There’s been a lot of talk about doomsday recently. Theories about a galactic alignment, the earth’s poles switching places, Planet X and the big one: the Maya Calendar, which supposedly runs out on December 21, 2012. What does all this mean? Who knows.
But if doomsday actually is looming, you’ve got a couple of choices: build a shelter and join the other doomsday preppers hiding out in their cold, damp bunkers, or, go on holiday and enjoy whatever time you have left.
The small Central American nation of Belize is a fine place to mix a tropical holiday, doomsday and Maya culture.
For its size (less than half the size of Nova Scotia), Belize is remarkably diverse and interesting. Located on the Caribbean Sea, south of Mexico and bordered by Guatemala to the west and south, Belize has both a Caribbean and Central American feel. It also has a small population, about 330,000 – roughly the same as Victoria, BC.
Belize is truly a tropical paradise. Spectacular beaches kissed by warm waters, accommodations ranging from hostels to high-end resorts, dramatic diving and snorkeling on the world’s second largest barrier reef, rainforests, caves and yes, plenty of Maya-themed attractions.
The country, which markets itself as an ecotourism hotspot, declared full independence from Britain in 1981. The British influence makes Belize a good introduction to Central America. English is the official language, although Spanish, Kriol, Garifuna and several Maya languages are also spoken.
Whether arriving by cruise ship or airplane, Belize City will be the starting point for most visitors. Belize City used to be the capital, but due to the constant threat of hurricanes (the city was almost wiped off the map in 1961) the capital was moved inland to Belmopan in 1970.
Poverty and drugs have resulted in a serious gang problem in the city and caution should be exercised at all times. If you decide to stay in the city for a couple of days, there is a tourist village (built primarily to cater to cruise ships) and The Museum of Belize. The latter has many interesting Maya pieces.
Close your eyes. Imagine the ideal tropical island: warm sun, white sandy beaches, azure waters and palm trees. That pretty much describes the islands and cayes off Belize’s Caribbean coast. Two of the most popular, Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye, are served by water taxis from Belize City several times a day.
Caye Caulker is the less developed of the two. The small island is just 25 minutes from Belize City but it’s a world away from the gritty reality of the city. It’s hard not to like a place with “Go Slow” as its official motto. A trip to Caye Caulker is like going back to a simpler time. You can almost feel your blood pressure drop.
Surrounded by natural beauty, Caye Caulker is an affordable place where you can do nothing more than chill in a hammock. But there are lots of activities too: diving, snorkeling, sailing and swimming.
Ambergris Caye is north of Caye Caulker. It’s a 75-minute water taxi ride from Belize city or about half an hour from Caye Caulker. Ambergris key is much more developed, and the town of San Pedro is the centre of the action. Things are relaxed here too. Golf carts and bicycles are the main forms of transportation. There is plenty of restaurants, bars and hotels. Activities are endless, from fishing to diving the world famous Blue Hole.
The main centre in western Belize is the town of San Ignacio. Located close to the border with Guatemala, it has a much more Latin American feel than the Caribbean coast. There is also a large Mennonite community in the area. On the edge of town is the Cahal Pech Maya site. It’s very easy to visit and there are more than 30 structures to explore.
Looking for a unique way to get married? On December 12 (12-12-12) a mass wedding will take place at Cahal Pech. The 2012 Maya Marriage of Many is billed as a celebration of love and Maya culture. The event is limited to just 12 couples.
Two hours from San Ignacio is Belize’s biggest and best Maya site: Caracol. It’s a bit tougher to get to, but it’s well worth the visit for the number of structures that can be explored. It’s also home to the largest Maya pyramid in the country.
For the first time, Belize’s Institute of Archeology is allowing visitors to experience solstice and equinox camping at Caracol. For US$150 visitors can spend two days and one night at the site. The first day includes tours and lectures by a renowned archeologist followed by a traditional Maya fire ceremony in the evening. The next day begins with watching the sun rise and aligning with the centre of a Maya observatory. There is a strict limit of 100 people per solstice/equinox.
If you really want to experience “doomsday” during the winter solstice (December 20-21), Caracol is the place to be.
Down south, Punta Gorda is a coastal town in the district of Toledo. While it’s not the most exciting place, residents say that it gives a glimpse of what Belize City used to be like. There are plenty of attractions nearby including Maya villages where residents live in traditional thatched roof huts.
The Lubaantun Mayan ruin is nearby, as is Nim Li Punit, a medium sized Maya ruin with several plazas and pyramids and an astrological observatory that was used to track solstices and equinoxes.
Placencia is a rapidly developing town in the south. It’s a friendly little fishing village that has become a charming tourist destination. It has a mix of 4-star resorts (including Francis Ford Coppola’s Turtle Inn), guest houses and Belize’s only mainland white sand beaches. One reason to visit? The best gelato in the country!
Belize has a tropical monsoon climate. The rainy season runs from May though January. Daytime highs are usually in the high 20s year round. The Belize dollar, featuring the familiar image of the Queen, is fixed to the US dollar at 2:1. You can easily use US dollars in Belize. A tourist visa is not required.