If you thought you knew everything there is to know about Belize, we’ve got surprises in store for you. This Caribbean destination has become the darling of travelers because the weather’s idyllic, it takes just a few hours to fly here, everyone speaks English, and you’d be hard pressed to find a more fascinating cultural mix.
Belizeans love their homeland. North American ex-pats are setting new records for moving to this small tropical nation where relocation benefits are outstanding. But it’s the little things you probably didn’t know about that make Belize even more appealing than you already imagined!
1. You’ll see the queen everywhere. Sure, Belize an independent nation with all of the government trappings to prove it, but with colonial English roots still in place before independence in 1981, you will still spot photos of The Queen and hear charming British accents everywhere you go.
2. Belize is for the birds. A modest estimate of 500 types of winged creatures is only conjecture because there could be more. Avid birders can’t get enough sky-watching time in rainforests that are home to hundreds of avian species who either come to roost or simply visit as the seasons change.
3. Run into rare animals. As the home of the only jaguar preserve in the world, visitors tread lightly in hopes of spotting these elusive protected cats, but other Belize critters can’t be found elsewhere. Consider Belize’s national animal, the Baird’s tapir. This taper is the offspring of horses and rhinoceros and it swims, too. Who knew?
4. It’s safe to go into the water—even with sharks. If you find that impossible to believe, come down between April and July and watch fellow travelers cavort with whale sharks off the coast. You don’t have to join them if you’ve watched the film “Jaws” one to many times, but you’re invited to see this spectacle for yourself.
5. Belize’s famed Great Barrier Reef is the second longest on the planet. Only the Australian Barrier Reef is longer and more imposing. If you have the time and desire, you’re welcome to check out the reef’s estimated 200 little islands and 400 fish species.
6. Speak whatever language you like. While Belize’s first language is English, this is a melting pot of diversity. Even children know enough English, Spanish or Creole to get by. Because international travelers frequent Belize, don’t be surprised to hear plenty of German, French and even Chinese spoken during your visit.
7. This was a Mayan stronghold. You may be shocked by the sheer number of Mayan ruins scattered across Belize. Some say there are 900 in all, but there may be more. These sites run the gamut from small, easy-to-navigate outposts to major cities that were home to thousands of Native Americans in the past.
8. If you want to avoid people, do it here. Belize’s population density is lower than other nations in the hemisphere because it's covered in dense rain forest and jungles that are protected from development. Population growth is coming from a surprising source: North Americans eager to live the good life on retirement budgets.
9. You can monkey around as long as you don’t mind intense screaming when you do! Howler monkeys are indigenous to Belize and their voice range is enough to metaphorically wake the dead. Dubbed one of the 10 loudest animals on the planet, you can hear them from miles away.
10. Bring your superstitions when you visit. Belize’s Creole and Garifuna societies have deep roots in mysticism, and while “obeah” practices are against the law, this form of witchcraft hasn’t disappeared. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other superstitions in Belize. For example, if you want to avoid bad luck in the year ahead, Christians advise you to stay away from the ocean and rivers on Good Friday.
11. You can eat meat not served anywhere else. Heard of the Gibnut? Probably not. Most travelers believe that Belizeans dine on lobster, fish and shrimp 24/7, but in fact, the nation’s culinary claim to fame is actually a rodent. Yup. Gibnut is as popular as chicken, twice as tasty and served everywhere in Belize. Eat up!
12. Discover a world that replicates Babel. Making a list of all of the ethnic groups populating Belize is no easy job. This diverse society of 360,000 people includes East Indians, Hondurans, Salvadorans, ancestors of Mayans, Garifunas, Mestizos, Creoles, Guatemalans, plenty of North Americans and a large community of Mennonites.
13. You can dress appropriately out of a single suitcase. Only two seasons exist here thanks to Belize’s proximity to the Equator: Dry Season (December thru April) and Green Season (May thru November). Temperatures range from 66 to 88 along the coast, but if you live in a frigid climate, you may consider 66 bathing suit weather.
14. You can be a caveman (or cavewoman) each time you fancy an underground adventure through Central America’s largest, most dramatic cave system. No need to stand around looking at stalactites and stalagmites, either. Go tubing, visit Mayan ceremonial sites or just wade into the abyss under the capable hands of your tour guide.
15. You won’t find a quirkier national motto. “Under the shade we flourish” is the second generation of the original version (Under the shade of mahogany tree we flourish) because once-upon-a-time, Belize’s economy depended upon mahogany forests. Of course, you can blame the British for the long-winded version, if you like.
16. Tourism over trees! The long-standing mahogany tree heritage has morphed Belize’s economy into one that’s tourism-based, so trees need no longer give up their lives in the name of economic growth. More than 1 million tourists come to Belize annually. Not bad for a nation that’s the size of Vermont.
17. Belize wasn’t the nation’s first name. The Brits insisted on getting all due credit when they settled on the name British Honduras back in 1786, a decade after the U.S. colonies established their independence. The name British Honduras stuck around until 1973 when Belizeans not only tossed off the yolk of colonialism but chose a more appropriate name, too.
18. A quarter of Belize land is so well protected, sanctions and punishments can be levied if these areas are plundered, compromised or damaged. Belize has a very rich natural heritage and the government has set aside approximately 25 percent of the country for national parks, wildlife reserves and protected reefs.
19. As tall buildings go, Belize’s highest structure isn’t a skyscraper, multi-floor building or towering slice of real estate; it’s a Mayan pyramid called Canaa that rises 140-feet into the heavens at the Caracol ruins in the Cayo District.
20. You can sleep like a baby at the Place of Ticks and not wake up with a single bite mark on your skin. Place of Ticks is an imposing Mayan ruin called Cahal Pech that was first settled back in 1000 B.C. Whose idea was it to give this place such an unpleasant name? It was bestowed in the 1950s, so you figure it out!
21. Belize’s collective sense of humor rocks. Spend time here to fully appreciate names given to villages, rivers and communities like Teakettle, Laughing Bird Caye, Monkey River, Never Delay, Cattle Landing, Bullet Tree Falls and the destination every visitor to Belize finds most amusing: the village of More Tomorrow.
22. Go to court and you’ll think you’re in London. That’s because Belize adopted the United Kingdom’s legal system, right down to the black robes and two tabbed white collars. But Belize’s legal eagles are more practical than their British counterparts: You probably won’t find any horsehair wigs at court.
23. Mind your protocols. Another vestige of proper British behavior that has yet to disappear is the custom of calling people by their proper names when first introduced. Until you are invited to use a Belizean’s first name, play it safe by paying due respect, just as your mom taught you to do.
24. Belize moved its entire capital in 1970. While it’s still home to the nation’s largest international airport, former capital Belize City was moved in its entirety to Belmopan after a hurricane wiped out the city. With this move, Belmopan earned another honor: it’s the smallest capital city on Earth.
25. If you run into Tata Duende, don’t panic! Back away slowly and call the police to report the thumb-less, 3-foot-high, forest-dwelling dwarf. Even kids know to avoid hurting animals so Tata Duende doesn’t target them, but hard-partying visitors see this mythical spirit regularly. If that describes you, get some rest and drink some water. There are many other things about Belize you can discover once your head clears and you’ve had a coffee!