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Ambergris Caye, Belize
San Pedro Statue
San Pedro - Ambergris Caye's largest and smallest town on the island is San Pedro (as you may have figured, it's the only town). San Pedro by day is a sleepy fishing village with the primary modes of transportations being bicycles and golf carts. At night it is Belize's party island. Step into the mouth of Jaguar's Temple Night Club or witness the "Chicken Drop" contest (don't ask) at the Pier Lounge. After a night of drinking and debauchery, walk over to the San Pedro Church and cleanse your soul.
 
Ambergris Caye, Belize
Reef Runners
The Barrier Reef - Ambergris Caye is less than a 10 minute boat ride to one of the best diving and snorkeling Barrier Reefs in the world. The nearly 200 mile long reef is an underwater zoo of whale sharks, manatees, barracudas, octopi, stingrays and many more. The three most popular areas for snorkeling on the reef are Hol Chan Marine Reserve (a natural cut channel in the reef), Shark-Sting Ray Alley and Mexico Rocks. The mac daddy of all dive sites near Ambergris Caye is the Great Blue Hole in Lighthouse Reef. This 1,000 foot diameter deep azure colored sink hole is a deep-diver's paradise (although not recommended for beginners).
 
Belize City, Belize
A Fortune for Belize
Fort George Lighthouse - This lighthouse has two names, the Fort George Lighthouse so named because this area was once called Fort George; and the Baron Bliss Lighthouse, named for Belize's greatest benefactor Baron Edward Bliss (1869-1926). The British born Baron Bliss amassed a fortune, but at the age 42 became paralyzed. So he purchased a yacht and sailed the world for 5 years, eventually anchoring off the coast of Belize. Here he was so taken with the kindness of the people of Belize he left a fortune to the people. His tomb is at the base of the lighthouse and March 9, the day the Baron died, is a holiday - Baron Bliss Day.
 
Belize City, Belize
Inside Old Belize
Old Belize - One of the best Cultural and Historical Museums in Belize is part of Old Belize, along with the white-sands of Cucumber Beach, an authentic Belizean restaurant called TGI Gringo and of course a gift shop. The first word that came out of my little sock monkey mouth after entering the Cultural and Historical Museum was "WOW". The 45 minute tour of the museum winds through a rainforest, Maya stone temple, saw mill and ends at a small town Belize exhibit. After the museum tour, it's time to put on your swimwear and head to Cucumber Beach - here you'll find over 350 feet of beachfront property as well as a waterslide while you soak up the warm sun of Belize.
 
Belize City, Belize
One of the November Nine
Princess Hotel and Casino - The Princess Hotel and Casino houses the poker room of Bidah "Bob" Bounahra. The Lebanon born Bob Bounahra has become a Belizean poker sensation since he made it to the "November Nine" in the 2011 World Series of Poker. He is the first player residing in Belize to make it to the final table. The Princess Hotel also contains a casino (with 400 gaming machines and a variety of table games), a movie theater, a bowling alley, a gift shop, an arcade center, a restaurant, an Olympic sized pool and ocean facing rooms. If you drop in at the hotel, be sure to congratulate Bob on his poker success.
 
Belize City, Belize
St John's Cathedral
St John's Cathedral - Constructed between 1812 and 1820, St John's Cathedral is the oldest Anglican Church in Central America and the oldest surviving building in Belize (most were destroyed by hurricanes). The exterior was built from bricks used for ballast in ships coming from Europe and the interior contains some stunning mahogany and sapodilla. On the west side of the church is Yarborough Cemetery, holding graves dating back to the late 1700s, making this the oldest cemetery in Belize. Mass is still held at the small church and welcomes visitors.
 
Belize City, Belize
Museum/Prison/Monkey
Museum of Belize and Houses of Culture - Her Majesty's Prison was built in 1857 and held prisoners for over 140 years. Now it holds artifacts and exhibits relating to Belizean culture. The Museum of Belize and Houses of Culture contains a Maya Masterpieces exhibit with priceless pottery and stunning jade jewelry; and an Insect Room that will make you reconsider walking in the jungle. Other permanent exhibits include the Stamps of Belize, the Coins of Belize, Old Bottles, Colonial Post Cards and a Mahogany Room. The museum even left one prison cell (with prisoner artwork on the walls) to give a feel of prison life.
 
Belize City, Belize
View From the Swing Bridge
Swing Bridge - Built in 1922 and installed in 1923, the Swing Bridge spans the Belize River and rotates or swings to allow water traffic to pass through. The iconic bridge is one of three bridges connecting the north and south sides of the city. It is located in the busy downtown area and is a hub of activity night and day. During the day travelers to Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye line up next to the bridge at the Marine Terminal awaiting ferries to the islands. And at night a sea of people flood the roads surrounding the little yellow bridge. Admittedly, it gets a little dicey after dark - do be careful fellow sock monkeys.
 
Belmopan, Belize
Independence Square
Capitol Building - In 1961 Hurricane Hattie devastated Belize City (the former capital of Belize), so it was decided to move the capital 45 miles west to the high grounds of Belmopan. High grounds in this case mean 250 feet above sea level. Independence Plaza is where it all happens and this area holds the Prime Minister's Office, the Post Office and various government buildings. The best time to visit is mid-day on weekends when Market Square is buzzing. Here visitors and locals can pick up fresh fruit, tamales, and knock-off jewelry while they visit the capitol building.
 
Belmopan, Belize
Crazy Corn
Foods of Belize - Being an American monkey I've gotten used to finding a fast food restaurant on every corner. There's no such thing in Belize. Here the towns are dotted with privately owned restaurants and the roads lined with vendors selling "street food". The staples of the Belizean diet are Johnny Cakes (flat fluffy biscuits), meat pies (miniature pies filled with burn-your-hands-and-mouth meat gravy), rice and beans, oxtail, tacos, gibnut (a nocturnal rodent, that tastes like chicken) and tamales. While walking the streets of Belmopan I came across a plate of "Crazy Corn", cheese and ketchup topped corn on the cob - and gave it a try. Tasty!
 
Caracol, Belize
Bigger is Better
1000 Foot Falls - Few things are better than advertised these days, but the 1000 Foot Falls is one of them. The 1000 Foot Falls actually tumbles nearly 1,600 feet giving visitors a free 600 feet of waterfall that they weren't expecting. Starting in the pine forest above, water cascades over a quarter mile down the rocky mountainside into a deep gorge below. While driving to this National Monument you'll wonder how there can be such a large falls in this relatively flat area, but the bottom drops out as you enter the parking area. Admission is only a dollar and there is a small gift shop here to pick up some hand carved Maya Calendars.
 
Caracol, Belize
Contemplating Climbing
Caracol Archaeological Site - The Caracol Archaeological Site is not only the largest ancient Maya site in Belize, but is thought to be the largest site in all of Central America. At its peak around 650 AD, nearly 200,000 people inhabited its 35,000 structures in the sprawling 30 square-mile complex. Caracol wasn't just large it was powerful; they defeated the once more dominant inhabitants of Tikal located in present day Guatemala. Visitors today arrive at the epicenter of the ancient city and explore four main areas, the South Acropolis, the Central Acropolis, Plaza A and Plaza B. Plaza B holds the Caana complex which was the pinnacle of ancient Caracol. Before you head there though, let me tell you - from the highway it is 40 miles of some of the roughest, most bone jarring road you've ever driven a 4 wheel drive vehicle on. And you may need an armed guard escort to dissuade the Guatemalan bandits lurking in the hills from robbing you. Once at the site you will be rewarded with a rare glimpse of Maya history and have it all to yourself.
 
Caves Branch, Belize
Blue Hole Swimming
Blue Hole National Park - Not to be confused with the Great Blue Hole on Lighthouse Reef, the Blue Hole National Park is a blue swimming hole and self-guided cave tour all in one. This monkey recommends stopping at St Herman's Cave first. The cave is a large collapsed karst sinkhole located about a 1/3 mile from Hummingbird Highway. A 100 foot gaping hole invites intrepid hikers down to a dark watery underworld to view its unique formations. After working up a sweat spelunking the cave, head over to the icy cool sapphire waters of the 300 foot diameter Blue Hole and take a swim. It is very refreshing.
 
Caves Branch, Belize
Underworld Belize
Caves and Cave Tubing - Under nearly every rock in Belize there seems to be a cave system and some of the best caves are located in the Cayo District (west-central Belize). Actun Tunichil Muknal was just discovered in 1989 and besides some wonderful natural features; there are burial chambers with real skeletons and a great collection of Maya artifacts. Other caves systems include the Rio Frio Cave, Chechem Hah Cave and if repelling is your thing, Black Hole Drop. Of course the most popular is the Caves Branch tubing cave where visitors don a headlamp and ride a river through time.
 
Caye Caulker,, Belize
On an Island Tour
Caye Caulker - Just a 45 minute ferry ride from Belize City is the cute tiny island of Caye Caulker. The entire coral island is only about 5 square miles, although visitors don't need a lot of space to slow down. This is the place to relax on a glistening white sand beach, stroll a glistening white sand road and chill with a coconut drink in your hand. Caye Caulker has an authentic Belizean feel to it, with street vendors selling grilled chicken and restaurants offering local cuisine. The main mode of transportation is the golf cart, but you can walk the entire island in an hour or two. This is not a resort town, there are no high-rise hotels, but that is a great reason to come here.
 
Caye Caulker,, Belize
Chillin' at the Split
The Split - Arguably the most famous feature of Caye Caulker and one of the largest gathering places on the island is The Split (sometimes called The Cut). The Split which is located on the north end of the village was formed in 1961 when Hurricane Hattie tore the island in two. After the hurricane did her work the channel was widened and deepened to allow water traffic to easily move through. There are several reasons to walk down to The Split, there is a great sand beach for sunbathing, it's a nice place to snorkel, and the Lazy Lizard Bar cranks out some fine Reggae music. Ya Mon.
 
Ladyville, Belize
Treetop Spider Monkey
Belize Zoo - The jungles of Belize hold an abundance of wildlife including the Jaguar, Ocelot, Howler Monkey and Gibnut. Unfortunately most of these animals are nocturnal, so the chances of seeing them in the wild are pretty slim. So the Belize Zoo is where you need to go. Encompassing nearly 30 acres and holding over 125 native animals, a walk through the zoo is a great introduction to the mammals, birds and reptiles of Belize. The cutest animals of the bunch are probably the White-nosed Coatimundi (a member of the raccoon family) who follow you around inside their play area. For the brave, there is an opportunity to pet Junior Buddy, a very well trained and playful Jaguar.
 
Rockstone Pond, Belize
Pyramids of Altun Ha
Altun Ha - With its close proximity to Belize City (30 miles to the south) and its abundant cruise ship passengers, Altun Ha is one of the most visited Maya Archaeological Sites in Belize. The 500 structures that make up the site were occupied by as many as 10,000 Mayas from around 1100 BC to 900 AD. The amazing part of this story is that these impressive ruins weren't discovered until the mid 1960s. Looking at the site's largest structure, the Temple of Masonry Altars (pictured) which towers 60 feet above the plaza, you wonder how this can be. Although Altun Ha is relatively small compared to other Maya sites, it is beautifully restored and enormously awe-inspiring.
 
San Ignacio, Belize
Xunantunich
Xunantunich - After passing Xunantunich and arriving in Melchor I had to ask - "can you tell me where the ruins are that start with an X". As it turns out, the only way to get to this Maya archaeological site is to cross the Mopan River on a hand-winched ferry and then hike, drive or ride a horse one mile to the ruins. Who knew? Once here you will be handsomely rewarded with one of Belize's greatest Maya sites. And the most impressive of the 26 temples of this major ceremonial site is El Castillo, a 130 foot pyramid with a banded stucco frieze. Until the discovery of ruins at Caracol, it was the largest pyramid in Belize.
 
San Ignacio, Belize
Home of Maya Royalty
Cahal Pech - Cahal Pech translates to "Place of Ticks", a name given by archaeologists in the 1950s not by the Maya. Although not the largest of Maya Archeological sites in Belize, it is one of the oldest and most important. The 34 structures and two ball fields were occupied from around 1200 BC to 800 AD. And because of its strategic location atop of a hill overlooking San Ignacio (and the confluence of the Mopan and Macal Rivers), it is thought this site was home to Maya royalty.
 
San Ignacio, Belize
I Ate the Watermelon
San Ignacio - Like all of Belize, San Ignacio is very culturally diverse. The population of 20,000 includes, but is not limited to Creole, Mestizo, Chinese, Taiwanese and Mennonite. The small town is not considered a tourist town although there are a number of tourist attractions in the area. Attractions include the Maya Archaeolgical sites of Xunantunuich, Cahal Pech and Chechem Ha, along with traditional river tours. One of the big events of the year is the River Race. Three-person teams paddle canoes 180 miles from San Ignacio's Hawksworth Bridge on March 5 to Belize City's Swing Bridge, hopefully arriving on March 9 - Baron Bliss Day.