A Central American country, located between Mexico and Guatemala, Belize has a variety of Caribbean islands including St.George's Caye (the site of the 1798 battle during which the British defeated the Spanish and laid claim to Belize), Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker both of which lie within the Belize Barrier Reef -- the largest tropical reef in our hemisphere, famous for the Great Blue Hole, which beckons divers from around the world. The barrier reef, while the top reason for many travelers to visit Belize, is not the only one. Others include Mayan ruins (some excavated, others still jungle-covered) and a tropical rainforest inhabited by many species of birds.
Popular excursions sold onboard cruise ships include diving and snorkeling tours, excursions to the Mayan temples of Altun Ha (where a jade head was discovered), bird watching treks, zip-lining adventures over the jungle canopy, and refreshing river kayaking and cave tubing.
Cruise ships call at Belize City on Western Caribbean itineraries. Belize City is a predominantly Creole city with a population of less than 80,000. It is the largest city in Belize, formerly the country's capital, present commercial hub and gateway for cruise passengers.
Highlights of Belize City include the 19th and early 20th century buildings and houses with wrap-around verandas, painted shutters and Victorian-style woodwork on the North Shore, in the Fort George area. The Fort George Lighthouse and Bliss Memorial (named for English nobleman benefactor, Baron Bliss, who is buried here) is a good photo-op -- as the Lighthouse towers over the Caribbean Sea (the Lighthouse, however, cannot be entered). The House of Culture (formerly Government House) on Regent Street is Belize City's foremost colonial structure -- it is said to have been designed by noted British architect Sir Christopher Wren and dating from the 19th century. Queen Elizabeth stayed here during a visit in 1985.
St. John's Cathedral on Albert Street is reportedly the oldest in Central America -- four kings of the Mosquito Coast, a British protectorate along the coast of Honduras and Nicaragua were crowned here in the 19th century. The Museum of Belize on Gabourel Lane in the Fort George area used to be a city jail and now offers exhibits including Mayan artifacts.
The Belize Zoo, about 30 miles west of Belize City, is a 29-acre facility showcasing 125 native species including black and spotted jaguars.
Local not-to-be-missed flavors include rice and beans (white rice and red kidney beans) cooked in coconut milk and paired with fresh-caught fish (seafood is great and plentiful) or stewed chicken and beef with a side of fried ripe plantains -- a great lunch before or after your adventures ashore. Or try serre la sus, a soup made with fish simmered in coconut milk with onions and spices and served with boiled green and ripe plantains and wafers of cassava bread along with chicken escabeche (a spicy dish made with chicken, onions, vinegar, peppers and spices) and served with corn tortillas.
Flavorful local souvenirs include a bottle of hot sauce or a bottle of rum. Other good souvenirs are coffee, beer and handicrafts. The Tourism Village, designed for cruise ship passengers, has a variety of shops selling clothing, jewelry, crafts and other merchandise near the cruise terminal.
Cruise lines that call on Belize City include Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian, Regent Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean and Seabourn.
IF YOU GO -- For more information on Belize, visit www.travelbelize.org.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun