Escape To BelizePosted on: 22 October 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves
Rainforests, wildlife and ancient ruins in English-speaking Belize.
Snuggled between Mexico to the north and Guatemala to the west and south, relaxed, English-speaking Belize is only a two-hour plane ride from Miami and accessible by direct flights from the UK.
It is a land of adventure, rich in natural beauty and steeped in the magic of its Maya past. Renowned for pristine waters, exotic marine and wildlife, lush, unspoiled landscapes, and superb diving, Belize has been billed as Mother Nature's Best Kept Secret.
The country’s national language is English and as a peaceful, democratic nation with a population of only 290,000, even when tourists do descend, the country never feels over-crowded.
Belize's Orange Walk District
Imagine waking up to the thrilling sounds of the rainforest; serenading howler monkeys, peeping tree frogs, and squawking parrots. This is how nature's alarm clock starts your day at the jungle lodges of Belize's Orange Walk District.
Then, take a horseback ride along jungle paths to unexcavated Maya temples, canoe across a quiet lake surrounded by wilderness, or hike along nature trails in search of such exotic flora and fauna as spider monkeys, ocelots, and the rare Agami heron.
Other places worthy of exploration are the orchid farms, coffee plantation, or a traditional Mennonite community, whose plainly dressed residents make fine furniture by hand, and grow bountiful crops without the benefit of modern machinery.
Your options expand as the sun sets in a blaze of colour. At the luxurious Chan Chich Lodge, you can relax in the swimming pool or Jacuzzi that are steps away from your cabaña, surrounded by 250,000 acres of private nature preserve.
Belize: Fact File
Weather: Belize has two seasons, wet and dry. The summer months are the wet season, but rainfall varies significantly by location and periodic showers, usually at night, make this the "green season". The rain showers during the day are usually brief and intermittent and do not normally hamper outdoor activities.
Hurricanes: Historically, most hurricanes occur between August and October, although the season runs from June until mid-November.
Hurricanes form over a period of several days and even weeks so are tracked and predicted using the latest technology and areas affected are given ample time to prepare for the storm. Thanks to NEMO (National Emergency Management Organization), Belize has a thorough emergency plan ready to be enacted in the event of a hurricane.
Nearby, at the simpler accommodations of the 240,000-acre Rio Bravo Conservation and Management area, you may hear resident biologists and archaeologists lecture on the cutting-edge research they are doing in the adjacent forest. After all, La Milpa, the third-largest archaeological site in Belize, is only a few minutes away.
Further north, at the eco-friendly Lamanai Outpost Lodge, situated in a perfect location for canoeing and birding, you could spend part of the night cruising the country's largest lake, spotting crocodiles that hunt along its perimeter.
For those with an interest in ancient civilizations, Orange Walk's premier attraction is the Lamanai archaeological site, a partially excavated cluster of sky-scraping pyramids, magnificent tombs, and carved limestone monuments occupied for more than three thousand years by the mysterious Maya.
The fascinating history of this sprawling city, which resisted colonization by 16th-century Spanish priests and 18th-century English plantation owners, is told in a small but excellent museum.
From atop the 112-foot main temple, a panoramic view takes in hundreds of square miles of rivers, lakes, jungles, mountains, and savannah. Hiking trails through the tall forest surrounding Lamanai bring visitors face-to-face with enormous hand-carved masks, abandoned ball courts, and looters' trenches.
In the green canopy above, troops of howler monkeys mark their territories with eerie growls.
Getting to Lamanai is a delightful, 90-minute adventure via safari-style boat up the New River, a slow artery of emerald-green water that twists and turns through dense tropical foliage.
Guides point out colourful flora and fauna along the way, which may include tiny insect-eating bats, spider monkeys, ospreys, iguanas, herons, egrets, storks, and the northern jacana, a bird whose super-wide feet are especially adapted to life on a lily pad.
An incongruous sight midway along the New River is the Iowa-style grain silos and cornfields of traditional Mennonite farmers. Arrangements can be made to visit these hard-working people, easily identified by their plain clothes and horse-drawn carriages.
Further downstream, tours of an orchid and bromeliad farm yield a close-up look at nearly one-third of the more than 300 species that are native to Belize. The family that operates this facility has a special government permit that allows them to gather these gorgeous flowering plants from parts of the jungle that are being cleared for farming and logging. A few varieties can be purchased for the return trip home.
The district capital is Orange Walk Town, a hard-working community that earns its livelihood mainly from the surrounding sugar cane and citrus plantations. Most residents are of Mestizo ethnicity (a mixture of Maya and Spanish origin) and many speak Spanish as well as English.
Although Orange Walk is less tourist-oriented than other Belizean communities, the town nevertheless has a wide range of restaurants, hotels, banks, and other services, including professional guides and outfitters. The latter can easily arrange tours of the previously mentioned destinations, as well as daytrips to the country's biggest rum distillery, the Maya ruin of Cuello, Crooked Tree Bird Sanctuary, and Shipstern Nature Reserve.
You can fly direct to Belize, arriving in Belize City. Flights cost from £670 - £800. Visit http://www.cheapflights.co.uk/flights/Belize-City for further information.
There are only four key roads in Belize so it is easy to navigate your way around, armed with a map. However, it is recommended that you get a 4X4, particularly in the rainy season. Car hire costs around US$60-100 a day, although it may be cheaper to book the rental vehicle before you go away. Avis, Budget and Thrifty all have offices in Belize.
Accommdation In The Orange Walk District
Chan Chich Lodge is one of the more luxurious and expensive lodges, with prices ranging from US$250 for a standard double room, to US$300 for a deluxe in high season. For further information visit http://www.chanchich.com/
The Lamani Outpost Lodge organise packages that include accommodation and activities such as dawn jungle treks, rafting and a Maya medicine man tour. For price information visit http://www.lamanai.com/lamanai_activities.htm
Rio Bravo Conservation and Management area has a choice of two areas with jungle lodgings. Chose from La Milpa Field station or Hill Bank Field Station. Foer further information and to contact them about prices, visit http://www.pfbelize.org/facilities.html
For more information on the Orange Walk District and holidaying in Belize, visit the Belize Tourism Board website at www.travelbelize.org.
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