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Blighted by crime, poverty, and drugs for years, Belize City is nobody’s idea of an ideal tourist stop. In fact, it’s nobody’s idea of Belize; travelers and Belizeans alike will agree that the nation’s sole metropolis has little to do with the majestic beauty, natural wonders, and relaxed lifestyle that characterize the rest of the country. Most tourists pass through the city without a look back, taking advantage of its status as the country’s main transit hub, but avoiding the crowded and claustrophobic streets themselves. The view from a taxi window isn’t exactly a coastal getaway: canals filled with trash and sewage, seaside ghettos with dilapidated shacks, beggars sprawled on the hot, dusty streets, and aggressive hustlers looking to sell drugs or women.
Once upon a time, Belize City was a much quieter colonial capital. Settled in the 1700s, the city was reportedly founded on a pile of mahogany chips and rum bottles discarded by British lumberjacks. Soon it developed into the center of colonial rule in British Honduras, with a white ruling class mingling with a growing population of Creoles. In 1961, Hurricane Hattie virtually destroyed the city, killing hundreds. Belize’s capital was forced to move to Belmopan. Since then, development in Belize City has stagnated, and drugs and crime are on the rise.
Caribbean paradise this isn’t, but cautious travelers willing to brave an uncertain environment can escape the crowds in this decidedly untouristed area of the country. The city is the best place to see Belize’s remarkable multiculturalism in action, with Creoles, Mestizos, Garinagu, East and South Asians, and the occasional Mennonite selling their wares. Their languages, foods, and music come together to create a unique city. Despite its problems, Belize City remains the country’s commercial center. With its many teeming shops and tourist agencies, this city is also the best place to find quick supplies and prepare for further inland or aquatic adventures.
Haulover Creek, emptying into the Caribbean Sea, neatly divides Belize City in two. To the south is the rough Southside district (between Collet and Southside Canals). Also to the south of the creek are the more affluent residential neighborhoods of Fort George, Newtown Barracks, and Kings Park. The Swing Bridge, spanning Haulover Creek, connect the two halves. Albert Street, the city’s main road lined with banks, shops, and restaurants, extends south of the bridge. Two blocks south of the bridge on Albert St. is Battlefield Park, the city’s center. Next to the Swing Bridge on the north side is the water taxi terminal. To the right along the seafront is Tourist Village, a shopping section closed off from the street and set aside for cruise-ship passengers. The main bus station, surrounded by fruit sellers and other vendors, is located on Collet Canal to the west of the Southside district. Twenty minutes north of the creek, a small cluster of restaurants, hotels, and clubs sits next to the Newtown Barracks Green, just north of the Princess Hotel & Casino.
Escape the crowds in this decidedly untouristed area of the country. The city is the best place to see Belize’s remarkable multiculturalism in action, with Creoles, Mestizos, Garinagu, East and South Asians, and the occasional Mennonite selling their wares. Their languages, foods, and music come together and create a unique city.
No matter where you choose to visit in Belize City, you can’t go wrong. Here are our recommendations in case you can’t decide. Click the links to explore and book tours or local guides.
Belizean food is as varied as its population, and Belize City is the best place to sample the whole shebang. Downtown, near Albert St., is a carnival of cuisines. Taco stands brush shoulders with Creole restaurants and fruit hawkers, old Mayan recipes are preserved in tiny food stalls, and sizable immigrant populations offer Chinese and Indian food. Seek out the cowfoot soup (trust us, it’s better than it sounds). Try the food stands that pop up on Albert St. near the Swing Bridge at night. It’s the best opportunity to enjoy Belizean hot dogs and spicy chicken burgers, tacos, and beans-rice-chicken mixtures on the cheap.
There’s no shortage of nightlife opportunities in the city, but travelers are warned to take extreme care when traveling around at night. Always take a taxi, even for short distances. Travel in groups, preferably of three or more. If you do go out, we suggest the area north of the Swing Bridge. And if you don’t want to take the risk, don’t worry; countless nocturnal adventures await you in the rest of Belize, most of them far safer than what’s offered in this city. Plus, Belize City offers numerous other forums for entertainment, such as dancing, performances, and casinos.