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Sandwiched between Mexico and Guatemala on the east coast of Central America, Belize might be small, at around 9,000 square miles, but it’s a destination packed with things to do. The country has one foot in the jungle, and is home to a huge variety of wildlife and a rich vein of Mayan ruins – this mysterious civilization was centered here and Belize is scattered with archaeological sites full of settlements and temples. The country also dips its toes into the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea, where divers will find untold underwater riches and sun seekers have their pick of some 200 islands or cayes that bask in eternal summer. Add to this the fact that Belize is the only Central American country with English as its official language, and you have a surefire vacation winner.
Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest in the world (after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia), with more than 100 types of coral and some 500 species of fish in its teeming tropical waters. For divers, the biggest draw has to be the Great Blue Hole. Created thousands of years ago when the roof of an underground cave collapsed, it is a perfect circle in the ocean that measures 1,000 feet across and is some 400 feet deep. Only the very experienced are permitted to dive the hole, but there’s fantastic snorkeling to be had around its edges too.
Another option is the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, around 4 miles off the eastern coast of Belize, southeast of the island of Ambergris Caye. The reserve encompasses 3 square miles and is densely populated with the likes of stingrays, eels, and sharks. The crystal-clear waters and plentiful sea life make it a prime spot for snorkeling and diving.
Travel to Belize between March and June, and there’s a decent chance you might get to meet the biggest fish in the sea – the whale shark. These huge docile beasts can reach lengths of 40 feet or more and feed on plankton, making them perfectly safe to swim with. So yes, you can stay in the boat and admire them from afar, but for the brave, snorkeling with these gentle giants (believed to be less stressful for them than diving) can the experience of a lifetime.
For inquiring minds, there’s plenty to learn about the animal kingdom on land as well as in the ocean. Started as an animal-rescue sanctuary, the Belize Zoo is a showcase of the country's native animals. Its 29 acres house more than 45 species, and the zoo is active in the areas of conservation, protection, and education. Make your way along the jungly paths spotting pumas, scarlet macaws, coral snakes and howler monkeys as you go.
One of the most elusive of Belize’s big cats has a special habitat. Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary was created in the 1980s to protect the endangered jaguar, and its 200 square miles, with 12 miles of nature trails, now form the country’s most popular wildlife sanctuary. Although the largest spotted cats in the world are the sanctuary’s most famous residents, they are nocturnal, so you have to be pretty lucky to find one. Don’t worry, however, along with cascading waterfalls and mountain views there’s also the chance to see ocelots, peccaries, tapirs, king vultures, armadillos, otters, and hundreds of native birds.
If towering ancient temples surrounded by lush tropical jungle sounds like your kind of vacation adventure, then you’re in luck. It is now generally believed that the center of the Maya civilization was in Belize. Originating in the Yucatan around 2600 BC, the classical civilization rose to prominence around AD 250 and remained in power until around AD 1000. Examples of its influence can be found in a wealth of archaeological sites spread across the country. Caracol, which dates back to 1200 BC, is the largest Mayan ruin site in Belize and was once home to a population of over 100,000. Wander through ancient courtyards and residential complexes at this site that also contains a complete astronomical observatory, over 100 tombs, and the Caana, or ‘sky palace’, a huge pyramid that is the tallest Maya structure in Belize.
Ambergris Caye, the largest of the islands off the Belize coast, is the archetypal tropical paradise, and the place to go for sun and surf. The island, which is 25 miles long and 5 miles across at its widest point, boasts beautiful white-sand beaches and clear blue Caribbean waters. San Pedro, Ambergris' main town, is a lively place full of beachside restaurants, bars, and shops, where the best way to get around, if you’re feeling too lazy to walk, is by golf cart or bicycle. Choose one of our Ambergris Caye rentals for the perfect beach holiday. Want a beachfront setting with views of the Caribbean Sea? No problem. Our villas also have pools of course, and you can splash about or soak in the hot tub, or perhaps throw on some shorts and a T-shirt and head into San Pedro Town to play tennis or basketball on the nearby courts.
If romantic seclusion is top of your vacation list, then head to Cayo Espanto resort. This exclusive private island resort is an oasis of swaying palm trees cooled by natural breezes. There are villas with private verandahs for al fresco dining à deux and hammocks to laze the day away. When you’re ready to explore, hop in a sailboat or a kayak and ride the waves before returning for an al fresco shower and a glass of something cool as the sun sets over the ocean.