Budget Travel: Belize travel tips from a pro

Joshua Berman in Belize

Few travel writers know Belize like Joshua Berman, who’s most recently written for us about its specialty chocolate tours. Berman’s just out with an updated edition of a travel guide to Belize from the travel publishing house with the best reputation for Latin America coverage: Moon.

We recently spoke with Berman about all things Belize.

Q: What has surprised you most in your research on Belize?

A: Two things that have never ceased to amaze me: (1) how much sheer geographical, biological, and ecological diversity there is in an area smaller than the state of Massachusetts, and (2) how so many distinct cultures—more than eight languages spoken!—exist in a population of only 300,000. It’s truly hard to fathom this until you see a group of typical Belizeans chatting on a street corner. You’ll see Creoles, mestizos, Rastas, Chinese, Mennonites—or all of the above—chatting in one easy circle.

Q: So, where’s the best place to hang in a hammock?

A: Out of range of falling coconuts. Seriously, it’s a documented cause of death. Otherwise, I like to hang my hammock on Glover’s Reef Atoll or anywhere along the Macal River in Cayo.

Q: What’s a great nature appreciation experience to have in Belize?

A: I think the Lamanai archaeological site packs the most natural bang for your buck. Not only are there vines, orchids, and fig trees carpeting 1,000-year-old Maya pyramids and more recent colonial sugar mills, the journey to and from the site includes a phenomenal birding trip up and down the New River.

My advice: Always take the night hike, no matter how tired you are from the day’s adventures—I’ve seen more wildlife during guided nighttime nature walks and boat rides than on day trips.

Q: What’s the best way to get off the beaten path in Belize?

A: Easy—buy a bus or plane ticket from Belize City to Punta Gorda (PG). Tourists rarely include southern Belize in their itineraries, even though there are fantastic accommodations there, from homestays to luxe. There are upland villages, ruins, and caves in Toledo—plenty to do to make it worth the trip.

QTell us about the 8th edition of the  Belize guide book for Moon.

A: There is a new list of voluntourism and other less-than-traditional ways to visit Belize. These are alternative travel opportunities which include field research and volunteer programs, and trips specifically for teachers and veterinarians. Travelers can work directly with botanists, archeologists, and marine biologists, or help out with community projects like housing construction and trail building.

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This interview first appeared in Budget Travel in October, 2009.

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