Tiny Belize doesn't quite fit the mold of Latin America or the Caribbean, but proudly considers itself both. It was occupied by both the Spanish and the British. The British kicked out the Spanish in 1840 and claimed the area. It was known as British Honduras.
It became independent of Britain in 1981. English (American English not British English) rather than Spanish is the official language and Central America's youngest nation dances to its own beat with a diverse and laid-back culture that encompasses Garifuna, Maya, Creole and Mestizo influences, as well as Mennonite and expatriate (US) communities. With 240 miles of Caribbean coastline, endless island cays and the barrier reef, diving, snorkeling, and swimming is world class. Inland, Belize's thick jungles are dotted with ancient Maya structures, along with incredible caves, wildlife-filled sanctuaries and adventure activities. There are over 200 islands off the coast of Belize. The one we visited is called Harvest Caye (pronounced key) and is owned by Norwegian Cruise Line. Belize has two climates, dry and rainy. So the dry season is tourist season and Norwegian opens up the island, hiring locals from the mainland to come in and run the shops and boat tours and then shuts it down for the wet season. Several Hollywood celebrities own islands in Belize, including Tiger Woods, Leonardo DiCaprio, Harrison Ford, and Frances Ford Coppola.
Of the many available excursions, we chose the Placencia Lagoon wildlife and mangrove tour. We explored an amazing saltwater mangrove estuary. Mangroves are salt-tolerant trees and are adapted to harsh coastal conditions. They are found in tropical and sub-tropical areas. Their roots can go down about 15 feet to the ocean floor. Mangrove swamps protect the coastline from ocean surges, erosion and tsunamis.
We boated through the protected waters of the lagoon and charted a course towards one of the shallow areas favored by manatees. We were supposed to get a close-up encounter with these large yet docile marine creatures. However, we didn't see any. Of course there can be no guarantee.
We then boated to one of the many mangrove estuaries. The passage narrowed and our guide pointed-out numerous species of flora and fauna, ranging from marine life to aquatic plants and trees. The estuary is home to many species of birds and at times, wildlife that live on the tropical savannas. We saw many birds and upside down jellyfish.
This tropical island is tourist centric so it is beautiful, clean and full of shops and beach chairs. No poor people here.
Tomorrow we visit Costa Maya in Mexico.