5 Things to Do in Belize Besides Diving
It’s no secret that Belize’s primary claim to tourist fame is its barrier reef, the second largest in the world after Australia’s, where abundant marine life attracts top divers and anglers from around the world. But over the past few years, it has become clear that the “Jewel” of Central America offers a whole lot more, particularly for those seeking inland adventure, history and culture. Non-divers shouldn’t dismiss Belize by any means.
While neighbouring Mexico and Guatemala get all the press for Mayan sites, Belize was once the centre of the Mundo Maya. At its peak, the Mayan civilization in Belize is said to have reached over a million people. This means plenty of archaeological sites, some still buried under thick bush and, most fascinating of all, sacrificial caves now open to the public for supervised spelunking. You can hop on the popular Actun Tunichil Muknal tour to view the skeletal remains of a young Maya girl, but there are also others worth exploring. Arrange a visit to Actun Halal and Actun Chapat, in the western village of San Jose Succotz, through Belizean Sun Tours—there, your group will likely have the xibalba or Mayan underworld all to yourselves.
There are more than 300 species of birds in Belize, putting it on expert birders’ dream destination list. There’s no shortage of spots to explore country-wide, and it’s fine to be a beginner. The most stunning areas are Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, just outside Belize City, while in the north, the hundreds of thousands of acres surrounding Chan Chich Lodge are a veritable birders’ paradise. You might not think you’re cut out for it, but grab a pair of binoculars and you’ll be stunned at what you spot and how addictive it gets.
Take a Drumming Lesson
Belize’s endangered Garífuna culture is one of the most fascinating in Central America. The Garinagu are descendants of a unique mixed population of West African and Carib Indians who settled along Belize’s southern shores in 1802. Declared an endangered culture by the United Nations in 2001, there have been steady efforts to preserve elements of this Afro-Caribbean culture, particularly the music. Just a couple of hours away from Belize City is the eastern beach village of Hopkins, where the Lebeha Drumming Center keeps a steady staff of energetic, award-winning drummers. They might even teach you how to dance punta. When you’re done, head to nearby Bocawina National Park for some waterfall rappelling or swimming.
Stay in a Mayan Village
Homestays in Maya villages benefit both the locals, who struggle for income, and the visitor, who gets a glimpse into a unique culture and the chance to immerse in the Maya way of life. Overnight stays mean staying in modest Mayan huts, sharing meals with the family and participating in daily chores—including learning how to make corn tortillas or chocolate from cacao beans. The Toledo Ecotourism Association in Punta Gorda helps arrange homestays in various villages in the deep southern district of Toledo.
Play Ranger for a Day
You can find out what it’s like to be a rainforest ranger in Belize by, well, playing one for a day. Ya’axché Conservation Trust, (pronounced ya-chay), a leading non-profit located in the off-the-beaten track but lush district of Toledo, offers visitors the chance to join a day patrol in the 15, 000-acre Golden Stream Corridor Preserve. Get sweaty and muddy while you hike alongside professional rangers and learn how to log bird and mammal species along the trails, how to spot jaguar and tapir tracks, and even how to spot illegal activity. Donation amounts are discretionary, though US$30 to $45 at a minimum is suggested, all of which go to rangers’ salaries. Not bad for the chance to learn and see first-hand why Belize is at the forefront of conservation in Central America.