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David in an underwater playground.
David in an underwater playground.
Swimming too close to the sharks.
The Caribe Island Resort.
Downtown Belize.

Belize

Thursday, February 14, 2002
David explores one of the underwater wonders of the world, untouched by tourists.

Belize is part of the Mayan lands with a small land mass of 23,300 square kilometres. The population of just 250,000 is made up of six races speaking eight languages, English and Spanish being the most common.

Mayan ruins are one reason people go there, but as Belize is one of the seven underwater wonders of the world and one of the top 10 dive destinations, many visitors head to the dozens of coral cayes making up the world's second largest reef. The most popular are Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye.

Recent excavations in the heart of San Pedro town, the only inhabited area on the island, reveal evidence of a former Mayan population of 10,000. It has also been home to European pirates and Mexican refugees. San Pedro town has little traffic and its streets are sandy. It is a very laidback town with bars, hotels, eating places, banking facilities and a medical centre. There are clusters of wooden houses, some Mexican in flavour, some Caribbean and others distinctly colonial. The locals are friendly, and bare feet, T-shirts and shorts is the typical dress code.

Ambergris Caye, in the shallow waters of the Caribbean Sea, is 40km long and about 1½km wide. In Mayan times it was a trading post, and the narrow channel separating Mexico and Belize was dug to provide a trade route.

Since the establishment of Hol Chan (Little Channel) Marine Reserve in 1987, the return of fish — including nurse sharks and stingrays — has been dramatic. The eight square kilometres is in three zones: Reef, Seagrass Beds and Mangroves, and is home to 160 species of fish, 40 of coral, five sponges, eight algae, two seagrasses, three marine mammals and three sea turtles.

Tourists enjoy some wonderful snorkelling, diving, reef or offshore fishing, windsurfing, sailing and bareboat catamaran trips. The underwater paradise is full of colourful fish, green moray eels, gorgonians, sea fans and hard corals.

The 5-star Caribe Island Resort offers rooms for one, a Royal Suite that accommodates 11, and everything in between. They all come with kitchenette, refrigerator, air-conditioning, television, phone and, best of all, views of the ocean. Guests can enjoy a happy hour at the poolside bar and the Aquarium Restaurant serves an eclectic mix of Creole, Spanish and Mayan cuisine. They have golf carts for transport, can arrange trips to the reef, and airport transfers are included in the rate.

A trip to Lamanai along the New River Lagoon, past fragrant flowers, birds and animals — including crocodiles and turtles — is a trip back to around 1500 BC. There are temples and palaces with architecture from the classic and pre-classic periods, plus there are post-classic artefacts that mostly relate to residential requirements. British colonial loggers shipped logwood and mahogany out of the New River, which was probably used for making some magnificent furniture.

The archaeological reserve covers around 400 hectares and so far, 60 major structures have been found. A truly magnificent 35m temple is the largest known Mayan structure and it has been partially uncovered and restored.

Due to the long occupation of Lamanai by varied races, there are artefacts of stone, clay, wood, bone, shell, jade, gold, copper, glass, iron and liquid mercury. There is also evidence of the importance of the crocodile in their lives.

Not far away is Orange Walk, Belize's agricultural centre, producing citrus fruits, dairy products, beef, sugar and rum. The tropical forest area is home to jaguars, puma, ocelot, margay, jaguarondi, howler and spider monkeys, grey foxes, king vultures and 80 species of bat. As well as having 200 types of tree, the area grows 250 different orchids, which are a most important export.

Location

Central America, between Mexico and Guatemala.

Cost

Qantas flies daily to Los Angeles with connections to Belize.
Adventure World has five-night packages including return economy airfares, transfers and accommodation at the Caribe Island Resort starting at $3365 from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, $3579 from Adelaide and $3780 from Perth, per person, twin share.
Please note prices are valid at time of transmission and to the best of our knowledge are inclusive of GST.

More information

Adventure World: Ph: 1300 363 055
Website: www.adventureworld.com.au
E-mail: info@adventureworld.com.au
Discovery Expeditions
Ph: 0011 501 230748
Fax: 0011 501 230750
Website: www.discoverybelize.com
E-mail: discovery@btl.net
For a safe and healthy journey, talk to the travel doctor: 1300 658 844 or visit traveldoctor.com.au

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