Belize

Belize City

 
 

Belize City is the old capital and the largest town in Belize. Many of the houses are wooden, with galvanized-iron roofs. Most stand on seven-ft-high piles - signs of a bygone age when the city used to experience regular flooding. The city has improved greatly in recent years with the cleaning of the canals. Reclaimed land and a spate of building around the Eyre Street area, the new Museum of Belize, renovation of the Bliss Institute and the House of Culture suggest plans to improve the city are well underway. The introduction of tourist police has had a marked effect on crime levels, and the situation now requires sensible caution rather than paranoia. However, some areas of the city - particularly to the South and West - are neither particularly safe nor pleasant. Just under a quarter of the total population live here. Humidity is high, but the summer heat is offset by the northeast trades.

Hurricane Keith hit Ambergris Caye in October 2000 and Hurricane Iris in 2002, both acting as reminders of the inherent risks of Belize City's lowland location.

Getting around

Belize City is small enough to walk around when exploring. If going further afield, jump in a cab.

Tourist information

Belize Tourist Board, www.travel belize.org provides bus schedule with a map of Belize City, as well as hotel lists.

Safety

Tourist police wearing dark green uniforms patrol the city centre in an attempt to control crime and give advice; their introduction has been encouraging and crime in the city is greatly reduced. Nevertheless, a common-sense approach is needed and a careful watch on your possessions recommended. Watch out for conmen. Guides have to be licensed and should carry a photo ID. Street money changers are not to be trusted. It is wise to avoid small, narrow sidestreets and stick to major thoroughfares, although even on main streets you can be the victim of unprovoked threats and racial abuse. Travel by taxi is advisable, particularly at night and in the rain.

Cars should only be left in guarded car parks. For a tip, the security officer at hotels with secure parking will look after cars for a few days while you go to the cayes.

Sights

Haulover Creek divides the city and is crossed by the antiquated swing-bridge, which opens to let large vessels pass, if required, usually between 1730 and 1800. Three narrow canals further divide the city. The main commercial area is either side of the swing-bridge, with most shops on the south side, many being located on Regent and Albert streets and with offices and embassies generally on the northern side. The area around Battlefield Park (formerly Central Park) is always busy, with the former colonial administration and court buildings bordering the overgrown park adding to the sense of mischief in the area. At the southern end of Regent Street, the Anglican Cathedral (St John's) and Government House nearby are interesting. Both were built in the early 19th century and draw on the romantic and grand memories of colonialism. In the days before the foundation of the Crown Colony, the kings of the Mosquito coast were crowned in the cathedral, which was built with bricks brought from England as ships' ballast.

In Government House, the museum contains some interesting pictures of colonial times, displays of furniture and silver and glassware, as well as a one showing fishing techniques and model boats.

The jail building (1857) in front of the Central Bank on Gabourel Lane has been beautifully renovated and is now the National Museum of Belize with exhibits on the history of Belize City and a permanent exhibit on the Maya sites of Belize.

Continuing to the right on North Front Street, pop into the Image Factory Art Foundation for a peek at exhibitions by local artists - more grassroots than the other galleries. Moving towards the end of the peninsula is the Tourism Village consisting of souvenir and gift shops and snack bars, along with several handicraft shops. This development caters to tourists arriving from cruise ships. A little further on, at the tip of the peninsula, is Memorial Park on Marine Parade with a small obelisk, two cannon and concrete benches peppered with the holes of land crabs. The views across the bay can be spectacular in the early morning. The park by the Fort George Lighthousehas a children's play area and is a popular meeting place. Baron Bliss' tomb is also here. Belize Zoois definitely worth a visit and not far from Belize City.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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