Travel trends for 2017: off the beaten track in Belize
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Published Sunday, December 18, 2016 8:46AM EST
Latin America is set to be a key travel trend for 2017. With Colombia and Costa Rica also on the rise, the Central American country of Belize, nestled between Mexico and Guatemala, has plenty to offer travelers looking for a walk on the wild side.
> The archaeological site of Xunantunich
Visitors can head off in search of Belize's ancient history at the Xunantunich ancient Maya archeological site on the Guatemala border. Culture vultures who aren't put off by the lack of infrastructure for tourism in the country -- which covers a total area of around 23,000 square km (or 8,900 square miles) -- can visit these Mayan ruins to capture emblematic photos of Belize. Plus, the archeological site is on the top of a hill, offering breathtaking views.
Enjoy the wildlife
> Belize Zoo
Home to species native to this small Central American country, Belize Zoo is a must-visit for animal lovers. The zoo keeps animals that were orphaned, rescued, born at the zoo, rehabilitated or donated, and houses them in conditions as close as possible to their natural habitats in the wild. The zoo is a great place to take a closer look at jaguars, pumas and margays, and features an installation allowing visitors to get up close to jaguars in total safety. The zoo even holds night-time visits for observing the behavior of wild animals after dark.
> Diving the Great Blue Hole
Home to the second largest coral reef system in the world, stretching over 130km (81 miles), Belize is a prime destination for divers and snorkelers. There are plenty of places to go, but the most famous diving hotspot is the Great Blue Hole, a submarine sinkhole made famous when French naval officer and explorer, Jacques Cousteau, named it one of the top ten scuba diving sites in the world. A trip to the site requires a little forward planning, since the Hole, which is more than 300 meters in diameter (984 feet), is situated 80km (50 miles) off the coast and is nestled among the Belize Cayes, a series of coral cayes in the Caribbean Sea. The trip also requires a certain budget.
> Explore the ancient Maya civilization in underground caves
Belize has many underground caves, used by the Maya civilization to honor the gods. Today, tours are organized for adventurous visitors keen to discover this heritage in an action-packed excursion. Tours involve river trekking, canyoning and jungle hiking, for example. The "Actun Tunichil Muknal" is the most famous cave to visit.
> Corozal and the Caribbean coast
Previously known as British Honduras, this former British colony is the only English-speaking country in Central America. The official language is English, but Belize's proximity with Spanish-speaking countries ensures the language plays an important role in day-to-day life, alongside Creole, Garifuna and more. In fact, Belize is a melting pot of cultures and languages. The Caribbean coast is a great place to soak up this cultural diversity. Head to Corozal Town to check out the Spanish colonial influence and tuck into delicious seafood and shellfish. Further south, the resort town of Placencia is popular with tourists.
> Visit the capital, Belmopan, and its municipal market
Fans of local markets can head to Belmopan, the country's very small capital city. Built after the previous capital, Belize City, was largely destroyed by Hurricane Hattie in 1961, visitors can get an authentic taste of Belmopan and its 15,000 residents with a stroll around its municipal market, where people from all walks of life rub shoulders.