My recent trip to Belize was my first experience with eco-tourism in Central America, and I was more than impressed with the trip. The climate there is perfect; the service is so good that it almost felt too sweet for us New Yorkers; the ocean is warm as melted butter; and I can’t even find words to describe the spectacular sunsets and waterfalls! On those days when the night was colder than usual, we opened the windows of our room and fell asleep listening to the waves bathe the coast. It was a paradise!
A few days into the trip, I announced that it was the best vacation of my life. I’d already started dreaming about how to go back to Belize. If you are looking for a vacation destination in 2016, I highly recommend giving this country a try. Especially if you love hiking, diving, caving, and other outdoor activities.
To make my introduction to this amazing country a bit more entertaining, I’ve put together a list of facts that I learned on my trip to the Hopkins area of Belize.
1. If there is one common topic of discussion in Belize it’s jaguars. Every guide we spoke to was hunting jaguar pawprints, but only one person had seen a jaguar in real life. Among the most elegant and dangerous predators in the world, these wild cats are protected as rare species. However, the forests of Belize are where you can see them most often. One of the conservationists who made Belize a jaguar’s heaven is a New Yorker named Alan Rabinowitz. Check out his talk on YouTube—it’s such a noteworthy report!
2. There are a lot of crocodiles in Belize that usually spend their time relaxing in the ponds and rivers. While crocs can become aggressive if provoked, they never attack people (uff, I got very scared!). I saw a young crocodile the size of a Labrador dog on a canoe trip. According to our guide, mature crocodiles can easily attain a length of over ten feet.
3. One of Belize’s biggest problems is its overpopulation of lionfish. Lionfish eat anything and everything all day long and they reduce the diversity of other fish in the Caribbean and Atlantic by 80%. Moreover, they reproduce like crazy: females release two egg clusters every couple of weeks, each containing close to 15,000 eggs. That could add up to nearly 2 million eggs per year from just a single female. Many fishermen are setting a goal to catch as many lionfish as possible. According to the locals, it’s a delicious catch.
4. Belize is home to 61 species of snakes, and 8 of them are venomous. On one of our hiking trips we saw a baby coral snake, the most dangerous of them all. As it turned out, baby snakes don’t know how to control the amount of poison they produce. They can distribute poison even without planning an attack.
5. The Scarlet Macaw is the largest parrot species found in Belize. They spend two years with their parents to learn strategies for surviving in the wild and then leave their nest to mate for life.
6. Belize is home to approximately 312 species of orchid, most of them rare and protected by national and international laws. There are special orchid tours for people interested in botanicals, but we saw enough orchid species on our hotel grounds. What really surprised me was that one orchid was growing on a tree instead of in the ground!
1. There is a story behind the name ‘Belize.’ Some people believe that the name comes from the Mayan word ‘belikin’ that means ‘road to the East.’ Belikin is also the name of the Belizean beer that is served in every restaurant. I am not a drinker, but in reviews, other people say it’s a really good beer.
2. The population of Belize only recently surpassed 300,000. Even its urban areas do not look like typical ‘cities.’ I was surprised to learn that Belize’s official language is English. However, English turned out to be handy, as my knowledge of Spanish and Creole (two other official languages) is close to nothing.
3. There are a lot of ruins of ancient Mayan cities in Belize. The major historical sight called ‘El Catilo’ is located at Xunatunich, Cayo District. Belizean are very proud of their Mayan roots, as this ancient civilization is considered one of the most intelligent. Archeologists believe that the ruins of dozens of important ancient Mayan sites remain beneath the jungles of Belize.
4. Newspapers come out in Belize only five times a week. As our guide joked, nothing is happening in Belize over the weekend. Moreover, you can purchase Monday’s newspaper on Friday! Well, I guess to become a reporter in Belize you need to also pass a forecasting test.
1. People say that Belize is the best place on the globe if you love diving or snorkeling. The Great Blue Hole that I haven’t yet had a chance to see with my own eyes is listed as one of the world’s top ten diving destinations. It is about 70 miles off the coast of Belize and more than 407 feet deep.
2. One of the highlights of our trip to Belize was a tour on horseback. I rode an eight-year-old horse named Captain who had a very distinct personality. He stopped at every corner to enjoy a bunch of sugar cane grass. By the middle of the ride towards the river we came to an agreement with my stubborn Captain and the tour turned out to be very interesting and fun.
3. During this trip to Belize, I went on my first caving tour to St. Herman’s Cave. It was physically intense, but a super fun experience. I saw all the muddy stalactites and stalagmites that I’d only read about in geography and biology books. I also figured out that I am not in such bad shape as I thought. I guess I need to concentrate on weight training more in 2016.
1. Of all the dishes I tried in Belize, having a sweet tooth, I most enjoyed the cocoa fudge made at the Hamanasi hotel we stayed at. For real, it was amazing! Speaking of food, I have to mention that all the fruits and vegetable the hotel’s restaurant served were organic and grown on the hotel grounds. I was truly impressed with the Hamanasi’s eco-friendly approach and got truly inspired to live a more sustainable lifestyle. In upcoming posts I will keep you posted on some of the changes I’ve made to create a more eco-friendly lifestyle.
2. Belize is a land of bananas and oranges, and local farmers are very proud of their produce. Corn, cassava, sweet potatoes, and grains are also popular. Belizean food is only somewhat healthy. Rice and beans with fried chicken or shrimp and corn chips is a typical meal. There are also fruit and veggies and local fish. Among foods that I tried for the first time were cassava bread and star fruit. They were so good, I was surprised nobody sells them in the U.S.
* * *
I hope you enjoyed my travel notes and photos. I actually put together an additional post where I am sharing all of the details about our adventures and the hotel we stayed at. I will be posting it next Thursday, January 21st, so don’t forget to tune in. You are also welcome to subscribe to my newsletter and receive an email from me featuring this post.
What was the best vacation in your life? Where did you go and who was traveling with you?