Profile of Attractions in Belize:
Belmopan, the new capital established in 1970 in the centre of the country, continues its 20-year development period. When this is completed, the city will accomodate up to ten times its present population with housing areas, central commercial and government areas, green belts, industrial estates, schools, hospitals and other amenities of a modern city.
The most important buildings are the National Assembly on Independence Hill, patterned off a basic ancient Maya style, and flanked by the Government Ministries around a spacious esplanade.
Two commercial banks are located in Belmopan. A small strip provides air service.
BELIZE CITY- (Population: 58,000 approximately)
Founded some 300 years ago by pirates and seafarers turned timber-men, Belize City straddles the estuaries of the Haulover Creek, Belize River.
To begin with, there were two streets, conveniently named Front Street and Back Street (now Regent and Albert Streets). Today the city has thirteen sections with romantic sounding names like Cinderella Town, Queen Charlotte Town and Lake Independence.
The City has a quaint 'old world' atmosphere with timber dwellings perched high on posts in order to make the most of the prevailing winds and to allow for easy expansion as the need and opportunity arises. Following bitter experience with recurrent fires and the occasional hurricanes (only two bad ones in thirty years) the people have been turning more and more to reinforced concrete structures.
An elected City Council, presided over by a Mayor, runs the municipality. Belize City was the seat of the national government until the establishment of Belmopan in August 1970.
You will find the oldest Anglican Cathedral 1826 in Central America in Belize City. Here, in great splendour, Kings of the Mosquito Coast were crowned. Other old buildings include Government House (1814), the Supreme Court Building and former slave quarters along Regent Street.
But the City also looks towards the future. There are some 20 elementary schools, 8 secondary schools, a Teachers' College, Technical College, Vocational Centre, 5 libraries and 3 centres for adult education. The Baron Bliss Institute, centre for performing arts, is the setting for the annual Festival of Arts, established in 1953.
Amenities include modern electricity, telephone and telecommunications systems, a sanitary and reliable water system, modern wellstaffed hospitals, government radio station, private and public recreation facilities. There are comfortable, modern hotels, restaurants night clubs, and a trailer park which cater to tourists.
The Belize International Airport is ten miles away.
You will find the people, mostly Afro-creoles, warmhearted, English-speaking and eager to assist strangers.
COROZAL TOWN- (Population: 10,000 approximately)
Located on the fringe of picture-book Corozal Bay, the town is set off by a multitude of coconut palms and flowering flamboyant' trees. It is 96 miles north of Belize City. Corozal Town is a modern well-planned community with wide boulevards and many parks.
A private estate prior to 1849, it was settled predominantly by Mestizo refugees from neighbouring Quintana Roo province of Mexico. It was once the scene of determined attacks by Maya Indians. The remains of an old fort still exist in the center of the town.
Ringing the Central Park are a modernistic Catholic Church, Library, Town Hall, Adventist Church and government administrative offices. The town has two secondary schools, five elementary schools, three filling stations, two banks, a government hospital, clinic, cinema, small hotels, piped water supply and several clubs.
Corozal Bay is ideal for fishing and sea-bathing. Cerros, at the head of the Bay, is an interesting Mayan archaeological feature. The international bridge to Mexico is just nine miles away.
The town is surrounded by many small villages, and its economy is sustained by a-large sugar industry with a processing factory nearby. Both Spanish and English are spoken. There are many festive occasions like the Columbus Day Celebrations, Carnival and fiestas in the surrounding villages.
ORANGE WALK TOWN- (Population: 9,600 approximately)
Orange Walk Town, on the New River, 66 miles north of Belize City and 30 miles south of Corozal Town. From here roads lead off in four directions linking the more than 20 villages in the Orange Walk District.
Prior to its settlement by Mestizo refugees from Yucatan in 1849, the area had been for over 100 years a timber producing encampment. In the past it thrived on chicle, and maize grown by peasant farmers. More recently the establishment of a modern sugar factory and expanded sugar-cane production throughout the district has had quite an impact on the area.
The modern and the traditional is reflected in the industrial complex of the sugar factory, mechanized company estates on its outskirts and the ancient Catholic Church. The ruins of Fort Cairns and Mundy provide a reminder that this settlement was once the scene of pitched battles with Indian war parties, the last of which occured on September lst, 1872. Public amenities include a modern park and town hall, two banks, three filling stations, one secondary school, two large elementary schools, a cinema, and a public library.
The Spanish language predominates, although most of the people will have at least a working fluency in English.
DANGRIGA- (Population 7,700 approximately)
Largest town in the country, this municipality is divided by the North Stann Creek River and another wide creek. It is a busy town, sustained by the thousands of acres of citrus cultivation in the fertile valley nearby.
It is said that Dangriga was one of the first European settlements, dating back to the 17th century. Latterly, it became a haven for fishermen and subsistence farmers.
The majority of its citizens are Garinagu (Black Caribs), whose ancestors arrived here from Honduras in 1823. This 1823 settlement is commemorated every year on November 19th with house-to-house dancing, public ceremonies and re-enactment of the first landing.
Dangriga has a Piped water supply, three filling stations, a bank, two secondary schools, five elementary schools, a public library, civic centre and a cinema.
The town provides a convenient embarkation points for excursions to the many coral islands off-shore. The distance from Belize City by sea is only 36 miles. By road, one motors through 105 miles of all weather road which cuts through fertile lands and thick hardwood forests. Along this road, the Hummingbird Highway, can be seen. The "Blue Hole" and St. Herman's Cave are popular scenic spots.
SAN IGNACIO- (Population: 7,500 approximately)
San Ignacio sits on the banks of the Macal River, a branch of the Belize River, 72 miles due west of Belize City, and 22 miles from Belmopan. It is surrounded by hills, a town of entrancing beauty.
Its beginnings go back approximately 100 years. But to this day it preserves a robust, pioneer atmosphere. The early settlers were mainly Mestizo and Maya immigrants from neighbouring Guatemala and a few Lebanese businessmen. The town has now embraced the former neighbouring village of Santa Elena, linked by the Hawkesworth suspension bridge. Nine miles to the west of the town lies Benque Viejo Del Carmen.
San Ignacio is the administrative centre of the Cayo District. It boasts a secondary school, three elementary schools, three filling stations, a government hospital, a cinema, small hotels, several clubs and a piped water supply. Radiating around its central park is the police station, public library and government offices.
Not far from San Ignacio are the Mayan centres of, Cahal Pech ("Place of the Ticks") and Xunantunich ("Maiden of the Rock")
PUNTA GORDA- (Population: 3,000 approximately)
Punta Gorda, is the southernmost town in the country, some 15 feet above sea level. Although the town bears a Spanish name, its inhabitants are mostly English-speaking. The people are of Garinagu (Black Carib) , East India and African stock.
Commencing as a little fishing settlement, Punta Gorda was the site selected by a number of Garinagu settlers who moved over from Honduras in 1823.
The town, established on the margin of the sea, is flanked by seven hills announcing its northern commencement. There is a big promontory at the southern end. Small-boat traffic is frequent between Punta Gorda and the nearby ports of Barrios Jn Guatemala and Cortez in Honduras. Communication with Belize City is by coastal boats, small aeroplanes, and by the new, unpaved, Southern Highway a distance of 210 miles. A paved road from Punta Gorda leads-inland for 21 miles to San Antonio and beyond to a dozen Mayan villages.
A few miles from Punta Gorda is the site of the former Toledo settlement where American Civil War refugees settled. Today the area consists of two villages. Not far away is the important Mayan archaeological centre of Lubaantun.
Punta Gorda, once an isolated and little visited place, now has a secondary school, three elementary schools, a cinema and public library. It is the gateway to fertile lands, which have the capacity of producing an abundance of rice, corn and livestock.
Maya Archaeological Sites:
Xunantunich archaelogical site with its vaulted masonry buildings and elaborately carved stone and stucco friezes, has a history going back more than 1,400 years. Recent field-work at this site has revealed that it is much more extensive than was formerly thought to be the case. The most striking edifice within the complex is the A6 pyramid, now 127 ft. above the plaza and once believed to have been topped by a towering roof comb some 10 ft. higher. A free translation of the word Xunantunich is "Maiden of the Rock", a name given to the site by present day Maya Indians but unlikely to have been the original name. The site is 80 miles by road southwest of Belize City.
Most extensively excavated of all the Mayan centres in the country, Altun Ha, just 30 miles from Belize City, is an important ceremonial centre of the ancient Maya. A team lead by Dr. David Pendergast of the Royal Ontario Museum started work at the site in 1965. It has unearthed some spectacular discoveries, including the ornately carved head of Kinisch Ahau-Mayan sun god. This head, weighing 9 3/4 lbs. and measuring nearly 6 inches from base to crown, is reputed to be the largest carved lade in existence.
This is an enormous ceremonial center, perhaps the largest site in Belize. The site sits on a low plateau deep in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve where primary rain forest jungle is still evident. The tallest temple structure there stands 42 meters above the plaza floor with an expanse at its base rivalling anything at Tikal. Caracol was once a powerful center controlling a very large area, some of which is still being discovered. From the numerous carved monuments at the site, information has been gained that Caracol and Tikal underwent conflicts during ancient history with each succumbing to the other at different times. The name is Spanish for " snail shell" and was given to the site by a previous Commissioner of Archaeology because of the inordinate numbers of snail shells found at the site.
The central precinct of Cabal Pech is situated on an imposing acropolis on the west bank of the Macal River, with a panoramic view of San Ignacio town and the Belize River Valley. The site centre consists of 34 structures compacted in a small area covering slightly more than 2 acres. The majority of these structures are located around 7 courtyards and include temple pyramids and several long-range, residential-type buildings. The tallest temple is Structure A- I which stands 77 feet high. The site also contains 2 ball courts, 5 plain stelae, I altar and possibly a sweat-house.
St. Herman's Cave is part of a vast cave system which occurs in the hilly limestone country of the Cave Branch area or the Mountain Pine Ridge.
Attractions in this zone apart from huge caves with their fairyland configurations, underground streams and evidence of use by Ancient Maya- include the magnificent tropical hardwood forest, ferns, orchids and animals to be found in the woods. Elsewhere, e.g. in the Northern Lagoon there are interesting caves.
An intriguing natural phenomenon not far from St. Herman's Cave is the "Blue Hole", a body of water which emerges from deep beneath a massive hill, runs for a short distance in an oasis setting only to disappear again under a ledge in the dark recesses of a hollow in the rosk.
NATIONAL FOREST RESERVE:
The Mountain Pineridge
This area is a favourite destination for nature lovers, due to its high elevation, mountain-fed streams and falls, the abundance of wildlife, orchids, caves, plus hundreds of miles of some of the best roads in the country. Picnic grounds have been prepared with swimming facilities, a shelter, barbecue grills, and toilet facilities. The Forest Department's Command Station for the Mountaain Pineridge has a landing field for light aircraft. Jaguar Preserve This 5,000 acre preserve is located in the midst of a natural forest of the southern highway in the Cockscomb Basin area.
MAINLAND RESORT ZONE OF PLACENCIA:
This mainland resort zone can be reached by land (ferry transfer) sea and air. There are miles of the finest quality beach covered with the prolific coconut palm. Sea bathing, fishing offshore or in the lagoon behind, hunting in the foothills of the Cockscomb Range nearby, are the big attractions. Placencia is known for its wonderful informality, and a sense of timelessness that one forgets could still exist. This is a place where summer is the wine of the year, the time for vacationing is any time, and hospitality is always in season.
San Pedro, Ambergris Caye
Thirty-six air miles from Belize City, Ambergris Caye is the~ home of a thriving fishing industry. Within the past few years there has been rapid development of the island's tremendous tourism potential
The island, about the size of Barbados, has many miles of white sandy beach. Less than half-mile offshore is the Great Barrier Reef which, besides offering protection to the island, is in itself a great challenge to the adventurous scuba diver. The journey by small airplane takes approximately 20 minutes. A "speed boat" will do the journey in from 1 to 3 hours. There are a number of small hotels offering accomodation, meals, fishing, snorkelling and diving, and sightseeing trips.
Playground for ancient pirates, the island has a community of about 450 people among whom are some permanent tourists. Most of the fishermen are members of the Northern Fishermen's Co-operative, who supply lobster, conch and fish to the export market. A regular boat run from Belize City takes both local and tourists to the island.
St. George's Caye
Just about 9 miles (14 kilometres) from Belize City, St. George's Caye is steeped in history. It was the first capital of the settlement from 1650 to 1784 and was the scene of the great sea battle against the Spaniards in 1798 now celebrated as "St. George's Caye Day". There still remains evidence of the early magistrates and leader The caye was divided into two parts during the devastating hurricane "Hattie" of 1961.
Just a wee bit off the beaten path, unheralded, but unrivalled in their diversity, are the wetlands of Northern Belize: the swamps, marshes, shallow bays and estuaries - lagoon country. A birdwatcher's and naturalists paradise, the lagoons, Crooked Tree, Ketz, Progresso and Shipstern represent low places between ridges of an earlier geologic time. They provide excellent feeding ground for water birds: eqrets, herons ibis, storks, spoonbills and others that represent a good cross-section of the nation's wildlife.
Further north, new archaeological discoveries from the preclassic, Classic and modern Maya periods are even now being uncovered. At Lamanai, Orange Walk District, the entire range of pre- Classic to modern features of the Maya civilization have been excavated. Nearby at Indian Church, the remains of a church built by Spanish missionaries of the 16th century stand amid the dust of time, and an English. colonial sugar mill, with its flywheels intact, gives testimony to the crude industrialization of the past century. At San Antonio on the Albion island, ridged field systems bear evidence of ancient Mayan agricultural expertise and El Pozito, between Guinea Grass Village and August Pine Ridge, depicts a pre-classic (300 B.C.) building found beneath the plaza of a Classic (600-900 A.D.) Maya construction. Across the bay from Corozal Town about 3 miles (5 kilometres) along the coast are Los Cerros with large mayan mounds,- some of which have not yet been excavated.
Two Mennonite communities are located in Northern Belize - Blue Creek and Shipyard in the Orange Walk District. The Mennonites, originally German farmers, were given refuge in Belize after facing difficult times in other lands. They are a self-contained community engaging in agriculture, manufacturing and sawmilling. With their unique customs, their traditional dress and their language - a low German patois - the Mennonites add variety to the Belizean scene.
There are hundreds of caves, mostly unexplored in the limestone hills between the Maya Mountains and the plain. The role of caves in Maya culture is principally ritual, although they have also been used as places of refuge, storage, clay quarries, and as a source for both ritual and drinking water. Believed to be the entrance to the underworld, the ancient Maya preferred those with difficult access for their ritual descent down to Xibalba, the abode for the dead.
The Popul Vuh, a Quiche Maya document from the Guatemala highlands, makes reference to the Maya's origin in caves. Since many caves in that area are vertical, and completely inaccessible, it is argued that underworld mythology developed in the lowland area where caves are more easily entered. Vuh also mentions the Hero Twins who journeyed the hazardous path to the underworld. Their trials in the "House of Darkness" may reflect actual rites wherein the young elite Maya duplicate the legendary journey.
Often restrictions such as stalagmites, if not natural, were placed at the mouth of the cave or at the opening to an inner chamber within the cave. Stalagmites resembling the sacred ceiba tree have been depicted in the Dresden Codex, one of the four surviving Maya books. Ceiba supports the heavens at the center of the Maya universe and represents the fifth up and-down direction of the Maya conception of space which divided space into four quadrants corresponding to the Cardinal directions.
There are nine levels in the Maya underworld, each represented by a deity. In the Long Count Calendar, the lords make up a perpetual cycle each serving as a current lord of the night, influencing daily events. The Jaguar; god of the number seven and lord of the underworld, was most revered. The death god, a human skeleton figure often depicted with saurian characteristics, is also a prominent figure.
The interpretation of caves as an access to the underworld is enforced by evidence of snail shells, which had death symbolism, strewn along paths inside many caves. Rites often include the burning of copal incense in censers to honor ancestors. Offerings of ground cocoa and sacrifices of birds, dogs or children were often made to the gods, especially to Chac, the rain god. Other archaeological material includes stingray spines, an item used to draw blood. Finally, caves were also used to collect "Zuhuy ha" or "remote water." Jars (ollas) were placed as receptacles for water dripping from stalactites and used for a variety of ceremonial purposes. Individual pot shards were often placed in wet crevices which kept the "virgin" water from touching the ground. It is interesting to note that ceramic vessels found in graves at Lamanai usually lacked one fragment suggesting that a single shard was retained for ceremonial purposes. The demands for Zuhuy ha were probably great and the olla jars and fancy polychrome wares were very likely smashed at the semi-annual renewal rites. Caves may have been the receptacle for these broken vessels explaining the large number of pot shards often heaped or strewn in them.
THE BARRIER REEF AND ASSOCIATED ECOSYSTEMS OF BELIZE:
During your visit to the reef, you will encounter many beautiful coral types and formations. These corals have been growing for thousands of years. Each coral "rock" is composed of thousands of tiny animals called polyps. These animals belong to the same group of animals as the sea anemone, sea fan, jellyfish, and Portuguese man-o-war. The colonies of polyps are very fragile and are damaged when touched by a hand or a fin. When damaged, the corals are much more susceptible to contamination by bacteria and other organisms. The contamination may lead to the death of an entire colony of polyps.
Many colorful fishes will be encountered during your visit to the reef. Fishes live in and all around the coral community. For example, squirrel-fish can be found hiding in coral branches or coves, sandtile fish can be found living in burrows in the sand of the sea floor, houndfish and barracudas can be found swimming near the surface of the water, large groupers can be found hiding in overhangs or caves, and moray eels can be found hiding in holes and crevices within the corals.
Fish are very friendly and may move close enough for you to touch. However, fish secrete a mucous coating that protects them from bacterial infections. When touched, this coating is removed and allows bacteria to infect the fish.
The diverse and ornate populations of coral reefs make them among the most beautiful of all underwater ecosystems. These tropical shallow-water ecosystems are inhabited by a myriad of creatures of bizarre color, form and behavioral adaptation. This association of plants and animals in the tropical waters of the world is the most complex of all ocean ecological systems, and it also represents the oldest ecosystem on earth.
The barrier reef complex of Belize extends roughly 155.35 miles in a north-south direction and ranges from six to twenty-one miles in width. It is the largest continuous reef in the Caribbean. The reef complex includes an almost unbroken barrier reef, beginning as a fringing reef off the peninsula of Ambergris Caye, with numerous patch reefs and mangrove cayes in its shoreward lagoon, and ending in the Gulf of Honduras. The lagoon separating the reef from the mainland is twelve to fifteen miles wide in the northern regions but in the south the reef bends eastward and the lagoon becomes more than twenty-four miles wide before it opens into the Gulf of Honduras.
In the north where Pleistocene topography is reflected in the line of elongate cayes just behind the reef; two distinct types of lagoons are present. The "black-reef' lagoon (only .93 miles wide) found between the barrier reef and the cayes has clear, circulating water, normal salinity, and .a sandy bottom supporting a seagrass community interspersed with coral patch reefs. The "inner-shelf" lagoon, which may be up to 15 miles wide, lies between the caye line and the mainland, and contrasts strongly with the black-reef lagoon. The diversity of organisms is lower in the inner shelf lagoon which is characterized by slightly murky, sluggish water that is susceptible to considerable seasonal temperature and salinity changes, and a muddier bottom supporting seagrass beds but rarely any corals or calcareous algae. The life of the inner-shelf lagoon becomes considerably more restricted near the mainland where freshwater runoff is important. Passes between the cayes where the two types of lagoons meet exhibit varying characteristics depending on the extent of water circulation and the stability of the salinity.
The basic plant communities of Belize are similar in many ways to those found in nearby Central American countries and in some ways to those in the southern Atlantic states of the United States. Most U.S. field guides, however, will be of little use. The most readily available literature applicable to Belize will probably include guides designed for use on Costa Rica, Mexico, or southern Florida.
Plant associations in Belize are usually designated by the term "ridge" which has nothing to do with elevation, but rather with changes in vegetation.
Another term frequently encountered is the Aztec word "milpa" meaning corn. This term, spread by the Spanish, now refers to land which has been cleared and cultivated by hand for two or three years, then allowed to lie fallow for a variable length of time (2 to 20 years) and then reused. This system of "milpa" agriculture has been important in altering the plant cover of the country. Abandoned milpa fields are called "guamil."
You will probably recognize many familiar genera in the following habitat descriptions and species lists, however, many of the common names will be in Spanish or some local dialect. Just as occurs in the U.S., common names are frequently regional with a different name in each region, and many times one common name will be applied to several different species or even different genera. Some common names were given by the Spanish who used terms familiar to them from home, yet have no relation whatsoever to the species they encountered in the New World. Their common names were also of a descriptive nature as with the "cohune" palm. Thus there is a valid argument for the inclusion of scientific names in these accounts. Be aware that the common names given will not necessarily be recognized by the locals in all parts of Belize and that since one plant may have many common names (in English and in Maya or Spanish), only one or two have been selected.