There’s something special about starting a new day on island. Even when you know the plan is to head back to the mainland (and we have a mid-morning water taxi back to Belize City), it really does feel like you are completely separated from any worldly concerns you may have. Caye Caulker, off the cost of Belize, certainly feels that way.
Our first destination after the water taxi delivers us to Belize City (and we walk across the manually controlled Swing Bridge) is the Museum of Belize, an opportunity to brush up on our history (not really) and see inside the former prison cells (really). The permanent exhibits here are a juxtaposition of the English colony (stamps and coins for example) and the much older indigenous history of the region (Maya Masterpieces is a must).
The history of Belize is emblazoned on their national flag, and the imagery there is so rich that their flag contains more colours than the flag of any other nation (12 in total, the next nearest is 9). And the flag forms a highlight in the Museum tour, where you can see a torn and dirty example that was found in the ruins of the World Trade Centre, after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Unlike the neighbouring Guatemala which was properly settled by the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th Century, Belize was controlled as a British Colony from 1862 to 1981; English remains the official language. So when someone in Guatemala says “look at the Colonial buildings”, expect to see ruins and bungalows up to 400 years old (oh, and they’ll probably say “mirar los edificios coloniales”); when someone in Belize says “look at the Colonial buildings”, expect grand houses from the mid 1800s!
One such example is today’s Government House, originally built in 1815 and opened to the public as an event venue in 1998. There are art exhibits on display here, but our visit is from the outside and as an opportunity to feel some more of Central America’s varied history. Continuing the flag theme, it was here in 1981 that Belize’s national flag was official raised for the first time.
And take a look at the brick Cathedral of St John across the road – it’s the oldest Anglican Church in Central America. (Which, to be fair, is a bit like pointing out the oldest Mayan Temple in Great Britain.)
And then, surprise surprise, there’s another bus trip to enjoy! (Experience? Survive? If you missed our tips for long bus rides, you can read them here.) This one is not so bad, 3.5 hours from Belize City in the direction of Punta Gorda. We’re travelling with James Bus Lines – and while they’re excellent, we can’t say the same for the roads!
We’re delighted to be exiting the bus, and just in time to grab our tickets at the Maya Center adjacent to (well, a $US15 taxi ride from) the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.
This sanctuary protects all five of Belize’s big cats: Jaguar, Puma, Ocelot, Jaguarundi, and Margay. While coming out here meant extra time in a bus, it was well worth it as we settle into our ‘White House’ accommodation within the Cockscomb Basin. There’s just enough time as the sun sets to cook our dinner in the kitchen provided, and base ourselves on the screened-in verandah to watch the evening wildlife emerge.
No Jaguars tonight – we might have to look further afield tomorrow.
Want to go? Need to know!
- Water Taxis run regularly between Caye Caulker and Belize City.
- Looking for a place to eat in Belize City? We could suggest one, but really you want to read this article from the fabulous San Pedro Scoop.
- The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary offers a range of places to sleep, depending on your travel preferences (flush toilet or pit latrine?) and the number of people you’re travelling with (we find dormitory bedding adds to a group holiday experience, and detracts from a couple’s romantic weekend in Belize!)
Does anybody think we spent too little time in Belize City? What are your tips for long bus rides? Share them with the world in the comments below.