Have a blast in Belize: Belize has so much to offer: snorkeling, Mayan ruins, scuba diving and fabulous food. But it's more expensive than other Central American countries. Juliana Goodwin explores

Belize is a land of diversity.

On the mainland, dense jungles shroud ancient Mayan ruins.

On the islands, long stretches of beaches attract throngs of tourists.

There are more than 500 species of birds; 145 species of mammals and nearly 140 species of reptiles and amphibians, including crocodiles and iguanas.

Marine life includes everything from whale sharks to manatees to clown fish.

The scuba diving is world-renowned, and the snorkeling is spectacular, although not as colorful as some of the fish Iíve seen in the Caribbean.

In Belize, I swam amongst huge black grouper, stingrays, nurse sharks, sea turtles, barracuda and other fish that were more than half my size.

The food is fantastic: Ceviche, seafood burritos and quesadillas, beans and rice, plantains, grilled lobster (if itís in season), and fresh grilled fish is the daily special on most menus. It is all supremely fresh.

They speak English in Belize, so itís easy to communicate.

Belize City doesnít offer much and is dangerous, so tourists flock to the nearby islands: Ambergris Caye (where we stayed) and Caye Caulker.

San Pedro is the only town on Ambergris Caye, which is the largest island and most popular destination in Belize. John Cazort

Belize has its downsides, too, and itís best to go there knowing this:

The mosquitoes were atrocious, some of the worst in the world, so bring lots of bug spray. If you visit the jungle, youíll be devoured even during the day.

Caye Caulker is less expensive and attracts backpackers and younger travelers. The locals say itís the friendlier island, but itís more rustic. If you like roughing it, stay here.

Ambergris Caye is the most popular island and more developed but also more expensive than I expected, so budget for it (especially if you compare it to other Central American countries).

There are few cars on Ambergris Caye, so people drive golf carts, which is fun but bumpy when not on a paved road.

If you plan to stay on the north side of the island, you will need to rent a golf cart to get to the south side, which is where most of the restaurants and shops are. (Keep this in mind when booking accommodations; I didnít realize that and stayed on the north side. That meant a 30-minute commute by golf cart with mosquitoes nipping at me.)

Shop around for groceries because thereís a huge difference in price: The first store where we bought rum charged $50 U.S.; the next day, we found another store that charged half that price.

If youíre trying to save money, buy breakfast from a local who peddles a food bike (instead of food trucks). They sell breakfast burritos for $2-$3.

In a lot of places, thereís a tremendous amount of sea grass offshore, so swimming there can be kind of creepy. Every time sea grassbrushed against me I felt like things were crawling on me.

You can always swim in a pool or hire a boat and head out to sea, where the waters are fantastic.

Overall, Iíd recommend Belize, but I wouldnít consider it a luxurious retreat. Expect Belize to be a fantastic adventure and it wonít disappoint.