Facing out to the Caribbean Sea in Central America, Belize is a bridge between ancient Mayan life and Caribbean culture. The country features some spectacular Mayan ruins, remote sub-cultures and the sort of scenery you’d expect while on the banks of the Caribbean Sea,
Belize is teeming with natural beauty. You’ll discover this at the many dive sites, reserves and atolls set along the world’s second largest coral reef. You’ll see it in the mountains which harbor waterfalls, flooded caves and big cats and colorful birds.
Add on colonial architecture and Mayan pyramids, Belize is a feast for the eyes.
Go Diving at the Blue Hole
When seen from above, you’ll be left with no doubt how Blue Hole received its name. The dark blue circle is like a black hole among the effervescent turquoise water interrupted with bright green coral. It’s a scuba divers delight and an experience worth of number on on our list of best things to do in Belize.
The Blue Hole is set along the Belize Barrier Reef, the second longest reef in the world. It’s one of size UNESCO World Heritage sites along the reef and is one of the most celebrated dive sites you’ll come across. It’s believed to have been formed over 10,000 years ago when the roof of a cave collapse opening up a world of tunnels, stalactites and adventures.
Scuba divers will have the opportunity to dive over 400 feet (122m) along the coral wall, admiring the edges of the collapsed cave whose stalactites dangling from the edge. However, if you prefer to snorkel, you can still experience the beauty of Blue Hole from the surface. Snorkelers can swim along the edge of the hole checking out the corals and calcium deposits plus the more varied marine life.
Spot Ancient Mayan Ruins
A trip west of Belize City will bring you to one of the country’s top archaeological sites. Yes, Belize has a whole handful, but if you only have to chance to visit one, we suggest placing the sites within Cayo District at the top.
Begin in the center at San Ignacio where you can explore an endearing small town packed with delicious local cuisine, cheap accommodation and welcoming residents. From there, you can take a brief drive south to Xunantunich which overlooks the scenic Mopan River.
At Xunantunich, you’ll discover an anicent Mayan site that stands above the lush rainforests and mossy rock ridges. The name translates to Maiden of the Rock and is a known ceremonial hub. All up there are over two dozen palaces and temples with further excavation still occurring.
Follow up your visit to Xunantunich with the stunning El Castillo, aka The Castle. At 130 feet (40m) tall, this Mayan ruin is still the second-tallest building in the country. Aside from its sheer height, visitors love that you can head to the top of El Castillo for far-reaching views of the surrounding valley.
Other archaeological sites in the area include Cahal Pech which features an insightful museum. San Ignacio is also a great base to explore caves and the Chaa Creek Nature Reserve.
Explore Ambergris Caye
Belize is a splendid mix of nature, ancient culture and modern tranquility. After a taste of the first two, experience the third with a day on Ambergris Caye. Belize has a collection of 200 cayes and with Ambergris being the largest, it’s the perfect place to kick back, eat good view and admire the beachfront views.
Ambergris Caye is 25 miles (40km) long and while there are some cars and trucks transporting goods, the most common way to get around is on the back of a golf cart or a bicycle. This leans into the island’s relaxed vibe, because who doesn’t include golf cart adventures into their idea of paradise?
The island’s main town, San Pedro, is a mix of colorful restaurants, roadside shacks, local homes with the odd upscale hotel thrown in. The cobblestone streets are a delight to walk down and they add a sense of history to a town that now revolves mostly around tourism.
Although Ambergris Caye is an island, the beaches are thin and you’ll be a few steps from the sparkling water at all times. Secret Beach, is no longer an unknown and has become the best spot to sunbathe on the island. Head north of San Pedro for good times, tropical cocktails and beachfront eats.
Visit Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Aside from lovely island vibes, the main reason travelers make their way to Ambergis Caye is to visit the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.The Hol Chan is right off the coast and is arguably the best of the seven marine reserves along the incredible Belize Barrier Reef.
The translucent waters of Hol Chan Marine Reserve allows you to peer down to the reef from the comfort of your boat. But despite all the colors and fish streaming through, you can’t appreciate the true beauty of the reef without putting on your snorkel gear.
The reserve is split into four sections, the Seagrass Beds, the Mangroves, the Reef and Shark Valley. The last two areas are the most popular as you’ll be able to experience the vibrant colors of the reef and the rich marine life that has boomed thanks to the reserve’s protection.
You’ll want to dedicate as much time as possible to exploring Hol Chan Marine Reserve. You can do just that with a 7-stop snorkel tour. This will guide you to the reef sharks in Shark Valley, to places where you can swim alongside turtles and see the most prismatic corals.
See Jaguars at Cocksomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
Life in Belize may seem all about the sun, sand and sea. But as you’ve seen with the Mayan ruins, there’s so much to discover beyond the coast. With a visit to the Cocksomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, not only will you have the chance to see jaguars in the wild, but also hike up the nation’s tallest mountain.
Cocksomb showcases some of the best nature in Belize. Home to over 00 species, from jaguars and pumas to monkeys and toucans, it’s a rainforest packed with adventures. There are a number of smaller trails including the scenic Waterfall and Ben’s Bluff trails. You can even make your own chocolate at Che’il Chocolate Factory after your visit.
The idea of climbing Belize’s Victoria Peak, the tallest in the country may seem daunting. Trust me, it’s worse. Although only 3,675 feet (1,120m) a trek to the summit can take anywhere from three to five days. This is because the peak is nestled in the remote heart of the sanctuary.
But don’t worry, as you’ll require a guide, you’ll be in good hands as you make some amazing memories trekking through the jungle motivated by the rewarding views at the summit.
Let your Hair Down on Caye Caulker
South of Ambergis Caye is an even more relaxed destination. Caye Caulker is a common choice for budget travelers and backpackers, not just because of the prices but the overall aura of the island. Golf carts and bikes are kings here. They’ll guide you along the sand swept streets to beaches and bars where the tunes roll into the evening.
The funky island has embraced its low-key personality. With major resorts and tourist traps life here is all about an ice-cold beer on the sand watching the waves roll in. Accommodation here suits those on a lower budget, but the rustic nature of the experience goes hand in hand with the Caye Caulker’s M.O.
Split is the most popular beach to chill out on as you nurse a pack of Belikin beer. However, with turtle grass running up the beach, don;t come with the idea of having lots of sand the spread out on.
If you’re up for some more adventure then you won’t have to go far to scratch the itch. Right off shore is the barrier reef while you can also kayak through the local mangroves or put on your hiking boots and venture into the Caye Caulker Mini Reserve.
Sunbathe Along the Placencia Peninsula
Speaking of days at the beach, the 16-mile (26km) Placencia Peninsula boasts some of Belize’s best beaches. The turquoise waters and barrier reef are always inviting but some of the caye’s beaches leave a little to be desired. If you want some wide open beaches and endless golden sand, then you must head here.
Resorts are never late to the party, so beach lovers will find an abundance of oceanfront accommodation to make use of while in town. These will leave you just steps from the white sand that runs all the way to the emerald Caribbean Sea.
There are three main beaches along the Placencia Peninsula. It begins with Placencia Beach at the southern end. This is complemented by the village where you’ll find cute guesthouses, local eats and boutique shops. There is also an uninhabited nearby isle, for a unique beach day. If you’re traveling to Placencia in June, be sure to experience the mouthwatering Lobsterfest.
Afterwards, head north to Seine Bight and eventually Maya Beach. Both features vast swaths of wispy golden sand, postcard-worthy views and exotic scenes beneath the surface.
Day Trip Over to Laughing Bird Caye National Park
When traveling along the Placencia Peninsula allocate some time to visit the stunning Laughing Bid Caye National Park. Because of it’s national park status, you won’t see any private boats anchor off the island and everything is dedicated to the preservation of the island’s beauty. 45 minutes from the coast, the park is only available for day tours, ensuring its remarkable tranquility remains, well, remarkable.
Just like the peninsula, you’ll find sparkling white sand with the baby blue sea on one side and rows of coastal shrubs and towering palms on the other. It’s a mere speck of land that is enveloped by the Caribbean Sea in all directions.
Due to the caye only being 1.4 acres big, it’ll take a few minutes to see it all, yet you will be in no rush to leave the powdery sand or take off the snorkel goggles after exploring this section of the Belize Barrier Reef.
There are no shops, so bring all you need from drinks to snacks but be sure to pack it all out. Tours will usually include gear and lunch.
Hike Through Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve
Yep, it gets hot in Belize. The humidity and endless sunshine can get the best of even the most fervent beachgoer. So to switch things up, trade the humidity for some more temperate experiences and bid adieu to the pesky mosquitoes. A visit to the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve will take you from sea level up into the hills where the additional elevation mitigates the humidity, cools you off and presents you with marvelous views.
There are a handful of trails to check out and with free entrance to the park, the adventure won’t be a hit on your budget. Some of the most popular hikes include the Five Sisters Falls. This is a combination of five cascading waterfalls that combine into a single refreshing pool. But if you really want to swim, trek to Rio On Pools, where you’ll find natural granite baths to put your feet up.
The hike, however, that best encapsulates with the forest reserve is all about is the Rio Frio Cave and Nature Trail. It boasts one of Belize’s most accessible caves, and two enormous 65-foot (20m) rock entrances. Each entrance is connected by a vast tunnel that’s a quarter mile (400m) long ensuring you won’t have to carry a torch.
See the Submerged Crocodile at Lamanai
On the banks of the New River Lagoon, Lamanai is a stunning Mayan site that spans almost a thousand acres. The word Lamanai means the submerged crocodile in Yucatec Mayan which forms the base of what makes this archaeological site so different from the rest.
For over 3,000 years Lamanai was occupied making it the longest-inhabited Mayan city not just in Belize but the world. Lamanai is now encased in dense jungle and the lagoon, making exploring it as fun as it is insightful. It all begins with a 60-minute ride up the river where you’ll have potential encounters with crocodiles.
On arrival, you’ll find temples and structures among the jungle. Then comes the discover of ample artifacts and petroglyphs depicting crocodiles along with iguanas who were spotted regularly basking in the sunlight on the edge of the New River.
Because of the drawings, Lamanai feels more firsthand than some of the other sites. You’ll also find pottery and ancient figurines providing a greater picture of what life was like here up until the 16th century when Spanish churches reveal the arrival of a new community.
Swim Around the Turneffe Islands Atoll
There’s a long list of amazing swimming destinations in Belize. The beauty is that each spot has something different to offer, whether that be a great blue hole, or untouched reefs. The Turneffe Islands Atoll is no different as it places you inside a lagoon that is also home to over 200 coral islands.
Turneffe Islands Atoll is one of three along the Belize Barrier Reef. They are all magical in their own right, but Turneffe comes with on-site accommodation plus easy access from Caulker, Ambergis and even Belize City. Thankfully, the access doesn’t take away from the stunning scenery and the life beneath the surface will quickly capture your attention.
The hundreds of atolls create a variety of marine landscapes and you’ll be able to swim through creeks, crystalline flats and more. Plus with the crystal clear water you’re visibility is exceptional. The numerous underwater worlds also provides a home to greater number of marine species and corals including turtles, rays, reef sharks and dolphins.
To stay on the atoll, book a room at Turneffe Flats.
Head to Belize City
The beauty of Belize is that you can easily spend your whole trip outside of major cities. Whether that’s sleeping besides the Turneffe islands Atoll or along the Placencia Peninsula. But if you’re willing to put paradise on hold for a day, then Belize City harbors a fascinating history, colorful colonial-era buildings and some attractions of its own.
Although no longer the capital, Belize City remains the nations biggest and is home to the main airport and port that sees cruise ships arrive in great numbers. But just blocks behind the port, you’ll find quaint narrow streets that tell tales for pre-tourism Belize. The Victorian-era buildings and cobblestone alleys bring you to hole-in-the-wall restaurants and local shops.
In Belize City, you’ll also find the Belize Zoo home to almost 50 native species, including howler monkeys, jaguars, and toucans. Most of which have been rescued and are undergoing rehabilitation.
Other sites include the Old Belize Cultural and Historical Centre, the Museum of Belize and the historic Belize Swing Bridge that connects the north and south districts.
Go Cave Tubing
Caves aren’t in short supply around Belize. You will visit quite a few without even trying as you explore the country’s nature reserves and national parks. But did you know that you can go tubing in some of these vast caves?
Some caves feature rivers that connect the underground labyrinth of caverns and grottos. With the added benefit of leaving behind the Belizean heat, you can explore without even taking a single step.
Well, I lied. Most cave tubing adventures will begin with a short hike through the rainforest while carrying everything you need. But once the rig is set up, you’ll jump in and i promise, you won’t have to walk again. Well, until you hike out.
In your group each tube will be tied together so you don’t accidentally take a left instead of a right. As you’ll be connected to your guide, you’ll be able to learn all about the cave’s significance as each had a role of ancient Mayan life.
On this cave tubing adventure, you’ll visit Altun Ha, before tubing through a nearby cave before finishing with a thrilling zipline ride through the jungle canopy.
Sample the Local Cuisine
As you lounge on the beach or explore the towns and cities you’ll have ample opportunities to experience Belizean food. But what exactly should you try?
Belizean cuisine is similar to a lot of countries based around the Caribbean Sea, you’ll find a lot of rice and bean-based meals with your choice of meat. However, they’ll be served with the delightfully spicy recado, a sauce made from a native herb.
Other meal options include Pibil Tacos that feature pork mixed with oranges and recado before being roasted in a hand-dug BBQ pit, tamales and the always delicious seafood dish, ceviche.
For snacks, you’ll be able to load up on delicious conch fritters but for something pure Belizean then try a fry jack. These are delicious golden pockets of tortilla dough filled with jam and honey (sweet) or beans and cheese (savory) and you must do what the locals do and add some Marie Sharp’s sauce.
Pay a Visit to Altun Ha
You may visit Altun Ha as a part of your cave tubing experience, but the ancient Mayan site is worthy of its own trip. The historic site functioned as a vital trading post for centuries and features 13 well-preserved temples spread around a duo of beautiful plazas.
Just a brief drive from Belize City, Altun Ha means Water of the Rock in Yucatec Mayan. Of the 13 temples the highlight is the Temple of Masonry Altars. This is the largest of the sites pyramids and dates back to the 7th century. Visitors are able to climb to the top of the pyramid for memorable panoramic views of Altun Ha and beyond.
Many amazing discoveries have occurred at Altun Ha. Just like Lamanai and its submerged crocodile art, these discoveries help set Altun Ha out from the rest. These include a crypt from the Mayan priest-king that was found in the Temple of the Green Tomb along with a gilded mask believed to be the Mayan Sun God. This was found at Jade head and is the biggest of its kind in Belize.
Spend a Day in Hopkins
You’ll find Hopkins in Southern Belize and it’s the perfect complement to the big city and the exotic cayes. Hopkins has grown from its days as a small fishing village yet its endearing charm is as strong as ever.
Visitors will discover a laid back Caribbeans vibe mostly found on the far off islands. Hopkins is also a hot spot for eco-tourism while showcasing some of the wonderful Garifuna culture. The town began with the Garinagu people who fled Honduras and their culture is distinct from the rest of Belize.
By day you can explore the southern section of the Belize Barrier Reef. A visit to South Water Caye Marine Reserve comes with amazing snorkeling and scuba diving. Back on land, jump on a bike and explore the beautiful village.
At night you can experience Garifuna drumming and dancing which adds a vibrant atmosphere to the coastal town. Plus you must try some local delicacies such as Hudut, a fish coconut stew and Herba, a biscuit made from cassava root.
Ride a Chicken Bus
The best travel tales often stem from taking chances and trying experiences you never would think to do back home. Buses are rarely anyone’s first choice for transportation, but when exploring Belize you must (at least once) place your bum on the seat of the very uncomfortable chicken bus.
The chicken bus is a regular sight all around Central America and are a common way for locals to get from A to B. So rather than fork out for a more relaxing tourist bus, experience life like a resident and jump on this colorful ramshackle vehicle.
After jumping on board, you may discover how the buses received their name. This is because locals have a tendency to carry livestock with them, most commonly chickens. So as you’re venturing from one destination to another you may make friends with a clucking hen while enjoying the sights and sounds of Belize.
Speaking of experiencing Belize like a local, you can really depart from the tourist path with a visit to the nation’s southernmost district. Toledo has even been given the nickname, the Forgotten Land by residents and its remote location ensures you’ll be one of just a few (if any) travelers in the area.
Time in Toledo will help you experience a side of Belize that hasn’t been touched by tourism. The region is authentic, and with few tourist infrastructures it can be logistically difficult. But all efforts are rewarded with towns like Punta Gorda with features a simple way of life far removed from glamorous beachfront resorts.
As you explore you’ll find families tending to their crop and locals washing clothes in the river and communal gatherings around the central marketplace. Beyond the towns are paradisiacal forests with wild rivers and tumbling waterfalls. Then there’s Snake Cayes for kayaking, swimming and lazing on the sand with civilization in the rear view mirror.
Check Out the Museum of Belize
Life in Belize is lived outside. The array of sun, balmy weather and stunning nature ensures this. However, the Museum of Belize is one such indoor attraction that’s worth the trip away from the caves, beaches and atolls.
The Museum of Belize preserves the stories of the nation from the early Mayan societies, to colonization and modern history. The museum opened in 2002 and replaced what was once a local prison.
Visitors will go on a journey through the centuries with carefully curated exhibits tying together all you’ve come to know about Mayan culture in Belize. Displaus include ancient pottery, and artifacts excavated from various archaeological sites.
Later, you’ll discover historic coins, jades and old postcards guiding you through the 18th and 19th centuries plus a large exhibits on Belize’s logging industries. Finish off with a visit to the museum’s restored prison cell to learn more about the prominent brick building.
See the Largest Archaeological Site in Belize
To finish off our guide to the best things to do in Belize, is the country’s largest archaeological site. Yep, we really do like to go out with a bang. Set on the pristine Vaca Plateau, the Caracol Natural Monument Reservation features a vast Mayan city set within the larger Chiquibul National Park.
The impressive structures found around Caracol tell the story of an ancient city that was once bigger than modern day Belize City and was home to double the amount of people. The Caracol were great warriors who were known for the military victories, something you can explore on an altar stone that’s been carved with historic events.
Despite this imposing might, Caracol has long been abandoned. Today, animals like howler monkeys rule the roost providing the monument with a wild aura. Beyond the site, you can also explore some of the largest limestone caves in Central America.