1. Almost Every Belizean is Trilingual
Unlike its Central American neighbors, Belize’s official language is English. This is because Belize was a British colony until 1981. As a result, everyone here understands and speaks English.
But that’s not all. Most Belizeans also speak and understand Spanish and Creole, a form of English patois. A couple of days ago, my host Misha at the Belize River Lodge startled me a little when she said, “na tru?” It’s the same expression used in Jamaican patois (and I suspect there are more similarities with the patois in most of the English-speaking Caribbean).
If you dabble in any of the above three, you’ll navigate your way around just fine.
2. It’s All About Respecting Nature
Belize is utterly and completely committed to preserving its environment and wildlife. Whether it’s protecting the Belize Barrier Reef– the second largest in the world after Australia’s – or the national parks and rainforests, or educating the population and visitors on conservation. Not surprising, considering that Belize also has the largest cave system in Central America, over 500 species of birds, hundreds of Mayan temples and the only jaguar reserve in the world.
Belize’s National Audubon Society, created in 1969, is in charge of Belize’s nine protected areas and plays an important role in environmental education in the country. Their motto says it all: “creating a balance between people and the environment.”
And as one sign I read this week at the Baboon Sanctuary said, “Betta no litta.”
3. Everyone Gets Along
Belize is quite possibly the most culturally diverse country I’ve experienced so far. In a population of only 318,000, there are Mayans, Mestizos (mix of Spanish and Mayan), Creoles (mix of British and African), Mennonites, Garifunas (African slaves) and East Indians. And then, there are the neighbors – Guatemaltecos or Hondurans for example – who moved and settled in Belize many years ago, or were raised here and consider themselves Belizeans.
The more amazing part though, besides the diversity, is that all of these groups manage to live together in harmony, even when living in the same town. Maybe as I spend more time here I’ll get the secret to this one, so I can spread the word to other parts of the world. Hey, one can always hope for world peace!
4. Rivers Run Through It
You can’t visit Belize and not experience a boat ride along one of its rivers – they play a major role in every day life here.
To name a few: the Belize River, the Mopan River, the Caves Branch River, Monkey River, New River. Among many, many others.
Each body of water has its own “life” all along the banks, from crocodiles to howler monkeys and birds to its own villages. In just an hour ride along the Belize River for example, you could spot anything from a crocodiles, manatees, howler monkeys, an oropendola flying out of its sock-like tree-hanging nest, giant iguanas way up on the branches, or even riverside inhabitants fishing along the water’s edges.
One boat captain told me that he and other guides have spotted a jaguar on the Belize River bank while riding up at night. I wouldn’t mind seeing that.
5. It’s Closer Than you Think
Say Belize and it sounds far. Or maybe you think you need a good two weeks to even plan a trip. Well, okay, two weeks would be great, but Belize is also close enough for a long weekend getaway. It’s an easy 2-hour flight from Florida or 3-hours from Texas, for example. Or, you can drive or get picked up from neighboring Mexico (about 10 hours’ drive from Cancun) or Guatemala.
For a 3-day trip, you could stay at the Belize River Lodge, a beautiful Belizean, family-owned jungle and fishing lodge right on the Belize River. It’s just a 10-minute ride from the Belize City airport and yet completely away from city life. From there, you can go on all your fun eco and cultural tours, organized by the lodge: say, a boat ride along the cathedral of mangroves off the Belize River, a hike through the Baboon Sanctuary, a climb up a nearby Mayan temple, manatee watching around Belize’s “Cayes” or islands, or just a snorkel and a swim on Long Caye, the lodge’s new outpost.