The Yucatán Peninsula is the area of Central America that juts out into the water like a big fat thumb, separating the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico (most of it’s in Mexico, but it also includes parts of northern Belize and northern Guatemala). The Belizean and Guatemalan parts are mostly low-lying jungle; and the Mexican part is equally flat, equally hot, and comprised mainly of limestone. This soft rock is so porous that the abundant rainwater drains straight through it, and as a consequence there are no surface rivers in this part of the country. But what there are plenty of is sinkholes, known locally as cenotes (from a Maya word dzonot, meaning sacred well). The Peninsula is pockmarked with thousands of them, and they range in size and shape – while some are open water pools at the bottom of circular limestone holes, most are mainly or completely underground, accessed by small holes in the ground or twisting cave passages. In this flat landscape, the only thing that rises above the forest and the plains are the giant temple-pyramids built by the ancient Maya, and it was probably the numerous cenotes and their fresh water that allowed the Maya cities to survive and grow. Continue reading
Some time ago, I wrote a post about Belizean food. But I didn’t mention all the delicious sweet things that the country produces – from Black Cakes to Coconut Tarts to Rice Puddings to Tres Leches (Three Milks) Cakes. And with most of these desserts packed full of sugar and soaked in evaporated or condensed milk, their sweet deliciousness is only matched by their sugary and fatty unhealthiness. Wash that lot down with a bottle of Coke and ponder why 60% the locals are overweight and 15% have diabetes… Continue reading
As you may remember from a previous post, last year I took my first trip across Belize’s western border to Guatemala. And after having waited so long to finally go there, I immediately realised how beautiful (and cheap) the country is, and how much I wanted to go back. After taking advantage of one of the many Belizean public holidays to revisit the jungle-covered and ruin-filled Petén department back in March, now it’s the Easter weekend, and time for another trip – this time to another place I’ve already glimpsed, the Rio Dulce, in the tropical south of the country. Continue reading
There are over 400 islands in Belize, ranging in size from Ambergris Caye (with its population of over 13,000 and its bustling capital of San Pedro, one of the five largest towns in the country), all the way down to places like Laughing Bird Caye, tiny scraps of sand and palm trees that cover an acre or two at most, and where you’re never more than a few metres from the sea. Continue reading
Less than four months after visiting The Land of Eternal Spring for the first time, I’m back for another bite of the Guatemalan cherry. I’ve decided to revisit the eastern Petén department, as not only is it the closest one to where I live in central Belize, but it’s covered in jungle and full of Maya ruins (only one of which – Tikal, the most famous – have I explored).
As I’ve mentioned previously, the southern Belizean district of Toledo is home to the majority of Belize’s Maya inhabitants, with around 20,000 of them spread over 60 villages. And while many of them seem happy to live in their thatched wooden houses and tend to their beans and corn on the farm, living the kinds of rural lives their people have lived for generations, some of them are slowly embracing the kinds of cultural tourism that the nearby Garifuna people have been pioneering. Continue reading
After another ferry journey (again accompanied by adverts for duty-free jewellery at Diamonds International, and Band Aid singing their absurd and patronising song about Africa), I’m in Playa. As the largest town on the Riviera Maya, and the second-biggest on Mexico’s Caribbean coast (after Cancún), Playa is tourism central (it’s impossible to imagine what these places would be like without all the tourists – Sleepy? Empty?). The statistics of the whole region defy the imagination – Cancún’s first hotel went up in the 1970s, yet it now has 30,000 hotel rooms and 4 million annual visitors. And Playa, which in the 1980s was a small town of 1000 people, now has a population of over 150,000 (not counting all the tourists). The sandy streets of the 80s are now paved avenues full of traffic, with hotels, restaurants, bars, and shops. And being the high season, it’s very busy with people like me, as well. Continue reading