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Three Perfect Days: Belize

A mecca for hard-core scuba divers and laid-back beach types, this tiny Central American country on the Caribbean has even more to offer—vast ancient ruins, stunning native crafts and a wealth of exotic flora and fauna—for those who venture off the beaten path

Author Joe Keohane Photography Al Argueta

The view from Caana, at the Mayan historical site Caracol

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Number of years since country was founded: 31
Population: 356,600
Size, in square miles: 8,867
Rank among Central American countries in population density: 7 (the least dense)
Percentage of forested land: 61
Percentage of protected land: 36
Miles of road, total: 1,868
Miles of road, paved: 357
Number of coral atolls: 3 (out of four total in the Western Hemisphere)
Number of national animals: 2 (Baird’s tapir and the keel-billed toucan)

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A neglected cuisine has its day

For all its variety, Belizean food often gets short shrift, overshadowed by that of its neighbor to the north, Mexico. But last year saw the publication of the first proper Belizean cookbook, Flavors of Belize, compiled by Belize City designer and publisher Tanya McNab and packed with a mix of traditional and contemporary Belizean recipes, as well as insight into the history and development of the native cuisine.

The inspiration came from McNab’s childhood. Her grandfather, who owned the first supermarket in Belize City, ran an annual Christmas contest that asked customers to send in their favorite recipes—which they did, in vast numbers. Aiming to recapture that collaborative spirit, McNab spent a year gathering as many recipes as she could from locals, chefs and even her own grandmother. That last one, though, proved a challenge. “The hardest part,” McNab says, “was pinning her down and getting her to tell us what goes in there.”

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The case for straying from the pavement

It’s only fairly recently that travelers have been able to drive in Belize without a subsequent visit to the chiropractor. Over the past few years several of the main roads have been paved, allowing for an ease of movement that in turn has triggered tourism boomlets around the country. Which is all the more reason to, perversely, seek out the Coastal Highway.

Heading north from Placencia, you’re presented with two options: the long way, on the paved Hummingbird Highway, and the short way, on the unpaved and unruly 30-mile Coastal Highway. The latter trip will take over an hour, and you likely won’t see more than two or three other motorists (so if you break down, you’re out of luck for a while). But with risk comes reward—it’s a spectacularly beautiful drive, superior to the Hummingbird in the scenery department, even if it does rattle your fillings. Go get it while it lasts.

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The inside scoop from those in the know

“I’d recommend cave tubing in the Caves Branch River outside San Ignacio, in Cayo. It’s a natural cave. It’s very exciting and it’s a taste of Belize.”

“Go to Laughing Bird Caye from April to June, and you can see whale sharks. You don’t even have to snorkel—you can see them by just standing next to the water.”

“A great cultural hot spot is Dangriga, a small village. When the Garifuna people migrated here they came in dugout canoes, and every Nov. 19 they reenact that day with a big party.”

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One Response to “Three Perfect Days: Belize”

  1. Barbara Solak (retiree) Says:
    February 23rd, 2013 at 11:06 am

    I have been fascinated with Belize since it became independent. I enjoyed reading about it and would love to visit some day. Since I am not a water person, I was excited to see that there are many road trips. I love to do site-seeing. I’ll probably never be able to afford it but enjoy reading about such a beautifil country.

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