A Greenprint for Responsible Tourism
Belize might be one of the few Caribbean countries that manage to get it right.
By Leslie Garrett
The scenery is breathtaking – lush jungle, Crayola-colored birds, Alice-in-Wonderland flora. A tiny country tucked into the middle of Central America, Belize has a population of only 300,000, world-class diving, white-sand beaches and cerulean seas. There is virtually no industry, save for tourism; trees enough, it would seem, to filter even the filthiest air; and a rich cultural mosaic. In short, it’s an eco-traveler’s paradise found.
Few, however, seem to have found it.
The former British Honduras is a mostly English-speaking country, often overlooked by vacationers focused as they often are on the Caribbean’s usual suspects. But tucked away between the sea to the east, Mexico to the north, and Guatemala to the west and south is a country that hasn’t let the siren call of tourist dollars lure it far from its natural state. While the country is surrounded by cautionary tales where unchecked tourism has trampled nature and culture, Belize, if it continues to hold firm to its sustainable tourism principles, still has the chance to get it right.
Costas Christ, Global Travel Editor of National Geographic Travel magazine and owner of a cottage in Belize, is optimistic, pointing out that Belize has historically treasured what nature has blessed it with – indeed 36 percent of its land and water is protected for conservation and tourism. Marine reserves are carefully monitored and require a fee and check-in. Similarly, the country is working hard to protect its rainforests and the vast array of endangered or threatened species that make Belize home.
“[Belize] recognizes that its competitive edge is its cultural and natural heritage…and has in the past 12 months, put into place a sustainable tourism development. That’s a pretty bold step you won’t see in many countries around the world.”
There’s little evidence to visitors that any part of Belize is under threat. The jungles are lush and verdant, alive with macaws, toucans, parrots and howler monkeys. The water is teeming with fish, turtles and sea mammals.
“In many respects,” says Christ, [Belize] stands as a model… It’s not a secret, but a lot of people haven’t yet discovered it.”