Belize City is undoubtedly the country’s main commercial hub with its downtown area being the central location for hundreds of local businesses including the main branches of the five leading commercial banks. The narrow congested city streets are lined with a curious array of deteriorated old colonial structures in addition to newly constructed offices and supermarkets as well as a number of establishments that cater to the large number of travelers that disembark at the rapidly developing tourist village situated in the heart of the Fort George Tourism Zone. Indeed, thousands of tourists traverse the half mile stretch between the tourist village and the downtown area on a daily basis making this a prime commercial venue for a diversity of tourist related ventures ranging from gift shops and tour operators to restaurants and cyber cafes. The city is home to two of the country’s largest hotels as well as the widest range of entertainment facilities including several modern nightclubs, a popular casino, cinema, and the country’s only bowling alley. Particular progress has been made in infrastructural development over recent years with the construction of an attractive seafront promenade on the north side of the city, a state of the art performing arts center as well numerous museums and cultural centers.
As home to the much anticipated September Carnival, the Belize City area is at the very heart of national festivities. During this time, thousands of people from throughout the country as well as a large number of tourists flock to the city streets to watch flamboyant masqueraders gyrate to pulsating soca rhythms under the radiant tropical sun. For those who prefer a more formal display, there are traditional uniform ceremonies that signify the annual independence celebrations including the central flag raising ceremony and a full uniform parade attended by the emergency services and schoolchildren from throughout the city.
A totally different perspective of the Belize District lies within a mere half hour’s drive of the bustling downtown area. Indeed, in marked contrast to the city’s growing commercial metropolis, rural Belize is home to a number of quaint riverside communities that sit atop the sloping banks of the historic Belize and Sibun Rivers once used to facilitate the mass transportation of logwood and mahogany during the early colonial era. Today these areas serve as the chief venue for a variety of festivities which aim to promote and celebrate rural culture and traditions. Such events include annual “cashew-fests” as well as numerous activities which focus on the preservation of the river environment, the most popular of which being the annual La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge in which thousands of spectators flock to the rural communities of Banana Bank, Isabella Bank, Double Head Cabbage, and Burrel Boom not only to enjoy the spectacle of the race but to savor the local cuisine typically comprised of an enticing variety of game meat.
The outer Belize District is famous for its abundance of flora and fauna which has paved the way for the establishment of a number of protected areas and conservation projects the most renowned of which is The Belize Zoo, the only zoo in the region to showcase indigenous species in their natural habitat, situated just twenty nine miles west of Belize City. Other places of natural interest include the Bermudan Landing Baboon Sanctuary dedicated to the preservation of the elusive howler monkey and the protected manatee breeding grounds of the Southern Lagoon located in the heart of Gales Point, the only area of its kind in the entire Caribbean Basin.
Although the Cayo area has long been hailed for its archaeological significance, one of the country’s largest and most visited Mayan sites, the majestic ruins of Altun Ha are located just outside the village of Maskall, a convenient half hour drive from Belize city, thus providing an ideal day excursion venue for cruise ship passengers or guests seeking to catch a half day tour before leaving for the islands or heading back to their country of origin. Most revered as the home of the magnificent Jade Head, the site is dominated by a prevailing atmosphere of regality and tradition that leaves a lasting impression on its visitors.
With a delicate combination of modern infrastructure, cultural vitality, and captivating natural beauty, the Belize District certainly provides a variety of attractions to suit all needs.