30 April 2009
Belize – Not Just Another Central American Destination
Alex Malone, Outspoken World Travel Writer
For years Belize has had an identity crisis. Travelers not familiar with this English speaking gem are not exactly sure where it is in the world. They do not know that the Caribbean Sea caresses its shores, nor do they know that its mainland possesses a magnificent lush rainforest. Most of the confusion could be attributed to the lack of information available, and for years Belize didn’t do a great job of getting the word out.
There is also the complication that until its independence from Great Britain in 1981, Belize was known as British Honduras. Talk about a confusion factor. Fortunately all this misinformation, lack of information and general confusion is changing. A reality TV show produced an episode in Belize several years ago. Millions of viewers became acquainted with Belize and tourism saw a significant increase. The Belize Tourist Board has also seen a modernization previously lacking. However, there still remains a mystique and uncertainty about Belize.
Let’s set the record straight. Belize is in Central America on the Caribbean just south of Mexico. If I were to say, which I am, that Belize was south of Cancun and a little further south of the Mexico’s Maya Riviera, which it is, most of you reading this will understand. You will understand because so much marketing by Mexico has gone into this region. Marketing spurred on by the development of large megalith resorts. Few, if any, travelers are not familiar with Cancun. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Belize, and the traveler is the real loser.
Aside from its general proximity, Belize has nothing in common with Cancun. It is much more diverse and offers so much more. (I can already feel the consternation coming from the northern neighbors on that comment). However, it is true. Let’s look a little closer. Belize is comprised of two separate and wonderfully distinct geographical regions. There is the ever popular offshore islands, called cayes (pronounced keys), which sit adjacent to the second largest barrier reef in the world. The cayes provide a fantastic tropical island setting while the Caribbean Sea and the Belize Barrier Reef provide world class diving, snorkeling, and fishing. I am also sure you have heard of the Blue Hole, a marine wonder in itself.
The mainland of Belize is a separate and unique paradise. On the mainland coast is miles and miles of undisturbed white sand beaches where locations such as Hopkins and Placencia boast great resorts and recreational opportunities. Then there is the mainland itself with lush tropical rainforests, pristine rivers, cascading waterfalls, and a plethora of adventure activities to satisfy just about everyone. Cave tubing, zip-lining, horseback riding, canoeing, kayaking, spelunking, river tubing, and visiting ancient Maya sites are just a few of an endless list.
The visitor to Belize doesn’t have to make a decision as to which region to visit. Belize is a small country. Both the cayes and mainland regions are within a short reach of each other. Vacationers can economically choose to spend a portion of their visit in each area, or make a day trip to ensure they experience the diversity that Belize offers.
This next topic is sure to bring me some heat. Belize has some of the finest resorts in the region, and they are not large. Forty rooms would be considered a good size resort. The resorts are for the most part owned by individuals, families, or partners who built their business from scratch. Attention to the individual guest requirements is the rule and not the exception as with large assembly line resorts. (I am really going to get the heat on that one). You are also not located on a shadeless strip miles from a diversion or diversity. In Belize you are with nature and never far from a different version of it. Belize does not possess large corporate type resorts that cater to the masses that gather as a result of creative marketing. There is no large buffet lines set up for 500 guests, nor is there a daily activity menu where hundreds of people are vying for this Disney World approach to fun in the sun.
The main point is that Belize should not be compared to Mexico its closest neighbor to the north. It should not be compared to other Caribbean destinations. It should not even be compared to other Central American countries. Belize is different in many ways. It is compact, affordable, breathtakingly beautiful, convenient (2 flight hours from the U.S.), possesses unparalleled individual adventure without the group approach, and the best part is Belize offers a vacation that is what you want it to be. Throw in the English Speaking factor, and I can promise that you will find Belize a refreshing alternative to following the crowd. Once you do, you will be back time and time again.