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For all of Belize’s cultural diversity—the country’s melting pot heritage is equal parts Mayan, Creole, Mestizo, Spanish, Lebanese, Chinese, British, Indian, and Mennonite—its tourism scene is surprisingly one-note.

Nearly three-quarters of its 1.4 million annual visitors arrive by cruise ship, docking for just enough time to see the Altun Ha Mayan ruins, ride some zip lines, or go tubing through its famed Crystal Cave. And while a small clutch of luxury hotels exists—led by the pioneering, culinary-focused Copal Tree Lodge and the Coppola family’s private island retreat, Turtle Inn—Belize has suffered from a backpacker reputation that undermines its true Caribbean charms.

That’s changing. “When I started coming here 15 years ago…

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