The coastline of Belize juts out into the warm waters of the Caribbean at a point where the Belize River winds its way to the sea, creating a perfect location for the Belize City.
The Mayans recognized the physical advantages of the site and built a city there they called Holzuz. Christopher Columbus may have noted the location as he cruised along the coast of Belize in 1502. British lumber harvesters, known as baymen, used the river to deliver mahogany and other woods from the interior to the port of shipment. After leaving Belize Town, as the baymen called it in the 1650s, the prize Belizean wood was destined for use in building famous sailing vessels and paneling the rooms of English castles.
In 1798, after fighting the Spanish for control of the Battle of St. George Caye, the British used Belize City in establishing their colony – British Honduras. From 1862 to 1964 Belize was a British Crown Colony. The waters surrounding Belize City are protected by barrier islands and yet deep enough to accommodate modern cruise ships. Today, it is a city of approximately 70,000 people and serves as a gateway to this captivating country.
According to local folklore, much of the land upon which today’s Belize City sits is actually landfill created by lumber scraps and rum bottles. Every time the baymen harvested their lumber and brought it down the river for sale, they are reported to have spent a significant portion of their proceeds on Caribbean rum. When they returned to the forests, the refuse they left behind added to the landscape.
Either arriving by air at the Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport or from one of the cruise ships at the Belize Tourism Village, many visitors experience Belize City as a jumping off point. Visitors often make their way to destinations in the interior or hop a water taxi or aircraft to one of the barrier islands. With accommodations ranging from casual beach cottages to full-service resorts, dining to suit every taste and exciting nightlife, Belize City is increasingly being thought of as a destination in itself.
In October 1961, shortly before independence from the British, Hurricane Hattie devastated Belize City. It was decided to move the capital to an inland location. The move was completed in 1970 when Belmopan became the location of the new capital of an independent Belize. Belize City remains the home of one-quarter of the population of Belize and is the only community large enough to be considered a city.
Belize City is the district seat of the Belize District. There are six districts: Belize, Cayo, Corozal, Orange Walk, Stann Creek and Toledo. Every district has representatives in the House of Representatives. The Belize District is the heart of the Kriol (Creole) culture in Belize. The government consists of the prime minister and cabinet, an elected house of representatives and an appointed senate.
Attractions of Belize City
Belize City is a real place. While there are resort hotels and fine restaurants, the city has not been homogenized or made into a theme park version of itself. It is a place where people of various origins and cultures live and have lived for centuries, through good times and bad. The Belize City attractions are great places to experience the culture, history, and wildlife of Belize.
House of Culture
On Regent Street, you’ll find the venerable mansion once known as Government House, the residence of the governor general in colonial days. Built in 1814, the mansion outlived colonial rule and survived devastating hurricanes in 1931 and 1960 to become Belize’s House of Culture in 1996. The flag of the independent nation of Belize was first flown over the house on September 21, 1981.
Displays within the house include furniture and tableware from the colonial period, photographs depicting the country’s history and exhibits by Belizean artists. In the garden, you will find a refurbished wooden tender from Baron Bliss’s sailing vessel the Sea King. The House of Culture is open to the public Monday through Saturday from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Admission is free.
Fort George Lighthouse and Baron Bliss Memorial
The Lighthouse and tomb are located near the mouth of the Belize River are open to the public and admission is free.
Museum of Belize
In 1857, during the reign of Queen Victoria, the British built Her Majesty’s Prison near the waterfront in Belize City. The two-story brick fortress housed criminals through the remainder of the colonial period and for a short time after independence. Today, it is home to the Museum of Belize with exhibits covering the history of Belize from the ancient Maya civilization to the present, along with artifacts from the former residents of the building.
On the first floor, you can see what life was like for prisoners, including a death row cell. The remainder of the floor has artifacts and photos covering over 350 years of history. The second floor is dedicated the Maya civilization and includes the sacred markers known as stelae and a replica of the famous Jade Head. The museum is open Monday through Thursday from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM and Fridays from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM. Admission is $10.00 US.
St. John’s Anglican Cathedral
Saint John’s Anglican Cathedral, at the corner or Regent and Albert Streets, is the oldest Anglican house of worship in Central America. The structure itself is a repository of Belizean history. It was built by slaves over an eight year period in the early 1800s using bricks taken from the hulls of sailing ships. The bricks had served as ballast when ships left Europe. The stone cathedral has survived the fires and hurricanes which devastated Belize City over the centuries, making it the oldest colonial structure in the city. Inside the sanctuary and around the church grounds you can see tombstones and memorials to the infamous baymen and their descendants.The cathedral was the site of the coronations of three Miskito kings between 1815 and 1845. The Miskitos were indigenous people inhabiting Honduras, Nicaragua, and Belize. The word mosquito came from their name, and the term Mosquito Coast refers to the area they once controlled. The Miskitos were enemies of the Spanish and developed a relationship with the English which began with the baymen and extended through much of the early colonial period. Britain claimed the Miskito Indians as a protectorate from 1655 to 1860.
At the end of Albert Street and across a foot bridge you’ll find Bird’s Isle. The island is home to a recreation area where locals enjoy playing basketball.
Marine Terminal and Museum
Located on North Front Street at the North end of the Swing Bridge is the Marine Terminal and Museum. Built in the 1920s, the structure was once a firehouse. The small museum includes samples of the tools used to create the wooden boats by which people of Belize have made their living for centuries. Water taxis at the terminal provide transportation to Caye Caulker, San Pedro on Ambergris Caye and St. George Caye.
Supreme Court Building
The Courthouse building was built in 1926 to replace one destroyed by fire. Atop the courthouse tower is a four face clock. While the courthouse is still in use and is not open for tours, but the interesting architectural features make it a great photo location.
In Ladyville, near the Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport (BZE), you’ll find the Belikin Brewery. German brew master Reinhardt Happ produces a pale lager called Belikin Beer, Belikin Stout and Belikin Supreme, using local water and sugar. The Belikin label features a Mayan temple from the ruins at Altun Ha. The name Belikin is taken from a Mayan word meaning “road to the East”, probably referring to the Belize River. The brewery hosts tours of the facility.
Just 29 miles along the Western Highway from Belize City you’ll find the Belize Zoo. Known as “The Best Little Zoo in the World”, the 29-acre zoo features 125 different animals – all native to Belize. Visitors have the opportunity to get very close to the animals. It is not unusual to see animals just inches away from where you stand next to the enclosure. In fact, by signing up for a behind-the-scenes tour visitors can have an opportunity to ‘high-five’ with a Jaguar. Sharon Matola founded the zoo in 1983 to provide a home and rehabilitation center for native species. Jaguars guilty of cattle poaching are saved from angry farmers, rehabilitated and found homes in other zoos. All of the paths in the zoo can be walked in approximately two hours and it is well worth the trip from Belize City. The zoo is open daily from 8:00 Am to 5:00 PM for a charge of $8 for adults and $4 for children. The zoo also offers overnight accommodations and special night tours. Photo: Tropical Registry’s Amma Carey with Sharon Matola is coaxing a jaguar in the rehabilitation program to roll-over.Dining & Nightlife
In the larger hotels, you’ll find restaurants and bars offering menus and entertainment to suit almost any taste. For slightly more adventurous visitors, Belize City offers many different cuisines. You might not expect to find the best-fried chicken you’ve ever tasted at a Chinese restaurant in Central America, but at Friendships on the Northern Highway, you will get exactly that.
Indian and Asian food is plentiful, as well as the local staple of chicken and rice. Try Belikin, Belize’s domestically produced beer, in local restaurants and pubs. On the street, you’ll find vendors offering a variety of foods. You’ll notice that the locals seem to enjoy putting red pepper on almost everything, including orange and mango slices and boiled corn.
As the largest urban area in the country, Belize is one of the best places for shopping. In Belize City, shoppers can find goods and products of the various cultures represented in Belize. Local artwork is an affordable souvenir. Look for jewelry hand crafted from indigenous hardwoods. Marketplaces offer fresh fruits and vegetables as well as other consumables for residents and visitors alike. Visitors should note that the stores of Belize City are their best opportunity to find many items while in the country. Since selection is limited or non-existent in other towns.
Many local shops sell Marie Sharps’s line of habanera pepper sauces. These domestically produced hot sauces come in a variety of flavors. Marie Sharp’s also offers chutneys, jams, and jellies made from tropical fruits. Their sample sizes are perfect for taking home as souvenirs and gifts.
Transportation of Belize City
The International airport serving all of Belize is just outside of Belize City. The Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport (BZE) is in the small town of Ladyville, approximately 10 miles northwest of Belize City. It just a short taxi ride south on the Northern Highway into Belize City. Displays in the airport terminal provide information about a variety of services, accommodations, and properties.
Luxury Hotels in Belize City
You’ll find brand name hotels in Belize City, complete with all the amenities you’d expect. Radisson Fort George Hotel and Marina, Best Western Belize Biltmore Plaza, Ramada Belize City Princess Hotel and Radisson Fort George Hotel and Marina are the best known luxury hotels. If you are a little more adventuresome, you can find small hotels and cottages with very modest rates. The locally owned hotels may not have every amenity, but they will welcome you with local color and friendliness.
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