by Jimmy Im

The sun is hot, in that Central America kind of way, but itís the soft drizzle thatís pestering, like the ubiquitous mosquitos. Insects, I can surprisingly handle, but the rain is a monkey wrench for my perfectly planned excursion at Caracol. Not only is it Belizeís most popular attraction, itís a major Maya archaeological site in the Cayo District, covering approximately 30 square miles and one of the best-kept ruins to date. Additionally, and what excites me most, Caracol is one of the best-preserved astronomical observatoriesóit points to the equinox and solstice. What further makes Caracol a gem is the little foot traffic: Belize only gets half a million visitors a year.

As I make my way up through the largest pyramid at 140 feet, the light rain stops and, as you would imagine, a rainbow emerges. I can see Guatemala. The view is insanely breathtaking, and the excursion was worth the two-hour drive from Blancaneaux Lodge (Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve P.O. Box B, Central Farm. Tel: 501-824-3878.

Thrilled from my adventure and running on a natural high, I arrive back at my resort only to find another monkey wrench, this time in the form of an iPhone. I left mine at the archaeological site. A disheartening moment, I inform the staff of the resort but have already accepted the fact that I will never see my phone again. Itís not until a few hours later that I get the news my phone was found and would be sent to my hotel the next afternoon. Staff had made various calls to park rangers, one of whom discovered it untouched, held onto it, then had it delivered to me the next day. While this is reflective of the unforgettable staff, it speaks volumes for the people of Belize.

ďThe locals here are some of the friendliest people youíll meet on Earth,Ē says openly gay, local ex-pat Martin Krediet, who moved to Belize two years ago. ďWhatís lovely about Belize is that people donít judge. Here, they are warm and friendly, and if you strike up a conversation youíll be pleasantly surprised. This ties in for the overall mentality of Belizeans. Theyíre all raised properly. If they didnít say Ďgood morning maíamí or Ďgood afternoon sirí when passing neighbors on the street as little kids, it would get back to their parents and they would get it. Politeness is part of their culture. They have good values and respect for the elderly, and that ties in with no judging and leaving each other be.Ē

But itís not just the locals that make Belize one of the best places to visit in Central America. Thereís plenty to do. From ancient ruins and jungle trekking to a homegrown culinary scene and amazing islands and beaches, Belize is a one-stop destination and one of my favorites.

On my last visit, I made a beelineto Ambergris Caye, an old-school, barefoot-minded paradise where locals and visitors get around by golf carts. Itís laid-back and carefree, with a bohemian edge. I stayed at Victoria House (Ambergris Caye, Coconut Dr. Tel: 800-247-5159., a 42-room, British-colonial-designed boutique that has a variety of room types (from plantation rooms to infinity suites). Here, I was reminded of how luxury can be so simple. Victoria House has a prime location considering itís the launching point for many water excursions thanks to its pier. Itís just minutes away by boat to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve thatís chockfull of sting rays, sea turtles, and other marine life. Shark Ray Alley, the second stop on the excursion, is where I got up-close and personal with friendly nurse sharks and manta rays. You can opt to stay in the boat, but I had to make good use of my underwater camera. Hardcore divers will easily make the trip to the famous Blue Hole, a large sinkhole that drops 400 feet in the ocean.

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