The Country’s Center
Belize City sits on the tip of a peninsula facing the Caribbean Sea, and it was here that the country was founded. British pirates originally used it as a hideout, but quickly realized that exporting logwood and mahogany was better worth their time. So they settled around the mouth of the Belize River. As the settlement grew, England eventually granted it colonial status as British Honduras. African slaves were brought in to work in the logging camps while civil wars in neighboring countries caused an influx of refugees. Eventually, an anti-colonialism movement began brewing among the people ultimately leading to it’s independence in 1981. Today, the city carries nearly one third of the country’s entire population of 270,000, representing all of its different ethnic groups. Originally the capital, Hurricane Hattie forced a relocation inland to Belmopan in 1961. However, the city still remains the country’s center of commerce, culture and transportation. Called just Belize by locals, it’s where it all starts and ends for most travelers who pass through the Philip Goldson International Airport.
The country’s colonial past, as well as its present efforts to modernize, are evident throughout the city. The Swing Bridge arches over Haulover Creek, which empties into the sea and is usually cluttered by old Belizean sailboats. It connects the commercial downtown area with the residential north section, and is a good starting point to explore the city. Historical buildings, all within walking distance, include the former Governor General’s home, which has been converted into a House of Culture; and St. John’s Cathedral (built from bricks used as ship ballast) the oldest Anglican Cathedral in Central America. Take in a cultural show at the newly renovated Bliss Institute or an art exposition at the Image Factory. Or visit the Museum of Belize, formerly Her Majesty’s Prison built in 1857. The city has many good restaurants and a vibrant nightlife as well. The Tourism Village on Fort Street caters to the new cruise ship industry.
Many Jungle and Sea Attractions
The many nearby sites, as well as the history of the city, make visiting this district a great experience. Altun Ha, one of the most extensively excavated Mayan ruins in the country, is just an hour drive away. A visit to The Community Baboon Sanctuary (in Bermuda Landing), guarantees sightings of howler monkeys, the largest monkey in the Americas. Birders should not miss Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, home of hundreds of resident and migratory birds, including the jabiru stork. The Belize Zoo is nestled on 29 acres of tropical savanna and exhibits over 125 native animals. It has also been acclaimed internationally for its educational programs and conservation efforts. The Guanacaste National Park is named after the gigantic guanacaste tree, which can grow to more than 25 feet in diameter. It also hosts over 35 species of flora, including orchids, bromeliads and ferns. Heading out to sea along the rivers you’ll find some of the best sports fishing in the country for snook and cubera snappers. St. George’s Caye lies 8 miles from the city. Settled in 1650, it was at one point the largest settlement in the country until the growth of Belize City. It was also the site of the famous battle of St. George’s Caye where local British settlers defeated an invading Spanish fleet on September 10, 1798. Goff’s Caye lies just offshore as well and is a picturesque deserted island perched right on the Barrier Reef. It’s white sands beaches and crystal clear water make it popular for snorkeling, picnics and beachcombing. Another picturesque deserted island that’s nearby is Ranguana Caye.
Gales Point Manatee
About 25 miles south of Belize City lays a small peninsula nestled between the Southern Lagoon and the Caribbean Sea. Here you’ll find the small vilalge of Gales Point, also called Manatee Village. This traditional Creole village is a great place to visit if you are interested in culture. Stroll into the village and enjoy a traditional meal and some Creole drumming. It is also an area rich in nature and wildlife. It is surrounded by a large estuary system of several rivers, creeks, lagoons and channels. To the west, you can see the Maya Mountains across the lagoon. This healthy ecosystem is home to the largest population of the endangered Manatees in the Caribbean, as well as many birds and wildlife in the surrounding jungle. There are secluded beaches where several species of turtles come to nest during certain times of year, including the endangered Hawksbill turtle.