While I was traveling around Latin America, most people looked at me confused when I told them I was from Belize. Despite being such close neighbors, Belize isn't really well known. The tiny country packs so many surprises that peaks so much curiosity.
Belize is unique in so many ways starting with its Caribbean influence despite being a part of Latin America. This extends to the food, culture and even the language which is officially English. The local flora & fauna is also spectacularly untouched with access to reefs and rainforests.
Let's find out why Belize is so different from its neighbors.
Out of all the countries in Central America, Belize has the lowest population at only 400,000 people. All other countries in the region start at a population of four million people. The benefit of having such a low population density is that we can enjoy so much untouched flora & fauna. And on top of this, you can jump from the reef to rainforest in a single day. You can literally travel from north all the way to the south of the country in only six hours!
Table: Central American countries by population from Worldometers.
Even though English is the official language in Belize, the majority of the locals speak Belizean Creole which is a broken English. Some locals use lots of slang words and speak very fast at times. Other locals even mix Spanish into the equation to create a Creole Spanglish. So my best advice is to tell the locals to speak slowly if you have trouble.
Belize might be a part of Central America, but it's a lot more Caribbean than it is Latin American. Compared to our Mexican and Guatemalan neighbors, the vibe is very different. For starters, Creole, the English-based dialect will sound like you're in Jamaica or Barbados. The music taste is also unique in Belize with an inclination towards Reggae, Soca and Dance hall in the regions inhabited by the Creole people. Even the food tastes more Caribbean with most plates having coconut as an ingredient and lots of spice.
Besides being lucky enough to have access to the Caribbean Sea, Belize also has the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere. This gives it pristine beaches and very calm waters. It also makes it a paradise for snorkeling, free diving, and scuba diving. Approximately 386km of coastline is home to coral reefs, cayes and islands which almost makes it home to 500 species of fish, 106 species of coral and hundreds of invertibrate species.
If you're a fan of wildlife, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is a premier site for jaguar preservation in the world. It's also hosts to several hiking trails for all levels where you can enjoy the flora & fauna Belize has to offer. Birding and night hiking is popular in this area, and it's a wild experience. I've personally never spotted a jaguar, but I've seen claw marks and footprints which gives me a rush every single time.
Belize was a British colony previously known as British Honduras up until 1981 when it was granted independence. Unlike our neighbors in the region, we still use miles instead of kilometers, Fahrenheit instead of Celsius, and pounds instead of kilos.
It's easy to forget that the country is closer to the Caribbean than its neighbors in Central America. Given it has access to the coast, means everyone can get their hands on coconuts! The most popular dish, rice & beans is actually cooked with coconut which gives it a sweet flavor. Coconut oil is also used to cook plantains. Other foods/drinks with coconut include: creole bread, coconut tart, boil up soup, coconut rum, coconut water.
Hallelujah! The country has no fast food chains. And we hope it stays that way. Subway tried to open a franchise chain a while back, but it failed miserably. The local Belizean Subs were a lot cheaper and tastier apparently. So no McDonald's while you're in Belize. It would be nice to have the free wifi though.
That's right! The dollar is accepted here in Belize. Why? Because, most of the tourists are U.S. Americans. Statistics show 3 out of 4 of tourists are from the U.S. with Europeans and Canadians following behind. It's important to note that the dollar bills are accepted but not the coins! And remember tipping is not required in Belize. That's strictly a U.S. American culture thing. So tip whatever you feel like tipping.
Hopefully this helps you see Belize differently.
Until next time :)