Belize City - Abbey Travel, Ireland

Belize City


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Welcome to Belize City

Belize City

In Belize nearly all journeys begin and end in Belize City, the country's biggest urban enclave and port of entry, although in truth not a very enticing tourist destination in itself. Belize City sits in a swamp that stretches across Haulover Creek at the mouth of the Belize River, criss-crossed with narrow streets and rather smelly canals which are lined with a jolly jumble of buildings, some little more than dilapidated shacks and others attempts at rather pretentious modern stores. In between are some pretty wooden houses and colonial landmark buildings.

The city has clung tenaciously onto its muddy roots since it was abandoned as a Mayan fishing camp in the 1600s and taken over by pirates and buccaneers as a logging camp. Late in the 17th century, along came the Spanish, who cut down the mahogany upriver, floated the logs downstream and exported them from the motley little encampment at the river mouth. Later the British established Belize Town, which began the city's formal, rather tragic, passage into modern times. Three times devastated by fires, scourged by disease epidemics, flattened by hurricanes and tidal waves, the city somehow survived and today, in the new millennium, it subsists on tourism and fishing, remaining the cultural, commercial and social centre of Belize despite the capital having been moved to Belmopan in 1969.

Most visitors to Belize City come ashore on tenders from dozens of luxury cruise liners which include the city in their itineraries, mainly to allow passengers to take adventure excursions to see and experience the wonderful natural attractions of the interior and coastline of Belize. Cruise passengers are welcomed at the showpiece Belize Tourism Village, where courtyards and attractive buildings contain a variety of restaurants, souvenir shops, craft stalls and other facilities to cater for their needs. It is the departure point for numerous land and marine tours.

Independent visitors to Belize also generally start their exploration of the country in Belize City, and can find some sights of interest to fill a few days layover in the town, including the world's only manually operated swing bridge, some colonial architectural treasures like the Paslow Building, the novel St John's Cathedral built by slaves from bricks brought as ballast in ships from Europe, and the art gallery at the Bliss Institute, bequeathed to the city by British Baron, Henry Bliss, who died on his yacht in the harbour. Also well worth a visit are the Maritime Museum and Museum of Belize.

Information & Facts

English is the official language and the one most commonly spoken, but you will hear Creole, Spanish, Garifuna and Mayan as well.

The unit of currency is the Belize Dollar (BZD), which is fixed against the US$ as BZ$2 = US$1. Most tourist resorts, hotels, restaurants and tour operators accept US currency and travellers cheques. Credit cards are also accepted, and most banks in Belize City and Belmopan will advance cash against Visa or MasterCard. When using credit cards most establishments will add a 5% service charge to the bill. First Caribbean International Bank has several ATMs in Belize City. Always make sure you understand which dollar rate is being quoted, either Belize Dollars or US Dollars.

Local time is GMT -6.

A World Heritage Site - and just 28 miles (about 45km) from mainland Belize - Glover's Reef Atoll is one of only four atolls (ring-shaped reefs made of coral) in the western hemisphere, and a truly mesmerising place to visit. The partially-submerged coral island, which is also a marine reserve, is 20 miles (about 32km) long, and is home to the richest variety of sea life in the Caribbean. The atoll is ringed with white sand beaches, dotted with coconut trees, and its interior lagoon boasts over 800 coral patches, with pinnacles rising above the water's surface. Active types can spend all day diving, swimming, snorkelling and fishing in the turquoise-blue water; while the atoll is also the perfect place to just lie on the sand, and do nothing at all. One thing is for sure: with its pristine setting, and relative obscurity, Glover's Reef is an undiscovered gem, and a honeymoon destination to put all others to shame.

A little-known fact about Belize is that its central lowlands were the original home of the ancient Maya world - and to this day, travellers to the region can visit the fascinating ruins of ancient Mayan cities, dating back more than 2,000 years. Modern-day Belize contains (among others) the sites of Caracol, Cerros, Lamanai, and Cahal Pech - all of which are significant archaeological locales in the history of Mesoamerican culture. The region's lush, steamy tropical jungle - where the screams of howler monkeys fill the air - is a spell-binding, other-worldly setting in which to view the Ruins, which themselves offer astonishing insights into one of the most famous and most revered of all ancient cultures. With 2012 Doomsday predictions coming thick and fast, those interested in the Mayan Calendar's end-of-the-world prophesies are bound to flock to Belize in great droves - so get there before the rush sets in.

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