The tiny country of Belize packs an astonishing range of attractions into a space slightly larger than New Jersey. The Maya left numerous enigmatic ruins, ranging from small ceremonial centers to major cities such as Caracol, thought to have had 150,000 inhabitants at its height in the eighth century. Forests of tropical hardwoods and palm trees house hundreds of colorful bird species, such as keel-billed toucans and scarlet macaws. The world’s second-largest barrier reef protects the coastline and shelters a rainbow of marine life. And just above sea level, picturesque cayes and barrier islands are home to mangrove forests, white-sand beaches and small-scale resorts.
With a population of just 350,000, Belize has done an outstanding job of protecting its environmental and historical riches. More than half of its primary forest remains intact, and at least a quarter of the country’s land and sea is set aside as national parks and nature reserves. Local people are more or less fluent in English, the official language. And outside of a few rough neighborhoods in Belize City, a place of little interest, the country is safe.
Belcampo Belize, Punta Gorda
Many visitors spend all their time by the coast on Ambergris Caye, but my favorite Belize itineraries include time both by the sea and in the jungle. Belcampo Belize, near Punta Gorda, in the relatively undiscovered southern province of Toledo, is the rare property that affords easy access to both. Although set high on a hillside, it takes only six minutes by funicular to descend to the Rio Grande, where Belcampo has kayaks and a large pontoon boat for snorkeling and fishing excursions. The resort comprises some 12,000 acres of land, including a forest-shaded cacao plantation — Belize’s largest — and fields of sugar cane destined to be distilled into rum in Belcampo’s new on-site distillery.