Belize: A pocket guide
Visitors to the Caribbean island of Belize discover a laid-back vibe, inspiring natural beauty, and a blend of Mayan and European cultures. The country’s 239 miles of coast are protected by the Mesoamerican Reef, making for rich marine life and some of the finest diving on the planet, second only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. (A highlight: The Great Blue Hole, an intriguing underwater sinkhole that delves into the depths of the ocean bed.) Colonized by pirates and pillaged by the Spanish, Belize gained its independence in 1981. Today, the remains of lost Mayan cities tumble over the land, perhaps the most famous being the Caracol, an ancient archaeological site with a soaring 42-meter-high palace and more than 53 carved stone monuments. Gargantuan steps lead to the top of many of these temples, presenting 360-degree views of the surrounding jungle. For nature lovers, there is guided trekking in the rain forest, home to 2,000 species of butterflies, a colorful array of birds, as well as jaguars, armadillos, and tapirs. Further south, manatees cruise the mangrove swamps of the Placencia Peninsula, a place where the people embrace a slow-paced lifestyle. Only a 105-minute flight from Cancún, Belize has a variety of sophisticated accommodations, including hotels that open their verandas onto cascading waterfalls and exclusive vacation rentals with ocean views from their private pools.