5 Ways To Breathe Easy in Belize
For what seems like eons, we’ve all been holding our breath, waiting to see what 2020 would bring next. It’s time for some space for your mind to relax and reconnect with a loved one (and your best self). It’s time to let the tension melt away, if only for a week or two, and take it easy in the ultimate outdoors that Belize offers with its natural beauty and adventure.
About the same size as Massachusetts, Belize borders Mexico, Guatemala and the Caribbean Sea, giving it a 240-mile coastline. The only Central American country where English is the official language (thanks to a British colonial heritage), Belize will be celebrating its 40th year of independence in 2021.
Open to Americans, Belize has straightforward entry requirements and a Safe Corridors program in place to help keep travelers safe from COVID-19. Flights are available into Belize City from ten U.S. airports, including direct flights from Atlanta, Houston and Miami.
Read on to see why Belize should be top on your list of places, when you feel ready to breathe easy.
Exhale…and breathe in the great outdoors
For a relatively tiny country, Belize’s geography packs a mighty punch. To the west, you'll find dense jungles, and to the east, the massive Belize Barrier Reef, the largest in the Northern hemisphere and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is the kind of place where you can go jungle hiking, ziplining or waterfall rappelling in the Mayflower Bocawina National Park before lunch and hike deep into the forest at Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve to see waterfalls like Thousand Foot Falls, the highest in Central America at 1,600 feet, before dinner.
Those keeping a close eye on their heart rate might prefer a long walk through one of several butterfly farms like the 100-acre Green Hills Butterfly Ranch, home to more than 30 native species, or through the 100,000-acre Bladen Nature Reserve and its undisturbed old growth rain forest.
Exhale…and watch the birds take flight
Belize is home to approximately 500 species of birds, so if you’re not already a birdwatching aficionado, you might become one on this trip. There are seven major birdwatching spots, including wildlife sanctuaries like Cockscomb Basin and Crooked Tree, but more than 360 species have been recorded in the northern Orange Walk district alone thanks to its pristine wetlands, unspoiled jungle and open fields.
Exhale…and take in history
Once the heartland of the ancient Mayan civilization, there are more than 900 Mayan sites scattered around Belize. In fact, the tallest building in modern-day Belize is Canna “Sky Palace”, the main pyramid at Caracol (the largest Mayan site), ascending 141 feet and built more than 1,000 years ago.
Getting to Xunantunich (pronounced “shoo-nan-too-nitch”) is an adventure in itself as it’s accessible only via a hand-cranked ferry. You can increase the adventure quota by going horseback riding through trails to get to said ferry.
Other major sites to explore include Lamanai, one of the oldest continuously occupied Mayan sites from about 1500 BC to 1680 AD; Altun Ha, which you might recognize as the logo on the country’s leading brand of beer, Belikin; and Lubaantun, the largest Mayan site in southern Belize.
Exhale…and thrill your taste buds
If you’re into trying local, family-owned restaurants or some of the abundant fruit stands throughout the country, then Belize is the right place for you.
Expect to find staple meals like rice and beans, stew chicken, tamales and ceviche on the menu. A popular snack food is “salbutes”, which are tiny fried corn tortillas topped with a mixture of cabbage, chicken, avocado and locally made hot sauce. One classic Mayan dish is “Conchita pibil”, a pairing of slow-roasted pork and local vegetables in a soft tortilla.
To learn more about how the food and culture of Belize intertwine, join Mayan or indigenous Garifuna culinary tours. And, make room for dessert — chocolate-making demonstrations can be found on many tours: let's not forget that the Mayans basically invented chocolate drinks, by making a beverage from the beans of the cocoa pods. They called this bitter drink the "food of the gods". (Our sentiments exactly.)
Exhale…and float away
Thanks to a network of cave systems snaking throughout Belize, cave tubing is a unique adventure here. One of the most popular places is The Nohoch Che’en Caves in the Cayo District, known locally as Caves Branch. Here you and your tour group plop yourselves on tubes and float through to the other side of the cave, with only head lamps illuminating the way.
Below the surface, only experienced divers are allowed to explore the Great Blue Hole, the world’s largest sinkhole, with stalagmites and stalactites measuring 40 feet in length. A UNESCO World Heritage Site that measures 984 feet across and 410 feet down, the Great Blue Hole is even visible from space. Famed French marine biologist Jacques Cousteau once declared it one of the Top 10 diving spots on the planet.
If you prefer your watersports to be in daylight, go canoeing on the Mopan or Macal Rivers or snorkel in water with the stingrays, turtles and -– yes -– nurse sharks over at Shark Ray Alley. This 1,280-acre protected region is in a shallow part of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Or head over to Glover’s Reef, one of three offshore atolls, and sea kayak around the circular coral formation to see the hundreds of different species of marine life below you.