The beauty of Belize: This Central American country may be small – but it’s packed with


Dressed in camouflage and armed with a machete, Narcisio looks every bit a guerrilla. But this is tranquil Belize and Narcisio is a farmer. He uses his machete to chop down the fruits before opening them with a stick to avoid damaging the delicate seeds.

‘Theobromine,’ he says. ‘Food of the gods and packed with 40 times more antioxidants than blueberries.’

He is talking about cacao. We are sitting in a jungle where his trees nestle beneath the canopy and Montezuma oropendola birds flit about, for a bean-to-chocolate experience. ‘Did you know the Mayans were drinking chocolate in 1,800 BC,’ Narcisio asks.

Later, I go to the Maya Centre, where their descendants still grind cacao nibs by hand on stone rollers. They make the most delicious (80 per cent) chocolate I have ever tasted.

Belize is a compact, politically stable country of an impressive cultural richness and biodiversity. Most places are accessible by car and road signs warn of numerous exotic animals crossing, such as tapirs, jaguars, reptiles and armadillos.

Teresa Levonian Cole travels to Belize in Central America. Above, Tobacco Caye, an island off the country's coast

Teresa Levonian Cole travels to Belize in Central America. Above, Tobacco Caye, an island off the country’s coast  

Its popularity as a holiday destination is on the rise – helped by the fact that the former British Honduras still has English as its official language.

A 2022 visit by the then Duke and Duchess of Cambridge often crops up in conversation. ‘That is where Kate sat,’ says Narcisio, pointing to the tree stump I now occupy. ‘She said she had no idea where chocolate came from!’

Following in the royal footsteps, my next stop is the village of Hopkins, where I have lunch at The Lodge at Jaguar Reef resort. I enjoy delicious lobster and conch ceviche at its Big Dock Bar, as a manatee plays in the Caribbean waters below.

Above, locals put on a traditional Garifuna performance in the village of Hopkins

Above, locals put on a traditional Garifuna performance in the village of Hopkins

Teresa checks into Ka’ana Resort, in San Ignacio, where elusive toucans can be spotted (file image)

Teresa checks into Ka’ana Resort, in San Ignacio, where elusive toucans can be spotted (file image)

But it is the Garifuna people who bring me to this spot. Their ancestors were shipwrecked in 1635 when a Spanish slave ship broke up off St Vincent. A century later the Garifuna with their distinctive Afro-Caribbean culture arrived here.

I feared the Garifuna Experience would be contrived, but am welcomed for a music and dance performance – the highlight is a lesson from Grammy nominated Warren Martinez, on traditional instruments. The women, meanwhile, teach guests to cook traditional hudut – coconut fish stew – over a wood fire.

My driver Dirk recalls how William and Kate were dragged up to dance by villagers as we travel to my hotel, Itz’ana in Placencia. My vast beach loft overlooks powdery sand, yards from the ocean.

A highlight of Teresa's trip is picnicking on 'deserted' Laughing Bird Caye

A highlight of Teresa’s trip is picnicking on ‘deserted’ Laughing Bird Caye 

Teresa visits the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich, which are home to the second highest structure in Belize

Teresa visits the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich, which are home to the second highest structure in Belize 

Placencia, once a hippy hangout, is now the in place for Hollywood’s finest – largely thanks to film director Francis Ford Coppola, who opened his 25-villa, Balinese-style Turtle Inn here in 2001.

Today, smart hotels line the peninsula, whose main town remains a charming hotchpotch of Caribbean-style colourful houses, wood carvers and beach bars.

I go snorkelling with huge loggerhead turtles amid schools of nurse sharks. But best of all is a picnic on deserted Laughing Bird Caye.

No visit to Central America is complete without visiting a Mayan ruin. So we drive inland to Ka’ana Resort, in San Ignacio, set in lush tropical gardens (where elusive toucans can be spotted).

I join a horse-trekking expedition to Xunantunich, its ancient pyramid the second-highest structure in Belize. The site is deserted, but for a family of Mennonite farmers dressed in 17th-century Dutch style, like extras from the movie Witness. They are a large community in Belize, they tell me, and are showing visiting U.S. relatives the sights.

This country is full of surprises and, with islands such as Tobacco Caye and South Water Caye still to explore, I’ve barely scratched the surface in a week. Reason enough, to return (I hope).



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