Belmopan: Belize’s Capital – the Top 10 Places of Interest
There’s a pretty funny story behind the name of Belmopan, the capital of Belize: Belmopan derives from the name Belize and the local river Mopan. Clever, right? Belize and its capital have a lot to offer historically, and there’s no lack of outdoor activities. Below, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the city, as well as the top 10 places to visit. Have fun!
Belmopan in a Nutshell
Belmopan became the capital only in 1970 – you are probably wondering why it took so long. Until the 70s, Belize City was the capital of this Central American country. After Hurricane Hattie destroyed large parts of Belize City in 1961, the government realized that the forces of nature constantly threatened its then seat of government. So, they decided to look for a new and safer capital – the one we know today. Belmopan was originally designed for 40,000 people, but because the population didn’t grow as expected, it’s currently home to only about 27,000 people.
Belmopan is located in the middle of the country in the Cayo District. It is 80 kilometers further inland than its predecessor, which lies directly on the coast of the Gulf of Honduras.
Belize has a subtropical climate, which means that the dry and rainy seasons alternate. The dry season lasts from November to May, and the temperatures can rise up to 37 °C. However, the average temperature is 26 °C. For this reason, the winter months are the best times to travel. You can enjoy the Central American sun without getting drenched by a downpour since the rainy season doesn’t start until July.
You don’t need much to get around in Belmopan – your own two feet are more than enough. The city center measures only one square kilometer! However, for activities in the surrounding area, we recommend traveling by car. This way, you can move around freely and explore on your own. The so-called “chicken buses” are cheaper, but they only run along the country’s three major highways, so you only get from one big city to the next. If you’re looking for something to eat in Belize, you’ll quickly realize that the local cuisine is subject to many different influences. This is most evident in the tacos and burritos that are found just about anywhere.
Not only has Mexico left its culinary footprints, but so has African culture. You’re sure to stumble across stewed chicken with rice and beans. But the most famous breakfast food is probably the so-called Fry Jacks, deep-fried dumplings with all kinds of fillings such as eggs, bacon, mushrooms, and much more. The large selection of fresh and local fruits and vegetables is also worth highlighting.
The Top 10 Places of Interest in Belmopan
Since Belmopan is rather small, it unfortunately has relatively few sights to offer, but don’t worry. Instead of skyscrapers and shopping malls, a diverse natural landscape and great wildlife await you just beyond the city limits. From national parks to ancient Mayan ruins and blue lagoons, there are plenty of things to do. But the city itself is also home to a few places that are worth visiting. Here we go!
Belize Archive Department
Want to learn more about the city and its history? Then visit the Belize Archive Department. The building houses photographs, books, and historical newspapers, as well as a collection of Belmopan’s old documents. Some of them are up to 200 years old! If you come across something you want to take a closer look at, you can do so in one of the reading rooms. There are also computers available for public use.
Food Stalls in Belmopan
Feeling hungry after doing so much historical research? In that case, check out the food stalls at the market square, where you’re sure to find an inexpensive local snack. Try the traditional omelets and Fry Jacks for breakfast. Maybe pick up something fresh for the road from the small fruit and vegetable stands. The sightseeing tour can then continue with a full bag and stomach!
Guanacaste National Park
This national park was named after the native species of tree called Guanacaste. It’s one of the largest tress in Central America, but due to its strange growth it can’t be used by the timber industry. How fortunate! Besides this interesting tree, you can discover beautiful hiking trails as well as explore the country’s diverse wildlife. Although the national park in the north of the city is one of the smallest in the country, it’s home to up to 100 different bird species – if that doesn’t speak for Belize’s diversity!
Between Belmopan and Belize City: Belize Zoo
Belize Zoo is located halfway between Belmopan and Belize City on the country’s coast. It measures approximately 12 hectares, making it the largest in the country. Here, you’ll find 125 different native animal species, which you can see during a tour over footbridges and nature trails. The animals weren’t taken from their natural habitat, but donated by various aid organizations. This way, the zoo stays true to its purpose as declared in 1983: to provide a refuge for animals originally captured for documentary films.
Tropical Education Center
The Tropical Education Center is part of the Belize Zoo. However, due to its importance to tourists and locals, we feel it deserves its own spot in this top 10 list. After the zoo opened, it became clear how important it was to bring people closer to Belize’s wildlife – primarily for educational purposes and to increase appreciation of the unique animal diversity. Through tours and lectures, you’ll have the opportunity to learn more about the local fauna. Have fun!
Actun Tunichil Muknal
The name may be difficult to pronounce, but these caves in western Belize are definitely worth visiting. The limestone cavern, which is about five kilometers deep, houses archeological finds from the Mayan era. In addition to the 14 skeletons, consisting of seven adults and seven children, you’ll also find about 400 different ceramic pots. Between 300 and 900 BC, the caves probably served primarily as a site for ceremonies honoring the rain god Chac. During these ceremonies, the Mayans asked for rain to water their crops by making offerings, including human ones. Actun Tunichil Muknal has been open to the public since 1998.
Nohoch Che’en Caves Branch Archeological Reserve
Yes, the list continues with another tongue twister of a name. The Nohoch Che’en limestone caves are archeological reserves located in the east of the capital. In this cave network, you can go hiking, kayaking or cave-tubing. During the latter activity, you float on an inflated rubber ring on the crystal-clear Caves Branch River, which meanders through the cave system. Sounds like fun, right?
St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park
This national park is located 19 kilometers southeast of Belmopan and, in addition to its rugged limestone terrain – boasting a height of 180 meters – is also home to a water-filled sinkhole, called the Blue Hole. The hole, which is 100 meters wide and up to 30 meters deep, is connected to the Sibun River. Let yourself be enchanted by the sapphire water and swim in it to cool down. If that’s not enough natural beauty for you, you can hike through the rainforest on a trail to St. Herman’s Cave. Here you’ll find archeological discoveries from Mayan times, such as ceramic pots, spears, and torches.
San Ignacio is located just before the Belize-Guatemala border. Because this town is an intersection for tourists passing through from one country to another, and also the starting point for many cave tours into the jungle, you will meet a lot of people here. One Mayan ruin that you can see without taking a tour is Cahal Pech. Although it’s a comparatively small Mayan site, you’ll have it all to yourself. However, if you want to go further, we recommend a guided tour to Barton Creek Cave, a hidden gem among the locals.
1000 Foot Falls
The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve is home to valuable native pine trees, as well as what appears to be Central America’s highest waterfall. The nearly 480-meter-high waterfall can be spotted from afar, and the mighty rumbling of water resounds through the surrounding reserve. You can either admire it from a distance on the viewing platform, or set out on a hiking trail to marvel at the gorgeous falls up close. You’ll also have the chance to see fascinating wildlife and listen to the chirping of the birds.
From Mayan archaeological monuments, massive and tall waterfall and rich wildlife to historical collections and the city of Belmopan, Belize is a tropical traveler’s dream. Although the capital itself is relatively modest, the natural and diverse surroundings are all the more impressive – so let yourself be enraptured by the charm of Central America. We hope you enjoy your trip!