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There really isn't much reason to take a guided tour of Belize City. The downtown center is extremely compact and lends itself very easily to self-directed exploration. There are only a handful of interesting attractions, and all are within easy walking distance of the central Swing Bridge. Below you'll find reviews of the most interesting attractions, as well as a walking tour of the city.

If you really feel the need for a guided tour of the city, ask at your hotel desk for a recommendation, or call Discovery Expeditions (tel. 223-0748; www.discoverybelize.com) or S & L Travel and Tours (tel. 227-7593; www.sltravelbelize.com). A half-day city tour should cost around BZ$80 to BZ$100 (US$40-US$50/£21-£27) per person, but can easily be combined with a visit to one of the several popular nearby attractions. All the above companies offer a whole range of day trips and combinations to the attractions close to the city and even further afield.

The Top Attractions

Belize City is very light on true attractions. The museums mentioned here are quite quaint and provincial by most international standards, although they are worth a visit if you are spending a day getting to know the city, residents, and local history.

Attractions Outside Belize City

The attractions listed below are within an hour of Belize City; both can be reached by public transportation. In addition, the Mayan ruins of Altun Ha and Lamanai and the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary are all easily accessible from Belize City. All are popularly sold as day tours, often in various mix-and-match combinations. If you're interested in visiting one or more of these attractions as part of an organized tour, ask at your hotel, or call Action Belize (tel. 223-2987; www.actionbelize.com), Discovery Expeditions (tel. 223-0748; www.discoverybelize.com), or S & L Travel and Tours (tel. 227-7593; www.sltravelbelize.com). Prices range from about BZ$100 to BZ$280 (US$50-US$140/£27-£74) per person, depending on the tour, means of transportation, and the attraction(s) visited. Tours, especially those to Altun Ha and Crooked Tree, are often combined with lunch and an optional spa treatment at Maruba Resort Jungle Spa.

Belize Zoo -- Founded in 1983 as part of a last-ditch and improvised effort to keep and care for a host of wild animals that were being used in a documentary film shoot, the Belize Zoo, Western Highway, Mile Marker 29 (tel. 220-8003; www.belizezoo.org), is a national treasure. Gentle paths wind through some 12 hectares (29 acres) of land, where the zoo houses over 125 animals, all native Belizean species. According to their own promotional materials, "The zoo keeps animals which were either orphaned, born at the zoo, rehabilitated animals, or sent to the Belize Zoo as gifts from other zoological institutions."

Walking around the zoo, you'll see several species of Belizean cats, April the tapir, and other wild animals in idealized natural surroundings. The animals here are some of the liveliest and happiest looking that I've ever seen in a zoo. It's obvious that they're well cared for. All the exhibits have informative hand-painted signs accompanying them. It's best to visit early in the morning or close to closing time, when the animals are at their most active and the Belizean sun is at its least oppressive.

The entrance is a couple of hundred yards in from the Western Highway. Any bus traveling between Belize City and Belmopan or San Ignacio will drop you off at the zoo entrance. Admission is BZ$16 (US$8/£4.25) for adults and BZ$8 (US$4/£2.10) for children, and the zoo is open daily from 8am to 5pm.

Adjacent to the zoo is a sister project, the Belize Zoo Jungle Lodge (tel. 220-8003). Set on 34 hectares (84 acres) of untouched savannah, the center has a nature trail, observation platform, classroom, and some simple guest rooms. An overnight stay here costs between BZ$60 and BZ$144 (US$30-US$72/£16-£38) per person, including hotel taxes, breakfast, and dinner. While most of the beds here are in dormitory-style rooms, a couple of private cabins are definitely worth the extra dollars. Folks who stay here can take a nocturnal tour of the zoo for BZ$30 (US$15/£7.95).

Community Baboon Sanctuary -- There aren't really baboons in Belize; this is just the local name for the black howler monkeys who reside in this innovative sanctuary. The sanctuary is a community program run by local landowners in eight villages to preserve the local population of these vociferous primates. The howlers found here are an endangered endemic subspecies found only in Belize. There's a visitor's center (tel. 220-2181) and natural history museum in the village of Bermudian Landing, and it is here that you pay your BZ$10 (US$5/£2.65) admission fee, which includes a short guided hike. If you want a longer guided hike, you should hire one of the many local guides for a modest fee. The preserve stretches for some 32km (20 miles) along the Belize River, and there are several trails that wind through farmland and secondary forest. You will undoubtedly hear the whooping and barking of the howler monkeys as they make their way through the treetops feeding on fruits, flowers, and leaves. In addition to the nearly 1,500 howler monkeys that make their home in the sanctuary, there are also numerous other bird and mammal species to be spotted here. With your guide's help, you should be able to spot the monkeys and, if you're lucky, any combination of peccaries, anteaters, pacas, and coati-mundi. Bring binoculars if you have them.

At the visitor's center, you can also hire a canoe for a leisurely paddle and float on the Belize River. The cost is around BZ$50 (US$25/£13) per person. Finally, the several small villages that comprise the conservation project are wonderful examples of rural Creole villages. Be sure to visit one or two, stroll around, talk to the residents, and see what kind of craftwork and food you can find. In each village, there are families that rent out simple rooms. Ask at the museum and information center, or reserve in advance via their website at www.howlermonkeys.org.

Bermudian Landing village, site of the sanctuary's visitor center, is about 32km (20 miles) west of Belize City. If you are driving, head north on the Northern Highway and watch for the Burrel Boom Road turnoff. Buses to Bermudian Landing leave Belize City several times a day. Call the sanctuary's visitor's center for current schedule and departure point. The one-way fare is BZ$5 (US$2.50/£1.35).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.