BELIZE is an independent Commonwealth country which lies on the Caribbean coast of Central America and boarders with Mexico and Guatemala. The country achieved Independence from Great Britain in 1981 and the constitutional system is a parliamentary democracy based upon the Westminster model.
The most extensively excavated of all the Mayan centers in the country is on the coast just 30 miles from Belize City. Settled more than 2,000 years ago as a classic period ceremonial center, Altun Ha covers more than 25 square miles. Altun Ha boasts five temples. Four honor the primary forces of nature Ğ sun, rain, wind and moon. In addition, the Temple of the Green Tomb was a burial site that also contained offerings of carved jade. This is where the largest carved jade head was found.
With its plentiful outdoor activities, this 25-mile-long island off the coast of northern Belize caters to the snorkeling and diving set. The island was originally inhabited by the Mayans to serve as a far-extending trade route, spanning from present-day Mexico to as far south as Honduras. Today, Ambergris Caye welcomes thousands of visitors seeking easy access to the barrier reef that surrounds the island. Snorkelers and intrepid divers alike will want to explore Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
GREAT BLUE HOLE
Plunge into this deep blue hole and you'll discover imposing ancient stalactites (calcium deposits resembling icicles) and coral fringe. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 — along with six other areas surrounding Belize's barrier reef — the Great Blue Hole remains one of the world's most distinguished scuba sites. Created approximately 10,000 years ago after a cave roof crumbled in, this blue channel contains underwater tunnels, caverns and rock formations.
HOL CHAN MARINE RESERVE
Facing the southern edge of Ambergris Caye, Hol Chan Marine Reserve is the oldest reserve in Belize. Its name translates to "Little Channel," in reference to a coral-filled gap in Belize's immense barrier reef. Encompassing 3 square miles, this densely populated aquatic zone is a sanctuary for stingrays, eels and sharks, among other creatures.
Just about 20 miles north of Belize City sits Caye Caulker, a 4-mile-long, sun-soaked island that boasts superb diving and snorkeling spots and a relaxed tropical ambience. Though the island is mostly uninhabited by locals, visitors flock to the restaurants, shops and hotels perched at the northern tip near the Split (the area where Hurricane Hattie parted Caye Caulker into two halves in 1960).
Travel west of Belize City and you'll discover a cluster of ancient Mayan sites, rolling hills, gorgeous sunsets, tranquil butterfly gardens and verdant jungles. In the heart of the Cayo District sits San Ignacio, a small town that boasts traditional culinary dishes and affordable hotels.
Imagine tranquil beaches topped with rustling palm trees and backed by pastel-colored beachfront villas and calm Caribbean waters. This is Placencia, Belize's rapidly booming beach town. Stretching across a 16-mile-long peninsula, Placencia boasts a myriad of nature reserves and underwater sanctuaries along with postcard-perfect vistas. The area offers the only golden sands on mainland Belize.
Perched on the New River Lagoon in northern Belize, this sprawling 960-acre Mayan site stands masked in crocodile art. Lamanai means "submerged crocodile" in Yucatec Mayan, which should give you a good idea of what you'll encounter here: artifacts depicting representations of the reptile, plus crocodiles (and iguanas) crawling along the banks of the New River to catch some sunlight.
Set in southern Belize, the Toledo District sits cloaked in a dense rainforest surrounded by wildlife. The nearby Mayan ruins serve as a reminder of the region's rich history. Today, however, Toledo acts as a nexus for contemporary Maya, East Indians, Creoles, and Garifuna populations. Head just a few miles south and you'll find Punta Gorda, the quiet, underdeveloped area that once boasted 12 sugar estates established by immigrants from the U.S. Confederacy in 1867. You'll want to visit Toldedo during the dry season, between January and April, and avoid September and October when heavy rainfalls drench the forest.
This popular Mayan site, speckled with tombs, pyramids and temples, served as a trading nexus during the Mayan Empire's Classic Period (A.D. 250 to 900). Altun Ha —meaning "Rockstone Pond" in Yucatec Maya — features a man-made lagoon, which remains intact. During your visit, you'll likely encounter foxes, deer, birds and perhaps crocodiles occupying Rockstone Pond. Visitors also recommended exploring the Temple of the Green Tomb, where elite priest-kings were buried with luxurious items, such as jade, pottery and pearls.
CROOKED TREE WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
Situated 32 miles north of Belize City, this 300-year-old 16,400-acre sanctuary is a bird-lover's paradise. Home to rare species like Chestnut-bellied herons, Black-collared hawks, and massive Jabiru Storks (the biggest flying bird in the Americas), Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary boasts an eclectic array of feathered creatures. But there's much more to this haven than birding. The area's sprawling lagoons and marshlands also shelter turtles, black howler monkeys, crocodiles, iguanas, and snail kites, among other species. One TripAdvisor user raves, "even though we are not birders we still were amazed at how many varieties of birds we saw, as well as crocodiles, iguanas, etc…"