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Belize Hotels

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Wedged into the northeastern corner of Central America between Mexico's Yucatán peninsula and the Petén forests of Guatemala, Belize offers some of the most breathtaking scenery anywhere in the Caribbean. The country actually consists of marginally more sea than land, with the dazzling turquoise shallows and cobalt depths of the longest barrier reef in the Americas just offshore. Here, beneath the surface, a brilliant, Technicolor world of fish and corals awaits divers and snorkellers. Scattered along the reef, a chain of islands – known as cayes – protect the mainland from the ocean swell and offer more than a hint of tropical paradise. Beyond the reef lie the real jewels in Belize's natural crown – three of only four coral atolls in the Caribbean.

Belizeans recognize the importance of conservation and their country boasts a higher proportion of protected land (over 40 percent) than any other. This has allowed the densely forested interior to remain relatively untouched, boasting abundant natural attractions, including the highest waterfall in Central America and the world's only jaguar reserve. Rich tropical forests support a tremendous range of wildlife, including howler and spider monkeys, tapirs and pumas, jabiru storks and scarlet macaws; spend any time inland and you're sure to see the national bird, the very visible keel-billed toucan.

Despite being the only Central American country without a volcano, Belize does have some rugged uplands in the south-central region, where the Maya Mountains rise to over 1100m. The country's main rivers rise here, flowing north or east to the Caribbean, forming along the way some of the largest cave systems in the Americas, few of which have been fully explored. These caves often bear traces of the Maya civilization that dominated the area from around 2000 BC until the arrival of the Spanish. The most obvious remains of this fascinating culture are the ruins of dozens of ancient cities rising out of the rainforest.

Officially English-speaking, and only gaining full independence from Britain in 1981, Belize is as much a Caribbean nation as a Latin one, but one with plenty of distinctively Central American features, above all a blend of cultures and races that includes Maya, mestizo, African and European. Spanish is at least as widely spoken as English, but the rich, lilting Creole is the spoken language understood and used by almost every Belizean, whatever their first tongue. You'll hear this everywhere – and though based on English, it's less comprehensible to outsiders than you might expect.

With far less of a language barrier to overcome than elsewhere in the region, uncrowded Belize is the ideal first stop on a tour of the isthmus. And, although it's the second-smallest country in Central America (slightly larger than El Salvador), the wealth of national parks and reserves, the numerous small hotels and restaurants, together with plenty of reliable public transport make Belize an ideal place to travel independently, giving visitors plenty of scope to explore little-visited Caribbean islands as well as the heartland of the ancient Maya. Click here to go to Belize Web site.



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