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departures | dispatch ESSENTIALS


SELLING TIPS n Belize is little more than a two-hour flight from the US and is the only English-speaking country on the Central American mainland. n Belize is small, and lends itself to a self-drive vacation or an escorted drive trip — you can see what the whole country has to offer inside a week or 10 days. n The country has seen no major revolutions or civil wars in recent years, unlike many of its neighbors. n It’s easy to combine Belize with Guatemala, with Honduras’s Copan Mayan site and with Mexico’s Mayan Riviera. n Belize is home to the unique Garifuna culture, which melds African and South American native traditions and languages. Visit the Gulisi Garifuna Museum in Dangriga to learn about their history. n The world-famous Blue Hole is off the Belize coast, measuring 1,000ft across and 412ft deep. Immense stalactites, dripstone sheets and columns, and awesome marine life make this a must-dive.


WHO FLIES THERE? The following airlines fly direct and at least daily to Belize City’s International Airport: American/US Airways from Dallas and Miami, Delta from Atlanta, and United from Houston. Delta operates a weekly flight from Los Angeles (on Saturdays) and United offers seasonal flights several times a week from Newark. Inside the country, Tropic Air and Maya Island Air operate small prop planes connecting the main towns and the islands.


SAMPLE Belize & Costa Rica Travelpoints offers an eight-day Belize Jungle & Island Get-Away package combining a jungle lodge in the Cayo region and a stay on a private caye. Priced from $1,499, it includes all lodgings, meals, excursions, internal flights, transfers and taxes. T: 1 800 626 3483. belizetravelpoints.com


San Pedro, Ambergris Caye


CONVINCE ME Eyewitness: Coasting along


Hanging out in Hopkins, I was enjoying slow walks and bike rides along the village’s sandy roads. I’d met a few locals, tried the local beer and rum, and had caught a small gang of Garifuna guys playing their drums and performing a beautiful, strange dance with arms out and hips waggling. I’d heard rumors about their food and so, when


I saw a sign for Illies, offering ‘Garifuna food for special ok’shons’, I stopped to talk to the owner Claude. The restaurant served fish and Garifuna staples such as plantain mash and cassava bread, and I told Claude I’d be back tomorrow for lunch. The following morning, out on a pre-breakfast


walk on the beach, who should I meet but Claude, preparing his motor launch “to go and catch some sea bass for you”, he says. This was a classic Belizean experience: everything local, life lived at a slow Caribbean pace, and service with a smile. I’d come into Belize from Guatemala, and


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traveled south to north along Belize’s only major coast road. The south is rugged and forest-clad, with Garifuna settlements and Mayan villages. It’s all about kicking back here, but by day I made short trips out to the Garifuna village of Barranco, the waterfall on the Rio Blanco, and the small Maya site of Lubaantun. The latter means ‘pile


of stones’, and the site, while not as impressive as the sites of Guatemala and Honduras, is evocative, with palms bursting through the ruin and lots of edible tropical plants. Hopkins, a small, rather idyllic village right on


the beach was a natural place to stop on the drive north. I explored the area by bike and on foot, and set out on a laid-back excursion up the winding Sittee River — here I saw herons and kingfishers along the mangrove-lined banks. Everyone spoke English, but I also heard Spanish, the local Kriol language, some Mayan dialects and Garifuna, which at times sounds like Jamaican patois. I wrapped up my trip on Ambergris Caye, in the


resort town of San Pedro. A motorboat whisked me away from Belize City to an island where there was no noise and few cars but plenty to do. I took short walks to see birds, indulged in seafood and took trips out to Belize’s Barrier Reef. I snorkeled at Shark-Ray Alley, which speaks for


itself, and also enjoyed a few swims over the top of the reef. It’s extraordinarily rich in species and color, and with strong sunlight and clear water, the views are breathtaking. The reef is Belize’s obvious draw, but don’t spend all your time underwater. There’s plenty more to see than fishes. n


IMAGE: AWL IMAGES


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