Belize : Reefs and Rainforest

Northern Barrier Reef Islands and Atolls
Ambergris Caye / Cayo Espanto / Caye Caulker
St. George's Caye / The Turneffe Islands / Lighthouse Reef

Ambergris Caye

The most famous of all the Belizean cayes, this long, slender island stretches north to south, just inside the famous barrier reef, for almost 25 miles. Close proximity to the reef makes this destination a favorite of SCUBA divers, snorkellers and fishermen alike. One sign in town says it all, "No shoes. No shirt. No problem." Made famous by Madonna in her song, "La Isla Bonita" ("The Beautiful Island"), this has long been the major tourist destination for visitors to Belize. In fact, over half of the visitors to Belize come here only and most of these are divers. Most of the residents (many of whom are American ex-pats who have escaped the rat-race) live in the pretty village of San Pedro, once a thriving fishing village but now mostly given over to the tourist industry. There are many upscale hotels, resorts and condominiums here along with some excellent restuarants and many dive shops. Once these sandy streets were free of traffic but tourists and locals alike get around by golf carts.

Cayo Espanto

Located three miles from San Pedro in the calm waters of the Western Caribbean, off the coast of Belize, Cayo Espanto is truly a spectacular and private retreat. The island is home to a luxury five star resort with only 4 one bedroom beachfront villas, 2 two-bedroom beachfront villas and 1 overwater bungalow, each with its own private plunge pool.

Caye Caulker

Once a hippie hangout and backpacker's haven, this laid back budget destination is not as inexpensive as was a few years ago. It does, however, remain, the easiest island to visit from Belize City as boats depart every morning from the Shell Station near the Swing Bridge. The boat trip costs $15 each way and with the new airstrip most flights en route for San Pedro will stop on request.

St. George's Caye

This small caye, 9 miles North-East of Belize City, is steeped in history and was once the home of buccaneers and pirates. Between 1650 and 1784 it was the first capital of the British settlement. The island's greatest moment of glory came on 10th September 1798 at the Battle of St. George's Caye.

On this day the Baymen of Belize prepared to defend their tiny settlement against a Spanish invasion of 32 ships carrying 2,000 troops and 500 seamen. The Baymen's modest fleet consisted of one sloop - HMS Merlin - with approximately 117 sailors and troops on board, two sloops with 25 men each and seven gun flats with 16 men each. The decisive battle was going to take place in the waters around St. George's Caye.

At the sound of the first gunfire about 200 colonial troops and Baymen, who had been left to guard the mainland, could not be restrained from going to the aid of the Merlin. Fishing smacks, dories, pitpans and anything else that could float set off with whatever arms could be mustered.

Incredibly, on that memorable day - heavily outnumbered and against all the odds - the Baymen achieved a decisive victory. Black men and white men fought courageously side by side, miraculously without the loss of a single life! The Spanish were not quite so fortunate and many of the dead are buried on nearby Caye Chappel. This was the last attempt made by the Spanish to oust the British from Belize.

The Turneffe Islands

The Turneffe Islands, located about 25 miles South-East of Ambergris Caye and 15 miles due East of Belize City form the largest of Belize's three atolls and covers an area of some 205 square miles. There was a flourishing natural sponge fishery at the turn of the century but disease and competition from synthetic sponges brought this to an end in the late 1930s. This maze of mangrove-lined channels and tiny uninhabited cayes were once the haunt of pirates who brought captured females here from Bacalar, just over the Mexican border. Offshore, at both the northern and southern end of the atoll, beautiful reefs and dramatic walls offer incredible diving with great visibility.

Lighthouse Reef

Lighthouse Reef is a part of the atoll's oval reef structure and home to a nesting colony of endangered, rare red-footed boobies. Lighthouse Reef provides scenic underwater topology and offers excellent, varied diving. A fascinating phenomenon at Lighthouse Reef is the "Blue Hole". A mammoth-size cave, once dry as evidenced by stalactites, has been submerged since the Ice Age. A portion of its ceiling collapsed at some time, forming a blue hole more than 400 feet deep and nearly 1,000 feet in diameter.

Southern Barrier Reef Islands and Atolls
Glover's Reef / Southwater Caye / Tobacco Caye

Glover's Reef

There are only 4 atolls in the entire Atlantic region and 3 of these are off the coast of Belize. The most southerly of these is Glover's Reef which is located 70 miles South-East of Belize City and 20 miles directly East from Dangriga. Named after the English pirate, John Glover, who lived on one of the tiny islands 200 years ago. This was an ideal location to plunder the Spanish Galleons in the Bay of Honduras and the British Crown turned a blind eye to his operations. The ships were en route to Spain, laden with treasure from the New World.

Glovers Reef is a 20 mile long, 7 mile wide, circular chain of coral outcrops which surround a crystal clear lagoon with more than 600 coral pinnacles and patch coral heads reaching toward the surface. Sheer walls beginning at 30 feet plummet vertically more than 2,000 feet making this a haven for scuba divers as most of this area is virtually unexplored. Dive trips can be arranged to Glovers from Dangriga, Tobacco Caye and Southwater Caye.

Southwater Caye

Southwater Caye is a half mile long palm-fringed coral island sitting right on top of the Barrier Reef with excellent snorkelling and diving. A 40 minute boat ride from Dangriga, there are several accommodation options including a deluxe dive resort - The Blue Marlin Lodge - and several cottages and rooms to rent which are owned by the Pelican Beach Hotel. The Southwater Caye Marine Reserve has been designated a World Heritage Site. The tiny island to the south is Carrie Bowe Caye, until recently, home to the Smithsonian Institute's Marine Research Station which was unfortunately razed to the ground by fire.

Tobacco Caye

Tobacco Caye is a pretty 5 acre palm-fringed island 4 miles north of Southwater Caye, also sitting on top of the reef which makes for excellent snorkelling offshore. Tobacco Caye was first settled by English Puritans who named the island after the first crop they planted here around 1640. Reached by boat from Dangriga in about 35 minutes there are several accommodation options ranging from individual cabanas with private bathrooms to basic A-frame huts. There are even a few permanent residents, mainly fishermen who still use old-fashioned hand lines.

Mainland - Western Belize
Belmopan / San Ignacio / Mountain Pine Ridge


Belmopan is the nations' capital. It was established in 1970 as an administrative center after Hurricane Hattie destroyed Belize City in 1961. The dwellers are mainly government officials and office workers. It is the tidiest city and is also claimed as the most peaceful and quiet one.

San Ignacio

The Cayo District, situated in the Western part of the country, is the major eco-tourism destination of Belize. This area is inhabited by a mixture of Mestizos and Central American immigrants who came to Belize escaping from the civil wars in their country. The twin towns of Santa Elena and San Ignacio form the area known locally as Cayo. It is probably the most scenic town in the entire country and this is mainly because it is located in a hilly area and includes part of the Maya Mountains.

There are many jungle lodges and remote resorts catering to those who are seeking a few days to explore the emerald mystique of the rainforests before heading off to the islands for some well earned R&R (rest and relaxation!!).

Climb to the top of temples and pyramids in the ancient Mayan cities that were hidden in the rainforest for 1,000 years to enjoy spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. Canoe trips down jungle rivers, a visit to the famous Panti Medicinal Trail and a ride on horseback in the moonlight will all add to your inland adventure.

The most fabulous of all Mayan sites - Tikal - is just over the Guatemalan border and day and overnight trips can easily be arranged from San Ignacio.

It is possible to recapture the pioneer spirit in relative comfort as most of the accommodations have modern facilities and all tours are accommpanied by excellent nature guides. 50% of the visitors to Belize only visit San Pedro on Ambergris Caye - they don't know what they are missing!!

Mountain Pine Ridge

The Mountain Pine Ridge is a major forest reserve in the country. Recently excavated is the Caracol Mayan Temple which is claimed to have conquered the Mayas of Tikal, the major Mayan city in Guatemala which is also easily accessible from this region. The major activities of Cayo are the production of citrus, grains and cattle rearing.

Mainland - Southern Belize
Dangriga / Placencia / Punta Gorda


Stann Creek is a coastal district which is inhabited mostly by Garifunas, descendants of Caribs from the island of St. Vincent. Its most important city, Dangriga, is known as the city of culture since the people are rich with its Garifuna music and dances characterized by the beating of drums. The Stann Creek Valley gives the district its distinct characteristic and natural beauty formed by the chain of surrounding mountains. Driving down the Hummingbird Highway, the most scenic road journey in Belize, from Belmopan to Stann Creek you can view the Sleeping Giant formed by the hills just as you enter the Valley. The Cockscomb Jaguar Reserve on the eastern side of the Maya Mountain is a major attraction for eco-tourists. The major economic activities in this area are fishing, the production of bananas and citrus. Indeed, as you drive on the highway along the valley you will be able to observe the citrus plantations and the two processing plants. Dangriga is also the departure point for visiting the cayes in the south.


The Placencia Peninsula parallels the southern coast of Belize for nearly 15 miles. On the western side, a narrow finger-shaped lagoon separates the peninsula from the mainland. Blanketing the eastern shore, a magnificent stretch of sun-drenched beach runs its entire length. This area has become a very popular tourist destination.

Punta Gorda

Toledo is the southern most district of the country. Many people would say that Toledo is the forgotten district because of its roads and its limited communication system. This however, has been like a blessing to Toledo since it still remains virtually untouched. Its natural resources combined with the rich culture of the Maya makes Toledo District the perfect place for the development of eco-tourism. Punta Gorda Town is the city and the commercial center of Toledo. It is a fairly small town on the shore of the Caribbean. The rural communities of Toledo are mostly located some distance from Punta Gorda Town as these villages are inhabited by Mayas who practice the traditional Milpa farming system. There are also communities of East Indians or Garifunas. Attractions of the district are the Maya ruins such as Lubaantum, Nim Li Punit and Uxbentum. National parks, including the Colombia Forest Reserve are also places well worth visiting.

Mainland - Northern Belize
Corozal / Orange Walk


Corozal is the Northern most district of Belize bordering the Mexican City of Chetumal. It is also a coastal district which is inhabited mostly by Mestizos and Yucatec Mayas that settled in the area after fleeing from the Caste War of Mexico. The most important city of this district is Corozal Town which is perched right in front of the Caribbean sea. The economy of the district is based on the production of sugar cane, papaya and fishing.

Orange Walk

Orange Walk is the second northern district located between Belize and Corozal. The major city of the district is Orange Walk Town which is located 54 miles up the Northern Highway from Belize City. Its major activity is still the production of sugar cane. Important attractions in Orange Walk include the Maya ruins, Lamanai, El Posito, Cuello, Nohmul, Chan Chich and the Rio Bravo Conservation Area. Corozal is the Northern most district of Belize bordering the Mexican City of Chetumal. It is also a coastal district which is inhabited mostly by Mestizos and Yucatec Mayas that settled in the area after fleeing from the Caste War of Mexico. The most important city of this district is Corozal Town which is perched right in front of the Caribbean sea. The economy of the district is based on the production of sugar cane, papaya and fishing.

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