Belize has many of the key ingredients needed for a quality family holiday: it is affordable compared to other Caribbean destinations, and it is safe compared to other Central American destinations. But the best reasons for families to visit Belize are the same as for everybody else: wildlife encounters, action and adventure, and plenty of fun in the sun.
The vast network of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in Belize provides a
safe haven for wildlife that delights animal-lovers of all ages. However,
animals and birds are elusive, and children do not usually have the patience or
endurance to find them -- unless you know exactly where to look.
The Community Baboon Sanctuary (CBS) is a grassroots conservation
operation that occupies about 20 square miles, spread over several Creole
villages in the Belize River Valley. It is all private property, but the
landowners have pledged to preserve the habitat of the endangered black howler
monkey (which Belizeans call “baboons”). The result has been an impressive
increase in the primate's local population, which now roam freely around the
surrounding area. From the CBS visitor centre in Bermudian Landing, local
village guides lead short nature walks that provide an up-close introduction to
a resident troop of black howlers. The monkeys are wild, but they are
accustomed to visitors, and more importantly, the guides know where they hang
out, so kids can see the monkeys howling it up in their natural habitat.
other species of indigenous animals, visit the Belize Zoo. This unique 29-acre facility
provides a home for animals that have been orphaned, injured or rescued from
captivity. Kids get to look at wildlife that
is unlikely to be
spotted elsewhere, including big cats like jaguars and ocelots, as
well as the Belizean national animal, Baird's tapir. The bonus is that the zoo is relatively porous, meaning that alongside the resident wildlife, you will also come across
creatures that have come in from the surrounding jungle, such as agoutis, iguanas,
snakes, squirrels and jungle birds of all sorts.
Action and adventure
Travellers visit Belize to explore mysterious Maya ruins, lush jungle trails
and deep, dark caves. This might not sound exactly like a family vacation, but
actually, nobody loves action and adventure more than kids. Most of the
country's adventure tours and activities can easily accommodate children and
teenagers, though they are generally not appropriate for toddlers and babies.
jungle lodge at the Caves Branch Adventure Company is set on 90 square miles of
adventure wonderland. Visitors can go horse riding, cave tubing, jungle walking
and river kayaking, and guides are specially trained to make sure that the
tours are safe and engaging for travellers of all ages. The on-site accommodations
are also perfect for families: kids love to sleep in the tree house suites or
bathe in the exotic outdoor showers. Best of all, children under nine stay and
play for free.
Sun and sea
Thanks to its 240 miles of coastline, Belize is the perfect place to pursue all
kinds of saltwater activities, many of which will also thrill children. Older
kids and teens might enjoy sailing, windsurfing and kayaking, and children as
young as five or six can go snorkelling and spy on the creatures that inhabit
the coral reef.
An ideal base for a sun and sea holiday is Ak'bol Yoga Retreat and Eco Resort on the north
island of Ambergris Caye. The rustic retreat is about two miles north of San
Pedro, the country's biggest seaside resort town, providing easy access to all
of the aforementioned water sports. Ak'bol is designed with families in mind, with
a swimming pool and play area on the delightful grounds. The Kids' Clubhouse
offers hours of entertainment, including children's yoga classes, nature walks
and other activities specifically for little people. At the end of the day,
families can retire to eco-chic thatch-roof cabanas, with a cosy loft space
providing the perfect place for kids to sleep.
Mara Vorhees is co-author of the Lonely Planet
guide to Belize.
The article 'Family fun in Belize' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.