With far less of a language barrier to overcome than elsewhere in Central America, Belize, perched on the isthmus’s northeast corner, is the ideal first stop on a tour of the region. And, although it is the most expensive country in Central America, its reliable public transport and numerous hotels and restaurants make it an ideal place to travel independently.
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Belize offers some of the most breathtaking scenery anywhere in the region: thick tropical forests envelop much of the country’s southern and western regions, stretching up towards the misty heights of the sparsely populated Maya Mountains, while just offshore, dazzling turquoise shallows and cobalt depths surround the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the longest such reef in the Americas, as well as the jewels in Belize’s natural crown: three of the four coral atolls in the Caribbean.
Where to go in Belize
Scattered along the barrier reef, a chain of islands – known as cayes – protect the mainland from the ocean swell, and make wonderful bases for snorkelling and diving; the cayes are most travellers’ top destination in the country. Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker are the best known, though many of the less developed islands, including picture-perfect Tobacco Caye, are gaining in popularity. The interior has remained relatively untouched, thanks to a national emphasis on conservation: in the west, the dramatic landscape – especially the tropical forests and cave systems – of the Cayo District provides numerous opportunities for adventure-seekers. Inexpensive San Ignacio, the region’s transport hub, gives access to the heights of the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve and the rapids of the Macal and Mopan rivers. For those with an adventurous spirit of a different sort, hectic Belize City offers a fascinating – if nerve-wracking – opportunity to explore the country’s energetic multicultural spirit. Dangriga, the main town of the south-central region, serves as a jumping-off point for the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, while the Placencia peninsula has some of the country’s best beaches. In the far south, Belize’s most isolated region, the Maya Mountains rise to over 1100m and border some of the country’s only rainforest. Throughout the country, the archeological treasures of the ancient Maya dot the landscape, most spectacularly at Caracol.