The Belize District is perhaps the most iconic of the six Belizean districts. It was the first area settled by Europeans, who left behind a colourful past and the equally colourful names of its villages and towns, including Lucky Strike, Never Delay, More Tomorrow, Double Head Cabbage, Scotland Halfmoon and others. It contains Belize City, home to over 60,000 of the district’s 87,000 residents, and the popular Caribbean island tourist destinations of Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker and Maya archaeological sites such as Altun Ha.
Belize District encompasses 1,623sq mi (4,204 sq km) of amazingly diverse ecology, from islands and coastline beaches, mangrove swamps, savannah grasslands leading towards bushland and mountains, and dense jungle interiors. It is Belize’s hub of commerce and transport, containing the Philip Godson International Airport at Ladyville and a deep water port and cruise ship terminal.
The district’s first inhabitants were the Maya, and their ancient city of Altun Ha is popular tourist destination. Signs of Maya habitation and trade are continually being discovered from deep in the interior to the outlaying small islands, or cayes.
Belize City, said locally to be built upon a landfill of empty rum bottles has a rambunctious history as a home port to Caribbean pirates and the distinctly Belizean “Baymen”, rough and tumble loggers and their African slaves who cut logwood and mahogany for export, first from forests near Belize town and increasingly deeper into the interior. Belize City continues to be the gateway to the Belize barrier Reef and its many small islands, or cayes.
Perhaps Belize District’s most well known destination is Ambergris Caye, which is served by an airport in San Pedro. Ambergris has many attractions in its own right, and is a popular jumping off spot for visits to the Blue Hole, Turneffe Islands, Half Moon Caye, popular Caye Caulker and other island and reef destinations.
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 a world first, completely voluntary, grass roots 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.