Like everyone, I had my preconceptions about Belize before I arrived, for better or worse. After just a few days here, I discovered these six pleasant surprises:
- The language: Surprisingly, English is the official language of Belize. You are likely to hear Spanish, as well as local languages like Kreyol and Quechi, during your stay here, but you won’t need to know any of it to navigate your way around here.
- The diversity: While some parts of Central America can feel relatively ethnically homogenous in comparison to parts of the United States, the cultural mix prevalent in Belize is evident immediately upon walking the streets here. Between the Garifuna (the native descendants of the Mayans), the Creoles and the Chinese communities here, you’re in for a mix of diverse cultural experiences.
- The friendliness: Coming from the East Coast of the States, I’m always surprised when I experience a culture in which strangers greet each other. And that is definitely the common practice in Belize. You’re likely to hear several “good mornings”, “good afternoons” and “good evenings” during your time here, and you may even counter lots of locals eager to start up a good conversation with you.
- The barrier reef: If you’re a swimmer or a diver, you’re in luck. Belize may be a small country, but it boasts the second-longest barrier reef in the world, which itself is home to seven World Heritage Sites and countless stunning cays. Some of these are inhabited and some aren’t, but each have some of the most exotic species of birds you will ever see.
- Airport security (or lack thereof): While Belize City’s International Airport is much like most international airports when it comes to security, it’s strictly-domestic Municipal Airport is a different story. With several flights to the cays that are not easily accessible by boat, there is no security here, and while on board you can literally tap the pilot on the shoulder (I’m not saying I recommend it). When you land, it looks as though you are landing in someone’s backyard and walking through a house more than it resembles an airport.
- Ease of transportation: Contrary to much of Central America, you won’t find military checkpoints looking to extort you on the highways here. There aren’t too many of them, but all of them are safe, in surprisingly good condition, toll-free, and have enough quality signs to make sure you won’t get lost.