Although Belize is small country, here are located numerous outstanding and surprising monuments. Country has at least four important features making it very special regarding the natural and cultural heritage:
- 1. Area of Belize was a part of the realm of one of the greatest ancient civilizations - Maya;
- 2. Most of the country consists of carbonate rock and in tropical climate here are on-going active karst processes - country contains huge amount of very diverse caves and sinkholes;
- 3. Approximately 60% of the country is covered with more or less virgin tropical forest, containing huge number of rare and endemic species;
- 4. Some of the largest coral reefs are lining the coastline of Belize.
Part of the landmarks are popular tourism destinations but part is known only to specialists. New exciting landmarks are discovered every year. Thus in 2009 there was discovered Tipan Chen Uitz - potentially one of the largest Maya sites in the country but in 2008 at the bottom of two sinkholes - groves of unknown species of cycad with extreme healing properties - later named Zamia decumbens.
Caves and sinkholes
There is a saying: "In every property in Belize there is at least one cave and in this cave there are Maya artefacts." This is exaggeration with a grain of truth in it - there really are lots of caves in Belize and lots of these caves contain some traces of Maya civilization.
- Actun Tunichil Muknal - Cayo District. Important Maya sacrifice cave with skeletons of sacrificed victims. Includes the famous "Crystal Maiden" - crystallized, sparkling skeleton of a girl and dripstone formations modified by Maya to resemble human faces and animals.
- Barton Creek Cave - Cayo District. Approximately 7 km long cave with giant passages, navigable river, adorned with dripstone formations and natural bridges. In the past served as a Maya religious centre.
- Caves Branch Caves - Cayo District. Group of caves, consisting of three - four segments with Caves Branch River flowing through them. Part of cave system has been turned into tourism destination, giving altered names to some segments of caves. Best known are Footprint Cave (with embedded footprints), Waterfall Cave (with six waterfalls in it) and Petroglyph Cave (with ancient Maya drawings from 300 - 900 AD.). Impressive sight is the disappearance of Caves Branch river underground.
- Chechem Ha Cave - Cayo District. This cave contains 60 vessels of intact Maya pottery, mainly funeral pots (ollas), from around 200 BC - 900 AD.
- Chiquibul Cave System - Cayo District and part of system also in Guatemala, Petén district. Group of giant caves, one of the longest cave systems in Central America. Earlier served also as underground bed for Chiquibul River. Contains some of the largest known cave passages (often 100 m wide and 50 m high) and rooms (Belize Chamber - 200 m wide and tall) in Western Hemisphere, countless dripstone formations. Total length of hydrologically linked explored passages - 97 km. Four largest caves are - Actun Kabal, Actun Tun Kul, Cebada Cave and Xibalba. Contains Mayan artefacts.
- Giant Cave at Caye Caulker - Belize District. Undersea cave, visited by cave divers only few times and... each of the teams returned with different data. One investigation shows that passages of this cave have a total length of 3,116 m, thus making it the longest known seawater filled cave. Another exploration shows that this cave is 600 m wide cave chamber - contender to be the largest cave chamber in the world.
- Great Blue Hole - Belize District, Belize. Perfectly round undersea sinkhole, 318 metres across and 124 metres deep. Contains tilted stalactites possibly hinting at tectonic movements.
Other natural landmarks
- Albion Island Quarry - Orange Walk District. This is the only site where is well visible the impact of Chicxulub meteorite, which, possibly caused the great extinction 65 million years ago. Among other exciting features here is found a layer of small spheres - condensate of evaporated limestone which fell from the sky back in those terrible times.
- Chiquibul Natural Arch - Cayo District. Chiquibul River passes this arch before diving into Chiquibul Cave system.
- Hidden Valley Falls - Cayo District. More than 450 metres high waterfall. In the upper reaches of the waterfall there is a unique growth of fir, while down below there is a tropical jungle.
- Zamia decumbens in sinkholes - Toledo District. Zamia decumbens Calonje, Meerman, Griffith and Hoese is extremely rare cycad, up to 2 m tall. It is found in seven places in Belize with just a few plants found in most locations. The best groves consisting of several hundreds of plants are located on bottoms of two fairly large, isolated sinkholes with approximately 50 metre tall vertical cliffs. Plant has huge potential importance in medicine as it has powerful antiviral properties - but it has been impossible to cultivate it thus far.
Man made landmarks
Whole area of Belize contains Maya artefacts and every year there are made new exciting discoveries. Most likely Maya civilization did not come in empty place - there was some interesting culture before - but it still waits for its discoverer.
- Altún Ha - Belize District. Remnants of a comparatively important Mayan city, developed in 200 - 900 AD. Nowadays there are seen remnants of a group of pyramids and some other monuments.
- Caracol - Cayo District. The most important Mayan centre in the area of present day Belize. Inhabited since 1200 BC, flourished in 485 - 889 AD. At its heyday covered an area of 168 km². Contains the highest pyramid in Belize - Caana, some 45 m tall.
- Cerros - Corozal District. Coastal Maya city, ancient harbour at the bay of Chetumal. Contains several plazas with pyramids.
- Lamanai - Orange Walk District. Once important, very ancient Mayan city, inhabited since the 16th century BC and flourished in the 4th century BC - 1st century AD. Occupied until the 17th century AD. Most imposing structure is the 23 m tall High Temple.
- Lubaantun - Toledo District. Important ancient Mayan city, flourished in 730 - 890 AD. Architecture style is different from other Mayan cities, in the site were found numerous numerous miniature ceramic figurines - possible ritual objects. Here reportedly was found also the famous Crystal Skull - beloved artefact of mystics and seekers of preternatural things of the past.
- Pacbitun - Cayo District. Rather important ancient Maya site. Occupied since 1000 BC, flourished in 400 BC - 250 AD and 600 - 900 AD. Area - 30 ha, contains some 24 pyramids up to 16.5 m high, raised causeways, palaces and numerous other monuments.
- El Pilar - Cayo District in Belize and Petén district in Guatemala. Significant ancient Mayan city with remnants of hundreds of buildings. Construction on-going here from 800 BC to 1000 AD.
- Tipan Chen Uitz - Cayo District. Newly discovered (June 2009) remnants of large Maya city. Contains a group of diverse monuments including caves, large well, large buildings, fortifications.
- Xunantunich - Cayo District. Important Mayan city of Classical era, 200 - 900 AD. Contains numerous buildings, the best known is the 40 m tall El Castillo pyramid. Also site of legends: even the present name of this site stems from deterrent ghost - white dressed women with red glowing eyes seen at El Castillo.
Other cultural attractions
- Swing Bridge in Belize - Belize City. The only manually operated swing bridge in the world still in function. Built in Liverpool and transported here in 1923, spans Belize River.
List of described attractions by districts
Belize is divided into 6 districts.
|Great Blue Hole||Sinkhole|
|Orange Walk District|
|Stann Creek District|
Map of Belize
Featured: Great Blue Hole
Photographs taken from the air show incredible, nearly perfectly round, deep blue circle in shallow atoll some 70 km east from Belize City. This unique formation is the Great Blue Hole - enormous sinkhole existing here at least for 150,000 years.
This 124 m deep, unusual formation contains numerous large stalactites at 4 metre depth. Part of stalactites are tilted hinting at tectonic movements in the past. Mechanism of the formation of Great Blue Hole though remains a riddle to be solved.
The Rough Guide to Belize is the ultimate travel guide to this unique country, with clear maps and detailed coverage of all the best attractions, from the sun-washed cayes to soaring Mayan pyramids.
Fodor’s correspondents highlight the best of Belize, with spectacular diving and snorkeling sites, exotic wildlife, and fascinating Mayan ruins, as well as a side trip to Guatemala's Tikal. Our local experts vet every recommendation to ensure you make the most of your time, whether it’s your first trip or your fifth.