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Introducing Belize City

Belize City does not exactly top the list of tourist destinations in Belize. In fact, many visitors choose to bypass the country's only major urban area. This may be because the country's main attractions are natural and nautical, rendering superfluous a prolonged visit to its only metropolis. An additional explanation is that the city has a bad reputation for poverty and crime.

Even those who admire its raffish charms and cultural vibrancy (and, to be fair, there's plenty of this) admit that – unlike the rest of the country – the city is not particularly relaxed. This said, the government has gone to greater lengths in recent years to make visitors feel safer in the city, including increasing the number of armed police and specially uniformed tourist police in areas frequented by travelers.

Belize City is the historical (if no longer the actual) capital of the nation, making it an interesting place to spend a day or two. Its ramshackle streets are alive with colorful characters who represent every facet of Belize's ethnic make up, especially the Creoles. The urban scenery encompasses not just fetid canals and grungy slums, but also handsome colonial houses, seaside parks, bustling shopping areas and sailboats that bob at the mouth of Haulover Creek. You might find Belize City menacing, but you certainly won't find it dull.

Haulover Creek separates the downtown commercial area (focused on Albert St) from the more genteel Fort George district to the northeast. Hotels, guesthouses and places to eat are found on both sides of the creek, with the majority of the city's high-end hotels being in Fort George. The northern end of the city has been undergoing much needed road construction, so as the saying goes 'expect delays'. The Swing Bridge, which crosses Haulover Creek to link Albert St with Queen St, is the hub of the city, and – some say – the heart of Belize itself.