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Belize

 


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Xunantunich

an Ancient Maya archaeological site in western Belize, about 80 miles (130 km) west of Belize City, in the Cayo District. Xunantunich is located atop a ridge above the Mopan River, well within sight of the Guatemala border – which is a mere 1 kilometer (0.62 mi) to the west. It served as a Maya civic ceremonial center in the Late and Terminal Classic periods to the Belize Valley region. At this time, when the region was at its peak, nearly 200,000 people lived in Belize.

Xunantunich’s name means “Stone Woman” in the Maya language (Mopan and Yucatec combination name), and, like many names given to Maya archaeological sites, is a modern name; the ancient name is currently unknown.


 

Belize Barrier Reef

A series of coral reefs straddling the coast of Belize, roughly 300 meters (980 ft) offshore in the north and 40 kilometers (25 mi) in the south within the country limits. The Belize Barrier Reef is a 300-kilometer (190 mi) long section of the 900-kilometer (560 mi) Meso-American Barrier Reef System, which is continuous from Cancun on the north-eastern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula through the Riviera Maya and up to Honduras, making it the second largest coral reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It is Belize’s top tourist destination, popular for scuba diving and snorkeling. It is also vital to the country’s fishing industry.

Charles Darwin described it as “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies” in 1842.

In addition to its barrier reef, it also boasts three distinct Caribbean atolls: Turneffe Reef, Lighthouse Reef and Glovers Reef. Lighthouse Reef is the most easterly diving area in Belize, it is home to the Great Blue Hole, made famous by Jacques Cousteau in 1970; Turneffe Reef Atoll lies directly to the east of Belize City and is the nearest of the atolls to the capital. These different reefs provide diverse scuba diving opportunities that include walls, pinnacles and reef flats that are located throughout an enormous area of sea.


 

The Blue Hole

This is a popular spot among recreational scuba divers who are lured by the opportunity to dive in sometimes crystal-clear water and meet several species of fish, including Midnight Parrotfish, Caribbean reef shark, and other juvenile fish species. Other species of sharks, such as the bull shark and hammerheads, have been reported there, but are not regularly sighted. Usually, day trips to the Great Blue Hole are full-day trips from the coastal tourist communities in Belize.

On-shore caves of similar formation, as large collapsed sinkholes, are well known in Belize and in the Yucatan Peninsula, where they are known as cenotes. Unlike the mainland cenotes which often link to underwater cave systems, there is little evidence of horizontal development in the Blue Hole.

In 2012, Discovery Channel ranked the Great Blue Hole as number one on its list of “The 10 Most Amazing Places on Earth”


The Hol Chan Marine Reserve

Zone A mostly consists of the Hol Chan Cut, a natural break in the reef. The cut is approximately 75 ft wide and 30 ft deep (Hol Chan is Mayan for “little channel”), and is rich in marine life. Around the cut the sea can be as shallow  as 5 ft. On the outside of the reef the channel slopes into the Caribbean, and on the inside of the reef tails off into the shallows. Zone D, Shark Ray Alley, is a shallow sandy-bottomed area inside the reef, unremarkable except that it is a gathering place for sharks and stingrays. It was an area traditionally used by fisherman to clean their nets before returning to port, and the abundance of food that entered the water as a result attracted the sharks and rays to feed.

Hol Chan Cut is open to the sea beyond the reef, so allows marine creatures to travel from the outside of the reef to the inside and vice versa. Over 160 species of fish have been recorded in the reserve, along with forty types of coral, five species of sponge, two sea grasses, three species of sea turtle and three marine mammals: the short-beaked common dolphin, pan tropical spotted dolphin and West Indian manatee. Spotted eagle rays and southern stingrays are common at the bottom of the channel. Lobsters, moray eels and sea anemones live among the rocky outcrops, and some of the many corals include brain coral, elk horn coral, leaf coral, and finger coral. Jacks, groupers, snappers and barracuda are all common.


 

 

Actun Tunichil Muknal

also known locally as Xibalba or ATM, is a cave in Belize, near San Ignacio, Cayo District, notable as a Maya archaeological site that includes skeletons, ceramics, and stoneware. There are several areas of skeletal remains in the main chamber. The best-known is “The Crystal Maiden”, the skeleton of a teenage girl, possibly a sacrifice victim, whose bones have been calcified to a sparkling, crystallized appearance.

The ceramics at the site are significant partly because they are marked with “kill holes”, which indicate that they were used for ceremonial purposes. Many of the Maya artifacts and remains are completely calcified to the cave floor. One artifact, named the “Monkey Pot”, is one of just four of its type found in Central America. The Maya also modified cave formations here, in some instances to create altars for the offerings, in others to create silhouettes of faces and animals or to project a shadow image into the cave. The cave is extensively decorated with cave formations in the upper passages.


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Belize Travel Information and Tips

Passports

Visitors to Belize must possess a passport valid for at least three months after the date of arrival and a return ticket with sufficient funds to cover their stay. Visitors are given a one-month stay, after which an extension can be applied for with the Immigration Department. Visas are not required for citizens of the United States and its territories, Canada, United Kingdom and its territories, European Union, Caribbean and Central American Countries. For visitors driving/boating into Belize from Guatemala or Mexico, a temporary importation permit must be secured at the point of entry. Vehicle/vessel permits are valid for 30 days.

Traveling With Children

We love kids! Children under 18 years of age must have proper documentation, including a valid passport and letter of parental consent. Children traveling with one parent require a notarized letter of authority from the other parent indicating travel consent.

Traveling With Pets

Pets must be accompanied by a veterinary certificate issued by a registered veterinarian from country of origin and an import permit from the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) +011-501-2231653.

One of the nicest things about visiting Belize is the weather. With an average yearly temperature of 84° F (29°C), it’s always warm, yet comfortable. Coastal sea breezes as well as our jungle and rainforests keep you cool even in the hottest summer months while winters can be cool but never very cold. In short, the climate is pretty much near perfect. Even in winter (November-March) the temperature in Belize rarely falls below 60°F (16°C), while the summer (May-September) is around 86°F (30°C). Humidity is also fairly consistent at around 85 percent.

Belize’s dry season is between February and May and has significantly lower rainfall than the rest of the year. When it does rain, it is usually in mild, short bursts.

June through December is our wet season, when parts of the country receive up to 150 inches of rain and the heavy, sometimes wild storms associated with the Caribbean occur, usually in the late afternoons. The most frequent rainfall usually happens in June or early July and is punctuated by a break in late July or August known as the “little dry.”

We also have a hurricane season, and while statistically Belize does not attract many major direct hits, it does get its share of severe tropical weather with high winds and rain. However, we have cooperative early warning network that we share with our neighbors. Our safety, evacuation and other procedures have proven to be effective, so no worries.

Belize is located in Central America and it is bordered to the north by Mexico, to the south and west by Guatemala and to the east by the Caribbean Sea. We are a diverse country with various cultures and languages. We also have the lowest population density in Central America with 35 people per square mile or 14 people per square kilometer.

Belize is also known for its extreme biodiversity and distinctive ecosystems. On the coast, there is a swampy coastal plain with mangrove swamps. In the south and interior there are hills and low mountains. Most of our land is undeveloped and is forested with hardwoods. It is a part of the Meso-American biodiversity hotspot and it has many jungles, wildlife reserves, a large variety of different species of flora and fauna and the largest cave system in Central America. Some species of Belize’s flora and fauna include the black orchid, the mahogany tree, the toucan and tapirs.

Belize currency exchange is extremely easy for American visitors. The Belize dollar is locked at $2 Belize = $1 USD. So it’s very easy to see how much something is costing in USD when you go shopping. Most accommodations and tours are listed in US$ prices, and most restaurants, shops, etc. are listed in BZ$. Nearly everyplace readily accepts USD currency. Most also should accept traveler’s checks as long as you write your passport number or driver’s license number on the back. Large bills (anything above a $20) are a little more difficult to cash. Shopkeepers generally ask you to spend a minimum amount.

ATMs are also available across the country, particularly in most tourist destinations- including Placenica,Punta Gorda, Belmopan, Dangriga, Belize City, San Pedro Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, Orange Walk, San Ignacio and Corozal.

In Belize you’ll hear familiar words of the English language. In fact, Belize is the only English language-speaking country in Central America. While English is the official language of Belize, Kriol is the language that is spoken.
Here, even our language is a diverse adventure. Spanish, African-based Garifuna, Maya-Kekchi, Maya Mopan, Mandarin, German are just a few of the languages that form the unique dialects we speak throughout the country.

In Belize, the traditions and customs are varied and represent more than eight diverse cultures. For generations, the people of Belize have demonstrated a cultural commitment to preserve the country’s unique charms. This enduring promise to the land, the waters and you, our visitor, inspires all to achieve a genuine and intimate connection to a variety of extraordinary experiences.

We are truly a melting pot of colorful personalities, making our 321,115 residents the country’s greatest resource for tourism. The Belizean people are made up of Maya, Mestizo, Kriol, Garifuna, East Indian, Mennonite, Arab and Chinese.

There also are a number of expatriates in Belize from Canada, Europe and the United States – and many of them retire here. A blending of cultures has resulted in one of the happiest and most peaceful countries in the region and a widespread reputation as one of the world’s friendliest tourist destination.

In Belize (formerly British Honduras), English remains the official language, but the most diverse language in Belize is Kriol (Belizean Creole). Other languages spoken include Garifuna, Mandarin, Spanish and Maya.

The first people to develop Belize were the Maya around 1500 B.C.E. As shown in archeological records, they established a number of settlements here. These include Caracol, Lamanai and Lubaantun. The first European contact with Belize occurred in 1502 when Christopher Columbus reached the area’s coast. In 1638, the first European settlement was established by England and for 150 years, many more English settlements were set up.

In 1840, Belize became a “Colony of British Honduras” and in 1862, it became a crown colony. For one hundred years after that, Belize was a representative government of England but in January 1964, full self government with a ministerial system was granted. In 1973, the region’s name was changed from British Honduras to Belize and on September 21, 1981, full independence was achieved.