WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT BELIZE
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT BELIZE
Belize is a small country, only half the size of Switzerland and very sparsely populated. Roughly 23’000 square kilometers are the home of just 385’000 inhabitants. This leaves a lot of space for wild nature. Rivers with waterfalls traverse the dense rainforests throughout the whole country and accordingly there is a lot of wildlife. We observe howler monkeys, spider monkeys, iguanas, many birds and even manatees. Also, different wild cats are native here, including the Jaguar and the Puma. Unfortunately, we are not lucky enough to see one of these cats in freedom. The cover photo was taken in the Belize Zoo which is definitely worth a visit too. Here we were able to see all these animals up close. Of course, this is not the same as in the wild, but better than not at all. In addition, the atmosphere of the enclosures in the middle of the rainforest of Belize is perfect.
THE PEOPLE OF BELIZE
The Belizeans are a happy and mixed crowd. On the coast you find mainly Creoles and Garifunas, which with their Rasta hairs and their relaxed way remind us more of Jamaica than of Central America. Towards the Guatemalan and the Mexican border there are more people of indigenous origin and most of the super markets – called “Supa Maket” here – are in Chinese hands. In addition, there is also an Indian population from the English colonial period and of course by now all sorts of mixtures. And last but not least the Mennonites which make a somewhat strange impression on us. They originate from Europe, are mostly blond, very light-skinned and all wear the same clothes. The men in their black dungarees and the women with long skirts and bonnets remind us of a bygone era. Most of them do simple farming without technical equipment and only drive wooden carriages pulled by horses. They don’t seek contact with the rest of the world, are very religious and do not want to be photographed in any way.
IT IS EXPENSIVE!
What we also notice after crossing the border to Belize are the prices! They are more than twice as high as in Mexico. Unfortunately, the wages of the Belizeans do not compensate these prices and thus the country makes in comparison to Mexico a somewhat run-down impression, in particular in the urban areas. A big contrast to this are the predominantly American tourist spots such as the coastal town of Placencia, many jungle lodges in the inland or the offshore islands, which are here called Cayes. At several hundred dollars a night, in some places, prices rise in spheres of an average monthly salary of a resident!
A BIT OF ISLAND LIFE
We decide on a more budget-friendly option and sail to Caye Caulker, a barefoot island for backpackers. We park our car in the old marina of Belize City for three days and enjoy the island life. But for any reasons we don’t get overly enthusiastic about these Cayes, maybe we are simply too spoiled by the many dream beaches of Southeast Asia… The hotels here are all built up close to the beach and too many Lobster-feasting tourists impair the local flair. In addition, the sandflies are a real plague! The beasts are almost invisible to the naked eye and you hardly notice when they bite. Only the next day they start to be itchy and not too little!
Instead of a scuba diving we sign up for a snorkel trip for once. We meet turtles, swim with different rays and are surrounded by nurse sharks. The latter are fed for the tourists and we are not sure, despite the contrary statement of the tour providers, whether this is in the sense of sustainable animal welfare.
Back on the mainland we drive to the south of the small country. In Placencia we want to spend Christmas on the beach and hope for some Overlander company. The small village is idyllically nestled between the ocean and a lagoon and is also an American holiday destination. The beach is pretty and there is everything you need as a long-term traveler for a short break.
What a coincidence, already on our world trip with the backpacks almost ten years ago we spent Christmas in Placencia. We would never have dreamed that we would once again spend the holidays here with our own home-on-wheels…
What really impresses us in Belize is its nature and the many parks. We hike through the rainforest to remote waterfalls, explore huge caves and are happy about all kinds of animal sightings. For the iguanas the mating season has just begun and so the males turn strikingly orange to impress and attract females willing to mate. The many birds become almost a minor matter when we encounter a group of howler monkeys and can observe them up close. The alpha male as well as the females in the group and even the little baby, after a while all of them climb down the tree and pose for our camera.
To cool off after the sweaty hikes, we swim in the natural pools at the base of the waterfalls and drift on old car innertubes and inflatable rings on crystal clear streams through the jungle.
ON BUMPY TRACKS TO REMOTE RUINS
On our tours across the country we quickly learn that the road system in Belize is quite simple. There are two paved main roads that run like a cross from north to south and from west to east through the whole country. But as soon as we leave these roads we are glad about our robust vehicle, which is made for the gravel roads we drive on. Nevertheless, we need almost three hours for the nearly 80 kilometers to Caracol, the largest but also remotest Mayan ruins of the country and are glad that it hasn’t rained in the last days. Deep tire tracks in the mud testify to the difficulties that some cars have already struggled with… The area so close to the border to Guatemala is well protected by the military because a few years ago there were unpleasant incidents and border disputes. Fortunately, the escort of a military convoy for the trip to the ruins is no longer necessary and so we feel like little explorers as we drive kilometer by kilometer deeper into the jungle. And indeed, at the end of the track awaits a majestic ruin complex embedded in the forest, which we almost have to ourselves.
What is the name of the capital of Belize? No, it’s not Belize City, it is Belmopan. Here we meet at a petrol station the two Swiss Nadja and Silvan or rather, they hit us up and talk to us thanks to our Swiss license plates. Almost twenty years ago the two of them drove through North America in a van like we do now, entered Belize and stayed. For several years they managed a jungle lodge and now they successfully run their own company and build solar plants for villages and hotels across the country. They invite us to camp on their large property right by the river and we gladly accept. We spend two great days in their little paradise and enjoy the exchange of stories, memories and experiences on their terrace. When the two of them would like to drive up and away with our car for a few weeks, we feel honored ? Who knows, maybe they wouldn’t get us out of their house anymore upon their return and so we leave it at the idea of the temporary house exchange… At this point once more a big “thank you” for the spontaneous and generous hospitality – it’s exactly these encounters that enrich our trip!
But now it’s time to leave the small country of Belize with its many surprises and cross into Guatemala.