Sunscreen is a must!
Please think about your skin when coming here and apply a strong sunscreen. I know this tip refers to pretty much anywhere in the Caribbean but for some reason, I always found the heat in Belize City to be a scorching heat. Please don't forget your sunglasses as well. The water's glare can be bothersome.Related to:
- Study Abroad
- Family Travel
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Old Government House
Of everything we did in Belize City, I most enjoyed our brief tour of old Government House, maybe because we did not have time to check out the Fort George area due to limited time combined with most attractions being closed on Sunday. This old building really is an antique, built almost 200-years ago, between 1812-14 to serve as the official residence of the Governor of the colony, the Queen's representative in this backwater outpost of the Empire. Although it has lost a few bits off it in the almost 200 years since, I am amazed that a large wooden structure like this is still standing on these hurricane-prone shores! In fact, it was the devestation caused to Belize City by Hurricane Hattie in 1961 that prompted a new capital to be built inland at Belmopan, and that was the beginning of the end of the 'official' use of this building. After several years of neglect, the structure has been rehabilitated in recent years, and now also serves as a museum of sorts (the House of Culture), where various things Belizian are displayed.
For our US$5 per person entrance fee, we enjoyed wandering through the mansion, viewing it's antique furniture (second photo) and reading various plaques on the walls detailing the history of the Colony and it's various Governors down through the years. A stroll on the seaward grounds revealed a monument to Baron Bliss, an eccentric British aristocrat who was one of the main benefactors of this backwater. He sailed into the harbour for the first time in 1926 aboard his yacht 'Sea King', but was too sick with food poisoning to ever actually set foot on shore before dying several months later. Even so, he had been so impressed by his welcome, that his will bequeathed $2 million to be used for the benefit of the citizens of Belize! His small tender (third photo), which allowed his crew to travel between the yacht and shore, is now mounted on the seaward grounds of Government House.Related to:
- Museum Visits
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A Walk Around Town
Located in the centre of Belize City, very close to the Swing Bridge, is the Supreme Court Building. This reinforced concrete structure (a good idea in a hurricane prone area) was completed in 1926 to replace the earlier wooden structure on this site, which had burned down in 1918. The classic British colonial style with a dome-topped clock tower (still the only one in the city) was chosen as the design for the replacement building and a further flourish was provided by the fine filigree metalwork of the stairway and balcony railings.
Directly across from the Supreme Court building is Battlefield Park (second photo), a small green space with lots of concrete benches that is often the site of political speeches and civil gatherings. As you can see, not much was happening after a bit of overnight rain when we were in town!Related to:
Enjoy Meeting Other Travellers
After our midday walk showed us that there was absolutely nothing going on in Belize City on a Sunday, we settled down on the nice little balcony at the Seaside Guest House. It actually turned into an enjoyable way to put in the remainder of the afternoon, since we had a couple of interesting fellow travellers to swap tales with over cold Belikin beers from the fridge in the kitchen!
Steve is from England, formerly working in the financial markets until made redundant a couple of years earlier. With his very generous separation package, he rented out his house near London and has spent all his time since then travelling all over the world - and I mean ALL! On the side, he teaches SCUBA diving, and was just finishing up an assignment in the West Indies before heading on to Mexico briefly. Then, he planned to head back to England to try to start up a 'normal' life again.
Lauren, from Australia's Gold Coast, was also very pleasant to chat with. A dietician who had travelled to this part of the world to attend a conference in the Yucatan Peninsula and had been asked to also put on a short course in Belize while she was in the neighbourhood.
Sitting there talking to these two travellers was one of the most enjoyable afternoons of our vacation.Related to:
Haulover Creek Swing Bridge
The steel swing bridge across Haulover Creek was built by a New Orleans-based American company and opened for business in 1923. Completion of the bridge joined the north side, which was then known as Fort George Island, to the south side of Belize City. Using a centre pivot, this only functioning manually-operated swing bridge in the western hemisphere, takes at least four men to turn steel cranks twice a day (early morning and in the evening) to allow sailboats and large boats to make the passage one way or the other on the Creek. The authorities in Belize were obviously pleased with the work of the company, because they subsequently hired them to build the Supreme Court Building (1926) as well as the concrete seawall in the Fort George area! Coming from New Orleans, they must have thought that these guys obviously knew something about making things hurricane proof.
Haulover Creek originally got it's name from the fact that, prior to any connection to the mainland, cattle grazing out on Fort George Island had to be hauled across the creek by a rope tied around their horns! And how about this for a weird one - Haulover Creek is actually the last four miles of the Belize River, as it flows through the city and empties into the Caribbean Sea!Related to:
National Handicrafts Centre
Not as big as it sounds, but a nice assortment of shops/booths selling Belizean handicrafts/artwork/alcohol/kitchy-tourist-junk. Check out the Pirate Museum for free tastings of local alcohol and preserves (plus some interesting historical info :D). I've heard it only opens when cruise ships come in, though it says otherwise in Lonely Planet (8am-4pm Mon-Sat). I guess we got lucky.
Baron Bliss Memorial & Lighthouse - Part I
The story of Baron Bliss and what he did for Belize is a fascinating one. Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss was born in England in 1869, but inherited the title of "Fourth Baron of the Former Kingdom of Portugal" as a young adult. His love of seafaring & fishing lead to his early retirement and his journey to the Caribbean aboard his yacht, Sea King II.
In Trinidad, Baron Bliss contracted an extremely severe case of food poisoning whereupon he set sail for Belize after a brief stop in Jamaica. Although his health rallied briefly, Baron Bliss died on March 9, 1926 in Belize City Harbor. He had never set foot upon Belize. Baron Bliss left a considerable fortune to this tiny country for the kindness shown to him during his illness. He requested to be buried here and a memorial built.
St. John's Cathedral
This brick church was built by slaves in 1812, and is the oldest Anglican church in Central American. Back in the 1800's a few of the "Mosquito Coast" kings were crowned here, making it the only Anglican church outside of England where kings have been crowned. Yarbrough Cemetery nearby is one of the oldest cemeteries here.Related to:
Albert and Regent Streets
Strolling down Albert and Regent Streets will put you smack dab in the center of local daily life here. Both streets take off from the south side of the swing bridge. Regent St. has lots of old colonial administration buildings, and lively Albert St. is the main commerical hub of the city. It's packed with Belizeans going about their daily business, at banks, the old colonial courthouse, and the shops. Some shops are owned by Chinese and Lebanese immigrants, and all the shops and buildings are quite rundown. Belize City's hustle and bustle is quite different from the rest of the country, which is really easygoing and laid-back.
The Bliss Institute
The Bliss Institute is Belize City's largest cultural center. It features exhibits by the National Arts Council, such as one on Mayan artifacts from Caracol, as well as occasional theatre and dance performances. If you're going to be in town awhile, you might check out what's here. As you can tell by its name, it was built with funds from Baron Bliss's bequest.Related to:
- Theater Travel
- Arts and Culture
The Southern Foreshore
If you fancy a walk near the water, go to the Southern Forshore area and do the short walk along the seawall. If it's a windy day, watch out for the occasional wave breaking over the wall. It's a quiet street next to the water, with views across the mouth of Haulover Creek to the artificial "Tourism Village" set up for cruise ship passengers (it's nicer to see the Tourism Village across the water than to walk past it and get approached by people trying to sell you tours).
The Swing Bridge
The swing bridge is the hub of the city, connecting the Fort George area with the Southern Foreshore. Check it out during the day - I think it's a bit of a dicey area at night. It was brought over from Liverpool, and is the only manually operated swing bridge left in operation in the world. It's quite congested with cars and pedestrian traffic. Fortunately it's only opened twice a day, morning and night, to let large boats through. The river it bridges is called Haulover Creek; as you go further up the river, it becomes the Belize River.
This picture shows the view from the bridge looking the other direction, out to the Carribean Sea.
The Bliss Memorial
This lighthouse memorial at Fort George Point greets you at the entrance to Haulover Creek from the Carribean Sea. Baron Bliss's generosity is legendary in Belize. He was English, but (somehow) was a baron in the former Kingdom of Portugal. The ailing baron sailed into the harbour here in 1926, and was cared for by hospitable locals until he died a couple months later, without ever having set foot on Belizean soil. He rewarded their caring with a very large bequest, and remains Belize's biggest benefactor to this day. This lighthouse memorial was built in his honour with a small part of those funds, and his grave is below it.
Lamanai & the New River Safari
Your adventure begins after a one-hour drive from Belize City to Tower Hill, where you will board a riverboat for a 90-minute cruise of the New River, with its spectacular rainforest, mangroves, orchids and birds. Disembarking at the northern end of the New River Lagoon, you'll enjoy a Belize style lunch. Then begin your 90-minute tour of Lamanai, once the largest Mayan ceremonial site in Meso-America and occupied as early as 1500 B.C. The first stone buildings appeared here between 800 and 600 B.C. Huge masks depicting dead rulers and gods seem to materialize out of the rainforest amid the chatter of birds and the haunting calls of howler monkeys. Your guide will point out the copal and ramon (breadnut) trees, of great importance in ancient times.
Things to do
The Cayes and the Belize Reef are a paradise for water sports enthusiasts, offering all the swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing, windsurfing and fishing anyone could ever wish for. If that's still not enough, travelers can canoe on the Macal, Mopan and Belize Rivers around San Ignacio and tube through caves along the Chiquibul River. The best hiking trails are in Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve and the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. Bird-watchers should check out the rivers, swamps and lagoons of the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, midway between Belize City and Orange Walk Town, which attract flocks of migrating birds between November and May.
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