exploring Belize

In a previous post, I mentioned that many moons ago, I’d been on an incredible snorkelling trip in the northern part of Belize at Ambergris Caye–one of Belize’s 200 small offshore islands. In this week’s post, I’d like to share a few highlights from my recent trip to this delightful Central American country that in addition to the 155-mile Belize Barrier Reef, is also known for its colourful toucan (the national bird), towering mahogany trees (the national tree), and many other natural and man-made wonders.


Thanks to Tropic Air for this handy map I found in their in-flight magazine.

We flew into Belize City via Westjet from Canada (a direct flight from Toronto) and then took a scenic 90-minute domestic flight on Tropic Air from Belize City south along the east coast of Belize to the village of Punta Gorda–which would be our home base for the first three days.


This fun sign and accompanying beach hut in Punta Gorda were donated by the Belize Cacao Consortium who work with 204 cacao growers in Belize and own the Peini Chocolate Company.

Punta Gorda is the hub of the Toledo District of Belize, best known as being the cocoa capital of the country. I’ll cover the cacao and chocolate industry of Belize in detail in future posts. But I feel it is important to put Punta Gorda on any traveler’s radar that is interested in learning more about the dynamics of Belizean culture.

Punta Gorda’s population is primarily comprised of two distinct groups: those of Mayan heritage, and the Garifuna, whose heritage stems from Africa via St. Vincent. Peini is the Garifunan name for Punta Gorda, which translates to “fat tip” in Spanish. There is also a fairly significant East Indian presence in Punta Gorda, making this region of Belize a culturally rich and dynamic place to visit.


Independence Square in the heart of Punta Gorda is a tribute to Belize’s independence from Britain in 1981. Until 1964, Belize was a territory of Britain fully governed by Britain. In 1964, it moved to a self-government system for internal affairs. And in 1973, the name was changed from British Honduras to Belize. On September 21st, 1981, full independence from Britain was granted.

From Punta Gorda we took took the bus/taxi, water taxi route north to Placencia in the Stann Creek District. Placencia is favoured as one of the best beach destinations in this region and is well worth a visit. We had reserved a lovely place on the beach for three nights and enjoyed walking the boardwalk in Placencia Village, a short cab ride from our resort. But note that Placencia is more of a touristy destination and has a significant expat population that overpowers the local indigenous culture of Belize.

explore-belizeIt was a three-hour drive north from Placencia to Belize City. We drove through Belmopan, which is now the Belizean capital after Belize City (the former capital) was ravaged by Hurricane Hattie in 1961. There have been 16 major hurricanes to hit Belize since 1930, half of which caused major damage to the country, so the decision was made to create a new capital 50 miles inland. Belmopan is not a tourist destination, but is primarily a political city with embassies, international dignitaries, and a population of 20,000 residents (compared to more than 57,000 in Belize City.)

One of the highlights of a visit to Belize City is a visit to the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Centre. Started in 1983 with just 17 animals, the Belize Zoo now has more than 180 animals and birds all native to Belize. The Belize Zoo provides a natural setting for most of its residents and educational information about all. Enjoy strolling through tropical forest as you make your way from one segment of the zoo to the other.


The toucan is the national bird of Belize and is happy to be photographed at the Belize Zoo.

I hope this post has whetted your appetite for more information about Belize. Stay tuned as I delve deeper into each of the destinations mentioned, and provide an insider’s view of the cacao and chocolate industry of Belize.


My thanks to the Belize Cacao Consortium for facilitating my 2018 research trip to Belize. Be sure to subscribe to this site so you don’t miss future posts about their work and the breathtaking country of Belize.

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

45 Responses

  1. David says:

    I would love to visit Belize and try some chocolate there! The closest I’ve been is Costa Rica, and that was a great experience. Keep up the great work on the blog, Doreen!

  2. brainlinx says:

    I’ve always wanted to go to Belize. I’ve read so much about the eco-tourism and natural beauty there. And now chocolate too!? Who could ask for anything more!

  3. I have heard and read a lot about the charm of Belize. I see that Punta Gorda too is an enchanting place and so is Belize City. The Zoo appears interesting and it is nice to know that they have a natural environment for the birds and animals. Waiting for more on the chocolate front here.

  4. dietmoi tangoc says:

    Thank you for letting me explore Belize. This is exactly where people need to come at least once. To feel great beauty, I like the icon in the free square. I really got impressed by it

  5. After hitting just about every spot in the Caribbean, Belize has been in our sites for years. It looks like its a winner!

    • Hi Donna C. The Caribbean islands are SO amazing. But I’m sure you’ll find the Central American countries to be equally enticing. I found Belize to be much like Costa Rica, with the added bonus of the Belize Barrier Reef. 🙂 Happy Holidays to you.
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…exploring BelizeMy Profile

  6. My sister and I are thinking of going to Belize next year and have been wondering exactly where to go. this is going to be a BIG help. thanks, Doreen.

  7. sue says:

    This post definitely whetted my appetite for Belize. Perhaps I should say increased, because it’s been on my list for a while. Love the photos.

  8. I’ve always wanted to go to Belize. I’ve read so much about the eco-tourism and natural beauty there. And now chocolate too!? Who could ask for anything more!

  9. Belize sounds and looks wonderful! Great pics, especially the one of the toucan. 🙂 I’d love to visit here some day!

  10. Sue Reddel says:

    What a wonderful adventure in Belize. Can’t wait to hear more about your visit.

  11. What a colorful city — by man and nature!

  12. The toucan doesn’t even look real — it’s so beautiful. I’ve never been to Belize, but I believe you that it must be “blissful”.

    • Hi Cathy and thx for stopping by. Indeed, there is plenty of bliss in Belize. There is also plenty of adventure. I’m really glad I got the opportunity to learn about the country quite intensely during my recent visit.
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…exploring BelizeMy Profile

  13. Marcelle says:

    We love to snorkel and discovered some beautiful islands in the Indian Ocean. If we head to Central America, Belize will be certainly on our itinerary. Of interest to us is if the corals are still mostly alive in Belize. The rising sea temperature caused the death of the corals around Seychelles, where we didn’t find much fish in consequence either.

  14. My husband and I have spoken of Belize both as a possible vacation destination and as a place to retire. We both like to snorkel and dive, so Belize sounds wonderful. I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts about it!

  15. The sunset picture is so lovely–ah to palm trees and sunsets and it all sounds like a great place to visit.

  16. Thanks for this introduction to Belize. It has been on my bucket list for a long time because it looks so colourful, both in its wildlife and its culture.

  17. Kemkem says:

    Yum!!! Cocoa :-). Belize was on our short list when we moved from the U.S and so l am partial to it. I never knew the toucan was the national bird though so good to know. Loving the chocolate tourism posts.

  18. Beverly says:

    Your photographs are so colourful! How do you manage to get that toucan to stay so still for the photograph?

  19. Love your inside look at chocolate tourism. While I have not been to Belize, when I do I will be thinking of you and chocolate!

  20. We once knew someone who was an expat in Belize, and he absolutely loved it and said he would retire there one day. I wonder if he is still there! It was many moons ago. So I was fascinated to read your story today, as it’s somewhere that has always held an interest for me and I’d love to visit. (Shared on Pinterest too 🙂

  21. Margaret Anne Fehr says:

    I had a Belizean experience in one of their caves when I was on a cruise a few years ago. It was a day excursion and we navigated the cave in over-size rubber rafts and we wore miner-style head lamps to light our way! It was an amazing experience and made me think that I’d have to revisit Belize one day!

  22. Looks wonderful Doreen and just what I could do with right now. Really interesting reading a bout their different heritage too.

    • Thanks for the comment, Kathy. Yes, it was very nice to see the various ethnographies groups getting along quite well. I asked about that, as I’ve been to other Caribbean nations where there is considerable tension between groups.
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…exploring BelizeMy Profile

  23. This is a great overview of the main highlights Doreen. And the way you captured that Toucan – wonderful. I would also recommend the Belize zoo. The animals (mostly rescues from forest fires or injury) are behind fences but have a wide range of jungle and the canopy is full of bird and monkey life.

    • Hi Virginia. Thx so much for accompanying me on this amazing journey. I, too, really admire the way the Belize Zoo has made captivity as natural and beautiful as possible in combination with the creatures such as the monkeys who are free to come and go as they please. Such an inspiring and informative venue.
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…exploring BelizeMy Profile

  24. We have scheduled a vacay in Belize in 2020. I will remember to look for the toucan and mahogany trees. It would be interesting to find out about the cacao industry, too!

    • Hi Carol. Do you have a particular Belizean destination in mind? This post highlights a few, and the previous post I refer to at the beginning of the post mentions the beauty of Northern Belize as well. Stay tuned. I will be writing much about all of it. 🙂

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