Moon Belize (Moon Handbooks) - Lebawit Lily Girma (2015)
Immerse yourself in Belize’s diverse population—which includes Kriol, Garífuna, Maya, Mestizo, Mennonite, East Indian, Chinese, and even Lebanese—to get the most of local culture. Listen to Kriol, dance to African drums, sample Mayan corn tortillas, tour a Garífuna temple, or attend one of many carnival festivals.
Arrive in Belize City and sample your first plate of stew chicken with rice and beans at Deep Sea Marlin’s Restaurant and Bar. Gaze over Haulover Creek as you listen to daily Creole chatter drowning out the reggae music. Take a leisurely afternoon stroll to the Government House and House of Culture to soak in the colonial history, then cross the street to admire St. John’s Anglican Cathedral. Catch a taxi to enjoy a quiet early evening alfresco at Bird’s Isle Restaurant for fresh seafood and Creole specialties.
Rise early and head to Dit’s to sample a Creole breakfast of fry jacks and eggs, then order some fresh-baked strawberry jam tarts for your trip to Burrell Boom. Catch a bus to the Community Baboon Sanctuary in nearby Bermudian Landing, where you’ll hike, learn about Kriol culture, and explore local villages. Grab some fresh cashew wine from a roadside vendor (but save the drinking for later). To overnight in Burrell Boom, pitch a tent at the Community Baboon Sanctuary, arrange a homestay with a local family, or check into Black Orchid Resort, a riverside lodge where you can listen to the monkeys howling above the Belize River.
Travel south to Dangriga on the southern coast. Dangriga is the “culture capital of Belize,” where a mere walk in town is a cultural experience. Stop at Austin Rodriguez’s Drum Workshop at Y-Not Island, where you can watch him carve a Garífuna drum from scratch. Stroll the Y-Not Island beach, then head to Wadani Recreation Centre (known as “Wadani Shed”) at sunset to throw back a Guinness and watch the locals play dominoes. Better yet, stay late to catch some live drumming. Before the day ends, plan a trip to Sabal Farm, the only cassava-making farm in the country.
Start your morning at the Gulisi Garífuna Museum and take in some history on this Afro-Caribbean culture. Afterward, tour the Marie Sharp Store and Factory and learn why her hot sauce bottles are on every tabletop and in every restaurant in Belize. Don’t forget to sample her jams, too. Save the afternoon for your pre-arranged trip to nearby Sabal Farm.
Catch a bus south and hop off at the village of Maya Centre. Julio Saqui can give you a guided tour of the Maya Centre Maya Museum, where you’ll learn about Mayan culture through displays and live presentations. Walk or get a ride to Nu’uk Che’il Cottages and Hmen Herbal Center, run by Aurora Garcia Saqui, niece of the late illustrious Maya healer Elijio Panti. Tour the four-acre botanical garden and medicine trail, then overnight on-site or ask about a village homestay.
The next day, book a healing session or massage, attend a seminar on Mayan herbal medicine, or explore the nearby Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.
Hop on a bus north to sleepy Hopkins and take a well-deserved beach break. Hopkins’s beaches are some of the best in the country—pick a spot along the thick, golden stretch and gaze out at the calm sea. When hungry, find Laruni Hati Beyabu Diner and sample Marva’s plate of hudut, a signature Garífuna dish. Claim your hammock or simply sit on your porch at Coconut Row Guest House for a relaxing overnight stay.
Rhythms of Belize
Belize’s annual bashes are the perfect way to glimpse Belizeans’ celebratory spirit and get a taste of the music—more than six genres, each unique to a particular region and culture.
✵ Summer Fiestas (July): Towns celebrate their patron saints with giant fairs, games, concerts, and plenty of outdoor grills all set up inside the town stadium. Visit Benque Viejo del Carmen’s Benque Fiesta, Orange Walk’s Fiestarama, and Ambergris Caye’s Día de San Pedro.
✵ Deer Dance Festival (Aug.): San Antonio Village showcases all things Maya. The highlight is a deer dance costume performance (an ancient ritual reenacting the hunting of a deer) set to traditional Mayan harps.
marching band performing at Fiestarama
✵ Pan Yaad (Sept.): This lively seaside steel-pan concert is a treat, with up to five bands from around Belize performing at Belize City’s House of Culture.
✵ Belize City Carnival (mid-Sept.): Belize City hosts a colorful Caribbean Carnival. Orange Walk Town’s Mestizo-themed Orange Walk Carnival is just as popular and held on September 21, Belize’s Independence Day. San Pedro celebrates its carnival in February.
✵ Garífuna Settlement Day (Nov. 18): Dangriga turns into a massive street party on the eve of Garífuna Settlement Day. Don’t miss the drumming and punta dancing under the Wadani Shed. The merriment continues into the next day.
✵ Brokdong Bram (Dec.): A traditional brokdong bram celebration takes place in the village of Gales Point at Christmastime. Brokdong is a festive Creole genre blending various instruments, including drums, maracas, banjo, and even the jawbone of an ass.
Extend your stay
Stay in Hopkins or immerse in the deep south? Grab breakfast at Tina’s Kitchen (her fry jacks are also some of the best I’ve had in Belize); ask about her weekly Garífuna specialties. Spend the day beachcombing or kayaking before your afternoon drumming lesson with Jabbar at the award-winning Lebeha Drumming Center. At night, drink shots of bitters with the locals at Tina’s or Corner Bar, or take in some live Garífuna drumming on Tuesday at Driftwood Beach Bar and Pizza Shack. Hop over to neighboring South Water Caye on a snorkeling trip and marvel at the southern barrier reef’s splendor. End the night by wining and dining at the talented Chef Tony’s Barracuda Bar & Grill. You could also head directly to Punta Gorda, and experience a Mayan village homestay.
The Mundo Maya
It’s estimated that at the height of the Classic Period, the area known as Belize was home to at least one million Maya. Today, Belize is home to 11 partly or fully excavated, protected Mayan archeological sites. Each had an intricate role in Mayan history and architecture. The Belize Institute of Archaeology (NICH, www.nichbelize.org) manages all archaeological sites.
✵ Altun Ha: This ancient trading center, surrounded by rainforest and vine, is where the largest jade head carving in the Mayan world was discovered (click here).
✵ Caracol Archaeological Site: Belize’s largest and most impressive Mayan site sits deep in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, with several pyramids, including the tallest countrywide, Canaa, reaching 136 feet above the plaza floor. It is believed that Caracol toppled neighboring Tikal and shut it down for more than a century (click here).
✵ Lamanai Archaeological Site: Besides the impressive temples engraved with jaguar heads, the boat ride on New River to Lamanai and the surrounding rainforest are ideal for birding and wildlife-watching (click here).
temple at Lamanai
✵ Lubaantun Archaeological Site: The infamous site of the mysterious crystal skull also has the most unique construction design, with round-edged temples and stones cut to fit perfectly together (click here).
✵ Marco Gonzalez Maya Site: Ongoing excavations at this site on Ambergris Caye turn up exciting discoveries each year (click here).
✵ Xunantunich Archaeological Site: Located in the Cayo District, Xunantunich is easily one of the most scenic sites in Belize. This ancient ceremonial center has the second-tallest temple, El Castillo, at 135-feet high (page). Stop by the smaller Cahal Pech, a 10-minute walk from downtown San Ignacio (click here).
Belize sign photo op