“WE ADVISE you to exercise a high degree of caution in Belize because of high levels of serious crime.”
Not great reading from the Australian Government’s Smart Traveller website as I began to research one of my bucket list destinations.
Belize, the land of the infamous Blue Hole, Caribbean beaches and a rich tapestry of cultures.
Surely this small country couldn’t be that dangerous?
It’s little wonder, then, that many people ask whether or not the lure of this Caribbean jewel is worth the risk?
Having just visited for three weeks with my young family in tow, I would say yes and ask “what crime”?
Rather than a dangerous, crime-riddled country we found chilled-out beaches, stunning reefs, a happy fusion of cultures, pristine mountains and rivers, vibrant festivals, a unique music scene and above all genuinely friendly and welcoming locals.
INSIDE THE DANGEROUS PARADISE
Sure, many of the locals are doing it tough. Prices are high and wages are low, but as one local told us, everyone looks after each other and most people don’t go hungry.
And with tourism their prime industry, Belizeans seem genuinely happy to share their patch of paradise with visitors.
So many times we were stopped in the street just for a chat to say hi and “welcome to Belize”.
Digging deeper we realised that most of the crime is in Belize City, between local gangs. For this reason we avoided the cities and stuck instead to the coast and the mountains.
Given Belize is one of the smallest countries in Central America, and the least densely populated, we thought we’d spend a week, maybe two, chilling on the beaches and doing some diving.
After the first few days we were hooked and stayed nearly a month. If we’d had time we would have stayed longer.
We arrived knowing little about the place and left knowing that we most definitely will be back.
ESCAPE THE CITY
So what makes this small Central American-slash-Caribbean nation so captivating? I could say diving the Blue Hole at Lighthouse Reef.
Diving into a deep ocean hole to a depth of 43 metres, with reef sharks circling and the narcs setting in. Bucket list item. Tick.
Or I could say swimming with whale sharks at Gladden Spit. Jumping into open ocean and coming face-to-face with an eight metre-or-so sea giant has to be up there as one of the best things I’ve ever done.
Or perhaps tubing down the Macal River in the Mayan Mountains, just our family, with toucans and eagles soaring above. Pretty special.
It was all those things and more. After five days in Ambergris Caye, where we dived the world’s second largest barrier reef, went fishing and generally chilled out, we drove south to Hopkins, a sleepy beachside town halfway down the country.
As luck would have it we stayed at a place where, according to locals, the best chef in Belize has a restaurant.
Rob’s Cafe certainly didn’t disappoint. Run by Chef Rob, a Dutch expat, the food was sourced locally and was a wonderful fusion of local and international flavours. Ever had a tomato cappuccino? Mouth wateringly delicious.