Belize it or not? Finding paradise and doing some wicked diving

Many travellers claim to have heard of Belize, a few can even place it on a map. Getting there is another matter altogether. If you are already in Central America it’s not too much of a burden to cross over a border or two but flying in direct is an expensive business. I have a few tips on getting in and out, great places to see on the Northern Cayes and some spectacular scuba diving and snorkelling spots.

Belize, formerly British Honduras, is a wonderful mix of cultures that will delight and amaze you as you pass through the countryside. In this article I am going to stick to two of the main islands, that is Ambergris Caye with its main village/town of San Pedro and the laid back Caye Caulker a few miles further south (in this region Caye is pronounced “key”).

tinas hostel

Quite a few backpackers find themselves in Mexico and a whole bunch of them end up searching for and finding the paradise beaches of the Yucatan; Isla Mujeres, Playa del Carmen and Tulum. After a while and a good look at the map it appears that Belize, an English speaking country and an anomaly in these parts, lies just to the south and sparks some vague recognition in their minds, thoughts of Mayan temples, white sand beaches, a truly Caribbean feel and unspoilt reefs bubble to the surface.
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Mexico – Isla Mujeres where are all the tourists

It’s been less than a year since my last trip to Mexico, back in January the crowds were thronging the beaches and the bars were resonating with the raucous screams of tourists fuelled with cheap tequila. Souvenir shops were doing a brisk trade and the fake Cuban cigar sellers were in great spirits, it took me over an hour just to get through immigration and another forty-five minutes to reclaim my bags. What a palaver!

Fast forward to November this year and the picture is very different, I managed to walk from the plane and pass through immigration without a beat. The luggage hall was deserted and the customs check was a breeze. Traffic in Cancun seemed about normal and the transfer to the ferry for Isla Mujeres took the usual amount of time.

welcome to paradise

Arriving at the port it was noticeable that the quayside bars, where a welcoming drink would be …well, welcome, were closed. I trundled my bags through the side streets of Isla Mujeres passing shop owners and waiters bidding me “welcome to the island” and “please enjoy your stay” a far cry from the usual hustle and the smiles were genuine. It reminded me of Jordan, where the irrepressible good nature of the locals makes you feel at ease. Mexico, or at least this part of the Yucatan, is still hurting from the Swine Flu and whether it is more or less risky here may seem irrelevant to some tourists, they have already made their choice.
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