Belize is famous for its warm waters, lush jungles and laid-back style. The country is also well known for its conservation efforts; after gaining independence in 1981, the nation's new government set aside 40 percent of its territory as protected land.
More than 200 delicate coral islands or "cayes" line Belize's Caribbean coast. The largest caye, Ambergris, was once a base for pirates. Today the island has another treasure: some of the best access to barrier reef diving. Its small town, San Pedro, is a picturesque mosaic of brightly colored houses. Nearby, Caye Caulker is accessible from San Pedro and Belize City. Just five miles long, this island of white sand beaches is a magnet for sport fishermen and divers.
Belize's greatest attraction is its barrier reef, offering fantastic scuba diving and snorkeling. Stretching over 200 miles, it is the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. One of the premier dive locations is The Blue Hole, a thousand-foot wide, 500-foot deep submerged cave. Located in the center of Lighthouse Reef, the hole is filled with unusual stalactites and stalagmites. First time visitors to Belize are pleased to learn that, near the surface, ocean temperatures average 80 degrees.
This is a tiny nation, just 180 miles long and 68 across; its lush mountains and jungles are within easy reach of the coastal resorts. Mayan sites such as Xunantunich and Altun Ha make fascinating day trips. Caracol, believed to be one of the largest ceremonial sites in the Mayan world, is located deep within the rain forest. There, an ancient temple rises 120-feet above a jungle populated by howler monkeys. Belize is an excellent place to start a tour of the Mayan region, which extends into Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Long popular with divers and eco-toursits, this English-speaking nation is now home to a fine collection of boutique resorts and charming inns. Some are located on the coast and cayes, others are located near the national parks and wildlife preserves of the interior.