<div align="center">Belize General Information<br /></div><br />Belize is a small nation on the eastern coast of Central America, on the Caribbean Sea bordered by Mexico to the northwest and Guatemala to the west and south. The country is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy which recognizes Queen Elizabeth II as Sovereign. The nation of Honduras lies 75 km away (47 mi) across the Gulf of Honduras to the east. The name is derived from the Belize River, after which Belize City, the former capital and largest city, is also named. In Spanish it is usually called Belice. Known as British Honduras until 1973, Belize was a British colony for more than a century. It became an independent nation in 1981. Belize is a member of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Sistema de Integracion Centro Americana (SICA) and considers itself to be both Caribbean, and Central American.<br /><br />The cayes (pronounced keys), the offshore atolls, and the barrier reef are on of the main attraction to Belize. The barrier reef, which is 185 miles long, is the longest in the Western Hemisphere. The cayes are islands that are located between the mainland and the barrier reed, on the barrier reef, and on or within the barrier reef perimeters of the offschore atolls.<br /><br />Although the mangrove cayes are normally uninhabitable by humans, they do provide a superior habitat for birds and marine life. Many birds, fish, shellfish, and marine organisms begin their lives within the protection of the mangrove. On the other hand, the island cayes, which are distinguishable by their palm trees, have provided the foundation for the development of many fine resorts to serve the water sports enthusiasts and the marine naturalists. The cayes and atolls provide superior opportunities for SCUBA diving, snorkeling, fishing, boating, sailing, kiteboarding, and sea kayaking, as well as habitat for both nesting birds and turtles. <br /><br />The northern half of the mainland of Belize is a plain that was once the bed of the sea. The land is covered with a thin layer of soil that supports scrub vegetation and dense hardwood tropical forest. The coastal area is neither land nor sea, but a sodden, swampy transition between the two. It consists of mangrove and grasses, and is bordered by tussock grasses, cypress, and sycamore where the land separates the water. <br /><br />The climate is subtropical, with a brisk prevailing wind from the Caribbean Sea. The country has an annual mean temperature of 79 degrees Fahrenheit, and the humidity is nicely tempered by the Sea breezes. Variations in weather features emphasize the interesting difference in elevation, geology, plant and animal life. A summer high temperature usually never exceeds 96 degrees Fahrenheit, and winter lows are seldom below 60 degrees Fahrenheit--even at night.
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<div align="center">Belize Restaurants<br /></div><br />Although it's not among the worlds greatest, Belizean food is one of Central America's best cuisines. Staples include tasty treats -- like the fryjack, beignetlike dough fried to a golden crisp and served at breakfast -- rice and beans, fried chicken, and tasty creole "stew chicken." Added to these are such acquired tastes as iguana, known as "bush chicken" or "bamboo chicken;" gibnut, a small rodent dubbed the "royal rat" after Queen Elizabeth dined on it during a state visit; and oddities of the British culinary heritage, like bread-and-butter pudding and cow-foot soup. With the world's second-largest coral reef running along its coastline, Belize whips up some of the Caribbean's tastiest seafood. Belizean chefs have learned to prepare fish for a lighter northern palate (not everything's deep fried), and at their best dishes like grilled red snapper in a papaya-pineapple sauce, shrimp coated with coconut, or blackened shark steak squirted with fresh lime can be sublime. Meals are washed down with delicious fresh-squeezed juices, like lime, watermelon, and mango. However, you may decide that the national drink of Belize is orange Fanta or Belikin beer. <br /><br />Belize Restaurants Suggestions<br /><br />Blue Water Grill – Seafood, BZ$15 to over BZ$35 – Located at Ambergris Caye.<br /><br />Capricorn – Eclectic, over BZ$35 – Located at Ambergris Caye.<br /><br />Casa Picasso – Eclectic, from BZ$15 to BZ$25 – Located at Ambergris Caye.<br /><br />Elvis’ Kitchen – Belizean, Seafood – from BZ$15 to BZ$35 – located at Ambergris Caye.<br /><br />Estel’s Dine by the Sea – Seafood – from BZ$8 to BZ$15 – located at Ambergris Caye.
<div align="center">Belize History<br /></div><br />Belize is the youngest nation in the Western Hemisphere, having been granted independence from Britain in 1981. With a population of just 270,000, Belize is a sparsely populated country with no great cities. Tourism is currently the fastest growing segment of the economy, and the country offers a wide range of attractions for visitors, from sun 'n' fun beach vacations to active adventures and ecotourism explorations. This section will help you get acquainted with the history, people, and natural environment of this small yet very diverse and exciting Central American nation.<br /><br />Belize proves the cliché that big things come in small packages. This tiny Central American country has the longest continuous barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere; the largest known classic Mayan city, Caracol; and the highest concentration per square mile of the largest New World cat, the jaguar. It also has one of the most extensive and easily accessible cave systems for amateur and experienced spelunkers alike, as well as a nearly endless supply of some of the world's best snorkeling and scuba-diving opportunities. Depending on your personal preferences, you can choose to stay in an intimate and luxurious villa or an isolated nature lodge in the heart of the Mundo Maya, or a tent on your own desert island. Or you can sample all three. The best part about all these world-class places and experiences is that Belize's compact size makes it easy to sample a wide range of them in a short period of time.
<div align="center">Belize Golf<br /></div><br />Belize is not one of the world's great golfing destinations, but it does boast one beautiful oceanfront course that takes up almost an entire private little island. While relatively flat, the par-72 course features plenty of water and sand hazards, and an unmatched number of oceanfront holes. The steady trade winds often come into play here, so be prepared. However, there are never any crowds or waits on the course.<br /> <br />Caye Chapel Resort (tel. 226-8250; www.belizegolf.cc) Players not staying on the island can play with an advance reservation. Rates for a full day of unlimited golfing, including carts, club rental, and use of the resort's pool and beach area cost BZ$400 (US$200) per person.
<div align="center">Belize Airport<br /></div><br />Phillip SW Goldson Airport (BZE/MZBZ)<br />Belize Airport, Belize, PO Box 1564, Belize City<br />Tel: +501 (0)25 2045<br />Fax: +501 (0)25 2439 <br /><br />Airport Data: International, Belize City 16km (9miles)<br /><br />Most visitors travel to Belize by air, but you can also get here by road or boat. A listing of the various airlines, access points, and necessary documents is provided below according to the mode of transportation. <br /><br />International flights to Belize are via Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Miami or Los Angeles. The major airlines servicing Belize are: <br />American Airlines, Continental, Delta Airlines, and Us Airways.<br /><br />The Belize Dollar (BZ$) has a fixed rate of exchange of BZ $2 to US $1. Most hotels, resorts, restaurants, and tour operators will accept U.S. currency, traveler's checks, or credit cards. When using your credit cards in Belize, most establishments will add a 5% service charge to your bill. Always make sure that you understand which dollar rate is being quoted. Is it Belize Dollars or U.S. Dollars? <br /><br />Documents for Arrival to Belize Airport<br />With the exception of cruise ship passengers, all visitors to Belize must present a valid passport before entering the country. Please note that driver's licenses and birth certificates are not approved travel documents and cannot be used to enter the country. Passports must be valid up until time of departure. <br /><br />Belize Airport Transfers<br />Getting Into Town From the Airport--The Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport is located 10 miles (16km) northwest of the city on the Northern Highway. There is no public bus service or shuttle van service. However, taxis are there to meet every flight. A taxi into downtown will cost BZ$35 to BZ$40 (US$18-US$20).<br /><br />Arrival to Ambergris Caye, San Pedro – via Belize City International Airport.<br />Maya Island Airways and Tropic Air operate flights to Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker from both the municipal and international airports in Belize City. Each has hourly service every day to Ambergris Caye between about 7:30 AM and 5:30 PM. In high season, additional flights are added to accommodate demand. Round-trip fares for the 20-minute flight are about BZ$104 (municipal) and BZ$186 (international). <br /><br />The airstrip on Ambergris Caye is at San Pedro's southern edge. You'll always find taxis waiting at the airstrip. If you're proceeding on foot, it's about five minutes to town. The airstrip on Caye Caulker is at the island's south end. There are no scheduled flights to the other cayes, although Lighthouse Reef and Caye Chapel both have airstrips where charter flights can land.
<div align="center">Belize Communications<br /></div><br />Telephone Access Charges--Make sure you know what the charges are for your particular international long-distance provider. Be careful about using these numbers if you're not on a specific plan. If you don't have an international calling plan, only charge calls to your credit card as a very last resort, as these calls are usually exorbitantly expensive. If you are making direct-dial international calls from your villas, always find out what the charges are in advance. A good option is to buy a local international calling card, which will be billed at approximately BZ$1.75 (US88¢) per minute for calls to the U.S. or BZ$4 (US$2) per minute for calls to the rest of the world.<br /><br />All villas come quipped with phones and many with internet connections and fax machines. <br /><br />Villa Phones: <br /><br />Belize Villas will come with their own phones. <br />This number will be given to you prior to your trip. <br />Long distance calls using any major credit card will usually be possible from these house phones.<br /> <br />Cell Phones: <br />Most cell phones will not work in Belize. Phones with international roaming may work in Belize, but it is always advisable to check with your cell phone provider before you depart. <br /><br />Electricity: <br />Although most of the electricity is provided by Diesel/Generator Sets, the power is stable at 110 Volts A.C., which is the same voltage as in the United States.
<div align="center">Belize Nightlife<br /></div><br />If you're looking for anything resembling action, forget about it. If you want to meet some locals, fellow travelers, or expatriates, head to the bars at either Tony's Inn & Beach Resort or the Corozal Bay Inn. They're side-by-side, so if one's not happening, you can just walk next door. You might want to try some local bars as well, and they are:<br /><br />Barefoot Iguana – Located at Ambergris Caye, San Pedro.<br /><br />BC’s Beach Bar – Located at Ambergris Caye, San Pedro.<br /><br />Jaguar’s Temple – Dance Club, located at Ambergris Caye, San Pedro.
Belize Car Rental & Transportation<br /><br />Renting a car is recommended in Belize. Many locations within Belize cannot be accessed without the use of a private vehicle. Whether in a taxi, tour van, or in a personal rental, the freedom of four wheels will add significantly to what visitors are able to see while traveling Belize. Provided below is a listing of the various rental agencies throughout the country: Avis Rent A Car, Budget Rent A Car, Crystal Auto Rental, Hertz/Safari Car Rental, Thrifty Car Rental and many more.<br /><br />Villas Caribe's concierge team is happy to arrange for car rental for you.
<div align="center">Belize Weddings<br /></div><br />Destination weddings have become increasingly popular and Belize is a prime destination for both wedding and honeymoon couples. The countryside and beaches provide a dramatic background for wedding ceremonies. Our Villas Caribe villas offer couples privacy in an intimate tropical environment. <br /><br />Belize has many picturesque settings where you can exchange vows- the beach, rainforest, Maya ruins, botanic gardens, waterfalls, butterfly farms and caves. It's up to you- this is your day and we'll help you realize your dreams. <br /><br />You must be in Belize three days and can submit your paperwork to the registry office on the forth business day. The paperwork will be completed and returned the following business day. Only Ministers are allowed to conduct outdoor wedding ceremonies and many will perform non-sectarian ceremonies.
<div align="center">Belize Shopping<br /></div><br />You won't be bowled over by shopping options here in Belize City, and very few people come to Belize specifically to shop. You will find a modest handicraft industry, with different specialties produced by the country's various ethnic communities. The Creole populations of the coastal area and outer cayes specialize in coral and shell jewelry, as well as woodcarvings with maritime (dolphins, turtles, and ships) themes. Remember, coral is a very delicate, rapidly disappearing living organism that grows very slowly; please avoid buying coral jewelry, as it just feeds demand and inevitably leads to the destruction of the spectacular Belizean reefs. The Belizean Mayan population produces replicas of ancient petroglyphs and different modern designs on varying sized pieces of slate. Finally, the Garífuna peoples of the southern coastal villages are known for their small dolls.<br /><br />A favorite gift item in Belize continues to be Marie Sharp's Hot Sauce, which comes in several heat gradations, as well as some new flavors. The original blend of habanero peppers, carrots, and vinegar is one of my all-time favorite hot sauces. The company also produces mango chutney and an assortment of pepper jams. You can pick up Marie Sharp products at any supermarket and most gift shops; I recommend you stick to the supermarkets, though, to avoid price gouging.<br /><br />Please do not buy any kind of sea-turtle products (including jewelry); wild birds; lizard, snake, or cat skins; corals; or orchids (except those grown commercially). No matter how unique, beautiful, insignificant, or inexpensive it may seem, your purchase will directly contribute to the further hunting of endanger n Ed species.<br /><br />The Shopping Scene<br /><br />Most shops in the downtown district are open Monday through Saturday from about 8am to 6pm. Some shops close for lunch; while others remain open (it's just the luck of the draw for shoppers).<br /><br />Handicrafts & Souvenirs--In addition to housing the best collection of fine art for sale in the city, Fine Arts also features some of the best handicrafts and handmade jewelry. The quality and selection are a definite step above what you'll find at most other gift shops and tourist traps in town.<br /><br />Liquor--Your best bet for liquor shopping are local supermarkets, or the duty-free shop at the airport. There are several brands of Belizean rum available; the best is One Barrel, which has a hint of coconut. Other brands produce some more heavily flavored coconut rums. The Prestige brand aged rum is also pretty good, if you're looking for straight dry rum. Belize doesn't produce any wines or other spirits of note.<br /><br />Markets--The only real market of note is the Commercial Center located just over the Swing Bridge, on the southern side of the city. This two-story modern concrete structure houses a mix of stalls and enclosed storefronts. The first floor is predominantly devoted to fresh produce, fish stalls, and butcher shops, but you'll also find stands selling flowers, fresh herbs, and some souvenir shops. There are more souvenir shops and some restaurants, including Big Daddy's, on the second floor. The Commercial Center is open daily from 7:30am to 5pm.<br /><br />Music--Punta Rock is the most Belizean of music styles. A close cousin to soca and calypso, Punta is upbeat dance music. Popular proponents include Andy Palacios, Chico Ramos, Pen Cayetano, the Garífuna Kids, Travesia Band, and Peter Flores (aka Titiman). For a taste of traditional Creole folk music, try to track down a copy of Mr. Peters' Boom & Chime. You also might be able to find some traditional Garífuna music, which tends to be ceremonial dance music, very similar to traditional West African music.<br /><br />At Belizean Arts you'll find works by local painters including Walter Castillo and Pen Cayetano. Also on display are handicrafts from the region, including hand-painted animal figures from Mexico, masks and fabrics from Guatemala, and brilliantly colored tropical fish made of coconut wood. <br />Address: Fido's Courtyard off Barrier Reef Dr., San Pedro, Belize<br />Phone: 226/3019<br /><br />Hummingbird Rattan, About 3 km (2 mi) south of town sells high-quality wood and rattan furniture made in Belize. <br />Address: Coconut Dr. at Mar de Tumbo, San Pedro, Belize<br />Phone: 226/2960<br /><br />Island Supermarket has the largest selection of groceries, liquor, and beer. <br />Address: Coconut Dr., south of town, San Pedro, Belize<br />Phone: 226/2972<br /><br />Sea Gal Boutique has an artist's eye for beauty: everything here is stunning, even the T-shirts. <br />Address: Barrier Reef Dr., in Holiday Hotel, San Pedro, Belize<br />Phone: 226/2431
<div align="center">Belize Beaches & Activities<br /></div><br />The busiest and most socially active destination is San Pedro town on Ambergris Caye. That being said, this twenty five mile long island less than a mile from the reef, is still pretty laid back by most standards. Ambergris has the largest selection of restaurants, bars and water activities in Belize. The majority of the services are located on the southern end of the island, close to San Pedro town. Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley (swim with docile nurse sharks and spotted eagle rays) are the islands most popular aquatic attractions. Snorkelers and divers can take advantage of full day boat trips to Turneffe and Lighthouse Atolls (Blue Hole). The area also offers great fishing, kayaking, sailing and windsurfing. You can rent bikes, jet skis or golf carts to explore the island and arrange day trips to the mainland for Lamanai, Altun Ha or Tikal Maya ruins, go horseback riding, caving or view wildlife. <br /><br />If you've never experienced an ancient Mayan city, make a trip to Altun Ha. It's not Belize's most dramatic site -- Caracol takes that award -- but it's the most accessible and thoroughly excavated. People resided here for nearly two millennia; the first inhabitants settled before 900 BC, and their descendants finally abandoned the site around AD 900. At its height the city was home to 10,000 people. A team from the Royal Ontario Museum first excavated the site in the mid-1960s and found 250 structures spread over more than 1,000 square yards. At Plaza B, in the Temple of the Masonry Altars, archaeologists unearthed the grandest and most valuable piece of Mayan art ever discovered -- the head of the sun god Kinich Ahau. Weighing nearly 10 pounds, it was carved from a solid block of green jade. The head is kept in a solid steel vault in the Bank of Belize's central branch. COST: BZ$10. OPEN: Daily 9-5pm.<br /><br />Bacalar Chico Marine & Nature Reserve - On Ambergris Caye, but the far north of the island remains pristine. At the top of the caye, butting up against Mexico, Bacalar Chico Marine & Nature Reserve spans 105 square km (41 square mi) of land, reef, and sea. Here you may cross paths with white-tail deer, ocelots, saltwater crocodiles, and, according to some reports, pumas and jaguars. A small visitor center opened in 2003. There are excellent diving, snorkeling, and fishing opportunities, especially off Rocky Point. You'll need a boat and a guide to take you here. An all-day snorkel trip to Bacalar Chico costs around BZ$170. COST: BZ$5. <br /><br />Address: North end of Ambergris Caye, Belize<br />Who would have believed that visitors would one day be heading to Belize for a whale watching vacation? Amazing giants of the deep, these majestic whales congregate in southern Belize two months every year. Researchers such as Rachel Graham investigate this wonderful natural phenomenon. Meanwhile, whale watching vacation packages prepared in conformance with accepted eco tourism guidelines are a new attraction for those visiting Belize and the Caribbean.<br />