Tiny Belize is an English-speaking enclave about the size of Massachusetts. The country’s most striking natural feature is its barrier reef, which extends for 185 miles and is studded with around 200 sandy islets, or cays. Home to magnificent Mayan ruins, the interior of the country is covered by dense jungle inhabited by astonishingly rich flora and fauna.
The climate is warm and humid year-round. The rainy (and buggy) season usually runs from July to December, with January to mid-May being the best time for a visit to both the jungle lodges and the Caribbean coast.
Deserted Mayan Cities
Many of the famous Mayan sites suffer from a surfeit of admirers. But in Belize, the smaller Mayan cities are often deserted. We visited Xunantunich, where the parking lot contained just one other vehicle. Xunantunich (“Stone Woman” in Mayan) comprises six plazas surrounded by 26 temples and palaces. The most remarkable structure, however, is a 130-foot stepped pyramid known as El Castillo. A rough path (unsuitable for those with vertigo) leads to the summit. There, we sat for half an hour with our backs against a stone, buffeted by a warm tropical breeze, reveling in the space and solitude. Several major Guatemalan sites such as Yaxha and Tikal are also accessible from Belize.
The limestone bedrock beneath much of Belize is riddled with caves, which ancient Mayans regarded as portals to the underworld. At Barton Creek Cave, our guide paddled our canoe through the vine-draped cave mouth, and slowly its soaring ceiling, dripping with stalactites, came into view. We quietly glided deeper into the cave and reached the “Maya Bridge.” Near this arch-shaped rock formation spanning the water, we could see carefully placed clay pots and even a human skull partially embedded in the rock. For more-adventurous travelers, the most dramatic example of a sacred cave is Actun Tunichil Muknal (often abbreviated as ATM). The archaeological riches of this cave are accessible only by fording a river, swimming a stretch in the cave and doing a bit of light rock climbing.
Belizean distilleries offer some commendable rums. Travellers Liquors is the country’s most famous distillery, and the 3-year-old Travellers 3 Barrel rum has a light and dry caramel aroma and notes of vanilla and banana. Aged an additional two years, the 5 Barrel rum has more of a coconut note in its nose, deeper flavors of caramel and crème brûlée, and a lift of tobacco freshness on the finish.
Basil DeStefano, the finance director of a large Illinois car dealership, came up with the idea for Tiburón distillery. Aged in used oak bourbon barrels from Kentucky, Tiburón has enticing aromas of vanilla, cinnamon and wood. The long finish starts with some powerful spice and herbaceous freshness, eventually mellowing into more of a molasses tone.
Belize’s Barrier Reef
Belize’s 185-mile Barrier Reef is the second-largest in the world. In Hol Chan Marine Reserve, aside from the brilliantly colored fish, it is commonplace to see spotted eagle rays, sea turtles, tarpon and barracuda. At nearby Shark Ray Alley, it is possible to snorkel with large numbers of stingrays and nurse sharks. The Great Blue Hole on Lighthouse Reef is 1,000 feet across and 410 feet deep. The site was made famous by Jacques Cousteau when he filmed its depths in 1971.
Gladden Private Island
A 3,000-square-foot luxurious guest villa built on secluded Gladden Private Island on the pristine Belize Barrier Reef was revealed in February 2019. This lodging offers the all-inclusive service of a luxury resort but is intended to be the ultimate personal refuge. Though designed for a single couple, there is a second bedroom, should you wish to bring along children or friends. The island’s managing couple live with the rest of the staff on an adjacent islet in order to preserve their guests’ total privacy.
The Best Time to Fish
No matter the time of year, the air temperature in Belize rarely varies by more than 10 degrees, making this Central American nation a reliable spot for fishing the crystalline waters of the Caribbean Sea. Just beyond the Barrier Reef, the depth of the water increases significantly, offering fantastic conditions for reeling in a big catch.
Though fishing conditions are excellent year-round, certain fish are most abundant during specific periods. Look for permit from February to May, tarpon from April through September, bonefish from April through October and reef fish from December through August. Eco-friendly anglers can enjoy catch-and-release fishing in designated Marine Reserve areas.
To phone hotels in Belize, dial 011 (international access) + 501 (Belize code) + local numbers in listings.
One hour behind New York (EST, no Daylight saving time).
Much of Belize consists of thick jungle, where the climate is warm and humid year-round. The rainy (and buggy) season usually runs from July to December, with January to mid-May being the best time for a visit to both the jungle lodges and the Caribbean coast.
Belize dollar (BZD). Set rate valued at approximately BZD2 = US$1.00 as of June 2019. Note: U.S. currency readily accepted.
Belmopan, Tel. (501) 822-4011.