Central America: Belize

Belize is justly famous for its barrier reef. But anyone who goes there only to dive is missing out, for the country is exceptionally well endowed with historic monuments, scenery and wild life.

Here are some highlights -- beginning, of course, with the main attraction:

  • The Barrier Reef: A favorite diving and snorkeling area for travelers staying on Ambergris Caye, the outer atolls or at resorts around Placencia on the southern coast, this is the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. Local air service is frequent from Belize City to San Pedro and to Placencia, and most offshore atolls with dive resorts are reached by boat from the mainland.
  • Xunantunich: Located in western Belize out of the town of San Ignacio, this major Maya ceremonial center has the remains of many temples and a ball court; its 130-foot pyramid is the highest structure on the site.
  • Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary: Located 33 miles northwest of Belize City, the sanctuary provides some fine wildlife viewing, particularly of thousands of Jabiru stork during the dry season, November to early May.
  • Mountain Pine Ridge and Rio Frio Cave: This 300-square-mile area west of Belize City and around San Ignacio is known for its scenic mix of pine forest, rushing streams and the 1,000-foot Hidden Valley Falls. Exploring caves, canoeing on the Macul River, horseback riding in the highlands are popular activities.
  • Caracol: Excavation has just begun on this classic Maya city in western Belize. More than 120 tombs have been found, and areas excavated include the 139-foot Caana pyramid, crowned by three temples.
  • Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Preserve: In southern Belize near Placencia, established to protect the resident jaguar and home also to other mammals and some 200 bird species. This is prime birdwatching territory.
  • The Toledo District: Placencia is the gateway to Punta Gorda, Belize's last outpost in the Toledo district, where the town's district council has ringed the town with a green belt protecting the adjacent rain forest reserves. Off-shore are the Sapodilla Cayes, and the activities here include scuba diving, fishing, charter yachting and rain forest tours.
  • A further bonus can be the unique cultural experience of an overnight stay with a Maya family with guided rain forest hikes, river trips, traditional music and dances. Arrangements are made through the Toledo Ecotourism Association in Punta Gorda; (011-501) 7-22119, fax (011-501) 7-22199; [email protected]

    Sample Belize Package

    Belize Highlands, Islands & Tikal. Seven nights visiting Mountain Pine Ride, Rio Frio Caves, Caracol, Tikal, Ambergris Caye. The price is from $844 to $909 and includes first class accommodations, transfers and overland transport with guides. Ocean Connection in Friendswood, Texas; (281) 996-7800 or (800) 365-6232.

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