Once overlooked, Belize is getting the attention of travel planners
Should Belize be on your travel calendar? When planning travel programs to Latin America, Belize rarely makes the top list for travel planners. Blame this on its small size, proximity to the U.S., or lack of publicity. But in the last few years Belize’s popularity is growing significantly, emerging as an engaging destination for its variety of educational offerings and activities.
“Whether travel planners are looking for a rainforest field study, Maya temple exploration, marine and reef adventure, or birding expedition, there’s a wide variety of themes to explore and now very good infrastructure to support them,” relates Stephanie Kowacz, COO of Holbrook Travel. “We’ve seen a 30% growth in group travel signups in the last 3 years.” The Belize Tourist Board figures show a 13% increase in overnight tourist stays in 2016, and in March 2017 the highest number of arrivals ever recorded in a single month.
Kowacz recently returned from Belize, where she met with local suppliers and government officials, plus attended a trade show. “In addition to the natural and historical wonders, Belize is very welcoming. At the end of the day, it’s really about the people and the warm, friendly service. The diverse cultures are also core to what makes Belize so special,” she added.
Benefits to Belize for groups
For Group Travel, Belize can be scheduled for most any month as it has the advantage of being a year-round destination. Weather patterns are consistent and temperature warm and comfortable.
Photo by Dick Daniels
A nature paradise with intriguing wildlife
Belize has some of the most fascinating wildlife in Latin America. The pristine landscape is teeming with wildlife, including toucans, parrots, monkeys, and even jaguars. Forty percent of the land is set aside as protected nature reserves or national parks, habitat to a variety of species of plants, birds, amphibians, reptiles and marine life. It’s also the only country in the world that has a jaguar preserve, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. Diverse flora and fauna and the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere are part of its many natural attractions.
Photo by Laura Hare
Belize was the epicenter of the ancient Maya world
Experts estimate that more than one million Maya lived in Belize during the Classic Period from 300 to 900 AD. One doesn’t need to be interested in archaeology to be fascinating by the Maya temple sites, such as Caracol, Xunantunich, Altun Ha, Cahal Pech, and Lamanai. These spectacular sites are undergoing further discovery. Plus, many groups plan a visit to nearby Tikal in eastern Guatemala, either for a day or an overnight.
Today, the country has a strong presence of Maya, Garifuna, Spanish, and Creole cultures that are distinctly different. Says Kowacz, they are ready, willing, and able to provide authentic travel experiences. From a cultural point of view, travelers can take part in drumming lessons or cooking classes (Garifuna, Maya, Creole) or learn about Maya spirituality or chocolate-making.
Photo by J Craighill Photography
Coastal Belize: Snorkeling and marine exploration
Belize has the second largest barrier reef in the world, and its clear, turquoise Caribbean water is superb for diving and snorkeling to witness the colors of corals, sponges, and a range of fish and marine life. Belize has excellent beaches, from Ambergris Caye in the north to Hopkins and beyond in the south.
For more adventurous groups, there's zip lining or waterfall rappelling. A favorite activity is to explore one of Belize’s intricate cave systems. Caves were an important part of Maya culture, used to conduct sacred rituals and ceremonies, and today many interesting caves can be discovered throughout Belize, including Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM), Barton Creek Cave, and Caves Branch.
Photo by Bernard duPont
Photo by Laura Hare