Corralled in by colorful reefs, dotted with Maya ruins, and cloaked in dense jungle that invites exploration, Belize is an irresistible destination. Each year, nearly 850,000 visitors descend on this country whose permanent population is less than 300,000. The coastal region "is in pretty good shape" compared to the rest of the Caribbean" and "has done a good job focusing its tourism toward low volume and higher quality," but it still suffers from environmental degradation, loss of cultural authenticity, and other byproducts of popularity.
Here is a representative sampling of additional anonymous comments from the panelists. They are not necessarily the views of the National Geographic Society:
"Mainland Belize has the feeling of a Caribbean island. It combines the coasts and reefs with pristine rain forest and first class archaeological sites. Good to see the local Garifuna culture preserved. Tourism growth should be regulated. Tour companies that sell Belize packages must demand sustainable practices from the hotels and services they buy."
"If you could remove the impacts of cruise ships, Belize's score would be much higher. The country has done a good job discouraging huge hotel developments."
"Compared to the rest of the Caribbean region, Belize is in pretty good shape. Tourism development is clustered in a few places (Placencia, San Pedro, Cay Cauker). Much of the reef and coast is still beautiful. The country has just embarked on a sustainable tourism master plan."
"Belize reefs have received failing grades over the past five years. A World Heritage site, the reefs are now listed as ‘In Danger.’ Development, mangrove deforestation, ship groundings, unsustainable tourism, water quality decline, climate change, and invasive species are all contributing to their demise."
2014 Traveler Photo Contest
See all the winning images from the 2014 Traveler Photo Contest.