Main Areas of Belize

Belize Southern Barrier Reef Islands and Atolls

Glover's Reef / Southwater Caye / Tobacco Caye

Glover's Reef

There are only 4 atolls in the entire Atlantic region and 3 of these are off the coast of Belize. The most southerly of these is Glover's Reef which is located 70 miles South-East of Belize City and 20 miles directly East from Dangriga. Named after the English pirate, John Glover, who lived on one of the tiny islands 200 years ago. This was an ideal location to plunder the Spanish Galleons in the Bay of Honduras and the British Crown turned a blind eye to his operations. The ships were en route to Spain, laden with treasure from the New World.

Glovers Reef is a 20 mile long, 7 mile wide, circular chain of coral outcrops which surround a crystal clear lagoon with more than 600 coral pinnacles and patch coral heads reaching toward the surface. Sheer walls beginning at 30 feet plummet vertically more than 2,000 feet making this a haven for scuba divers as most of this area is virtually unexplored. Dive trips can be arranged to Glovers from Dangriga, Mayan Island, Tobacco Caye and Southwater Caye.

Southwater Caye
Southwater Caye is a half mile long palm-fringed coral island sitting right on top of the Barrier Reef with excellent snorkelling and diving. A 40 minute boat ride from Dangriga, there are several accommodation options including a deluxe dive resort - The Blue Marlin Lodge - and several cottages and rooms to rent which are owned by the Pelican Beach Hotel. Tony Read runs a first rate dive operation which is based on the island - The Living Reef Dive Center. The Southwater Caye Marine Reserve has been designated a World Heritage Site. The tiny island to the south is Carrie Bowe Caye, until recently, home to the Smithsonian Institute's Marine Research Station which was unfortunately razed to the ground by fire.
Tobacco Caye
Tobacco Caye is a pretty 5 acre palm-fringed island 4 miles north of Southwater Caye, also sitting on top of the reef which makes for excellent snorkelling offshore. Tobacco Caye was first settled by English Puritans who named the island after the first crop they planted here around 1640. Reached by boat from Dangriga in about 35 minutes there are several accommodation options ranging from individual cabanas with private bathrooms to basic A-frame huts. There are even a few permanent residents, mainly fishermen who still use old-fashioned hand lines. Scuba diving facilities are offered by Martin and Janette who together run the excellent Second Nature Divers.

Northern Barrier Reef Islands and Atolls
Ambergris Caye / Caye Caulker / St. George's Caye
The Turneffe Islands / Lighthouse Reef

Ambergris Caye

The most famous of all the Belizean cayes, this long, slender island stretches north to south, just inside the famous barrier reef, for almost 25 miles. Close proximity to the reef makes this destination a favorite of divers and fishermen alike. One sign in town says it all, "No shoes. No shirt. No problem." Made famous by Madonna in her song, "La Isla Bonita" ("The Beautiful Island"), this has long been the major tourist destination for visitors to Belize. In fact, over half of the visitors to Belize come here only and most of these are divers. Although the island is large, most of the land is mangrove swamp. Most of the residents (many of whom are American ex-pats who have escaped the rat-race) live in the pretty village of San Pedro, once a thriving fishing village but now mostly given over to the tourist industry. There are many upscale hotels, resorts and condominiums here along with some excellent restuarants and many dive shops. Once these sandy streets were free of traffic but tourists and locals alike get around by golf carts.
Caye Caulker
Once a hippie hangout and backpacker's haven, this laid back budget destination is not as inexpensive as was a few years ago. It does, however, remain, the easiest island to visit from Belize City as boats depart every morning from the Shell Station near the Swing Bridge. The boat trip costs $15 each way and with the new airstrip most flights en route for San Pedro will stop on request.
St. George's Caye
This small caye, 9 miles North-East of Belize City, is steeped in history and was once the home of buccaneers and pirates. Between 1650 and 1784 it was the first capital of the British settlement. The island's greatest moment of glory came on 10th September 1798 at the Battle of St. George's Caye.

On this day the Baymen of Belize prepared to defend their tiny settlement against a Spanish invasion of 32 ships carrying 2,000 troops and 500 seamen. The Baymen's modest fleet consisted of one sloop - HMS Merlin - with approximately 117 sailors and troops on board, two sloops with 25 men each and seven gun flats with 16 men each. The decisive battle was going to take place in the waters around St. George's Caye.

At the sound of the first gunfire about 200 colonial troops and Baymen, who had been left to guard the mainland, could not be restrained from going to the aid of the Merlin. Fishing smacks, dories, pitpans and anything else that could float set off with whatever arms could be mustered.

Incredibly, on that memorable day - heavily outnumbered and against all the odds - the Baymen achieved a decisive victory. Black men and white men fought courageously side by side, miraculously without the loss of a single life! The Spanish were not quite so fortunate and many of the dead are buried on nearby Caye Chappel. This was the last attempt made by the Spanish to oust the British from Belize.

The Turneffe Islands
The Turneffe Islands, located about 25 miles South-East of Ambergris Caye and 15 miles due East of Belize City form the largest of Belize's three atolls and covers an area of some 205 square miles. There was a flourishing natural sponge fishery at the turn of the century but disease and competition from synthetic sponges brought this to an end in the late 1930s. This maze of mangrove-lined channels and tiny uninhabited cayes were once the haunt of pirates who brought captured females here from Bacalar, just over the Mexican border. Offshore, at both the northern and southern end of the atoll, beautiful reefs and dramatic walls offer incredible diving with great visibility.
Lighthouse Reef
Lighthouse Reef is a part of the atoll's oval reef structure and home to a nesting colony of endangered, rare red-footed boobies. Lighthouse Reef provides scenic underwater topology and offers excellent, varied diving. A fascinating phenomenon at Lighthouse Reef is the "Blue Hole". A mammoth-size cave, once dry as evidenced by stalactites, has been submerged since the Ice Age. A portion of its ceiling collapsed at some time, forming a blue hole more than 400 feet deep and nearly 1,000 feet in diameter.

Mainland - Western Belize
Belmopan / San Ignacio / Mountain Pine Ridge


Belmopan is the nations' capital. It was established in 1970 as an administrative center after Hurricane Hattie destroyed Belize City in 1961. The dwellers are mainly government officials and office workers. It is the tidiest city and is also claimed as the most peaceful and quiet one.
San Ignacio
The Cayo District, situated in the Western part of the country, is the major eco-tourism destination of Belize. This area is inhabited by a mixture of Mestizos and Central American immigrants who came to Belize escaping from the civil wars in their country. The twin towns of Santa Elena and San Ignacio form the area known locally as Cayo. It is probably the most scenic town in the entire country and this is mainly because it is located in a hilly area and includes part of the Maya Mountains.

There are many jungle lodges and remote resorts catering to those who are seeking a few days to explore the emerald mystique of the rainforests before heading off to the islands for some well earned R&R (rest and relaxation!!).

Climb to the top of temples and pyramids in the ancient Mayan cities that were hidden in the rainforest for 1,000 years to enjoy spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. Canoe trips down jungle rivers, a visit to the famous Panti Medicinal Trail and a ride on horseback in the moonlight will all add to your inland adventure.

The most fabulous of all Mayan sites - Tikal - is just over the Guatemalan border and day and overnight trips can easily be arranged from San Ignacio.

It is possible to recapture the pioneer spirit in relative comfort as most of the accommodations have modern facilities and all tours are accommpanied by excellent nature guides. 50% of the visitors to Belize only visit San Pedro on Ambergris Caye - they don't know what they are missing!!

Mountain Pine Ridge
The Mountain Pine Ridge is a major forest reserve in the country. Recently excavated is the Caracol Mayan Temple which is claimed to have conquered the Mayas of Tikal, the major Mayan city in Guatemala which is also easily accessible from this region. The major activities of Cayo are the production of citrus, grains and cattle rearing.

Mainland - Southern Belize
Dangriga / Placencia / Punta Gorda


Stann Creek is a coastal district which is inhabited mostly by Garifunas, descendants of Caribs from the island of St. Vincent. Its most important city, Dangriga, is known as the city of culture since the people are rich with its Garifuna music and dances characterized by the beating of drums. The Stann Creek Valley gives the district its distinct characteristic and natural beauty formed by the chain of surrounding mountains. Driving down the Hummingbird Highway, the most scenic road journey in Belize, from Belmopan to Stann Creek you can view the Sleeping Giant formed by the hills just as you enter the Valley. The Cockscomb Jaguar Reserve on the eastern side of the Maya Mountain is a major attraction for eco-tourists. The major economic activities in this area are fishing, the production of bananas and citrus. Indeed, as you drive on the highway along the valley you will be able to observe the citrus plantations and the two processing plants. Dangriga is also the departure point for visiting the cayes in the south.
The Placencia Peninsula parallels the southern coast of Belize for nearly 15 miles. On the western side, a narrow finger-shaped lagoon separates the peninsula from the mainland. Blanketing the eastern shore, a magnificent stretch of sun-drenched beach runs its entire length. This area has become a very popular tourist destination.
Punta Gorda
Toledo is the southern most district of the country. Many people would say that Toledo is the forgotten district because of its roads and its limited communication system. This however, has been like a blessing to Toledo since it still remains virtually untouched. Its natural resources combined with the rich culture of the Maya makes Toledo District the perfect place for the development of eco-tourism. Punta Gorda Town is the city and the commercial center of Toledo. It is a fairly small town on the shore of the Caribbean. The rural communities of Toledo are mostly located some distance from Punta Gorda Town as these villages are inhabited by Mayas who practice the traditional Milpa farming system. There are also communities of East Indians or Garifunas. Attractions of the district are the Maya ruins such as Lubaantum, Nim Li Punit and Uxbentum. National parks, including the Colombia Forest Reserve are also places well worth visiting.

Mainland - Northern Belize
Corozal / Orange Walk


Corozal is the Northern most district of Belize bordering the Mexican City of Chetumal. It is also a coastal district which is inhabited mostly by Mestizos and Yucatec Mayas that settled in the area after fleeing from the Caste War of Mexico. The most important city of this district is Corozal Town which is perched right in front of the Caribbean sea. The economy of the district is based on the production of sugar cane, papaya and fishing.
Orange Walk
Orange Walk is the second northern district located between Belize and Corozal. The major city of the district is Orange Walk Town which is located 54 miles up the Northern Highway from Belize City. Its major activity is still the production of sugar cane. Important attractions in Orange Walk include the Maya ruins, Lamanai, El Posito, Cuello, Nohmul, Chan Chich and the Rio Bravo Conservation Area.


Belize City is a major seaport on the Caribbean, the former capital and the largest town in Belize. It is home to about 45,000 inhabitants, roughly one-third of the country's total population. With an ethnic mix of Maya, African, European and Asian, its people provide a truly unique cultural blend

A visitor's first view of Belize is usually from the plane as it descends into Belize City. The countryside is spectacular in that it seems devoid of human habitation. The country, often with areas of marshland, is flat and grassy with intermittent, low-lying vegetation. As the plane arrives at the small airport, recently renamed honoring a well known political hero, one may notice the extensive military installations both of the British and of the Belizean Defense Force. Work is in progress on a new and extended airport facility adjacent to the present one.

After clearing customs, visitors are taken to Belize City along the last few miles of the Northern Highway, which follows the course of the Belize River to its delta. The river is closely lined with swamps of black mangrove, which are protected by law and provide stability for the banks as well as habitat for many species of animals and birds. It will be noticed that there are some interesting and attractive houses along the road, many having extensive clearings and canals giving access to the sea.

As one nears the city the houses become smaller and closer together. Many are constructed on rather precarious looking stilts as protection from the flooding of the river (Belize City stands only eighteen inches above sea level) and from water borne in by storms. The last few miles of the river are named Haulover Creek, probably from the times when cattle were "hauled over" (by a rope tied around their horns) to be sold at market. A ferry was used for many years until the first bridge was built in 1935. The present swing bridge is opened each morning at around 5:30 and then again in the evening, depending upon need. It takes many strong men and often a few tourists (though this is not really allowed) to turn the mechanism with iron bars. This soon creates a passage for the fishing boats and pitpans coming down river to the sea or traveling upriver to trade.

Near the swing bridge which connects the two halves of the city is the market where, twice each day, fishing boats unload their catch. From red snapper to seahorses, from conch to lobster, the benevolence of the sea is apparent here.

Also at the market one may choose from fruits and vegetables, both familiar and exotic, which are piled on counters, barrows and on the sidewalk. Often Garifuna ladies will be selling stacks of triangular cassava bread and little cans of cassava starch, a valued commodity where mass produced laundry products are beyond the means of many Belizeans. There are modern stores nearby. One, Brodies, was established a century ago, but the best buys and the most popular places to,shop are to be found in the markets.

Many of the buildings downtown have a tumbled-down and haphazard appearance. This is due in part to hurricanes which sometimes devastate the city. They occur usually in the fall but have been experienced as early as June. It is estimated that major hurricanes have hit this area of coastline some twenty-one times since 1787 when record keeping began. The most spectacular destruction was from Hurricane Hattie in 1961. Her 160-mph winds and the resulting 14-foot tidal wave wiped out 70% of the city. Some buildings were just partially damaged and the expensive repair work was not possible.

There are now some good hotels and restaurants available in Belize City, many along the waterfront. Tourism, particularly ecotourism, has become a priority with the Belizean government and opportunities for tourism related industries are growing. More hotels will become available in the future and existing hotels are expanding.

There are some interesting places to visit in town, some of which tell the history of this unique little country. St. John's Cathedral, the first Anglican church in Central America, built in 1812, is located on Regent Street. It was the scene for coronations of several of the kings of the Mosquito Coast Indians. Government House, also on Regent Street, is an important and attractive historical site.

Fort George, where the hotel of the same name now stands, was located on the waterfront and was the site of the initial base camp of pirate Peter Wallace in 1603. From here he was able to successfully plunder the Spanish gold ships bound for home laden with their precious cargoes. The fort was actually an island once, but the unloaded ballast of untold numbers of British ships has filled in the narrow stream between it and the mainland. Eleven ancient canons from a foundered British ship were set here in the early 1800s and were fired regularly three time a day -- at sunrise, noon and dusk.

There are no beaches in Belize City, but to the south of town can be found the white Caribbean sands that one expects. It is possible to walk for some distance along the waterfront on a concrete road, some stretches of which are being rendered quite attractive by plantings and the building of new amenities. One area of waterfront is rather spoiled by the presence of a huge dredge pipe which, though unsightly, is helping to clear a nearby canal for boats.

By far the best attraction of Belize City is its population. These welcoming and pleasant people are always ready to share their pride in their city and country with visitors. While the Creole language they speak is often hard for strangers to understand, it is musical and pleasant to listen too and they are happy to "translate" for visitors.

There are many children in Belize City, as the birth rate is quite high. Many, it will be noticed, will be wearing one of the many neat school uniforms. Most schools are run by various religious denominations which have some autonomy over the curriculum. There is an extremely high value placed on education and school is compulsory for children from 614 years old. Many go on to secondary schools and to college, some of which are overseas enrollments. There is a National Board of Education which is working toward the standardization of curricula.

The position of Belize City in mangrove swamps, its low elevation and its vulnerability to destruction by hurricanes were responsible for the relocation of Belize's capitol city to Belmopan, some fifty miles inland to the southwest.

Located 65 miles from Belize City, Orange Walk is best known for its sugar cane fields, sugar mill and orange groves, although in the latter part of the 1700s timber was logged, floated to Belize City and shipped to destinations worldwide. The area was settled by refugees of the Caste War of Southern Mexico in the 1800s. Today the most noticeable people you will see on the streets are the Mennonites in their simple clothes and horsedrawn buggies.

Founded by Mexican refugees in 1850, Corozal is now a sleepy semi-Mexican, semiCaribbean seaside town. Located 100 miles from Belize City and 12 miles from the Mexican border, it is an excellent base for visiting the Maya ruins of the area.

Now a bustling tourist resort and fishing community, San Pedro's history is filled with stories of pirates and whaling. Sand streets and beaches make walking a delight. Bikes and golf carts make getting around faster for those who haven't gotten into the laid back island mood. Shops and restaurants now abound and watersports such as diving, snorkeling, fishing and windsurfing are all excellent ways to pass a few days in the sun.

Located 50 miles west of Belize City, Belmopan was built to be the capital city after Hurricane Hattie destroyed much of Belize City in 1961. In the middle of the country and protected from major weather problems, this planned city has grown much more slowly than expected.

San Ignacio is the administrative center of the Capo District, settled by Mestizo and Maya immigrants from Guatemala and Lebanese traders. It was once a terminal for chicle and the timber trade, however, agriculture is now the major economic base. Located 75 miles west of Belize City, it is only 8 miles from the border with Guatemala.

Approximately 200 miles by road from Belize City, Punta Gorda is the last real town in southern Belize. Once a Caribe settlement, it now also hosts Creoles, Kekchi and Mopan Maya, East Indians, Lebanese and Chinese. Fishing, rice, beans, mango, banana and shrimp farming are the basis of the "P. G." economy.

Once known as Stann Creek, Dangriga, now the second largest town in Belize, is one of the main areas of Garifuna settlements. These Black Caribs fled to Belize from Honduras after a failed rebellion. The anniversary of their arrival is celebrated on November 19th (Garifuna clan) each year. Dangriga's first settlers were Puritans from the island of New Providence, who arrived in the 1800s. . Citrus crops such as Valencia oranges and grapefruit are the backbone of Dangriga's economy.

Located at the southernmost tip of a peninsula, Placencia can be reached by flying into Big Creek and boating over to Placencia. However, there is a driveable road. Mostly a fishing village, the main activities center around the Coop, which provides the ice to preserve the catch. Placencia has some of the most beautiful beaches in Belize with several small hotels.

Actually, there is no town of Tikal. There are only the ruins, a few hotels and the museum, but we feel some mention of the accommodations here need to be made. We usually use the Tikal Inn, a rustic hotel with inside rooms, a few outside thatch-roofed cottages and a main dining hall The inn provides private facilities with limited electricity and no hot water (pipe warmed only), however, the warm weather precludes its necessity. The bathroom cleanliness has much improved, but the plumbing often leaks. There have been no problems with clean linen, however, mosquito netting is available here and if it is not already above the bed, ASK FOR IT. The food has improved considerably. Be careful of the water. Because it is in short supply, drinking water must be brought in from Flores and sometimes it is questionable. Please know that this is the best accommodation in Tikal. The decision was made to stay here rather than an hour away in Flores because the travel time would cut into the prime early morning and late afternoon natural history and photographic opportunities. We think you will find the minor inconveniences of the hotel outweighed by the magnificent Ruins and wildlife of Tikal National Park.

CHAN CHICH (Little Bird)
In northwestern Belize, deep in some of the most inaccessible terrain in the country, an area of about 250,000 acres has been set aside for a unique center of research. It is dedicated to the study of agriculture, forestry, wildlife habitats and the archaeology of the Maya.

Central to this vast region is a wonderful lodge, built to accommodate the visitors who come to the facility both to study and to just enjoy the ambiance of its jungle surroundings. This lodge was established in 1988 by Barry Bowen, a native born Belizean who overcame incredible obstacles to even access the site. It took an intrepid group of workers to clear the site and build the facilities out of purely native materials.

The lodge is actually built within the confines of an extensive Maya site dating from 250800 A.D. It nestles within the lower plaza while the upper plaza and temple mounds with their canopy of verdant jungle form a backdrop. The entrance temples and the large main temple have been looted by way of vertical slit trenches, but burial chambers with wellpreserved friezes around the low ceiling remain.

The modern buildings have been erected without intrusion into the rubble-covered plaza. They are charming in appearance with roofs of dense thatch overhanging cool verandas. Inside, the pleasant airy rooms are equipped with comfortable queen-sized beds, ceiling fans and modern bathrooms. A central building is a meeting place for guests and contains a well-stocked bar, dining room and offices. The good food, friendly service and hospitality to be found here are a perfect adjunct to the tranquility and splendor of the natural surroundings.

The area around the lodge is traced with well-maintained trails which can be enjoyed on foot and on horseback. It is possible to catch a glimpse of such elusive jungle inhabitants as Tapir, Ocelot, Margay, Howler Monkey, Agouti, Coatimundi, Brocket Deer and Peccary. Even the rare nocturnal Jaguar makes its presence known by its tracks in the soft earth of the trails. The rich profusion of animal and plant species is evident here as well as around the nearby Laguna Verde, a beautiful lake where swimming and canoeing are popular activities.

As scientific work is so often in progress by biologists, botanists, archaeologists, etc., these people are often available during the evening hours to discuss their work with interested visitors.

The lodge is about 130 miles from Belize City, about 3-1/2 hours by road. Most visitors come in by plane, which takes 30 minutes from the city. This mode of travel makes it possible to appreciate the vast stretches of pristine forest which covers almost 70% of inland Belize. Its diversity is obvious, especially when one considers that there are 4,000 recorded plant species in the country, of which 700 are trees.

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