In an effort to transcend and heal from its long colonial history, the nation of Belize, after gaining full independence from Great Britain in 1981, decided to transform the enormous prison in downtown Belize City into a museum.
Now known as the Museum of Belize, the building in which it is housed was first constructed in 1857. Two stories in height and once containing more than 100 dank, dark cells, the prison was used by the colonial-era British government to enforce its dominance over the colony. Today, however, the building now proudly houses exhibits on Belize’s long history, including the contributions made by the Maya (both ancient and modern), the Garifuna, the Creole, and other peoples of color.
Visiting the Museum of Belize is both a visual reminder of the country’s long colonial past as well as a celebration of its modern status as a peaceful, democratic, and equitable society for all. The Museum of Belize has photographs spanning more than 100 years as well as artifacts, including beautifully carved jade items (including the famous “Jade Head,” the largest carved piece of jade ever found in the world), ornate stelae, and fine pottery made by the ancient Maya culture that once numbered more than 1,000,000 people in Belize.
The Museum of Belize also operates a number of special exhibits, including displays on the insects, flora, and fauna indigenous to the country. And a couple of the original prisoner cells have been left as is in order to give visitors a glimpse into what life was like for prisoners who lived under a regime of “hard bread, hard labor, and a hard bed.” At least 18 prisoners were executed on the grounds during the colonial era, including one woman.
The Museum of Belize is open from Monday through Thursday from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM and on Fridays from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM. Admission is $10 BZD ($5 US) for non-residents and $5 BZD for residents. The Museum of Belize also occasionally operates workshops and classes on Saturdays, which are free for residents to attend.
If you’re interested in visiting the Belize Museum, be sure to stay at the Belize Boutique Resort and Spa. Located just a few miles from the Belize international airport, the resort offers travelers just 16 elegantly appointed rooms and suites in a luxury, 1,000-acre jungle enclave. The resort also organizes tours for all of the top activities in the country, including visiting ancient Maya sites, outdoor adventures on the mainland, and snorkeling and scuba diving on the nearby Belize Barrier Reef.