My tiny, Central American country of Belize is a distinctive mixture of traditions and customs. This splendid piece of rainforest and beach, which opens up to the Caribbean Sea with 240 miles (516 km) of coastline, was a pirate’s paradise before the British arrived and eventually named it British Honduras. After more than 100 years as a British colony, today a totally independent Belize is an English-speaking, Caribbean paradise for all who come here.
The Belizean coastline, with its hundreds of small islands called cayes, extends along the second largest coral reef in the world.
Indeed, the Belize Barrier Reef was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996 and there are now many marine reserves present to protect it. The reef itself stretches over 184 miles (about 295 km) all the way to the Mexican border. Beyond anything else, Ambergris Caye is an exceptional starting point for diving and snorkeling.
Not far off the coast of Ambergris Caye, is the magnificent Blue Hole, made famous by Jacques Cousteau. The translucent, Caribbean waters offer an irresistible opportunity for both the experienced and the novice, to dive and snorkel among the tropical fish, remarkable fauna and of course, the corals.
Scattered throughout Belize, hidden in the thick, tropical rainforest, are countless, ancient Mayan ruins. Some can be difficult to reach, making the trek there as exciting as the ruins, themselves. But of the 19 Mayan sites on Ambergris Caye alone, the easiest one to visit is the Marco Gonzales on the southern tip of the island, named after the local guide assisting the two American archaeologists when they recorded it in 1984.
Although you won’t find Mayan pyramids here, there is evidence of over 50 structures and walls made of local stones, crude plaster, and seashells. I’ve walked this site many times and I continue to return here. With the last inhabitants leaving a mere 500 years ago, their presence is still felt today as one literally pieces together what their daily life must have been like.
Some of the artifacts found here were made of jade, obviously not a local material, so it must have been brought over from abroad. Even the broken pottery and bone fragments tell stories of the mysterious Mayan lifestyle that famously vanished. They must have been fishermen, living on an island or they must have been tradesmen, using the ocean as their trade route to sell rudimentary weapons, sharks-tooth jewelry, and surprisingly sophisticated pottery.
There is no shortage of theories about the Mayan and no shortage of fascinating finds here either. It’s an absolute must for any chaise-longue-anthropologist like myself.
Can you hear the steel drums playing?
It must be mid-June on Ambergris Caye and the opening of the Annual San Pedro Lobster Festival. It is a 10-day party on my home island that celebrates the beginning of the country’s lobster and fishing season. Each year, Belizeans and tourists alike, celebrate the fisherman and the lobsters they catch, as these are the main sources of income around here. It is a cocktail of festive colors, music, contests, and hundreds of lobster recipes to taste which ends with a block party lasting until sunrise.
You’ll find booths set up along the beach, offering up their finest lobster dishes: lobster omelets, lobster boil ups (Boil Up is a local dish that we will explore in another post), lobster salad, and barbecued lobster, just to name a few. You take your “passport” along this lobster crawl, which is stamped each time you taste a dish. Taste more and more dishes to increase your chances to win a vacation package to attend the festival next year. A promise of more lobster, what could be better?
Between tasting lobster recipes and helping it down with something to drink, people are dancing in the streets of San Pedro or participating in fishing tournaments and cycling races throughout the island. Finally, a Miss Lobster is elected and we bid the festival a farewell until next June. The fishermen, of course, have begun their labors that will last until mid-Autumn.
I may be biased, but I will not waiver in my advice about how and where to begin exploring Belize in June. The great thing is there is so much to explore on the island you will never run out things to do. It all starts right here on my home island, Ambergris Caye. It has a taste of everything Belizean.
Living the island life.