Keeping It Real In Belize
From Pyramids To Parrot Fish: It’s Great To Get Down To Earth In Belize
By Tim Johnson
It came exactly as described – a blue hole. Located deep in the Belizean rainforest, this cold, aquamarine swimming spot called the Blue Hole was like something out of a postcard, or a dream.
Shaded by the thick jungle canopy, it was fed by springs and drained by a small waterfall. And it was all ours – my group of friends were the only visitors that day.
We stripped down to our bathing suits and jumped in, washing away the heavy tropical heat in the cool, blue waters. It was wonderful, and it was just our first adventure in this lovely nation.
A tiny, former-British colony, Belize has been attracting eco-tourists for decades, but it has just recently stepped into its own as a premiere world destination.
Gaining its independence from the United Kingdom in 1981, Belize is an English-speaking nation of just over 300,000 that’s surrounded by Latin America – a curious place that mixes together Commonwealth values in a tropical setting. My friends and I would learn that it is a country where the adventures are real, close to the ground and unforgettable.
Most travellers head straight to the coast or deep into the jungle, to one of the country’s many eco-lodges, but we chose instead to start in Belmopan, Belize’s small-city capital.
Following the destruction of Hurricane Hattie, which levelled Belize City in 1961, the capital was moved 80 kilometres inland to Belmopan, which at the time was little more than a sleepy backwater. Now it bustles with both commercial and government business, and for us it served as the perfect, central striking-off point for our daily excursions.
The day after our swim in the Blue Hole, we decided to experience some of the area’s famous Mayan history. This part of the Yucatan was a hotbed of Mayan settlement, and the location of Belize’s premiere Mayan site of Xunantunich, which is pronounced ‘zoo-nan-too-neech’. Mayan settlement began in Belize as early as 1500 BC, and the region became the beating heart of the civilization between 250 and 900 AD.
Arriving at the site, we spent the morning walking around the various pyramids. There are some 26 temples and pyramids at the site, most of which have been excavated to reveal intricate handiwork and impressive engineering. At the main pyramid, we climbed to the top, enjoying the cool breezes and views over the surrounding, densely-forested area, which stretched all the way to Guatemala.
Next, we visited the smaller attractions around town. We stopped in at the Belize Zoo. Now, I’m not normally a zoo person – I’d always rather see animals in the wild – but this was a very different kind of zoo. Featuring only animals from Belize, we viewed everything – some125 animals in total, from snakes and iguanas to tucans and the tapir, Belize’s comically ugly national animal.
We also visited the local markets in Belmopan, spending an entire afternoon shopping for fresh fruit before whiling away the hours sitting at the picnic table in front of our guesthouse, peeling and eating incredibly juicy pineapple, papaya, mangoes and star fruit.
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