Unexpected luxury in Belize

Gillian Birch takes a trip to Belize this winter. With an unspoiled reef, preserved Mayan ruins and luxury accommodation at your doorstep, you're sure to catch some rays all-year-round...

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When planning a winter break in the Caribbean, Belize may not be the first choice that springs to mind. However, this former British colony is a growing destination for eco-tourism with its outstanding Mayan ruins and eco-adventures in the pristine rainforest. Just offshore lies the world’s second largest reef and the Blue Hole, providing an unparalleled experience for snorkellers and divers.

Many global travellers miss out on these outstanding travel experiences due to Belize’s reputation for crime. However, the majority of crimes are non-violent burglaries and internal corruption. Outside the cities of Belmopan and Belize City, crimes rates plummet to levels consistent with other Caribbean destinations. Just to put it into context, statistics compiled by NationMaster show that robbery is three times more likely in Mexico than Belize and murder is 101 times more likely in the USA than in Belize. Crime is almost non-existent in tourist hubs such as Ambergris Cay and luxury gated communities on the beach such as the five-star Kanantik Resort, where most well-heeled tourists opt to stay.

Belize attractions

The main Belizean attraction is the Belize Reef, an unexploited reef that stretches over 185 miles along the coast of this Central American country. It offers an almost continuous wall of coral, alive with colourful anemones, fish and marine life. This pristine diving destination offers unrivalled opportunities for sport fishing, snorkelling and scuba diving in the Blue Hole, a natural sinkhole measuring over 1,000 feet in diameter. Trips to Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley allow visitors to swim with nurse sharks and stingrays in the crystal clear waters.

Inland excursions reveal a dozen archaeological sites where well-preserved Mayan ruins yield up long-forgotten buildings, towering pyramids and sacrificial altars hidden for centuries in the dense green jungle. One of the best examples is the Mayan ceremonial centre at Altun Ha which was a thriving Mayan community between 250 and 900AD. This was where the jade-carved head of the sun god was discovered and is now the national symbol of Belize. Other Mayan sites include the ruins at Xunantunich which have beautifully carved examples of ancient Mayan skills.

Those wanting to experience an eco-tour of the rainforest with a local guide will find a diversity of ecosystems that are home to elusive jaguars, chattering monkeys and countless exotic birds. The Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary is known for its jaribu storks, crocodiles, howler monkeys, coatimundis, toucans and iguanas.

Belize is a great place to go zip lining over the treetops or visit breathtaking natural sights. One of the largest waterfalls in Central America is Hidden Valley Falls on the Macal River which plunges dramatically over 300m (1000 feet). Other limestone hills in the Cayo District are riddled with caves boasting ancient stalagmites, stalactites, underground waterfalls and opportunities for caving and spelunking with licensed guides.

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Luxury accommodation in Belize

The newest luxury destination in Belize is Kanantik Reef and Jungle Resort in southern Belize. Located on 1300 lush acres, this Garden of Eden offers an authentic Belizean experience without having to sacrifice any of life’s modern-day comforts. Stand-alone cabanas overlook a stretch of sandy beach bordering the azure Caribbean waters. Getting there from the International Airport in Belize City is an easy 20-minute private flight to the airstrip at Kanantik Resort.

This exceptional resort offers a range of activities, whether you want to dive the reef, go river canoeing or trekking to Mayan ruins and ecological sites. However, you may never want to leave the private beach, saltwater swimming pool and luxurious amenities of this premier resort which holds a string of awards including Conde Nast Traveller Gold List and #1 Resort in Central and South America. It’s definitely a place to consider.

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