Long favored by scuba divers, Belize today has grown into its own as a full-fledged destination with more to offer than a beach or diving vacation. Bordered by Mexico to the north, Guatemala to the south and west, and the Caribbean Sea to the east, the country feels both Caribbean and Central American. It is graced with ancient Mayan archeology. The Maya civilization spread across the country about 1500 BCE, and flourished 900 CE. The middle and southern regions were dominated by Caracol that may have had a population of more than 140,000 people. North of the Maya Mountains, the most important political center was Lamanai. In the late Classic Era of Maya civilization (600–1000 CE), as many as a million people may have lived in the area that is now Belize. Today, however, Belize has one of the lowest populations in Central American and encompasses nearly 9,000 square miles of pristine lands and bodies of water that are home to more than 5,000 species of plants and hundreds of species of animals such as including armadillos, snakes, monkeys and the rare jaguar. Indeed, its abundance of both terrestrial and marine species and its diversity of ecosystems give it an important place in the globally significant Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. Big Five’s nonprofit arm, Spirit of Big Five Foundation, supports Southern Environmental Association, a community conservation organization that seeks to help protect the Meso American Barrier Reef, the second largest barrier reef system in the world. Belize has a diverse society, composed of many cultures and languages that reflect its rich history. The combination of natural and man-made assets, including 127 offshore islands, excellent fishing, rivers for rafting, jungle, traditional villages and wildlife reserves, all add up to an irresistible destination.
Belize was one of the earliest countries to adopt ecotourism – officially defined as “Responsible travel to natural areas that protects nature and sustains the well-being of local people.” It was the first country in the world to host a global conference on the environment and tourism back in 1992, and places like Chaa Creek Rainforest Retreat in the jungle interior were early ecotourism pioneers. Fast forward and today Belize has also adopted sustainable tourism practices as an important part of this tiny nation’s tourism development planning for the future.
Destination stewardship planning is underway at the national level with multiple stakeholders, including government, NGOs, private sector and communities, to increase understanding and awareness of sustainable tourism best practices.
Belize’s surprising diversity of cultures includes the Garifuna, who came ashore escaping slavery and continue to embrace authentic Africa heritage from food to music; the Maya, who founded spectacular ancient cities like Caracol in the jungle interior; and Mennonite farmers, who still travel by horse carriage on Belize's rural roads. Natural heritage includes the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest coral reef in the world, offering some of the best diving and snorkeling on the planet, vast limestone caverns and the mist-shrouded peaks of the Maya Mountains, home to rare and colorful wildlife. Embracing these rich cultural and natural treasures, Belize also has embarked on a sustainable tourism plan to help protect them. Learn more about the galapagos.com values.Why the Finch Ranking?