“Look, over there, by the bank!” Our guide Ruben points to a mat of lily pads bobbing in the New River, where we’re traveling by motorboat to the Mayan ruins of Lamanai. He shuts down the engine and deftly circles back to a spot that has him speaking in hushed tones. “It’s a crocodile, see him?”
I don’t. I do see a jacana, also known as the “Jesus Christ” bird because it appears to walk on water. The jacana must see the croc, because suddenly he begins flapping his wings and jumping up and down like an irate cartoon. Then I see in the water what looks like a log with two marbles resting on top. My first wild crocodile, and we’ve only been in Belize for an hour.
And here’s how we got to Belize: After deciding that a vacation would be a good idea, we came up with quite divergent criteria. Close but exotic, adventurous but relaxing, wild but refined. Discovering Belize, we all excitedly began packing our bags. Now, I’m sure you have read plenty about certain destinations having something for everyone, but Belize is the real deal. It offers the education and adventure of eco-tourism, and the sun-drenched luxury of the finest beach resort stay. You can go spelunking in limestone caves that were sacred to the ancient Mayans, and laze in a hammock by the azure ocean with a margarita in hand — all in the same day.
Belize is a Central American democracy on the Yucatán Peninsula, with a population of only 300,000. The country boasts plenty of Caribbean coastline rimmed with white beaches, swaying palms, and crystal-clear turquoise waters; and its inland is blessed with spring-fed rivers, pine-covered mountains, lush rain forests, and limestone caves. More than 40 percent of the terrain is protected, making it a wildlife and archeological haven. And the diversity of its landscape is reflected in the wildlife that thrives here, including howler monkeys and whale sharks.
If this isn’t enough to entice visitors, consider that Belize City is only a two-hour-and-15-minute flight from Houston or Miami; that the Belizean dollar is pegged at 2 to 1 to the U.S. dollar; and that the country’s official language is English, due to Great Britain’s colonization of what it originally called British Honduras. Belize was granted full independence in 1981.