Operation Yucatan: A Stop in Belize City

Our gateway into Belize was Belize City, the country’s main port and major city. Situated where Haulover Creek runs into the Caribbean Sea, the British established a colony, known as British Honduras. In 1981, it declared independence from the British, and nowadays it is known as the only English-speaking country in Central America. All the others have Spanish as their official language.

Belize City was the country’s capital until 1961, when Hurricane Hattie drove through town and killed hundreds. As a result, the capital was moved inland to the custom-made city of Belmopan. Nowadays Belize City is more known for its street crime. But today, as our tender arrived in town, I was ready to check the city out.

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Belize City, where you can see the water change from brown to blue as Haulover Creek feeds into the Caribbean Sea. The yellow and green streak in the background is the Swing Bridge, a known landmark in the city. 

Things were strange as soon as the boat docked. We stepped onto a riverside pier, and were hounded with cruise line photographers. There was one guy dressed up like a parrot for photo ops, and the photographer beckoned for us to take pictures of the “red chicken.” It only got weirder as we stepped into port. You know how in every cruise port there’s that one area with cliche attractions and tacky stores… well, Belize City takes it to the next level. Hawkers aggressively run up to you and give you a sales pitch on their guided tours, even more relentlessly than other ports. I felt that the people here really didn’t care about sharing Belizean culture. You only need to look in the souvenir shops, which sold models of Chichen Itza… a Mayan ruin in MEXICO. They also had shirts prominently featuring Aztec warriors, which was nonsensical because the Aztecs never extended into modern Belize. They were just peddling Mesoamerican merch, almost leeching off of their neighbor rather than expressing their own vivid Mayan heritage. At least try to portray an accurate version of your country’s history, souvenir vendors of Belize City!

I did enjoy walking east, at the outskirts of the tourist zone, to see the Belize rainbow sign that is featured in the country’s tourism initiatives. You can climb and pose on it, with a bright blue background of the Caribbean Sea.

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In an attempt to visit an art gallery for an extra credit project, I convinced my family to venture west into the main city and out of the tourist area. We then discovered that the port section for tourists is cordoned off from the rest of the city, as if they don’t want you to go out and view the town. We soon learned why.

Belize City is a shady place. Rundown British colonial buildings and billboards decorated a desolate urban shantytown. And it was empty! No locals walked on the streets, except for a few lounging on the sidewalks. We walked to where this gallery supposedly was, and we were led into the back of a store. I thought this was where we would get mugged and our bodies hidden. But thankfully we made it out.

Belize City is not a great cruise port, in my opinion. The locals appear to have made attempts to veil the place, and fence off a fancy version of itself in an attempt to mask the city’s image. Belize is a beautiful country, but there is so much more to the country than its largest city. If you come to Belize, I recommend flying into Belize City and breezing through en route to the jungles and islands. And if I took another cruise, I would instead opt for a shore excursion with the cruise line.

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