On the Eastern Seaboard of the Caribbean Sea is a cluster of islands that everyone seems to head for when they say they are going to the Caribbean. Of course, there are dozens of islands and activities to do on each one that can give you the time of your life. However, on the western side of the sea, tucked between the Yucatan Peninsula and Honduras, lies one of the most underrated gems in the region — Belize.
As somewhat of an orphan in the area, Belize is considered a Caribbean country due to its English-speaking population, similar to the islands on the opposite side of the water. Blessed with the warm waters of the Caribbean to the east and the dense jungle to the west, it’s rich with adventurous experiences you can’t get in many places so close together.
From Mayan ruins and visiting the largest jaguar sanctuary in the world to knocking off one of the best diving bucket list destinations, the Great Blue Hole, there is something for everyone. Of course, these things will pop up on virtually every tourism list. But here are some of the more off-the-beaten-path options to have a genuinely unique Belize vacation, whether on the mainland or on the island of San Pedro, Belize.
One of the more prominent cultural populations in the coastal region of Belize is the Garifuna, a people of Caribbean Indian and African descent. While many of them speak English due to the British Empire ruling until 1973, they have a rich history, and as you can find out for yourself, great food. One of the best ways to experience that food is to sign up for a Garifuna cultural experience, which also offers a cooking class.
Hodut is one of the primary local dishes consisting of grilled fish in a coconut soup and mashed plantains. Husk and shave the coconut, learn how to make the coconut milk, and mash the plantains as the people have done for generations. You will work up a sweat, but you can enjoy the food while watching a traditional Garifuna music and dance performance.
For the more adventurous visitors, there is a whole jungle to the west of the coast for you to explore. While you could try to explore on your own, it’s easy to get lost, or worse. Instead, you can find guides and tours that will walk you as far as you want to go into the jungle and learn all you want to know about the jungle and the people who live off of the resources to this day.
The Antelope Falls hike is one of the best, as it will give you the best combination of rigorous exploration of a jungle that will push you to your limits and the kinds of views and experiences that will make you forget all about the difficulty. To top off the whole thing, you get to jump into a waterfall-fed pool that is a refreshing freezing dip into the clearest water you’ve ever experienced. Just remember the words on the sign you will read on the way in, “Take only pictures, Leave only footprints.” “For those who love life.”
Do you like chocolate? What am I saying? Of course, you do. Who doesn’t like at least some form of the delectable sweet treat? Well, you can thank the Mayans for your Reece’s Cup or your Snickers bar. While the Olmecs developed the cocoa bean into a ceremonial drink, they undoubtedly passed it down to the Mayans, who evolved it into something closer to the dark chocolate we know today.
The process of taking the beans is a lot simpler than you can imagine, and you have the opportunity to experience it yourself and make your own chocolate. And when you’re finished, you literally taste the freshest chocolate you’ve ever had. Of course, it will go a lot quicker than you want, but you can pick up some more in the gift shop on the way out. You can thank us later for the tip.
Speaking of adventure, have you ever dreamt of diving with sharks? I know what you’re thinking, Jaws and The Meg make the prospect much less appealing. Well, the truth is, there are a lot safer options for you to experience the thrill of getting up close and personal without ending up as dinner.
Numerous resorts on the coast of Belize, including San Pedro, Belize, have tours available to take you out to a shallow area where you can spend 45 minutes exploring the reef and then finally get to be in the water while guides feed nurse sharks around you. It’s a little jarring at first, but it is one of the most thrilling moments you will experience. While everyone else is lining up to dive to the reef and the Great Blue Hole, you can have a more personal experience snorkeling with sharks.
Each summer season kicks off with Lobster Fest in San Pedro (and other parts of Belize). While most people travel to the region from November to March, the summer season is a good time to visit because the weather is dryer and the population is thinner. Of course, you also get the opportunity to have some great food!
Located on the island of San Pedro, the Lobster Fest consists of every restaurant that can handle the crowds showing up with a cart or stand, high-top tables, and their best entries into the lobster competition. Everything from lobster pizza to lobster ramen and even lobster-flavored alcoholic drinks will keep you sustained while you rub elbows with the rest of the lucky people in the fairground, and the live music going all night long, every single night.
You may hear about Jamaica, St. Barts, and the rest of the Caribbean Sea to the east, but Belize is the most underrated destination for you to get away from the office, sit on a beach, trek through the jungle, and return with some of the best stories of your life.
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