Belize is one of those places that calls you back time and time again. Here's why one writer just can't get enough.
It's my third trip to Belize-you could say I've become a bit of an addict.
This former British colony bordered by Mexico to the north and Guatemala to the west and south may be a small country, but it has a diverse geography that includes the second largest barrier reef, a tropical rainforest that's home to hundreds of species, ancient Maya ruins, miles of white sand beaches and hundreds of islands. How could one not fall in love with the intoxicating beauty of this country?
Warning, a trip to Belize may leave you never wanting to come home.
Meet the people
The first thing I noticed in Belize was that the country is so diverse in its ethnic and cultural backgrounds, which include Maya, Mestizo, Garifuna, Creole, Mennonite, East Indian and Chinese. I was also immediately smitten with how friendly and welcoming everyone is. Each person I met in Belize, from farmers to taxi drivers, from restaurant servers to business owners, stood out in their own special way.
Elwin Ariola, a Garifuna gentleman who owns Ariola & Son's Tour Business is one example. We got into a conversation about life in Belize while he drove me from Hopkins to the Dangriga airport. Ariola spoke about two Canadian girls who were robbed while they slept. Without passports and money in Dangriga, Ariolo helped them secure new papers at the embassy and provided funds for them to get home. They remain good friends to this day. Clearly, Arilo is the man to call if you need advice about travelling around Belize and will lend a hand if you get into trouble.
Sample the water of life
Belize's barrier reef is one of the world's most famed sites for snorkelling and diving. Whether you're snorkelling in Hol Chan or around one of the Cayes, you can expect to see sealife such as whitespotted toadfish and spotted eagle rays, or even a Loggerhead Turtle in the deeper waters. For more dramatic deep dives, Blue Hole is a diver's paradise. You're likely to encounter a few sharks at the lower depths, but they should leave you alone if you don't disturb them.
Explore the rainforest
The Belize experience is not complete without a visit to the rainforest, as more than half of the country consists of subtropical jungle and rainforest. Southern Belize, particularly the Toledo district offers caving and hiking trails, and the opportunity to explore one of the least visited areas of the country. As you hike through the jungle fauna you may encounter noisy Howler monkeys, Cahone Palms (mature palms that produce nuts and oil), napping bats, panther paw prints, an alligator sunning itself on a riverbank or colourful turtles resting on logs.
Fall in love with food
The Mayas, Belize's first known inhabitants, have been growing and harvesting cacao, or cocoa, for centuries. I tasted my first roasted cocoa bean at Belcampo, an organic farm and lodge located just outside Punta Gorda. The farm grows papaya, cassava, avocados, plantains and bananas, along with vanilla, cocoa and coffee. Kelly Sayle, the resident coffee expert, gives lessons on how to roast coffee and bag it for consumption.
Visit the local markets where Mayan farmers bring their produce for sale. The Punta Gorda market is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and lures locals and tourists alike with fresh citrus fruits, vegetables, eggs and meats. While there, pick up a tamale or burrito from the vendors nearby.
Just be and go barefoot
Want to be a slacker? Then you've come to the right place. Belize is a place where you can just be and do nothing. Listen to the gentle swells of the ocean, lie in a hammock and allow your body to relax. You'll see that Belize has fully seduced you, too.