ON entering Belize by car from Mexico, the traveller will immediately notice the difference. The three female immigration officials are relaxed and chatting to each other in English, perhaps about what happened the night before. It is an indication of the casual, unhurried atmosphere. The small Central American country, bordered by Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, is the perfect place to get away from it all. Crossing the border by car is popular but visitors may also fly in from the United States. Belize City, the former capital, faces the Caribbean Sea and is the place to hire boats out to the cayes (pronounced 'keys'), small islands formed by sand and coral fragments. Belize's biggest attraction - the second longest coral reef in the world - rings the little islands. With nearly 300 kilometres of reef it is an ideal spot for divers. There is also Belize's Blue Hole, over which the azure Caribbean waters turn a dark blue as a gaping area opens on the sea floor. Some of the cayes offer accommodation, one of the most popular being Caye Caulker. While not in the five-star bracket, there are other comfortable lodgings. And you will always find friendly people who enjoy telling a tale or two over a glass of rum. It is all part of Belize's laid-back atmosphere.