The Mystery of the Great Blue Hole

It is one of Belize’s most popular dive sites, and an awesome natural wonder that continues to fascinate. First brought to the world’s attention in the 1970’s by Jacques Cousteau, the Great Blue Hole is one of the deepest marine sinkholes on the planet, and attracts adventurous divers and all kinds of tourists who come to swim, snorkel the surrounding reef and dive deep into its depths in search of underwater adventure, and the thrill of the unknown. At over four hundred feet deep, only the most skilled divers plumb the depths, while newbies are better off shallow diving or snorkeling. Its deep, pitch blue-black center seems unfathomable from the surface, and once the light of day becomes distant, it may prove dangerously disorienting to neophytes.

The Great Blue Hole has also become central to a new theory to explain the disappearance of the Mayan civilization. By studying the sediment in the surrounding lagoons as well as the stalactites found deep in the hole itself, scientists have determined that a massive drought occurred over the course of a century, probably between 800 and 900 AD. The presence of the stalactites themselves suggest that much of the hole was dry land at that time, filling in as global water levels rose. As we learn more about how such a drought can affect a population, it is proving to be a valid theory in explaining the Mayan demise.

Prior to the last ice age, most of the hole was certainly dry; a maze of limestone caves and caverns leading to who knows where, leading some to consider the mysterious side of things, perhaps even seeing this geological phenomena as the gateway to another world. The Mayans themselves told stories of a legendary place named Xibalba, an underworld ruled by the Mayan death gods and their minions. Xibalba in the Mayan tongue means ‘gateway to death’, in sense, and translates loosely as ‘place of fear’. Since Xibalba was believed to be in the vicinity of Coban, Guatemala, it is certainly close enough.

Some suggest that the Mayan people returned to their ancestral homes through this gateway, never to be seen or heard from again. Other legends include stories of adventure seekers who claim there is treasure to be had deep in the caves, far below where most can go. Everything from Nazi gold to ancient artifacts are rumored to be hidden there, and ancient astronaut theorists espouse that this is where Atlantis may have been, the blasting off of an ill-fated starship having created the almost perfectly round hole in the first place.

Though there are plenty of rock-solid geological facts to explain the formation and existence of the Great Blue Hole, maybe it’s just a little bit more romantic to imagine that there is more to it. Whatever you choose to believe, the Great Blue Hole is must-see, must-do ocean adventure for anybody living in or visiting Belize. Whether you ascribe to the scientific, the fantastical, the pirate lore or the ancient legend, it’s always a great escape for the day. Located at Lighthouse Reef, it’s about a two and a half hour boat ride from Ambergris Caye, and there are plenty of experienced dive outfitters ready to take you there. 

Why Choose Ambergris Caye as Your Belize Destination

Why Choose Ambergris Caye as Your Belize Destination

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There are lots of beautiful cities to choose from when planning your Belize vacation. There are coastal cities on the mainland that are populated with friendly people and offering plenty of activities. There are other islands to choose from, too. While you might not choose to stay on Ambergris Caye (though, with the beautiful resorts to choose from—why wouldn’t you?), you should at least make an effort to come and visit. Here are just a few of the many things that make Ambergris Caye special:

Proximity to the Reef

If you are planning on seeing the reef while you are in Belize, there is no better place to stay or stopover than Ambergris Caye. It is only a short boat ride from the island to the reef, giving you more time to actually explore the waters around the reef and get to know the wildlife. Whether you are snorkeling or scuba diving, staying on Ambergris Caye or using it as your home base ensures that you have plenty of time to explore the reef.

Other Great Snorkeling and Scuba Diving Places

Besides the barrier reef, there are plenty of other places around Ambergris Caye that make for exciting snorkeling or scuba diving. While a local can probably point you to the very best spots, the shallow waters around the area simple couldn’t be better for snorkeling.

Close to Belize City

Belize City is where most people will first arrive in Belize. Belize City itself is also home to lots of great attractions that you will not have to miss out on if you are staying in a resort on Ambergris Caye. Whether you want to see the museums, do a little shopping, or just get to know some native Belizeans, Belize City is a great place to do it, but Ambergris Caye is still the best place to stay.

Close to Ruins

When you visit Belize, you should not leave before seeing some of the amazing Mayan ruins that call this country home. Some of the best preserved and most beautiful ruins in the world are located in Belize and while there are no ruins on the caye, there are ruins back on shore that are easy to access from wherever on the island you stay.

What You’ll See at Xunantunich

What You’ll See at Xunantunich

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Xunantunich is one of the more popular Mayan ruins in Belize. It is close to some of the most popular places to stay, which makes it heavily trafficked by tourists. That doesn’t mean, however, that the ruins are going to be overrun. Like most places in Belize, even on busy days, you’ll have plenty of alone time and quiet when you visit these ruins. Home to El Castillo, one of the most famous ruins in Mayan history, this site is of both archeological and historical significance. Here’s what you can expect when you visit this area:

A Hand Crank Ferry Ride

In order to get to the site, you will probably have to cross a river. There is a hand-cranked ferry that will transport you across the water. This is the first adventure that you will get to experience. It does not take very long, but it is a unique experience, especially for those that have never ferried before.

A Leisurely Hike

Many people will avoid visiting ruins because they hear that to actually be able to see them, you have to hike. It’s true, Xunantunich like most ruins, requires a little bit of a hike. Unlike some other ruins, however, you won’t spend an hour hiking up and an hour hiking out. Instead, you’ll have a short walk up to the ruins, past the visitor center, where you can collect some information about the ruins if you want or need to.

A Dense Forest

Xunantunich is surrounding by a dense jungle. As you follow the path, you’ll start to see the remnants of the site rise up out of the forest. It is almost nestled in the trees. From the top of the temple, you can look out and see plenty of green, a sight which is unlike any other in the world.

Steps and Climbing

There are some steps that you will have to climb in order to get up to the top of El Castillo—but you knew that already. Mayans are famous for their stepped temples. The climb is definitely worth the view and the ruins that you’ll get to explore once you’ve reached the top. Be sure to check out the carvings on the sides of El Castillo that have been carefully preserved with plaster.

What You Need to Know about Belize’s Healthcare System as a Traveler

What You Need to Know about Belize’s Healthcare System as a Traveler

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You’re on vacation—you don’t want to think about what happens if you get sick or have an accident. Sickness and accidents, however, are always a possibility. If either of these things happens while you’re in Belize, you’ll want to know how the healthcare system works so you can get the treatment you need.

When most people think about Belize, they might not think of it as one of the most medically advanced countries in the world. And it’s true, the medical care is better in some parts of Belize than in others. Here what you need to know about getting healthcare in Belize as a visitor to this country:

How the Healthcare System Works

Belize has essentially two tiers of healthcare. The first is government-run and is very inexpensive. It is readily available and will often be more than enough for scrapes, bumps, and minor stomach bugs. This system usually has a foothold even in Belize’s smaller cities and villages, so no matter where you are, you are probably not far from medical attention, should you need it.

The second tier is privately-owned hospitals and clinics. These hospitals and clinics offer much more advanced care and the facilities are usually nicer than the public clinics and hospitals. They are, also, more expensive. If you have a more serious issue, however, paying a little bit more to go to one of the privately-owned hospitals that offers the kind of care you need is probably a good idea. The last thing you want to do is let an issue fester until you return to your home country.

The Good and the Bad

One of the best things about Belize’s healthcare system is the cost. Coming from a country like America or from a region like Europe, most travelers are surprised at how inexpensive tests and treatments are. If you’re worried about a parasite, you will probably pay less than $20 to be tested for that parasite and your treatment will cost even less from one of Belize’s readily available pharmacies.

More serious issues, however, might even be out of the reach of the privately-owned facilities. Most medical facilities in Belize simply do not have the resources to handle all issues that might arise, so be careful and if you do need serious medical attention, be cautious about which facility you choose.