Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Maya Adventure in Belize

As I read through my Twitter feed the other day, I spotted a tweet from the Travel Channel about a sweepstakes it was hosting with a grand prize trip to Belize. I immediately signed up! I mean, who wouldn't want to go to Belize--especially on someone else's dime--for eight days of beach lounging, scuba diving, trekking through the rainforest, and relaxing amid the incredible scenery of this Central American oasis.

Centrally located on the eastern coast of Central America, Belize is a quick flight from the U.S., which means it's relatively affordable for most people. The country features a wide array of geographical terrains, from coral sand and mangrove islands just off shore and lowland savannahs and lagoons, to the towering Maya Mountains and lush rainforests further inland.  So no matter what kind of environment you seek, you will most likely find it here.

For beach and ocean lovers, the Barrier Reef is where you want to go. Stretching 185 miles, the reef is the longest in the western hemisphere and a scuba diver's paradise. You can spend hours exploring the cliffs and crevices of this underwater environment, riddled with every imagineable species of fish, crustacean and algae. Off the reef are three of the four Caribbean atolls and thousands of cayes (pronounced "keys"), or small islands that are either coral sand-covered or mangrove entanlged. This system makes up Belize's marine environment, cited by many as the main draw of the country.

On the cayes, guests will find individual resorts that encourage a slow pace and relaxation. One of the most popular destinations is Ambergris Caye, the largest island in Belize. San Pedro is the only town there, but offers a wide variety of attractions, including great clubs and restaurants, a cinema and dozens of boutique craft shops. Visitors can go bird watching, diving, snorkeling, wind surfing, kitesurfing, parasailing, boating, kayaking, fishing, and many other fun activities. They can end their day with a relaxing meal at a local restaurant or dancing away at a vibrant night club. This is an ideal spot for anyone looking to slow down and embrace life's adventures.

For the hiking types, consider heading further South. The Mountain Ridge Pine marks the beginning of the mountainous region, sitting at 1,500 feet. The Maya Mountains stand at 3,680 feet above sea level and are surrounded by limestone hills that boast the largest cave system in Central America. Thrill-seeking hikers and climbers will lose themselves in this mecca of dense trails, dark caves and scenic flowing rivers.The mountains are filled with a number of nature preserves and Maya ruins, giving people plenty to explore. After a day of hiking, swimming and exploring, many retreat to the town of San Ignacio, the heart of the Cayo District. It's remote location makes it pretty economical for tourists, and there is a bustling culture and atmosphere that proves to be truly authentic, rather than highly commercialized--like some other areas of the country can be.

For the wild adventurer, Southern Belize offers a completely different environment than the sandy, calm beaches to the North. Just to the southeast of the mountains, the region is saturated--literally--with water, with annual rainfall of 170 inches, it is a true tropical rainforest. Deep in the lush ferns and palms, visitors will find overhanging ledges, caves and hundreds of Maya artifacts left behind by the ancient people who once inhabited the wilderness.Some of the main sites you will find there are Lubaantum--the largest Maya ruin in the area--Nim Li Punit, Cahal Pech, Chaa Creek and many others. Toledo is Belize's Southern most district and is one of the most natural, untouched, least visited regions of the country. It features 1,669-square-miles of rainforest, mountains, rivers and ancient sites, as well as 4,000 species of flowers and 500 species of birds. If you're a nature and wildlife buff, this is the place for you. The largest town in Southern Belize, Dangriga, is not the most common place for a stopover, but you really should check it out. Sure, it's a little rough around the edges--and is by no means as big as Belize City in the North--but it is a super funky, vibrant and culturally rich city that marches to the beat of the Garifuna people--the innovators of a unique form of music called punta rock.

I also think that in these less frequented areas, you really get a taste of true Belizean culture, especially with arts, crafts, music and food. Obviously, there are plenty of great dishes to try, but some of the most popular are conch fritters, tamales, garnache, boil-up, dukunu, fry jacks, johnny cakes and ereba. The locals will know the best places to get these regional delicacies, but if you can't find a good sit down place, there are street vendors all over selling hot, delicious meats and cheeses wrapped in hand-made flour tortillas, and don't forget the rice and beans--an essential part to any Belizean meal. But be careful when you order this side, because beans-and-rice is a whole other ordeal.

Belize is a wonderful place to explore, discover, play and relax. I know I'm not even close to getting married, but if I ever do, I would seriously consider having my honeymoon in Belize. One of my old coworkers went there for hers and said it was absolutely incredible, she could not have asked for a better experience. It has an incredibly romantic, intimate aura about it that I think any couple would appreciate. Not only is it a good place to kick back, relax and enjoy a lovely fruity beverage while gazing over the crystal clear blue water, but also a great place to experience a completely different environment and culture. I cannot imagine a better way to connect with my significant other than to go hiking through a rainforest or swimming in a mountain lagoon or zip lining through the forest trees or scuba diving in a coral reef.

Who knows if I'll win this trip to Belize--I'm keeping my fingers crossed--but if by some miracle I get selected, you better believe that I'm going to make the most of it and see as much of this fantastic country as I can. But remember, it's a trip for who wants to join me?

1 comment:

  1. Belize is an amazing country, full of cultures and customs that characterize it, in addition to the impressive ruins and beaches that are visited by thousands of tourists from around the world.