Welcome to Travel Planning 101. Find country specific information about where you are going and what to do to prepare to get there!
- Travel highlights of the country.
- Fun facts and background information.
- History notes, facts on currency, health, holidays and transportation.
- Pre-departure tips, when to go, and visa information.
- Information on weather and electricity plugs.
- Suggestions on things to do if you have extra time to explore on your own.
Places To See
This impressive Mayan site is located in its own archaeological reserve. It features 60 significant structures including a grand Pre-classic building, a small temple and a ball court. Lamanai (aka 'submerged crocodile' - the original Mayan name of the place) was occupied from 1500 BC and became a major ceremonial center long before most Mayan sites.
The Maya lived here right up until the arrival of the Spanish; two ruined Indian churches nearby prove there were still Maya here to be converted. The 90-minute boat trip up the New River from Orange Walk is an adventure in itself - floating by the Mennonite community of Shipyard gives you the opportunity to see plenty of birdlife and crocodiles.
Xunantunich, aka 'Stone Maiden', set on a leveled hilltop near the Belize River, is the archaeological pride of Belize. The site once flourished as a ceremonial center and is thought to have been abandoned after an earthquake around AD 900. Its tallest building, El Castillo, rises an impressive 40m (131ft) above the jungle.
Community Baboon Sanctuary
The Community Baboon Sanctuary is spread over 32km (20mi) of tropical rainforest, with the Belize River winding through its middle. Home to around 2000 rare black howler monkeys, known locally as 'baboons', it also has an extraordinary variety of birds. You can hike through the park, or peruse the wildlife from a canoe.
When to go?
The best months to visit Belize are the drier ones (December to May), but this is also the busy winter tourist season when prices rise and hotels fill up. The tourist hordes are out during the couple of weeks either side of Christmas and Easter; some accommodation will be priced even higher during this period. The rainy summer season (June to November) is cheaper and isn't so wet that you can't do anything (except at times in the south, which has two to three times as much rain as the rest of the country).
Travel Visa Overview
Citizens of the EU or Caricom (Caribbean Community) countries, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, the USA or Venezuela do not require visas if they have a passport and return ticket. A visitor's permit, valid for 30 days, will be stamped in your passport when you enter the country. This can be extended by further periods of one month, up to a maximum of six months. Apply at an immigration office - there's a fee for each extension. For further information, contact your embassy or the Immigration and Nationality Department in Belmopan. Citizens of other nationalities should apply for a visa in advance through any Belizean consulate.
British-style plug with two flat blades and one flat grounding blade
American-style plug with two parallel flat blades above a circular grounding pin
This serious and potentially fatal disease is spread by mosquito bites. If you are traveling in endemic areas it is extremely important to avoid mosquito bites and to take tablets to prevent this disease. Symptoms range from fever, chills and sweating, headache, diarrhea and abdominal pains to a vague feeling of ill-health. Seek medical help immediately if malaria is suspected. Without treatment malaria can rapidly become more serious and can be fatal.
If medical care is not available, malaria tablets can be used for treatment. You should seek medical advice, before you travel, on the right medication and dosage for you.
If you do contract malaria, be sure to be re-tested for malaria once you return home as you can harbor malaria parasites in your body even if you are symptom free.
Travelers are advised to prevent mosquito bites at all times. The main messages are: wear light-colored clothing; wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts; use mosquito repellents containing the compound DEET on exposed areas (prolonged overuse of DEET may be harmful, especially to children, but its use is considered preferable to being bitten by disease-transmitting mosquitoes); avoid perfumes and aftershave. Use a mosquito net impregnated with mosquito repellent (permethrin) - it may be worth taking your own.
Though relatively uncommon in Belize, dengue fever is a viral infection found throughout Central America and transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is most active during the day, and is found mainly in urban areas.
Signs and symptoms of dengue fever include a sudden onset of high fever, headache, joint and muscle pains, nausea and vomiting. A rash of small red spots sometimes appears three to four days after the onset of fever. Severe complications do sometimes occur.
You should seek medical attention as soon as possible if you think you may be infected. A blood test can indicate the possibility of the fever. There is no specific treatment. Aspirin should be avoided, as it increases the risk of hemorrhaging. There is no vaccine against dengue fever.
Several different viruses cause hepatitis; they differ in the way that they are transmitted. The symptoms in all forms of the illness include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, feelings of weakness and aches and pains, followed by loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-colored feces, jaundiced (yellow) skin and yellowing of the whites of the eyes.
There are 6 known types of viral hepatitis: A, B, C, D, E and G. G is not dangerous. A and E are passed on by the fecal-oral route of transmission; there is a vaccine. Seek medical advice, but there is not much you can do apart from resting, drinking lots of fluids, eating lightly and avoiding fatty foods. A and E cause an acute illness, but you will recover fully from it.
B and D are passed on via blood, saliva, semen and vaginal fluids. They can be passed on by close contact, sexual contact, and blood-to-blood contact. The symptoms of hepatitis B may be more severe than type A and the disease can lead to long-term problems such as chronic liver damage, liver cancer or a long-term carrier state. There is a vaccine.
Hepatitis C is only passed on from blood-to-blood contact. There is no vaccine.
This diarrheal disease can cause rapid dehydration and death. Cholera is caused by a bacteria, Vibrio cholerae. It's transmitted from person to person by direct contact (often via healthy carriers of the disease) or via contaminated food and water. It can be spread by seafood, including crustaceans and shellfish, which get infected via sewage.
Cholera exists where standards of environmental and personal hygiene are low. Every so often there are massive epidemics, usually due to contaminated water in conditions where there is a breakdown of the normal infrastructure.
The time between becoming infected and symptoms appearing is usually short, between one and five days. The diarrhea starts suddenly, and pours out of you. It's characteristically described as 'rice water' diarrhea because it is watery and flecked with white mucus. Vomiting and muscle cramps are usual, but fever is rare. In its most serious form, it causes a massive outpouring of fluid (up to 20L a day). This is the worst case scenario - only about one in 10 sufferers get this severe form.
It's a self-limiting illness, meaning that if you don't succumb to dehydration, it will end in about a week without any treatment.
You should seek medical help urgently; in the meantime, start re-hydration therapy with oral re-hydration salts. You may need antibiotic treatment with tetracycline, but fluid replacement is the single most important treatment strategy in cholera.
Prevention is by taking basic food and water precautions, avoiding seafood and having scrupulous personal hygiene. The currently available vaccine is not thought worthwhile as it provides only limited protection for a short time.
Also known as enteric fever, typhoid is transmitted via food and water, and symptomless carriers, especially when they're working as food handlers, are an important source of infection. Typhoid is caused by a type of salmonella bacteria, Salmonella typhi. Paratyphoid is a similar but milder disease.
The symptoms are variable, but you almost always get a fever and headache to start with, which initially feels very similar to flu, with aches and pains, loss of appetite and general malaise. Typhoid may be confused with malaria. The fever gradually rises during a week. Characteristically your pulse is relatively slow for someone with a fever. Other symptoms you may have are constipation or diarrhea and stomach pains.
You may feel worse in the second week, with a constant fever and sometimes a red skin rash. Other symptoms you may have are severe headache, sore throat and jaundice. Serious complications occur in about one in 10 cases, including, most commonly, damage to the gut wall with subsequent leakage of the gut contents into the abdominal cavity.
Seek medical help for any fever (38°C and higher) that does not improve after 48 hours. Typhoid is a serious disease and is not something you should consider self-treating.
Re-hydration therapy is important if diarrhea has been a feature of the illness, but antibiotics are the mainstay of treatment.
With such hot and humid weather throughout the year, people can be forgiven for slowing down in Belize. Temperatures hardly vary between the coolest part of the year (December to March) and the hottest (May to September). There are, however, distinct wet and dry seasons. The wet season runs from mid-May to November in the south and from mid-June to November in the north. November to February is a transitional period, with the year's coolest temperatures and a limited amount of rain. The true dry season is from February to April (which also brings an extra hour or two of sunshine) - highs hover around 30°C (86°F) and humidity is as thick as a Creole accent, so you might as well spend your days snorkeling.
History and Culture
Pre-20th Centure History
The first stirrings of Mayan civilization came with the emergence of farming villages in what are now Guatemala, Belize, Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula, and northern Honduras between 2000-1000 BC. Cuello, near Orange Walk in northern Belize, was one of the first settlements, dating back to around 2400 BC. Lamanai, beside the New River, surged in importance around 200-100 BC, when its core became a major ceremonial center. It remained an important city until at least AD 700.
The Classic period of more advanced Mayan civilization reached its peak between the 6th and 9th centuries. In 562, the greatest of Belize's Mayan cities, Caracol, conquered Tikal, some 80km (50mi) northwest. The following decades saw a surge in construction and population here. Though it declined in importance after a defeat by Naranjo (Guatemala) in 680, it remained locally influential.
Sometime between the 9th and 10th centuries, Classic Mayan civilization mysteriously collapsed and many settlements were abandoned. Research points to a series of devastating droughts as the major cause of this disaster. Archaeologists have discovered that ritual activity in many caves increased after about AD 750, most likely in supplication for a reversal of whatever crisis was overwhelming Mayan civilization. The Classic Mayan heartland reverted to a more primitive cultural level, with a much-reduced population living away from the big cities. By the 15th century, the Yucatán and northern Belize were divided among a number of small, often quarrelsome, city states.
The first Spanish ships may have visited Belize's coast in 1508, possibly already bringing diseases such as smallpox, yellow fever and measles, which were to decimate the Mayan population. In 1544, a cruel Spanish expedition from southeast Mexico conquered Mayan settlements as far south as Tipu. The Spanish set up Christian missions, but the Maya rebelled frequently. A major rebellion in 1638 expelled the Spanish from most of Belize, and attacks on Bacalar by Caribbean pirates in 1642 and 1648 effectively ended Spanish efforts to control the country.
It was British pirates who began the next chapter for Belize - with the logwood they looted from Spanish ships. They discovered that the timber, which was in demand by the European wool industry, was just as profitable to cut as it was to steal. Consequently, many pirates began working in the logging trade. Most of the Baymen, as they became known, based themselves on St George's Caye.
Spain launched a series of attacks on the Baymen throughout the 18th century. The most famously unsuccessful of these, the Battle of St George's Caye, occurred in 1798. Around this time, African slaves were brought to Belize to cut mahogany - they soon made up over half of the population. In 1862, Great Britain declared Belize to be the colony of British Honduras.
The start of the 20th century was tough for Belize, and British mismanagement fuelled claims for independence. After WWII, Belize's economy weakened, and independence agitators had their wish partly fulfilled in 1964 when self-government was granted. Democratic political parties and institutions were formed. The government decided to build a new capital at Belmopan in 1971, after Hurricane Hattie all but destroyed Belize City in 1961.
Independence became a reality in September 1981 when British Honduras officially became Belize, a member of the British Commonwealth. Guatemala, which had territorial claims on Belize, threatened war in 1972, but British troops were stationed in Belize to make sure the dispute remained diplomatic. During the volatile 1980s, Belize remained stable and pro-US, thanks mainly to large influxes of US aid. In 1992, a new Guatemalan government recognized Belize's territorial integrity. The British garrison was withdrawn in 1994; Belize now has a standing army of only a few hundred soldiers. An interesting point is that, in 1994, Guatemala (perhaps seeking distraction from domestic troubles) revived its claim on Belize, stating that it had never formally recognized it as an independent state, and claiming half of southern Belize. Tension eased somewhat in 2001 when the two countries signed a provisional agreement over the disputed land and Caribbean fishing rights. It picked up, however, when Belize threatened to expel two Guatemalan settlements it claimed were on the wrong side of the border.
Since the fall of General Noriega in Panama, Belize has become a major trans-shipment point for cocaine heading into the US from South America. Cultivation and smuggling of marijuana is also prevalent.
Over the past 20 years, Belizeans have been struggling to reintegrate indigenous culture. Many have had to leave the country to make their fortunes, sending money home to support family.
Prime Minister Said Musa, in power since 1998, has overseen the transformation of Belize's economy. Service industries, especially tourism, dominate where farming, logging and fishing were once predominant. Closer ties to other Central American countries mean Belize is being gradually Hispanicized.
The country is prone to hurricane damage at the end of summer, as Hurricanes Keith and Iris proved in 2000 and 2001 respectively.
A diplomatic dust-up with the US has developed over the Bush administration, upgrading Belize to a 'Level 3' nation in terms of human trafficking; the Belizean government countered that the US is unhappy with the small nation's ties (and developing economic projects) with Hugo Chavez's regime in Venezuela.
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