., 12:00 noon, 3:00 p.m. 5:30 p.m. to San Pedro and Caye Caulker.
Departure from San Pedro Town pier on Black Coral Street next to Wahoo's Bar and Grill and leaves at 7:00 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m.
There are boats departing from Caye Caulker to both Belize City and San Pedro Town and they leave from the pier in front of the Basket Ball Court. Caye Caulker to Belize City: 7:00 am, 12:00 pm, 3:00 pm, 5:00 pm and Caye Caulker to San Pedro: 7:00 am (Connection to Chetumal), 9:45 am, 12:45 am, 3:45 pm
Rates: Belize City to San Pedro, San Pedro to Belize City: $30 Belize or $15 US (one way), $55 Belize or $27.50 US (round trip) Caye Caulker to San Pedro, Belize City to Caye Caulker: $20 Belize or $10 US (one way), $35 Belize or $17.50 US(round trip)
Of course, if you like to make our own itinerary when traveling around Belize, car hire is an option. There are several car hire companies based at the major airports for travelers convenience and some basic rules to remember are that the roads are bumpy - very bumpy - so a four wheel drive is the best choice. Lighting on minor roads is not great so stick to highways or day time driving. The main highways through Belize are the Northern Highway, beginning at the Mexican border, The Western Highway from Belize City to the border of Guatamala and the Hummingbird Highway which takes you to the Southern part of Belize. These will take you pretty much anywhere you need to be and are relatively well-maintaned roads.
As a former British colony the official language of Belize is English, which makes it stand out from its Spanish speaking neighbors. Spanish, Maya, Garifuna (Carib), and Belizean Creole are widely spoken in various parts of the country. Many Belizeans speak a mix of Creole and English among friends, and full English to foreigners. The strong Caribbean accent may take some getting used too.
Soar over Belize's rain forest by taking a Zip-line tour. These tours usually begin with a short hike up to the first base where a tutorial is given on how to safely use your equipment.
Sportfishing in Belize is second to none. The bonefish is the premier fly fishing game fish in the world and it can be found in the grass shallows through Belize. It's pound for pound perhaps the strongest animal in salt-water.
Also world-class is the snorkeling and scuba diving. There are many exceptional dive sites to be found in Belize. One of the best ways to explore Belize waters is by chartering a sailboat or catamaran \to make the most of your available dive time.\ For those with a smaller budget, snorkeling and driving excursions can be found along the beaches of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. The most common excursions will take you to both Hol Chan marine reserve and Shark Ray Alley. These trips usually cost about $35USD and includes snorkel gear. Be mindful of an additional $10BZ charged to Foreigners as a park tax. This money goes toward the upkeep, and protection of the reef. / Diving excursions are also offered to the Blue Hole, but expect to pay a lot more for the privilege.
The Cayo district is characterized by limestone hills underlain by a network of underground rivers, caves and sinkholes. The caves are magnificent, with huge caverns and tight passages, underground waterfalls and dazzling arrays of mineral-encrusted stalactites and stalagmites. This underground world was sacred to the ancient Maya and many artifacts from decorated pots to human remains are still intact in the caves. It is dangerous (and illegal) to enter the caves without a licensed guide. Most guides are trained in both the geology and mythology of the caves as well as in modern first aid and cave rescue techniques. One of the premier guiding operations is Ian Anderson's Caves Branch Adventure Company and Jungle Lodge, Caves Branch (Hummingbird Highway south from Belmopan), . Anderson organized the initial guiding training programs in the country, out of which grew the Belize Disaster And Rescue Response Team locally called BDARRT (now an independent NGO). His guides remain amongst the most highly trained and professional in the country.
The Belize dollar (BZD, usually symbolized with a "$") is officially worth exactly 1/2 of a U.S. dollar. Because of this simple and consistent exchange rate, U.S. dollars are widely accepted, but this means you should be careful to clarify which "dollars" you're talking about when negotiating prices. It's often better to assume Belize dollars because many merchants will jump on your uncertainty and attempt to double their price by saying "No, in US Dollars". Belize dollars come in denominations of $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100; $1 and smaller amounts are coins. The 25-cent coin is often called a "shilling".
The primary meal found virtually everywhere is red beans, clean rice, and chicken.
Most chicken in the country is prepared and served on the bone.
Rice and Beans is a mixed dish with some spices and usually coconut milk added to make a sweet and hot staple of the Belizean diet. Beans and Rice is white cooked rice with a side of stewed pinto beans.
Citrus plantations are numerous, so fresh oranges and grapefruits are abundant. Pineapples, papayas, bananas and plantains are also grown and sold in roadside markets.
A famous hot sauce in Belize is Marie Sharp's made from the very potent local habanero pepper. It comes in a variety of flavors (mild, hot, extremely hot).
That odd looking salsa on your table is really ceviche. Ceviche -also spelled as cebiche or seviche- is a citrus-marinated seafood dish. The Belizians use fresh raw conch and vegetables.
Papusas are maize pancakes with different toppings sold in stalls on the streets in San Pedro town . It is the cheapest option if you want to eat on a budget.
Belikin is the national beer and comes in four varieties: Belikin Premium, Belikin Beer, Belikin Stout, and Lighthouse Lager. Guinness Stout is also available in Belize but it is brewed by the Belikin Brewing Co. All are sold in returnable bottles, so make sure you are aware of the deposit if you are taking your beverages to go.
One Barrel Rum is the locally-distilled molasses-tasting rum. Travelers Rum has a distillary on the Northern Highway about 6 miles from Belize City with a gift shop and hospitality bar. You can purchase rum in a variety of colors and sizes, up to a 70 gallon cask.
Both are widely available around the country. But if you also like wine there is cashew wine (which is very popular in Belize), ginger wine, sorrel wine and blackberry wine.
There are great opportunities for scuba diving off of Belize atolls. Check out [www.reefci.com] for some very interesting 1 week adventures that are both informative conservation education as well as great scuba diving. If you want to learn about Belize's history the Museum of Belize, House of Culture, and of course, traveling and discovering are recommended.
Note: Violent gang related crime is extremely high as of late, especially in Belize City and surrounding areas. The violence is a relate of narcotic trafficking and the struggle for power in the streets. Rape, theft and assaults are daily occurrences in many parts of the country. Human trafficking also plays a role. Travelers should maintain a high degree of vigilance when traveling the country. Like South Africa, Belize can be equally as safe as it is dangerous. Because of gaps in the economy and the lack of social welfare, many of the poor areas are prone to crime. Exercise caution, avoid areas that have obvious amounts of poverty or crime, and Belize can be a very safe and rewarding country.
Belize City is one of the most dangerous cities in Belize, although it's very easy to be safe there. Remain in the tourist zone that runs just north of the marina to the southern extension to the east of the main canal. There are plenty of khaki tourist police monitoring the area, and should you have a problem, feel free to approach them. Be sure to know the police officer. Belize City is known for corrupt police officers. Just exercise common sense and do not go wandering around alone after dark. Stay near tourist areas or other commercial zones.
Belize is a relatively healthy country. Bottled water is a must in most areas. And, unless you eat only at ultra-touristic restaurants, dysentery will probably strike at some point; be prepared with over-the-counter medication and prescription antibiotics.
The CDC lists all of Belize except Belize City as a malaria risk area, and recommends the antimalarial drug chloroquine. Other drugs may also be recommended in certain circumstances - consult a qualified professional specialist.
Insect/mosquito bites should be prevented with appropriate clothing, repellents and insecticides, and bed nets if sleeping in non-air-con/unscreened rooms.
The sun, as anywhere else in the tropics, is very intense. A hat, high-SPF sunscreen, and sunglasses should do you fine.
Many places in Belize are very hot and humid, and dehydration is a risk. An expat suggests to drink as much water as you want, and then drink that much again.
The adult HIV/AIDS prevalence rate is currently at 2.5% or 1 per 40 adults, which is 4 times higher than the USA and 25 times higher than the UK. Safety First!
Belizeans are some of the most socially relaxed people in the world, especially if you venture inland away from the tourist islands of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. The pace of life is generally slower in Belize, so it's good practice to begin any social interaction, even to ask a quick question, with eye contact and a genuinely pleasant greeting. Most rural Belizeans enjoy casual conversation and you could easily find yourself chatting it up for a few hours. Hey, it's part of the charm!
The Maya communities can be a little more reserved at times. As always, a little respect and politeness will carry you through.
Payphones are the most common public phones in country, and accept pre-purchased phone cards.
Internet cafes can be found in larger tourist areas, but are infrequent in rural areas. The government does not allow Skype and forces tourists to call out of the country using its only government-owned phone company.