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A Warm Winter Vacation in Belize Perfect for the Family

by Barbara Rogers

Jan 24, 2020

Photo: Stillman Rogers

Travel Tips

Looking for a warm place beyond the Caribbean islands for your family’s holiday? Consider this safe and idyllic warm spot in Central America’s Belize.

 

Stretching along the east coast of Central America, south of Mexico, Belize is a former British colony that became independent in 1981. Its shore is bordered by a barrier reef and a string of islands with spectacular, palm-lined white beaches and clear turquoise waters that invite swimming and snorkeling. Gently sloping beaches leave plenty of shallow water for younger children to play in.

 

Beaches of Belize. Photo: Stillman Rogers

 

Lively San Pedro, on the island of Ambergris Caye, is filled with family-friendly guest houses and beach-side cottages. Kids will love snorkeling amid the tropical fish and kayaking through the mangrove forests among the long roots that hold the trees above the water.

 

There are more mangroves on Caye Caulker, where the west side of the island is popular for kayaking and paddleboarding. Kids can find tiny sea horses in the shallow pools and kayak calm waters to discover a cave entrance.

 

Inland are lush rainforests where you can stay in thatched-roofed lodges and take excursions to learn about the environment and wildlife. Belize was once the heartland of the ancient Maya Empire, and with current safety concerns about the Mayan sites in Guatemala and Honduras, attention rightly turns to Belize.

Xunantunich. Photo: Stillman Rogers

The Maya civilization, which grew and thrived here for many centuries, collapsed between 600–900 AD, when its grand cities were overgrown and soon disappeared into the jungle. Several of these have been excavated, others are known and awaiting attention by archaeologists and countless more lie hidden beneath the tangle of jungle flora awaiting discovery.

 

Most are open to tourists, and two of the best are Xunantunich and Cahal Pech, both near the village of San Ignacio, inland near the Guatemalan border and the best-known Mayan city of Tikal. You can easily take daytrips to visit Tikal, an easier and safer option than getting there from the Guatemalan side.

 

But your kids will love the uncrowded experience of Xunantunich, where they can climb to the top of the ancient stone temple El Castillo, more than 130 feet tall, and look out over the remains of a city once home to 200,000 people. Also at El Castillo, look for stucco friezes showing stories from Maya mythology.

 

Photo: Stillman Rogers

 

You’ll want to stay a few days in this lush environment near Xunantunich and Cahal Pech, a good contrast to a few days on the cayes. We liked The Lodge at Chaa Creek for its beautifully appointed thatched family cottages and the location inside a 400-acre private nature reserve. Chaa Creek’s money-saving winter packages include extras that introduce your family to the natural and historic attractions of the Cayo region, such as nature hikes on rainforest trails, canoeing on the Macal River, visiting a butterfly farm with a naturalist guide and an interactive tour of the Maya Medicinal Plant Trail.

 

On the way to San Ignacio only a couple of hours from Belize City, where all the international flights land, be sure to stop at the excellent Belize Zoo. Protecting rehabilitated, orphaned and rescued wildlife, this is a good introduction to the inland environment and the country’s fascinating, diverse wildlife. They’ll see manatees, spider monkeys, toucans, scarlet macaws and tapirs, and, if for no other reason, stop here for the kids to meet Belize’s notoriously shy big cat, the jaguar.

 

Photo: Stillman Rogers

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