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Belize City

Belize City, Belize

About Belize City

Belize City is the largest city in the nation of Belize. Once the capital of the former British Honduras, it is the country’s only urban area. While talk of its history usually begins with British settlements in the 1600s, the country was inhabited by Mayans for more than 5,000 years and is home to more than a dozen remarkable ruins—the greatest concentration of Mayan sites in all of Central America.

Belize Town, as it was originally called, was ideally situated for the British because of its location at the mouths of local rivers, down which merchants shipped mahogany and other lumber. Later, it served as headquarters for the 1798 Battle of St. George’s Caye, in which the British defeated encroaching Spaniards. With their triumph, they retained the city as British headquarters until the 20th century. In 1981, with independence, British Honduras was renamed Belize and Belize City was installed as its capital. Quaint colonial streets built for bicycles and mules remain, recalling the city’s colonial days.

Belize City Lifestyle and Culture

Belize City's culture is similar to that of other Caribbean capitals, with a laid-back vibe and a slow pace that’s more similar to that found on a tropical island than on mainland Central America. The town is full of handsome colonial buildings, and its streets are teeming with vibrant activity and a diverse array of people—most notably Creole. Courtesy is important to most Belizeans and it’s not uncommon for strangers to greet one another on the street.

The city proper is divided into two areas: the Northside (bounded by the Haulover Creek and the Fort George area in the east), and Southside (extending to the outskirts of the city and port area and including downtown). Fort George is home to the city’s historic colonial district, where you’ll find Memorial Park, the Baron Bliss Grave and the Museum of Belize.

Belize City celebrates its culture and national character with two Carnival seasons. Just prior to Lent, celebrations spill out onto the street, much like in many other Latin countries. Independence Day Carnival is held in September.

Belize City Sights and Landmarks

The heart of Belize City and the hub of the city is the Swing Bridge, which links the south and north sides across Haulover Creek. It’s the oldest swing bridge in Central America and one of the few in the world that is still manually operated.

For an overview of Belize City and its history, stop by the Museum of Belize in the Fort George district. It is housed in the former brick jail and even preserves one cell in its original state. Baron Bliss was Belize City’s most famous benefactor. Visit his tomb, which is next to the Fort George Lighthouse—one of Bliss’s contributions.

Colonial architecture is another of the city’s draws, and the Government House is arguably one of the most beautiful examples. The two-story mansion is the oldest house in Belize City, and used to serve as the residence of Britain’s superintendents. Now it contains historical exhibits and artwork. Not far from the Government House is St. John’s Cathedral, the oldest Anglican church in Central America, built in the early 1800s from bricks used as ballast aboard ships.

Belize City Entertainment and Activities

Coined as “the best little zoo in the world,” the Belize Zoo started in 1983 as a safe haven for wild animals used in documentary filmmaking. Today it spans 29 acres and exhibits more than 170 animals, all native to Belize, with a focus on orphaned, rescued and rehabilitated animals.

About an hour outside Belize City lies the ancient and mysterious site of Altun Ha, one of Central America’s most accessible archaeological treasures, where several Mesoamerican temple-pyramids stand as testament to an advanced civilization. The most famous, the Temple of the Masonry Altars, is 54 feet tall.

Offshore, Belize boasts another spectacular wonder: the Great Blue Hole. Just off Ambergris Caye, this natural phenomenon is a breathtaking chute in the middle of a shallow lagoon, descending straight into the reef to a depth of 412 feet. The abyss-like hole has attracted divers from all over the world ever since Jacques Cousteau famously braved its depths. It is a tiny part of the 150-mile uninterrupted chain of reefs and cays that is second in size only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Belize City Restaurants and Shopping

As in many Latin American countries, one of the most popular dishes in Belize is rice and beans, which is usually served with stewed chicken, beef or pork. Ask for “rice ’n’ beans with stew chicken” to order it like a local. Its signature red color comes from recado rojo, a blend of spices common throughout the country. This ubiquitous dish is found everywhere from food stalls to high-end restaurants.

Riverside Tavern is one of the few restaurants in Belize with a dress code (no shorts in the evening). It’s also one of the city’s most popular, known for its beef, including steak, prime rib and signature burgers. Dario’s Meat Pies is a Belizean culinary institution, selling spiced pastries stuffed with chicken or beef. Visit the shop on Hyde’s Lane or pick one up on the go at one of their street carts around the city.

For seafood, try Bird’s Isle, a longtime local favorite, or Hour Bar and Grill with its lovely seaside views. And when your sweet tooth strikes, pick up a bar of Goss chocolate, made from 100% organic cacao grown in Belize. It can be found in shops throughout the city.

If you are interested in local goods, the National Handicraft Center carries high-quality Belizean arts and crafts. Offerings include coffee, chocolate, relief carvings and Mayan deities. And there is perhaps no better souvenir than Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauce. Made with local habanero peppers, its popularity extends far beyond the country’s borders. Pick it up in a variety of heat levels at gift shops or supermarkets.