Princess Hotel & Casino (Newtown Barracks, Belize City) — The casino at the Princess Hotel is an informal and fun place to try to boost your budget, with roulette, poker and blackjack tables, plus hundreds of slot machines and a floor show with dancing girls kicking up their heels at 10pm. You need to show ID such as your passport or driver’s license to enter (minimum age is 18).
The complex is also where you will find Belize’s only eight-lane (or any-lane, for that matter) bowling alley. The two-screen movie theater shows first-run Hollywood films, though usually a bit later than their U.S. release dates.
Placencia (Beach) (Stann Creek District, Belize) — One place on the mainland that boasts excellent beaches in Belize is Placencia, a peninsula about two-thirds of the way south along the Belizian coastline. The barrier reef is much farther offshore at Placencia, but this doesn’t affect the nature of the beach here… long, white, gently sloping into the gentle, lapping waves. This is truly a tropical beach paradise.
Many travelers who come for the country’s beaches come here sooner or later, making this a major tourist (beach) destination. The drive to Placencia village down the narrow 4-mile-long peninsula is quite pretty. There are some lovely resorts of varied price ranges on the east-facing beach, and mangrove swamp on the western side. But open land on either side is disappearing at a fast clip as lots are bought up for development, both for upper-end resorts, and for private homes being sold to Americans and Canadians looking for their own slices of heaven in tropical climes.
Orchid Bay (Beach) (Corozal District, northern Belize) — Orchid Bay isn’t technically ocean beach. It’s on the huge, calm, sheltered Bay of Chetumal that Belize shares with Mexico, where their borders meet. Orchid Bay is an ambitious multi-use development across the bay from the town of Corozal, and the developers have widened and improved the native beach…so much so that it rivals Belize’s natural beaches for beauty and tranquility.
Diving: for visitors interested in diving (as well as other nautical activities), by far, the country’s cayes (pronounced “keys”), located off of Belize’s long Caribbean coastline can’t be beat. As much as 70% of foreigners visiting Belize are likely to visit at least one caye during their time in the country. The most popular cayes are: Caulker, Ambergris, St. George’s, Half Moon, and Lighthouse.
Along with these cayes, Belize also boasts some amazing atolls, such as: Glover’s Reef (the country’s southernmost atoll, this is a ring of gorgeous coral reefs that are 80 square miles long), Turneffe Islands (located near Belize City, these islands have a number of dive sites, such as The Elbow, and Gales Point), and Lighthouse Reef (located 50 miles southeast of Belize City). One dive site within that area, known as the Blue Hole, was made famous by Jacques Cousteau.
A number of diving outfits can get visitors to these and countless other destinations, such as: Ambergris Divers (http://ambergrisdivers.com), Belize Diving Services (http://belizedivingservices.net), Robert Grove’s (www.robertsgrove.com/belize-dive-resort), Scuba Diving Belize (www.scubadivingbelize.com), and numerous others.
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary (Stann Creek District, Placencia, south-central Belize) — this is Belize’s most famous, and one of its biggest, protected areas – the huge swath of tropical forest became the world’s first jaguar sanctuary in 1984. Today it’s home to an estimated 40 to 50 jaguars and a vast array of wildlife. Visits are restricted to an eastern pocket where there’s an information center, accommodation and walking trails.
Cockscomb became a forest reserve and no-hunting area in 1984. A small part of it was given sanctuary status in 1986, and the rest followed in 1990. The people of the Mayan village of Quan Bank were compulsorily relocated – many now live in Maya Center and make a living from the sanctuary.
The sanctuary itself is not big enough to support a healthy breeding population of jaguars, but it adjoins other reserves, thus promising a hopeful future for this emblematic and threatened big cat. Belize’s four other wild cats – the puma, ocelot, margay and jaguarundi – also live here, as do tapirs, anteaters, armadillos, snakes brocket deer, otters and birds galore. You may even spot a black howler monkey. Tours can be arranged in Maya Center and are usually conducted by Maya who were relocated there.
Getting There: Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is located off the Southern Highway, approximately 20 miles south of Dangriga. The entrance is at Maya Center Village, where the Maya Center Women’s Group collects the entrance fees to the protected area. From here, the actual park is six miles down a dirt road. Visitors can drive, hike into the park (roughly 2 hours), or hire a local taxi from the village (US$12.50 one-way).
By Vehicle- For those renting vehicles, a four-wheel drive is recommended and necessary in wet weather. From Belize City, the journey takes approximately 2.5 hours. Take the Western Highway out of Belize City, turn left onto the Hummingbird Highway (signposted to Belmopan), then right onto the Southern Highway (signposted to Punta Gorda), just six miles before Dangriga. The turnoff to Cockscomb is located at Maya Center, about 20 minutes after turning onto the Southern Highway. Visitors should park at the turnoff, and pay the entrance fee at the Maya Center Women’s Group Gift Shop and then drive up the dirt road six miles to the Cockscomb Basin Visitor Center.
By Bus Bus- services from Belize City to Punta Gorda will stop at Maya Center, if requested (about 3.5 hrs). All buses stop in Dangriga before proceeding south.
Caye Caulker (off the Caribbean coast of Belize) — near Ambergris Caye is Caye Caulker, another popular beach spot off Belize’s mainland. Smaller than Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker is even more laid back than its larger neighbor, but it is blessed with the same dream-like, palm-studded beaches.
Bliss Centre for the Performing Arts (Southern Foreshore, Belize City) — Operated by the Institute for Creative Arts, the revamped Bliss Centre has a fine 600-seat theater that stages a variety of events throughout the year. Look for concerts of traditional Belizean music and shows celebrating Belize and its culture. Annual events include the Belize Film Festival and the Children’s Art Festival in May.
Belize Zoo (Mile 29 on the Western Highway, a.k.a. George Price Hwy., Belize City) – this 29-acre zoo, run by one-time lion tamer Sharon Matola, houses 125 native species (ranging from harpy eagles to tapirs, scarlet macaws, toucans, Jaburi storks, and various large felines, like jaguars, pumas and ocelots). Admission: $10 (adults), $5 (children). For another $50, visitors can see up close a jaguar (through a protected cage, of course).
Bacalar Chico National Park & Marine Reserve (Ambergris Caye, Belize) — At the northern tip of Ambergris Caye, Bacalar Chico is part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage Site, declared in 1996. At the time of research, the park was only accessible by a 90-minute tour-boat ride from San Pedro or Sarteneja.
On the way up from San Pedro, boats might stop at Cayo Iguanu, better known as ‘bird island,’ as it is the nesting ground for the roseate spoonbill and the reddish-brown egret. The next stop is the San Juan ranger station, at the northern tip of the island, where there is a nature trail and some small Maya ruins to explore. From here, the boat motors through the ancient channel that was dug by seafaring Maya about 1500 years ago. Now the narrow channel separates Ambergris Caye from the Mexican mainland.
Boat trips to Bacalar Chico usually make several snorkel stops along the way. The coral is extra colorful around here, as there is significantly less damage from boats and tourists. Besides the bountiful fish and birdlife, you have the chance of seeing crocodiles and manatees, as well as green and loggerhead turtles. If the waters are calm, boats go to Rocky Point, notable as one of the only places in the world where land meets reef.
In theory, the return trip is on the east side of the island, but this requires a quick detour outside the reef, so in rough seas the boats travel up and down the western side of the island. Not all tour operators run trips to Bacalar Chico, due to the long travel distance, so plan ahead and inquire in advance about trips