Belize City Travel Guide
The long-time former capital, and largest city in Belize, the municipality of Belize City is a major port located on the coast in the central part of the country. Situated on a peninsula, Belize City is the principal gateway to the country, with a modern international airport, a berth for cruise ships, and hundreds of modern hotels and plenty of conference facilities. While most long-stay vacationers soon head off to other points in Belize, there are plenty of attractions to see in and around Belize City.
Top Things to See & Do in Belize City
Some of the most popular attractions in Belize City include the historic Baron Bliss Lighthouse, the country’s Supreme Court, the beautiful St. John’s Cathedral, and the House of Culture. Another popular local attraction is the Museum of Belize. First built in 1857, the structure served as a prison until 2002, when it was transformed into a museum dedicated to showcasing the country’s heritage.
Visitors can enjoy an abundance of wildlife and pristine nature just a short drive from Belize City. Close by is the Crooked Tree wildlife sanctuary, as is the Belize Zoo, where visitors can marvel at both rescued animals and a rare collection of endangered native animals. In the river waters near Belize City, abundant opportunities abound to view playful manatees.
Also close to Belize is one of the country’s principal Mayan ruins, the former city of Altun Ha. There, visitors can explore the largest temple on the grounds, known today as “The Temple of the Masonry Altars”. This signature building is featured on the label of Belikin Beer, the popular Belizean brew favored by locals.
Food and Drink
Belize City is home to some of the most diverse culinary offerings in the entire country. Restaurants featuring Chinese, Lebanese, and local delicacies abound, and visitors can try Belizean specialties like fry jacks, meat pies, rice and beans and conch ceviche. One popular local non-alcoholic drink is the seaweed shake, made from a special blend of condensed milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, and seaweed. Optionally, you can add a shot of Belizean brandy or rum to your seaweed shake to spice things up. One very popular local cocktail is known as the Pantiripa (Panty Ripper), made from coconut, pineapple juice, grenadine, and local rum.
Belize City Hotels & Accommodations
Belize City is home to hundreds of hotels, including large prestigious chains like the Radisson and Princess. International seminars and conferences are also held in Belize City. For visitors seeking more intimate accommodations, properties like the Black Orchid Resort and Maruba Jungle Resort offer unique mud spa treatments and other tropical delights.
Belize City Weather
Belize City Location and Geographic Setting
Belize City is divided into two areas: Northside which is bounded by the Haulover Creek and ends in the east at the Fort George area, and the Southside which extends to the outskirts of the City and the Port area which also includes downtown Belize City. The City spreads out to Mile 6 on the Western Highway and Mile 5 on the Northern Way at the Haulover Bridge.
Getting to Belize City
Most international visitors fly to the Phillip Goldson International Airport (code: PGIA), located just a few miles outside of Belize City. At the airport, it is easy to hail a taxi, arrange for a shuttle, or rent a vehicle. Belize City is located in the heart of the Belize District, with plenty of public transportation options to get in and around the region.
A History of Belize City
Belize City stands on land inhabited by Maya people, explorers and colonizers. At one time, it served as Belize’s capital. This city’s history is filled with twists and turns that may surprise you.
You don’t have to be a historian to appreciate the importance of prominent cities that have done so much to change the way mankind has evolved over time. Just two centuries ago, only 3-percent of all people lived in cities, notes Richard Florida, a distinguished professor at the University of Toronto. “By the year 2030, more than five billion people (six out of every ten human beings) will live in cities and urban centers,” he predicts.
No nation is immune from this projected growth, which is why understanding how Belize City’s evolution has become such a fascinating topic as citizens look into the future of this area, founded by the Maya people. One of this society’s oldest settlements was established not far from where Belize City now stands. At Altun Ha, an advanced civilization thrived thousands of years ago.
The Maya are replaced by explorers and colonizers
Over time, the Maya vanished and while the reason for their disappearance remains a hot debate topic, their ancestors can be found throughout the nation, having married Spanish, Portuguese and English explorers who came to the nation’s shores in waves. Intent only upon exploiting the area’s lumber resources, the Brits made Haulover Creek, a Belize River branch, a hub that formally became Belize City in 1779.
Folklore about the origins of Belize City contain horrific details of mosquito-ridden swamps at the river mouth and encampments of huts installed on the mahogany chips left behind when trees brought from inland camps were processed for export back to Europe. Settlers running these Belize City “production” centers were called Baymen. They lived hard-scrabble lives within this Haulover Creek community that grew in direct proportion to the expansion of the lumber industry.
Belize City becomes a hub of diversity
By the 19th century, both sides of Haulover Creek had been developed, reflecting class distinctions imported from Europe and imposed on citizens. By this time, African slaves and Brits had begun to intermarry, so in addition to new generations of blended Maya/Spanish legacies, a Creole society emerged as well.
Buildings housing the ruling elite sprawled across the southern seafront while inland cabins housed the lower echelons of this burgeoning society. While the population of Belize City had grown to around 5,000 by the turn of the century, the class divide became starker.
Riots in 1894 and 1919 divided the city and exposed underlying unrest that was quelled for a few decades until 1950, when the revolutionary spirit of citizens hungry for self-governance once more erupted. Despite the turmoil, Belize City remained the nation’s capital–until a series of hurricanes forced the Belize government to move the nation’s business to Belmopan, located 52 miles inland.
No longer Belize’s capitol, the city undergoes a troubled transition
Once government offices were moved, it was up to residents to decide upon the shape the city would take in the future. To say that this evolution was tumultuous would be an understatement. An era of lawlessness borne of poverty, overpopulation and unrest pervaded the area throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
While areas along Haulover Creek maintained a core cultural and commercial identity, it took until the 21st for the city to find its footing when cruise ships began to anchor off Belize City in 2004, revitalizing the area.
A Tourism Village sprung up and began to serve as a welcoming entity for tens of thousands of cruise tourists annually. Many departed for inland and island destinations, but little-by-little, they stayed in Belize City as it developed a unique personality. The mouth of the river that had been the founding point of Belize City began to turn around.
What remains of this city’s history?
Remnants of the past and promise for the future. A rich legacy lives on amid Belize City’s business and commercial centers and while these entities look toward the future, they have not forgotten the past. Visitors roam Albert and Queen Streets, named for Victoria, the monarch occupying England’s throne when Belize was known as British Honduras and served as a crown colony.
Vintage buildings that did not succumb to hurricanes are being remodeled to serve as quarters for artisans, thus when visitors tour historic Baron Bliss Lighthouse, the Marine Terminal and Museum and the former Government House (now the Belize City House of Culture) they get a taste of Belize City’s past and future.
Visits to guest houses, local hotels and museums include fabulous displays of Belize furniture, crafted from trees that, according to some historians, literally launched Belize City. Belizeans are as excited about the future as they are proud of the past, which is why Belize City is destined to remain a symbol of how a city remains strong and vibrant, no matter how many changes come to pass.