Travelers to Belize are often surprised to see how much natural beauty and outdoor adventure this tiny Central American nation offers. From idyllic Caribbean beaches teeming with marine life to sacred Maya sites and adrenaline-pumping rainforest activities, it’s no surprise that tourism is on the rise in Belize. If Belize is on the radar for your upcoming travels, here are six things to know before you go.

English Is the Official Language

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Belize is the only Central American country whose official language is English. This makes Belize even more attractive to travelers who want to explore Central America but are afraid of a potential language barrier. However, don’t be surprised to hear Belizeans speaking two, or maybe even three, languages. Most Belizeans speak Spanish and Kriol (Belizean Creole). You may even hear Garifuna or one of the Mayan dialects depending on where you go in the country.

You Can Use U.S. Dollars Everywhere

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If you don’t want to deal with currency exchange on your holiday, Belize also accepts U.S. dollars everywhere. With a steady exchange rate of two Belize dollars to one U.S. dollar, it eliminates any surprise on how far your money will go no matter when you decide to vacation in Belize.

No Chain Restaurants

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You can explore every district in Belize, but you won’t find a McDonald’s or any other chain restaurants. Belize is unique in that it lacks large, commercialized restaurants commonly seen elsewhere in Central America. What you will find in Belize are many family-owned eateries with some of the best food in the region. Until recently, the country didn’t have any big chain resorts either, outside of a few business hotels in Belize City. Both Hilton and Marriott are changing that statistic, though, with their first branded resorts opening on Ambergris Caye.

Queen Elizabeth II Was Served 'Rat'

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Queen Elizabeth II was served gibnut during a trip to Belize in 1985. Since that historic visit, gibnut has earned the nickname “royal rat.” Gibnuts are large rodents that can weigh up to 25 lbs. They are considered a delicacy in Belize, with some people comparing their flavor to rabbit or ham. You won’t find gibnut served in every restaurant, and it’s only legal to serve it certain times of the year. This means if your vacation coincides with gibnut’s closed season, you won’t have an opportunity to taste this interesting dish.

The Tallest Building in Belize Is a Maya Site

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No matter where you travel in Belize, you’ll see that high-rise buildings are notably absent. While this might change in the future, the tallest building currently is the Caana temple. Located at the remote Maya site of Caracol, Caana stands 141 feet tall.

Belize Is Home to the World’s First Jaguar Preserve

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Located near Dangriga, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is the world’s first jaguar preserve. The preserve’s 150 square miles of tropical forest are also home to hundreds of birds and other wildlife like ocelots, deer, howler monkeys, tapirs, jaguarundi and pumas. There is no guarantee of spotting a jaguar, especially since they are nocturnal. However, it’s still an adventure to explore the nature trails and learn more about Belizean wildlife.