Belize offers Mayan ruins, Caribbean pleasures
“Living in Belize is like living in the U.S. in the mid 1950s.” (US expatriate who with his wife left Seattle to retire in San Ignacio)
My wife, Marcia Jacobson, and I like to be in a warm place between my Cornell semesters, and this year we chose Belize — formerly British Honduras — a relatively small country that became independent in 1981 and is bordered on the north by Mexico, on the south and on the west by Guatemala, and to the east by the Caribbean Sea.
Because it was once a British colony and people speak English, Belize is a good place for U.S. and Canadian citizens to vacation. Most tourists go to Belize to learn about the Mayan culture and to enjoy sea activities such as scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing and swimming. Birding is also popular. Families and young adults find ample resources for adventure activities, such as rappelling and zip lining as well as cave exploration and cave tubing, particularly at Actun Tunichil Muknal, offered referred to as ATM.
Of the 325,000 people, many are descendants of Mayas, and these are often Catholics; others include U.S. expatriates, Chinese, Indians from India as well as Amish and other Mennonite settlers who live in their own self-defined enclaves. Tourism is the major industry. The soil is not great, but good enough to support large gardens and small farms. In San Ignacio, many tourist workers supplement their seasonal incomes by growing their own food and selling the surplus.
Given the beauty, climate, and size (8,800 square miles), I am somewhat puzzled as to why so few people live in Belize. Part of the reason is the lack of employment and subsequent emigration. With such a small population, Belize also lacks the tax base to sustain an infrastructure of roads to fully support its tourist economy. Except for the main roads to major cities (which are at least paved in most places), what we would call a system of roads ranges — even to the major Mayan tourist sites — from unsatisfactory to virtually non-existent.