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Old Belize cultural and historical center
Old Belize cultural and historical center
The number one tropical destination of the new millennium, so designated by those in the travel industry for whom monitoring such statistics which in turn determines whether or not they will continue to eat, all are apparently in total agreement this time around. These self proclaimed experts all seem to agree that the location of choice for travelers these days is unanimously the country of Belize.

That's why the major tour operators, travel agents and cruise line managers are more and more looking away from the resort and souvenir stand littered towns of Cancun, Playa Del Carmen and Cozumel. Their attention today seems focused towards the idyllic paradise of Belize.

With that kind of emphasis being placed upon the natural as well as the man made resources of Belize, tourist support facilities from the hotels in Placencia to the Belize Maya site at Lamanai to the barrier reef are under constant pressure. Today the resources for which Belize has become renown are now faced with the ever increasing task of insuring that once the visitors arrive, they must be entertained enough to return someday. And besides being captivated, they must also be depended upon to return home to recommend to their close friends and loved ones that Belize is indeed a world class and safe destination.

Satisfying the demand of the occasional as well as the seasoned travel in a world where the Internet and the Discovery Channel allow us all to virtually visit a place in greater detail is complicated. The travel industry is now faced with complex challenges more than they have been at any other time in the history of humankind. Long before a traveler contemplates booking the air flight, they are inundated with what might be perceived as just way too many options.

Garifuna house in the Old Belize cultural and historical center  
Traditional Garifuna house with authentic household items in the Old Belize Cultural and Historical Center

With this in mind, is therefore happy to report that the Old Belize Cultural and Historical Center appears as a bright spot on an often cloudy horizon as it pertains to attractions and the future of the travel industry in Belize. Optimism prevails and so what follows is our account of an up close and personal visit to Old Belize.

Our well planned tour to the latest addition to the long list of attractions one will discover in Belize began in front of The Great House Inn located just blocks away from downtown Belize City. Hailing a taxicab curbside, we paid twenty Belize dollars for the fifteen-minute drive out to the Old Belize museum.

Once we were there, we notified the ticket seller of our intention of writing an article as well as our desire to meet with Mr. Francis Woods following our tour. To say the least, we were immediately taken back by the friendliness and professionalism we were greeted with by our tour guide who met our party of three within the shadows of the ticket office located at the front of the building that houses the museum.

As my seven months pregnant wife, our four and a half year old son and I listened intently, our guide explained that Old Belize was a concept of the Woods family. She went on to say that it was their desire to give back to the people of Belize as well as those newcomers to their homeland of choice a sense of their appreciation as to what the country had given to them.

Belize City street in the Old Belize cultural and historical center
Belize City street front with wagons from a lost era in the Old Belize Museum.
Upon entering the doors to Old Belize, I must honestly admit that being a writer and world traveler to over eighty some odd countries worldwide, I was reluctant and hesitant and somewhat skeptical as to just what lay in wait. However, as the entrance doors closed behind my family and our guide, I realized that Old Belize was indeed something special.

As we proceeded, we found ourselves in the heart of a tropical rainforest complete with a flowing waterfall, lush vegetation, towering trees and numerous butterflies. Having lived deep in the jungle down in the Toledo District for the last year, my young son remarked how much he felt at home. My wife, who has, how can I put it, not a real affinity for the reptiles that we have encountered day in and day out, swell she immediately wondered out loud, "are there any snakes?"

Politely and with complete assurance our guide promised my wife that although the Woods family and the Old Belize support staff had tried their best to capture exactly what it feels like to be in the bush, fortunately for us all, the wildlife was left simply to our imagination.

Rainforest in the Old Belize cultural and historical center   Old rubber production machines in the Old Belize cultural and historical center
A Rainforest with massive trees and countless butterflies like the Blue Morpheus and machines reminding of the rubber productions and logging industry that marked Belize's history, can be seen at the Old Belize cultural and historical center.

From the rainforest we moved into the realms of a Belize Maya village, complete with a thatch roofed house with hammocks strung. Now I must say that my family and I currently live within walking distance of a true Maya village. We also have no less than five thatched roof dwellings on the property we now call our home. So I was really amazed at how the Old Belize curators present the life of the Belize Maya. You really get a true feeling as to how the Belize Maya have lived their lives for countless centuries, how they maintain and prosper within the confines of an often hostile natural environ.

Now to say that the rainforest and the Belize Maya village reenactment at the Old Belize museum were truly spectacular would be accurate. But it would be an understatement to say that the Garifuna village display was less than magnificent. For this writer can attest to the fact that unless you have time to make your way down to Dangriga or Barranco, the Old Belize Garifuna settlement presents arguably the original Belizean in such a way that any visitor will depart in complete awe of how the museum has captured the culture. They even have traditional drums hanging stoop side to the wood frame house, just the way you would encounter the Garifuna households in Hopkins Village or Seine Bight.

Francis Woods, curator of the Old Belize cultural and historical center
Francis Woods, Curator of the Old Belize cultural and historical center
Before you depart the cultural and historical musem that is exemplified by Old Belize, each time-traveler is introduced to the logging industry and its often downplayed importance within the context of the history of Belize. Although many might argue that the logging industry's influence represent a devastating and environmentally reckless period both past and present for Belize, its importance can not be unstated. The logging industry has allowed the country of Belize to prosper while many of its neighbors have been embroiled in turmoil. The industry today balances the welfare of the Belizean people, the economy of the nation, while being a regional and international leader in preservation and conservation of the natural environment.The last part of the tour of Old Belize allowed my family and me to stroll down aimlessly through a street of Belize City the way countless travelers have done over the ages. There are trunks and rum barrels from a time gone by, as well as a colonial style street front with wagons from a lost era parked along the way. Remarkably there was even a bicycle from a long lost delivery service operated by a one M. Espat that no doubt brings together ever so coherently, the past to the present.

Being not only a travel writer but also a graduated Cultural Anthropologist, I must say that a visit to the Old Belize Cultural and Historical Center is well worth the money and time. For it represents the essence of not only what a modern day tourist attraction must achieve in order to entertain, it also goes the distance in educating us all as to what Belize offers, past, present, with an insight into the future of the country by the Caribe Sea.

And so in such times as we find ourselves living these days when the importance of understanding our person as well as our neighbors cannot be underestimated, a time when history has become easily distorted by sound bites and cheap travel logs, this cultural explorer is confident that Old Belize provides a simple and uncomplicated glimpse of a time gone by.


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