Belize completely surprised me. Since it is located between Mexico and Guatemala, I had falsely assumed that it would be similar. From the moment I arrived, the heat, the Kriol accents and the lack of infrastructure impressed me. Did you know that in the whole country, there are only two stoplights?! There’s also very few multi national companies, such as MacDonald’s, in this country because they don’t like to invest in newly independent countries (Belize gained independence in 1981). But for me, this is perfect. I prefer to go to places that are unique, authentic, culturally diverse and have a beautiful natural environment. All those words describe Belize.
Since I had just moved to Guatemala, my mother’s side of the family decided to visit me in Belize. This is the second time that my mother, aunt, her partner, my cousin and I have traveled together. The first time was in Australia more than five years ago. Traveling together allows us to continually create special memories and spend quality time together. Throughout the entire trip, we reminisced about Australia and discussed what destination we would love to travel together next.
Meanwhile in Belize, these were the destinations that stood out the most to me.
For our first two nights we decided to stay in the town of Burrell Boom. The town got its name from the old logging industry, which would transport mahogany logs by floating them down the river rather than create roads and vehicles. Booms are the floating containers that would capture these logs. The town was an important spot for gathering and milling.
We stayed at a charmingly rustic hotel called Howler Monkey Resort. This place had a lot of cute details. We had a balcony with a rocking bench and hammock that overlooked the river, brightly colored flowers and tons of iguanas. The hotel also has a small nature trail and a pool, which is filled with water from the river (no chemicals!). I also really liked how they had plenty of water refill stations so that you didn’t have to buy plastic water bottles. However, what really made this place special were the owners. They are a local Belizean family who take lots of pride in their business. For my aunt’s birthday, they even baked her a special banana cake and gave her a t-shirt as a present.
The owners recommended that we check out the town’s tourist center. We weren’t expecting much because the town was so small but it turned out that it was run by a women’s conservation group. The tourist center is famous for its community baboon sanctuary but unfortunately because of time constraints and scheduling conflicts, we had to miss that. We did, however, book a night crocodile tour with them. We met with two local guides who canoed us down a river full of birds, jumping fish, iguanas, and of course crocodiles. Crocodiles’ eyes glow at night, so it was a lot of fun being able to spot them from a distance and then glide over for a better look. This organization recently won the Equator’s Initiative Prize and GLP Films has done a great video about them. I highly recommend the tour as a great local experience!
The Belize Zoo
Normally, I am skeptical of zoos. I don’t like the idea of animals cooped up in a cage. I’ve also heard too many stories of animals mistreated or forced to perform tricks for tourists. The Belize Zoo was really special though.
Right before we left for Belize, my aunt said she had recently bought a book called The Last Scarlet Macaw which is about the founder of the Belize Zoo, Sharon Matola and her fight over the building of a controversial dam. Matola first arrived in Belize as an assistant in a nature documentary. When the shooting finished, the direct left her with a jaguar, two macaws, a boa constrictor and other animals. The animals were domesticated and she knew that they would not be able to take care of themselves in the wild, so she created the zoo. Now it is filled with animals that are poaching casualties, orphans, abandoned pets or problem jaguars who developed a taste for cattle. None of the animals are from the wild. Every species in the zoo naturally occurs in Belize.
Wandering around the zoo is very beautiful. The place is full of native flowers, such as the black orchid, Belize’s national flower. There are also lots of quirky signs that tell us all about each individual’s personal story. In addition, the zoo has awards for being easily accessible for those with disabilities and the elderly.
My aunts and cousin left Belize earlier than my mother and I. The first part of our trip was hectic so my mother and I decided to spend our last days on Caye Caulker relaxing. As a place whose motto is to “go slow”, it was the perfect place for us. We spent the majority of our time eating and drinking our way throughout the island. Some of my favorite restaurants were Caribbean Colors, Amore y Cafe, Rosie’s, Happy Lobster, and Habanero’s (try the key lime pie!). As we were there during the start of lobster season, we really felt spoiled eating so much delicious food.
The big thing to do on Caye Caulker is to go snorkeling. We booked through Ragamuffin Tours, which I recommend in terms of offering great customer service. We had a lovely time chatting with our friendly guides. However, it seems to be an island wise practice to feed the nurse sharks, which disappointed me. My mother read in Lonely Planet that the practice started years ago when the fishermen would gut their fish over the sides of the boat and that would attract the sharks. Now that tradition has changed to become a tourist attraction.
Feeding marine life means that they become reliant on humans as a food source. Doing this damages the ecosystem because it alters the natural behavior of the animals. For example, when fish are fed, then they no longer feed off the algae growing on corals and the corals are not able to get enough sunlight. I normally try to avoid this sort of thing but I didn’t know beforehand.
I’m also a scuba diver, so I booked a trip through Belize Dive Services, which is very impressive in terms of customer service and equipment. Belize is famous for The Blue Hole and Turneffe, but because of diving conditions and scheduling conflicts, I wasn’t able to go on either of those. As a generalization, the further you dive from human populations, the better the wildlife. Caye Caulker Marine Reserve, which is the dive site I went to, is the closest to human habitation. Still, the coral reef system is much more extensive than some others I’ve seen.
Overall, Belize was quite a magical experience. I highly recommend going there but always do your research beforehand so that you book with sustainable businesses!
JULIA GUERRA IS A PARTICIPANT IN THE AMAZON SERVICES LLC ASSOCIATES PROGRAM, AN AFFILIATE ADVERTISING PROGRAM DESIGNED TO PROVIDE A MEANS FOR SITES TO EARN ADVERTISING FEES BY ADVERTISING AND LINKING TO TRAVEL LIGHTLY.