Belize is a country located on the north eastern coast of Central America It is the only country in the area where English is the official language.  However, Spanish and Kriol (Creole) are more commonly spoken.  It is bordered to the north by Mexico, to the south and west by Guatemala and to the east...the magnificent Caribbean Sea.

The population is diverse but is the only nation in the region with a British colonial heritage.  It is 8860 square miles of land but only has a population of approx. 315,000.  In 1862 Great Britain declared it a British Crown Colony and named it British Honduras and later, in 1964, Britain granted British Honduras self-government.  In 1973 British Honduras was officially renamed Belize.

Belize attained full independence in 1981 but the British left 1500 troops to protect Belize from a Guatemalan threat.  Guatemala had claimed that Belize was their territory but finally in 1992 the Guatemalan President formally recognized Belize's Independence and Britain kept troops there until 1994.  However, as of February 2012, Guatemala still lays claim to some territories and the matter isn't entirely resolved.

The docks at Belize aren't able to accommodate large cruise ships so the ships are anchored off shore and either small tenders belonging to the ships transport the passengers ashore or larger vessels chartered by the cruise lines perform the task.  Once shore, there are myriads of shops lining the harbor for those visitors that aren't taking tours to other locations away from the city.

We had chosen to take a tour to the Mayan ruins of Altun Ha.  Although the distance was only around 30 miles, the drive was about an hour from the pier because the roads aren't in great repair.  Along the way we saw colorful homes and buildings lining the "highway".  Turquoise and yellow were the predominant colors but lavender and red were also popular hues. 

Although the city areas looked decent, the guide told us that crime is a major concern in the city.  Parts of the inner city also looked pretty rough and uncared for.  Many citizens move outside the city limits for a safer and quieter life.

Altun Ha is the name given the ruins of an ancient Mayan city located in Belize.  The site covers an area of about 5 square miles and excavations weren't started until around 1961.  Numerous jade carvings, discovered by local villagers, attracted attention so interest in their origins ensued.

Initially, the Royal Ontario museum was involved in unearthing some of the site and a field season in 1971 involved laboratory analysis of ceramic findings.  It is believed that some of the functions at the site were ceremonial and others were burials.  Some of the objects discovered relate to an association to Teotihuacan. 

The main structure, called the "Temple of the Masonry Altars", is nicknamed "The Sun God's Tomb".  The Tomb contained the skeleton of an adult male with many offerings.  A 6 inch high jade head of the Mayan Sun God, Kinich Ahau, weighing nearly 10 pounds,  was found here. 

It is believed that the area was first settled around 250 B.C.  and construction of the buildings started in 100 A.D. and continued until the 10th century.  It is thought that it was also a trading center. 

Altun Ha is made up of two central plazas surrounded by temples that enclose the area.  The larger plaza is the site of a tomb discovered beneath one of the temples called Temple of the Green Tomb.

The area is extremely clean and well maintained.  Even the restrooms are spotless both inside and out.  This was certainly a bonus that was unexpected.

My husband climbed to the top of the main pyramid and was able to get a photograph with a different perspective from up there.

Belize Shore Excursions:

  • Experience ancient ruins to modern-day city life on this half-day excursion.  Take a driving tour of Belize City as your guide calls out the various points of interest around town.  View landmarks and old colonial buildings mixed in with the modern that gives the old capital its Caribbean charm.  Next, head to the Altun Ha ruins for a tour of the Mayan-ceremonial site situated in a lush rain forest.  Once a thriving Mayan city and trade center, walk amongst the 13 structures that surround two plazas and its 60 foot Temple of the Sun God.  For a panoramic vantage piont and photo opportunities climb up the steps to the tops of three main temples on the site and capture the views of the surrounding countryside.  Then board your transportation for the ride back to the pier.
  • Altun Ha Mayan Ruins/Scenic River Cruise/Lunch:  Enjoy a scenic river cruise on the Belize River with a stop for a riverside picnic style lunch at the Black Orchid Resort, a community known for its fine assortment of fruit wines and preserves all made organically.  Try the local vintage and stroll the shops.  Then sit down to a locally prepared Yucatan lunch.  Next, head to the Altun Ha ruins for a tour of the Mayan ceremonial site situated in a lush rain forest.  Once a thriving Mayan city and trade center, walk amongst the 13 structures that surround two plazas and its 60-foot Temple of the Sun God.  Climb up the steps to the tops of three main temples and capture the views.  Then return to the pier.
  • Lamanai Mayan Ruins/Mangrove River Cruise/Lunch:  Enjoy a scenic river cruise up the emerald green waters of the New River.  Keep watch for crocodile sightings and over 100 different species of birds.  then tour the Lamanai Museum for a history of Lamanai (in Mayan it means submerged crocodile).  See the huge masks depicting ancient gods and warriors.  Next, your guide will take you through the ancient ruins, past impressive monuments and temples.  Climb up some 125 feet for a full view of the ruins, lagoon and the Lamanai Archeology Reserve beyond.  After the tour, you'll head back to Lamanai Mayan site for a buffet lunch then head back to the pier.
  • Open-Air Trolley Train City Drive:  Step aboard the Calypso Train and explore Belize City by open-air trolley train.  See the Baron Bliss Lighthouse, named after the man buried in a tomb near its base.  You'll witness stark contrasts, from affluent residential districts to the working class neighborhoods.  Many slaves quarters from the 1800's are still standing.  Continue downtown where you'll pass St. John's Cathedral, Central America's first Anglican church, originally built in 1812 by slaves using ship ballast bricks, and the country"s oldest surviving building.  Then cross over the iconic Swing Bridge, the only manually operated bridge of its kind in the world.  Your return route takes you past Memorial Park, which honors the fallen soldiers of World War I, en route to the Tourism Village pier where you can enjoy free time shopping.

Altun Ha pyramids, Belize

  • Belize Zoo/Howler Monkey Sanctuary/Lunch:  Experience Belize's rich cultural heritage and incredible wildlife in one excursion.  Take a guided city drive of the city, past colonial architecture and historic landmarks of the country's capital.  then, visit the Community Baboon Sanctuary.  See the Black Howler Monkey (or baboon in Creole) in the rainforest.  Next, it's time for lunch at the Cheers Restaurant.  Enjoy a traditional Belizean meal of rice and beans, stewed chicken and coleslaw.  After lunch, you'll continue on to the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center.  Located on 29 acres of tropical savanna, this animal preserve features more than 125 native animals.  Here, observe the diversity of wildlife on a guided tour.  Your excursion culminates at the Fort Street Tourism Village where you can shop.
  • Jungle Zipline Adventure/Cave Tubing/Lunch:  This is an adventure for adrenaline lovers.  Go ziplining through the lush Belizean jungle and then tubing in the cathedral-like crystal caves where stalactites form dazzling displays leading to a sacred site of the ancient Mayas.  Soar 500 feet in the air for a birds eye view of the cavernous opening to one of the Mayan ancient ceremonial caves.  Traverse an unrivaled 700 feet across the jungle.  Don't forget to look down onto the dense flora that used to be the Mayan hunting grounds and source of their daily needs.  With your adrenaline pumping, float on a tube into a chamber where a stalactite-lined walls provide the sensation of being in a sacred place.  Explore the ancient world of the Mayans on foot.  Then continue tubing to a lagoon and walk back to camp where your transportation awaits.
  • Horseback Safari Ride/Bacab Eco-Park/Lunch:  Enjoy a guided safari by horseback.  The nature park has more than 500 acres to explore and features over 200 species of flora that supports a diverse population of wildlife.  Upon arrival, you'll receive a brief orientation before mounting your horses and embarking on an hour-long jungle safari ride on a trail that winds through the lush jungle.  Afterwards, cool down in the pool with water-slide and sculpted water fall.  Learn the uses of Belize's native plants on Ixchel's Walk, a self-guided path of botanical and medicinal plants, or visit the Wild Wings Butterfly House.  Nominal fee applies for the Butterfly House.  For lunch, enjoy a Belizean buffet in the park.  There will be time to shop prior to returning to the ship.
  • Air-boat Wetland & Mangrove Cruise/City Drive:  Board a bus for the 40 minute scenic drive through Belize City.  Your guide recounts Belize's colorful history as you pass the redbrick St. John's Cathedral, the House of Culture (today a museum and formerly the colonial governor's residence), the Prime Minister's residence and the Supreme Court buildings.  Then travel up the Western Highway to Almond Hill Lagoon where you receive a short orientation before boarding your air-boat.  Skim across Almond Hill Lagoon before cutting the engine to drift near a feeding site for endangered manatees.  Then cruise to Indian Creek and explore a pristine marsh lined with mangroves.  Only inches deep, the marsh is home to brightly colored water lilies, wading birds, turkey buzzards and even crocodiles.  After your marsh adventure cruise back to Almond Hill Lagoon for a beverage before returning to the dock.

Altun Ha pyramids

At the Altun Ha pyramids there is a sign recognizing the USA's help in funding the restoratation work

  • Cave Tubing/Scenic Drive:  Thrill to a tubing expedition down a jungle river on this half-day excursion.  Float on a meandering current as it takes you under limestone arches through centuries old caverns and down small rapids on an enchanting ride in Mother Nature's playground.  At Jaguar Jungle, you'll be fitted with a harness and give an a safety briefing before hiking down to the waters of the Caves Branch River.  Float below mysterious limestone archways into the mouth of centuries old caves that hold untold stories of Maya rituals.  Explore the may awe-inspiring formations that adorn these caves and learn about the flora and fauna that surround them.. Back at the camp change to dry clothes or shop.  Snacks and drinks are available at Bushcamp Cafe.  Relax on your ride back to the pier.
  • Sergeant's Caye Snorkel Adventure:  Go snorkeling at Sergeant's Caye, home to the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere on this half-day excursion.  Travel by a high speed, Pro 51' Island Hopper snorkeling boat.  You'll receive expert instruction on the use of your snorkel gear before being escorted into the waters.  Enjoy an hour of snorkeling around a thriving reef system, home to marine life, virtually of every hue on the color spectrum.  On board, snack on fresh fruit, chips and salsa, and a variety of the captain's favorite baked goods.  After snorkeling take advantage of free time on the islands sandy beach or shop.  You'll return on a speedy transfer back to the pier.
  • Barrier Reef Snorkeling & Scenic Power-boating:  Take a speedboat to Goff's Caye located on the edge of the Barrier Reef for spectacular snorkeling.  Snorkel guides will escort you into the waters, accompanying you throughout your dive.  Enjoy some truly fantastic snorkeling around what is considered on of the best examples of a healthy reef system.  The water ranges in depth from approx. 2 feet to 10 feet with extraordinary coral formations teeming with tropical fish. It's an ideal location for both beginners and expert snorkelers alike.  After snorkeling you'll have time to relax on the white sand beach while enjoying a cool rum punch.  There are sodas and bottled water for the kids.  For your comfort and convenience there are restrooms and showers at the site.  Return as you came via the Padre on a speedy transfer back to the pier.
  • Certified Scuba Diving - Turnefee Atoll (Two Sites):  Board a custom dive boat directly from your ship for the transfer to the dive Center on Spanish Look Out Caye, a private island.  Here, you'll get your scuba equipment and fill out the necessary waiver and liability forms.  Then you'll head out for the 45 minute ride along the barrier reef to Turnefee Atoll.  Once anchored at your first dive site, you'll receive a brief orientation from your dive master.  Typically, your fist dive explores the atoll's thriving coral wall and reaches depths of 55 to 75 feet.  View healthy, hard and soft corals, sponges, tropical reef fish and pelagic marine life.  Between dives, during your surface internal time, enjoy an on board snack of fresh fruit, chips and salsa etc. Next, you'll set out on your second dive.  This dive explores another section of the coral reef that spans an area up the coral wall.  Enjoy your time in this precious underwater oasis, as Turnefee Atoll is one of only four coral atolls found in the entire western hemisphere.  And three of which are here in Belize.  After your dives, you'll had back via speedboat back to the ship. 
  • Xunantunich Mayan Ruins/Marimba Music/Lunch:  Take a guided tour of Xunantuncich, the most architecturally significant ruins in the country, as it features one of the tallest Mayan structures found in Belize and some of the most intricately detailed sculptures.  Climb El Castillo, the tallest temple in the site, and possibly in Belize, standing 135 feet tall.  From the top of El Castillo you can see the Guatemalan Peten District, the Maya Mountains and a sweeping view of the entire Cayo District.  Next, travel to the town of San Ignacio for a traditional Belizean lunch accompanied by the music of an authentic Belizean marimba band.  Then board your bus for the ride to the pier.

Driving through the rain forest areas as well as alongside residential homes we saw iguanas watching us.  There were small ones and large ones...lots of the critters were visible.

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