Every city tells a story, and few are as richly steeped in history as Belize City. With a colourful, romantic past featuring pirates, privateers, shipbuilding, logging and throwing off the shackles of slavery to create one of the most harmonious multicultural melting pots on the planet, Belize City plays a fascinating role in the history of the Americas.
Today, Belize City is home to some 60,000 of the Belize District’s approximate 89,000 inhabitants, and enjoys a growing reputation for a lively arts and music scene while hosting many important regional meetings and conferences. Belize City is also the jumping-off spot for Belize’s Caribbean destinations, such as Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker the famous Blue Hole, as well as the Turneffe Islands, and over a hundred other small cayes scattered along the Belize Great Barrier Reef, the second largest in the world.
Points of interest in Belize City include the Baron Bliss lighthouse, a bequest of the city’s beloved patron, Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss, the 4th Baron Bliss, who is more commonly remembered simply as Baron Bliss. After arriving at Belize in 1926 aboard his yacht, the wheelchair-bound Baron fell in love with the country and people. He died aboard the ship just before his 57th birthday, leaving the bulk of his fortune to Belize along with instructions that he be buried on the mainland. Interest from that trust continues to fund projects today, and Baron Bliss Day, observed on the Monday closest to March 9 is a national holiday celebrated with the annual Baron Bliss sailing regatta.
Belize City is in the Belize District, one of Belize’s six districts, comprising an area of 1,623 square miles (4,204 square km) and also containing picturesque towns and villages such as Lucky Strike, Buttercup, Double Head Cabbage, Crooked Tree and Scotland Halfmoon as well as the impressive Altun Ha and other important ancient Maya temples and archaeological sites.
With international and local airlines steadily increasing their services, Belize City is an important international travel hub with local connections to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, Placencia and the Maya Flats airstrip next door to Chaa Creek, as well as Guatemala’s Mundo Maya International Airport near Flores, Lake Petén Itza and the ancient Maya metropolis of Tikal.
Having come a long way from the freewheeling, rambunctious town said to be built on a landfill of rum bottles, today’s Belize City offers a range of accommodation, restaurants and cultural attractions as it continues to grow in size and stature.
Just four miles from San Pedro, Hol Chan is Belize’s first marine park, established in 1987 through local efforts to protect the rich marine life of the area.
Hol Chan means “little channel” in Mayan and refers to a break in the reef which attracts a huge variety of fish and sea creatures including large snapper, grouper, rays sharks, lobsters, turtles, dolphins and other marine life.
This beautiful dive spot is well serviced by boats from Ambergris and Caye Caulker.
Until recently only accessible by boat, Crooked Tree Village was nonetheless one of Belize’s first inland villages.
Now a short detour off the Northern Highway, it is adjacent to the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary whose network of lagoons, swamps and waterways provide home and nourishment for thousands of resident and migratory birds, including the Boat Billed, Tiger and rare Chestnut Bellied Herons, as well as a variety of ducks, kingfishers and other exotic fowl.
Crooked Tree itself offers a glimpse into traditional Belizean village life and is known for its production of cashews and cashew products including a distinctive wine.
The Community Baboon Sanctuary a source of pride in the Belize District, having been established in 1985 as the world's first, completely voluntary, grassroots effort to save the Belize’s iconic “baboons”, or black howler monkeys.
This endangered species native to Belize, Southern Mexico and isolated jungles of Guatemala is known for a loud howl that carries over a mile.
This beautiful, pristine Caye on Turneffe Atoll is known for diving along the impressive “Wall”, which features an astounding, colourful array of corals as well as an abundance of fish and marine life.
Half Moon Caye itself offers beautiful swimming and beachcombing and is home to a variety of Red Footed Boobies said to be found only on Half Moon and the Galapagos.
This important Maya Classic Period city was covered over five sq km and was an important trading centre.
Altun Ha means “stone water” in Mayan, and the city featured a large reservoir and series of catchment basins central to its large, early habitation.
A five kilogramme carved jade head of the Maya sun god discovered at Altun Ha is one of the national treasures of Belize.
Theodoso Juarez, Camp Supervisor