Standing atop “El Castillo”, the second tallest structure in Belize, it’s no surprise people have always been fascinated with the Mayan culture. With their advancements in art, architecture, mathematical and astronomical systems, people are continually drawn to the reminants of the former civilization. The earliest Mayan settlements date back to 1800 B.C., while the peak of the Mayan Empire was around A.D. 250. It wasn’t until about A.D. 900 that the grand sites were abandoned, still somewhat of a mystery to this day as to why. Today, Mayan ruins, including well known sites such as Chichen Itza, are strung thoughout Mexico and Central America serving as unique tourist destinations.
While there were many opportunities to visit Mayan sites at each port of call during our cruise in May, Belize particularly provided some intriguing spots to explore. Belize was also one of the places we were looking most forward to visiting. As a small country bordered by Mexico and Guatemala, it’s on its way to attracting a strong tourism base by promoting its motto “unbeliezable.”
Since we only had a short time in the country and had to tender 20 mins into port, we opted to do an excursion through the ship to make sure we were back in time. We boarded a tender and zipped over to the capitol city to catch a bus that would take us to the Xunantunich ruins, meaning stone woman, on the border of Belize and Guatemala.
As we headed cross country, through Belize City, a city of only seven stop lights and 6 square miles, school children in matching uniforms traveled up and down the choppy paved streets on their way to school. Locals strolled by foot to work. As the bus zipped along though the winding and densely populated streets, the tour guide recited a miriad of fun facts about the country (see facts below). As we made our way through the countryside, we passed by rows of orange trees and patchworked houses on stilts.
After a two hour bus ride, we arrived at the ferry crossing leading up to the Xunantunich ruins. Stands selling brightly colored local arts and crafts were dotted along the road. Once we crossed the river, we sped up a hill, packed together in a van, for a few minutes before reaching the entrance to the ruins.
It was then a short hike up to the central part of the ruins and another trek to the top of El Castillo, the most prominent pyramid on site. Once we reached the top, we could see out in every direction including into Guatemala. Looking out, it was hard to imagine what it was like so many years ago, waking up to a view such as that each day, wondering what the day would bring.
On the way back to port, we stopped off a local restaurant to devour a meal of chicken and rice. As we rode back to port, vibrant colors in every shade lit up the streets. Our experience in Belize was nothing but great. It will undoubtedly be a place I return to in the future.
INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT BELIZE:
- Belize consists of only about 350,000 people.
- Minimum wage is a mere $75.00 per week.
- Children are only required to go to school from the ages of 5 – 14 because the parents must pay for it.
- The national animal is the tapir, the national bird is the toucan and the national flower is the Black Orchid.
- Belize is also home to three species of jaguar and the most posionous snake in the world, the viper.
- There is a lot of Mahagony in the country.
- The temperature in Belize never drops below 55 degrees.
- English is the national language but locals also speak English Creole and Spanish.
- Football, baseball and cricket are the most popular sports in Belize.
- The key industries in Belize are sugarcane, tourism, and oil.