William and Kate, pictured, are including Belize on their upcoming 12-day tour of the Caribbean
The announcement that William and Kate are including Belize on their 12-day tour of the Caribbean, marking the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, raised a few eyebrows.
For many people, the tiny Central American country — slightly bigger than Wales, with a population of fewer than 400,000 — is off-radar.
But as British Honduras, Belize was — from 1783 to 1964 — a Crown colony. The Queen remains the constitutional monarch, with the official title ‘Queen of Belize’ — which sounds like a calypso song.
In 1981, after a protracted period of wrangling with neighbouring Guatemala, the country became fully independent, and is now a stable democracy.
Unlike Barbados, where the Queen has ceased to be head of state, Belize has no plans to change its relationship with the Commonwealth or monarchy.
The British Army has a permanent base, making use of its mountainous western flank for jungle warfare training.
A beach on Ambergris Caye — the largest of the many islands that lie between Belize’s mainland and the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef
Deep inside the tropical forests are the mysterious Mayan citadels of Caracol, Lamanai and Xunantunich — and, quirkily, a luxury hotel owned by film director Francis Ford Coppola.
The country looks and feels Caribbean, but was once part of the Mayan empire; its official language is English, but people also speak Kriol, Spanish and Mayan languages.
It’s also home to the Garifuna, the descendants of African, Arawak and Carib people. Famed for their drumming, the Belizean Garifuna have their spiritual capital in Dangriga.
Ecological themes will be an important aspect of the royal visit. An essential stop will be the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Home to a dizzying array of marine species, including manatees, crocodiles, four kinds of sea turtle, sharks and rays, and the second largest coral reef on the planet, it’s a biodiversity hotspot — and a dream destination for pro scuba divers and novice snorkellers alike.
Deep inside a tropical forest in Belize is the mysterious Mayan citadel of Caracol (pictured above)
Above is San Pedro, the main township on Ambergris Caye, which is said to have inspired Madonna’s La Isla Bonita
Ambergris Caye — the largest of the many islands that lie between the mainland and the reef — is a magnet for monied Americans and a multinational yachting crowd. It is home to the cream of Belize’s high-end resorts and the country’s best restaurants, as well as carefully combed beaches, crystal-clear waters and the Unesco-listed Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve — a protected habitat for jaguars, ocelots and pumas.
The main township, San Pedro, is said to have inspired Madonna’s La Isla Bonita, though reggae and marimba are the main soundtrack in the cocktail bars and beer shacks. Rum punch is the national drink.
Back in his partying days, Prince William was known to be a keen drinker of rum-based Treasure Chest at Mayfair’s Mahiki; no doubt Belize’s bartenders are already working on a local variation.
A family classic
Travel by boat through the deep jungle to discover the ancient temples of Xunantunich, pictured, on a break with the adventure tour operator Explore
A vermilion flycatcher bird at the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, which is also home to spider monkeys, toucans and crocodiles
Belize is an ideal family holiday destination. Visit the tropical forest of the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary to see spider monkeys, toucans and crocodiles, and enjoy a day trip to the remote Davis Falls, Belize’s second highest waterfall.
Travel by boat through the deep jungle to the ancient temples of Xunantunich and Lamanai.
How to do it: From £3,044pp for 14 days, with flights and most meals (explore.co.uk).
From your jungle-lodge bases in the Maya Mountains, visit the Actun Tunichil Muknal caves, a Mayan ceremonial site; enjoy waterfall hikes; and go abseiling and ziplining at Bocawina Rainforest Resort.
Relocate to Glover’s Reef atoll to try stand-up paddle-boarding, kayaking and ‘patch reef’ snorkelling.
How to do it: From £3,000pp for 11 days, excluding flights — budget a further £600 (journeylatinamerica.co.uk).
The Great Blue Hole
Divers will love Belize – explore the country’s Great Blue Hole, pictured, on a trip with Dive Worldwide
Belize is a world-class diving destination. A ‘liveaboard’ holiday on the 55-metre, 20-guest Belize Aggressor IV will allow you to explore the Lighthouse and Turneffe atolls.
The former includes the Great Blue Hole, made famous by Jacques Cousteau.
How to do it: From £3,475pp for ten days, including flights and seven nights aboard (diveworldwide.com).
A waterfall at Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary in the Maya Mountains, which features on Cox and Kings’ tour
There are no direct flights between the UK and Belize. Most people fly via Atlanta, Houston or Miami in the U.S. Cancun is a 90-minute flight by propeller plane. More details at travelbelize.org and lata.travel. Fully vaccinated tourists are not required to take a test. Unvaccinated travellers must present a negative PCR or antigen test. All tourists must pay £14 for Belize Travel Health Insurance (belizetravelinsurance.com).
Spend three nights in the beach town of Placencia, an ideal base for a drive up to the Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary in the Maya Mountains — a large nature reserve created to protect pine and scrub forests and endangered species such as the jaguar.
How to do it: From £2,295pp for 12 days, including flights (coxandkings.co.uk).
Hop over to Guatemala
Compare and contrast these two neighbouring countries, with visits to former capital Antigua, Lake Atitlan and the Tikal ruins — once the Mayan ‘capital’ — in Guatemala and stays at the Lodge at Chaa Creek and Naia Resort & Spa in Belize.
How to do it: From £3,800pp for 13 days, including flights (scottdunn.com).
Spend three nights at Coppola’s deluxe Blancaneaux Lodge (the decor features film set fixtures) in the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve, with a road trip to see the Mayan site of Caracol.
Afterwards, visit Lamanai before flying to Ambergris Caye to stay at the beautiful Victoria House hotel.
How to do it: From £3,850pp for ten days, including flights; budget for an overnight stay in the U.S. (lastfrontiers.com).
Overland group tour
Colourful: Hop on a water-taxi in Belize City on a tour with Intrepid Travel and visit Caye Caulker island (pictured)
A woman takes part in a class at a cacao plantation in Punta Gorda
See the Mayan lands of Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. There’s an option to go reef diving off Cozumel.
A bus ride south to Belize City is followed by a water-taxi to Caye Caulker and Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
How to do it: From £1,088pp for 17 days, excluding flights (intrepidtravel.com).
A grand trip
Visit a cacao plantation in Punta Gorda in the south, enjoy a jungle adventure, take the medicine trail in Orange Walk District and try a snorkelling trip from Ambergris Caye.
How to do it: From £5,300pp for 15 days, including flights (audleytravel.com).
Ruins and reefs
Rainbow Tours’ getaway, which costs from £3,095pp, makes a stop at the Mayan ruins at Lamanai. Above is the Lamanai Jaguar Temple
Explore the Mayan ruins at Lamanai, set in dense jungles and overlooking the New River Lagoon — a habitat for howler monkeys, river turtles and stunning birdlife. Visit Caracol, another Mayan site, before heading to the beaches of Ambergris Caye, a base for diving and snorkelling trips.
How to do it: From £3,095pp for 11 days, including flights (rainbowtours.co.uk).
Natural history highs
Visit ruins, rainforest, rivers, lagoons, reef and coral islands, staying in jungle lodges where the focus is on forest environments and local wildlife — including black howler monkeys, deer, ocelots and jaguars. Spoil yourself at the beachside Turtle Inn.
How to do it: From £3,120pp for 13 days, excluding flights (reefandrainforest.co.uk).