Top Ten Belizean Attractions

Top Ten Belizean Attractions

       Belize is the northernmost Central American nation that is home to a diverse society, comprising many cultures and languages. Even though Kriol and Spanish are spoken among the population, Belize is the only country in Central America where English is the official language. Belize is bordered to the north by Mexico, south and west by Guatemala, and to the east by the Caribbean Sea.Belize’s mainland is about 290 km (180 miles) long and 110 km (68 miles) wide. With 22,960 square km (8,867 square mi) of land and a population of only 333,200 people (2010), Belize possesses the lowest population density in Central America. The country’s population growth rate of 2.21% (2008), however, is the highest in the region and one of the highest in the western hemisphere. Belize’s abundance of terrestrial and marine species, and its diversity of ecosystems give it a key place within the globally significant Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. Belize is culturally unique among its Central American neighbors, being the only nation in the region with a British colonial heritage. As a part of the Western Caribbean Zone, however, it also shares a common heritage with the Caribbean portions of other Central American countries.

  1. Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System

    The Belize Barrier Reef is a series of coral reefs straddling the coast of Belize, roughly 300 m (980 ft) offshore in the north and 40 km (25 mi) in the south within the country limits. The Belize Barrier Reef is a 300 km (190 mi) long section of the 900 km (560 mi) long Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which is continuous from Cancún on the northeast tip of the Yucatán Peninsula through the Riviera Maya up to Honduras making it one of the largest coral reef systems in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the New Caledonia Barrier Reef. It is Belize’s top tourist destination popular for scuba diving and snorkeling and attracting almost half of its 260,000 visitors, and is vital to its fishing industry. Charles Darwin described it as “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies” in 1842.
    Links: Top Ten Reefs,,
  2. Caracol
    Caracol or El Caracol is the name given to a large ancient Maya archaeological site, located in what is now the Cayo District of Belize. It is situated approximately 40 kilometers south of Xunantunich and the town of San Ignacio Cayo, at an elevation of 460 meters above sea-level, in the foothills of the Maya Mountains. The site was the most important political centre of Lowland Maya during the Classic Period within Belize. In 650 AD, the urban area of Caracol had a radius of approximately 10 kilometers. It covered an area much larger than present-day Belize City (the largest metropolitan area in the country) and supported more than twice the modern city’s population.
    Links: Pyramids,,
  3. Xunantunich

    Xunantunich is a Maya archaeological site in western Belize, about 80 miles (130 km) west of Belize City, in the Cayo District. Xunantunich is located atop a ridge above the Mopan River, within sight of the Guatemala border. Its name means “Stone Woman” in the Maya language (Mopan and Yucatec combination name), and, like many names given to Maya archaeological sites, is a modern name; the ancient name is currently unknown. The “Stone Woman” refers to the ghost of a woman claimed by several people to inhabit the site, beginning in 1892. She is dressed completely in white, and has fire-red glowing eyes. She generally appears in front of “El Castillo,” ascends the stone stairs, and disappears into a stone wall. Most of the structures date from the Maya Classic Era, about 200 to 900 AD. There is evidence that some structures were damaged by an earthquake while they were occupied; this earthquake may have been a reason for the site’s abandonment. The core of Xunantunich occupies about one square mile (2.6 km²), consisting of a series of six plazas surrounded by more than 26 temples and palaces. One of its structures, the pyramid known as “El Castillo,” the second tallest structure in Belize (after the temple at Caracol), at some 130 feet (40 m) tall. Archeological excavations have revealed a number of fine stucco facades on some of the ancient temples of this site. Evidence of construction suggests the temple was built in three stages in the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries. The fine stucco or “frieze” are located on the final stage. The first modern explorations of the site were conducted by Thomas Gann in 1894 and 1895. Several projects of archeological excavations have been conducted at the site from the 1930’s through the 1990’s. One of the best preserved ancient stele is housed in a small weatherproofed building for conservation purposes. This artifact is a large stele dated within the period 200 BC to 150 AD; it depicts a Maya figure facing left. The figure is striding and clothed only in armbands. Other nearby Maya archaeological sites include Chaa Creek and Cahal Pech.
    Links: Pyramids, Top Ten Stelae,,
  4. Lamanai

    Lamanai (from Lama’anayin, “submerged crocodile” in Yucatec Maya) is a Mesoamerican archaeological site, and was once a considerably sized city of the Maya civilization, located in the north of Belize, in Orange Walk District. The site’s name is pre-Columbian, recorded by early Spanish missionaries and documented over a millennium earlier in Maya inscriptions as Lam’an’ain.
    Links: Pyramids,,
  5. Chaa Creek

    Chaa Creek is a tributary of the Macal River in the Cayo District in western Belize. One of the official gauging stations of the Macal is located near the confluence with Chaa Creek. There are also Mayan ruins that remain largely unexcavated in the Chaa Creek catchment basin; certain early research was conducted on the archaeology at Chaa Creek in 1997 by Harvard University. Significant pottery finds and other artifacts have been recovered at the Chaa Creek site, which is posited to be a satellite site of Xunantunich. The Chaa Creek Nature Reserve is a noted area in western Belize for birding and other natural history study.
  6. Belize City
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           Belize City is the largest city in the Central American nation of Belize and was once the capital of the former British Honduras. The population of Belize City is 67,964, with neighboring adding up to about 80,000[4]. It is located at the mouth of the Belize River on the coast of the Caribbean. The city is the country’s principal port and its financial and industrial hub. Several cruise ships drop anchor outside the port and are tended by local citizens. The city was almost entirely destroyed in 1961 when Hurricane Hattie swept ashore on 31 October. It was the capital of British Honduras (as Belize was then named) until the government was moved to the new capital of Belmopan in 1970.
    Links: Cities, Top Ten North American Cities,,
  7. Actun Tunichil Muknal

    Actun Tunichil Muknal, also locally known as “Xibalba,” is a cave in Belize, near San Ignacio, Cayo District, notable as a Maya archaeological site that includes skeletons, ceramics, and stoneware. They include the famous “Monkey Pot,” one of only four located across Central America. There are several areas of skeletal remains in the main chamber. The best known is “The Crystal Maiden,” the skeleton of a teenage girl, probably a sacrifice victim, whose bones have been calcified to a sparkling, crystallized appearance. The ceramics at the site are significant partly because they are marked with “kill holes,” which indicates they were used for ceremonial purposes. Many of the Mayan artifacts and remains are completely calcified to the cave floor. The Mayans also modified cave formations here, in some instances to create altars for the offerings, in others to create silhouettes of faces and animals, or to project a shadow image into the cave. The cave is extensively decorated with cave formations in the upper passages. Part of the cave extends over the border into Guatemala, where it ends. Animal life in the cave includes a large population of bats, large freshwater crabs, crayfish, catfish and other tropical fish. Large invertebrates like Amblypygi and various predatory spiders also inhabit the cave. Agouti and otters may also use the cave. These and many other species are quite common in river caves of this size in Belize. Other Mayan archaeological sites in the vicinity are Cahal Pech, Chaa Creek, El Pilar and Xunantunich.
    Links: Top Ten Caves, Top Ten North American Caves,,
  8. Cahal Pech

    Cahal Pech is a Maya site located near the Town of San Ignacio in the Cayo District of Belize. The site was a hilltop palace home for an elite Maya family, and though most major construction dates to the Classic period, evidence of continuous habitation has been dated to as far back as far as 1200 BC during the Early Middle Formative period (Early Middle Preclassic), making Cahal Pech one of the oldest recognizably Maya sites in Western Belize. The site rests high near the banks of the Macal River and is strategically located to overlook the confluence of the Macal River and the Mopan River. The site is a collection of 34 structures, with the tallest temple being about 25 meters in height, situated around a central acropolis. The site was abandoned in the 9th century AD for unknown reasons. The name Cahal Pech, meaning “Place of the Ticks,” was given when this site was fallow during the first archaeological studies in the 1950’s, led by Linton Satterthwaite from the University of Pennsylvania Museum. It is now an archaeological reserve and houses a small museum with artifacts from various ongoing excavations. The primary excavation of the site began in 1988. Restoration was completed in 2000 under the leadership of Dr. Jaime Awe, Director of the National Institute of Archaeology (NICH), Belize. Other vicinity Mayan sites include Chaa Creek, and Xunantunich.
  9. El Pilar

    El Pilar is an ancient Maya city center located on the Belize-Guatemala border. It can be accessed from the Cayo District in Belize, 12 miles (19 km) north-west of the town of San Ignacio, or from the department of El Petén in Guatemala, 30 km (19 mi) north of Melchor de Mencos. The El Pilar Archeological Reserve for Maya Flora and Fauna, was declared a cultural monument both in Guatemala and Belize, and covers 5,000 acres, half of which lies in each country. El Pilar is the largest site in the Belize River area with over 25 plazas, hundreds of other buildings, covering roughly 120 acres. Based on ceramic analyses, it is known that monumental constructions at El Pilar began in the Middle Pre-classic period around 800 BC. By 250 BC there were major public works and extensive occupation in the area. At its height, El Pilar housed more than 20,000 people. Monumental construction continued with the last major remodeling in the Terminal Classic (1000 AD), after which the monuments were neglected. The name “El Pilar” is Spanish for “watering basin,” reflecting the abundance of water in the area, which is rare for the Maya world. A major archeological excavation project has been carried out since 1993. However, for conservation purposes most monuments are not exposed. The objective is to selectively and partially expose strategic areas. Today one can see door jambs, walls, and rooms along the wooded trails. This is a style of presentation known as “Archaeology Under the Canopy” that leaves the monuments protected by forest foliage. The only fully exposed monument at the reserve is a house site called Tzunu’un, bringing attention to El Pilar’s unique focus on Maya houses and life ways. El Pilar also features a Maya forest garden to demonstrate traditional agricultural practices. El Pilar has been under threat by looters and was placed on the World Monument Fund’s 1996 list of 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World. The reserve is open to the public and has a series of trails providing access throughout the site. There is an active initiative to make El Pilar of Belize and Guatemala the first archaeological peace park in the world.
  10. Links: Top Ten Belizean Hotels/Resorts,,

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