Better Belize it

By | Category: Travel destinations
close up shot of an iguana in Belize

a male iguana in all its glory!

He looks like something from Jurassic Park. The male Belizean iguana lumbers slowly along the deck in front of the lagoon in Placencia, passing moored boats, kayaks and a few humans slouched in colourful hammocks, On closer inspection he looks more like a cross between dragon and dinosaur, with a golden crown and an orange frill. He is shortly joined by his missus, a disappointingly plain green female whose appearance is not so striking but who is equally happy to pose for some photographs.

Although it is possible to sit and observe this show from the comfort of our cabana, the best way to see Belizean wildlife is by boat.  There is so much to see you need the help of a local expert to ensure you don’t miss anything. Taking us on the water from Placencia through the mangrove to Monkey River our guide, Percy, is the man who can spot a sleeping crocodile which to me just looked like an old log. He can also spot any number of tiger herons, hawks, vultures and cormorants and a strange little agouti-type creature which scurries along the bank. Percy says with relish that this ‘rat’ as he calls it is a great local delicacy and his personal favourite for Christmas dinner!  Fortunately for us we lunch at Percy’s sister’s at Monkey River village where the food is recognisably non-vermin.

 a handful of termites

“minty” termites anyone?

As we stop at the jungle, Percy starts to howl. This is his way of attracting the playful howler monkeys that swing from the trees in the dense foliage. Howlers are native to Central America and make their shrieking sounds to notify other monkeys where they are. Percy tells us jaguars also inhabit the forest and shows us one of their footprints.  A walk through the jungle also turns into a lesson in natural medicine – Percy knows which trees offer cures for symptoms ranging from common colds, stomach problems and impotence. He pauses at one point to grab a handful of edible termites – ‘they are so minty’ he urges. The orange insects do indeed have a menthol taste but the wriggly experience is not to everyone’s palette

Plancencian born and bred, Percy Gordon turns out to have almost celebrity status – he has appeared in Esquire magazine in the USA under the title ‘King of the Howlers’ and has put Monkey River on the map thanks to his theatrical tours peppered with tall tales. (Did he really kill a crocodile with his bare hands? Who knows, but it makes a good story.)

Percy Gordon

the man himself – Percy Gordon

On the boat ride back he takes us to a point in the ocean where we can see manatees – incredibly ugly plump bewhiskered walrus-like creatures that cavort in the water like pups.

Placencia, which juts into the sea from Belize’s southeast coast, is a good base for exploring this part of Belize and with a lagoon on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other the popular caye  ( a small, low sandy island usually perched on a coral reef) near the village is dotted with pretty cabanas, guest houses and condos. There is a good selection of restaurants selling fresh fish (lobster season starts in June) and colourful happy hour beach bars are scattered along the famous ‘Sidewalk ‘popular with locals and tourists alike. Placencia has its own airport with short flights to Belize City and we were lucky enough to be the only passengers booked on our outward flight with Maya Air, so securing a tiny plane all to ourselves with our own private pilot.

The Great Blue Hole

Below the water Belize is naturally proud of its famous Blue Hole, a large underwater sinkhole visible from space. Over 300 metres (984 ft.) across and 125 metres (410 ft.) deep it is the world’s largest natural formation of its kind, near a small atoll 100 kilometres from the mainland of Belize City. The marine life in these areas includes nurse sharks, giant groupers, and several types of reef sharks such as the Caribbean reef shark and the Blacktip shark. Jacques Cousteau made an investigation of the Great Blue Hole and the Belize atolls in the 1970s which triggered the start of its attraction for today’s divers, making Belize one of the top destinations for avid divers.

And as the country has the second largest barrier reef in the world there are also beautiful pristine areas of reef teeming with sea life. Dive companies abound throughout the country which has made a commitment to protecting its natural beauty. Last year saw the 20th anniversary of the Belize barrier reef’s designation as a world heritage site, only one of 47 sites around the world with this status.  Belizeans rely heavily on the reef and the sea, with thousands relying on the reef for their livelihoods and many communities dependent on tourism, which accounts for 25% of the country’s GNP.

a beach and palm trees on Placencia

Placencia

It is 40 years this year since Belize changed its name from British Honduras just 4 years before it became independent from the UK in 1981. English speaking, and with many UK connections, few British people visit here, probably because there are no direct flights from the UK. A firm favourite with Americans (Miami is only a few hours away) many of who retire here, Belize has resisted mass tourism from Europe and there are no big all-inclusive or resort hotels which tend to attract tour operators and airlines.  However, this will no doubt change as development and construction was visible throughout the country. This may be a good time to go when the quiet relaxed ambience of Belize still makes it an undiscovered Caribbean destination.

diving in Belize

the coast of Belize has become a big attraction for divers

Located in Northern Central America facing the Caribbean Sea bordering Mexico to the north and Guatemala to the south, most flights are via the USA (Miami, Houston, Atlanta, Dallas and Newark) Guatemala or Cancun. Once in Belize City comfortable ferries take visitors to the various points of interest around the country.

But Belize is certainly worth going the extra mile – it offers a mixture of natural beauty, Mayan architecture and traditions alongside the traditional beach and rum holiday offerings associated with this part of the world.

For more about Belize, click here.

 

 

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