One of our main objectives while we were in Belize was to visit the Caracol ruins. The Caracol ruins is the largest archeological site in Belize. It has been know for few decades now, but it is still an active dig site. New things are being discovered there all the time. The site itself is pretty remote so I rented an SUV to get out there. The road however was a lot longer than I estimated it to be, not to mention it was very rugged, so I sadly had to turn back. As soon as I got back I booked a trip with a professional outfitting group and again was excited to go, but the morning I was scheduled to go I read this:
Well, that ended that idea. We thought hard on things to do and ultimately decided to go to Belize City. When we told the outfitting group that we were going to Belize City they kind of laughed at us. They said there was nothing interesting in Belize City. They said that tourists only land in Belize City and that they leave because it is boring. We went to Belize City despite the warnings, and found many things to do.
Maybe, history is not the image Belize wants to convey to tourists. Or perhaps Belize wants to keep their rich heritage all to themselves, but we found A LOT of things to do in Belize City. So many things in fact that it is going to take several blog posts I think to cover it all.
This blog post however is going to cover the Museum of Belize. Which was actually the last thing we did in Belize, but if I was just arriving in Belize I would probably make this my first thing to do because it gives a really good overview of almost everything Belize has to offer.
The Museum of Belize is housed in the old prison house which is on the same grounds of the Central Bank of Museum. The museum is in walking distance of the Tourist Village, but definitely outside of the normal area you would probably see a tourist. Whereas most touristy things to do are to the left of the big cruise terminal, the Museum of Belize is the right of the terminal.
As stated before the Museum of Belize used to be the national prison. As such the walls to the museum are really thick and the gate to get into the museum is a heavy metal gate. Luckily, there was staff by the door or we would not have figured out how to get into the museum. Inside the museum it is divided into many different sections. It was a brief visit for us but we did at least walk through each section.
The first section we went to was dedicated to the money and transportation of Belize. Belize today is an interesting country in that there are only 4 paved highways crossing the country. In days past many different ways were tried to deliver goods and people throughout the country.
The currency of Belize as probably as equally as interesting. Belize is a independent commonwealth of the British Empire. However, when the country first was settled the only money they had were Spanish coins and not that many. In order to facilitate trade with the small amount of currency they had they would take the Spanish Reales (silver coins) and cut them in 8 pieces which they called bits. Two bits were equal to about 25 pence and now you know why the song says “a shave and a haircut, two bits.”
Money today in Belize is printed at the Central Bank and on the front shows Queen Elizabeth II who is the sovereign Queen of Belize, but on the back the money shows historical scenes of Belize. Changing money is easy for Americans because the money is tied to the U.S. dollar at a two for one rate.
The second part of museum is the Mayan section. This is by far the crown jewel of all of Belize. I saw a lot of pottery at the various archeological sites, some stellas, and only tiny pieces of jade. Until, I went to the Mayan exhibit at the Museum of Belize. I found out that the Central Bank of Belize is the holder of all the Mayan jade discovered in Belize. I also discovered that they have a lot of it! After seeing that much jade I was beginning to thing that maybe the warnings not to go to Belize were some kind of passive aggressive way of protecting their jade. Jade to the Mayans was more precious than gold. It was the ultimate treasure and only royalty was allowed to keep it.
The third part of the museum was the historical room of Belize. It described Belize’s very twisted history. Belize was originally declared part of the Spanish empire by the Spanish, but after failing to discover any gold they quickly left. English pirates started to settle the area in the late 16th century. Fearing a new English empire the Spanish formed an armada to wipe out what they described as a “infestation of pirates.” The Spanish lost and a colony was born. A land of constant turmoil their have been many events in Belizean history. The museum doesn’t have many artifacts but it does a good job of describing the main players and events through some interesting posters.
The last section was the bug room. There is no way to get around it, Belize has a lot of bugs. There are literally thousands of different species of bugs in Belize. Of all shapes and sizes we saw several cases of different bugs and butterflies. AJ got kind of excited because they had magnifying glasses and he got to use them to examine the many different bugs on display.
Overall, the museum was a blast. We also had fun in the museum gift shop getting rid of the last of our Belizean currency. We bought lots of chocolate and a Belizean cook book. I don’t know how soon we will get back, but I figure if I need to I can at least cook up a little bit to remember my adventures.