8 Things You Can’t Miss On Your Trip To Belize
Enjoy the best of both worlds in Belize with world-class diving offshore and mainland treasures such as untamed jungles and mystical Mayan ruins. Venture out by boat to explore the Western Hemisphere’s largest reef, or head inland for jungle hikes and bird-watching tours. Amongst Central America vacation choices, Belize defines paradise!
Hit Ambergris Caye for Diving & Watersports
Grab your mask and fins to get the most out of Ambergris Caye, ground zero for excursions to the magnificent Belize Barrier Reef. The largest of Belize’s sun-splashed islands, Ambergris runs parallel to the reef, making it the jumping off point for divers of every level.
The 300-kilometre (185-mile) reef, the second largest in the world, teems with a kaleidoscope of colourful tropical fish, sponges, and crustaceans. Octopuses, nurse sharks, spotted eagle rays, and sea turtles commonly glide through the beautiful coral gardens.
Be sure to explore the wondrous Hol Chan Marine Reserve and dive its natural cut, 1-9 metres (3-30 feet) deep, through the reef. Watch as harmless nurse sharks and graceful southern stingrays ply the crystalline waters of the cut, aptly named Shark Ray Alley.
Ambergris also offers many sailing, fishing, kayaking, and windsurfing activities. When it’s time to dry off, enjoy San Pedro, the island’s only town, and its delicious assortment of waterfront restaurants and tiki bars.
Just 56 kilometres (35 miles) from Belize City, Ambergris can be reached by boat or plane. This laid-back island has almost no cars, so traveling by foot, bicycle or even golf cart is the way to go.
Behold the Amazing Great Blue Hole
Dive into the world’s largest natural formation of its kind, the incredible Great Blue Hole. Visible even from space, the near-perfect circle of shimmering, sapphire-blue water reaches a depth of about 124 metres (407 feet) with a width of over 300 metres (984 feet).
Truly a sight to behold, the Great Blue Hole thrives with marine biodiversity and contains stalactites formed more than 153,000 years ago. Your underwater panorama includes multi-coloured tropical fish, several species of reef sharks, giant groupers, and dazzling corals.
The living array changes as you slowly descend through the different habitats of this world-class dive destination. You’ll quickly see why the Discovery Channel ranked the Great Blue Hole number one on its list of “The 10 Most Amazing Places on Earth.”
The underwater cavern lies near the centre of Lighthouse Reef, which offers more than 50 kilometres (80 miles) of extraordinary diving in crystal clear waters within the Belize Barrier Reef. In addition to dive trips, you can appreciate the immense beauty of the Great Blue Hole with an aerial flyover.
Find Island Joy & Mainland Fun at Placencia
A long and slender mainland peninsula, Placencia thinks it’s an island. You’ll notice its split personality as soon as you discover its two delightfully distinct waterfronts.
A pristine lagoon fringed with mangroves shimmers on the west side, whilst the turquoise Caribbean Sea sparkles on the east coast of this 26-kilometre (16-mile) peninsula. The combination gives you endless options for adventure and relaxation.
Hop a boat out to the Belize Barrier Reef, explore mangroves and deserted islands (cayes) by kayak, spot birds and wildlife on the Monkey River or at Cockscomb Nature Sanctuary, or go sport fishing for tarpon, permit, yellowfin tuna, or king mackerel.
Want to see a manatee? The Placencia Lagoon serves as a habitat for the gentle, slow-moving mammal and as a major breeding area for sea turtles. Playful dolphins, graceful manta rays, saltwater crocodiles, and a varied population of birds also thrive in lagoon habitats.
Then again, you could just stretch out with your favourite drink on the silky sands of the most spectacular beaches on the Belize mainland. At the peninsula’s southern tip lies rustic Placencia Village, where you can meander amongst dive shops, restaurants, and bars, and mix with an assortment of expatriates and Creole locals.
Give your taste buds a thrill ride with Placencia Village’s distinctive Creole cuisine, such as escabeche, a Belizean soup made with exotic spices, fresh chicken, and lime. Just wait until you sink your teeth into fresh-caught lobster, hogfish, or shrimp, spiced with a medley of intense flavours and a drop or two of high-octane habanero sauce.
Caves, Forests, & Falls Beckon in The Cayo District
Head west to explore untamed forests, wild rivers and waterfalls, and mysterious caves and ruins of the Cayo District. You’ll find no beaches here, but rather verdant, unspoiled wilderness and all its treasures.
At Belize’s oldest and largest national park, Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, you can scope out sprawling caves, glimpse tropical birds darting through treetops, and swim in cool, clear rivers. Your must-see spots include the alluring Rio Frio Cave and the refreshing Rio On Pools.
At Chiquibul National Park, you may encounter endangered (and often elusive) animals like jaguars, Baird’s tapirs, red-eyed tree frogs, and Morelet’s crocodiles.
Chiquibul also surrounds the largest Maya centre in Belize, Caracol, which contains five plazas, an observatory and the Caana pyramid, rising 43 metres (140 feet) above the jungle floor. For more Maya intrigue, visit riverfront Xunantunich, where the amazing El Castillo temple soars 40 metres (130 feet) over the landscape.
Although Belmopan, the country’s capital, is in Cayo, spend some time in San Ignacio, the real hub of the district. Stroll its rustic, colonial-era streets, and check out its eclectic mix of restaurants, shops, and a lively weekly market.
Travel on foot or horse, or by kayak, raft or canoe, as you marvel at Belize’s wild side.
Find Birding Bliss and Natural Wonders in Orange Walk
Prepare for everything from jungle adventures to leisurely bird watching in the Orange Walk District of northwestern Belize. Home to steamy jungle rivers, virgin wilderness and exotic wildlife, Orange Walk overflows with the sights and sounds of nature.
The 400-plus species of birds recorded in the district make it a birder’s paradise.
Visit the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary to view an amazing variety of avian species, from the commonly seen northern jacana to the elusive sungrebe and adorable yellow-headed parrot.
Nestled within the Rio Bravo expanse, the Gallon Jug Estate occupies 12,140 hectares (30,000 acres) of sheer wilderness. Guests at the estate’s Chan Chich Lodge, a luxury eco-hotel, commonly see toucans among hundreds of bird species, as well as deer, and spider and howler monkeys. A few guests have even spotted jaguars, pumas, and ocelots roaming in the forest.
For another jungle diversion, take a jungle cruise down the New River, an ancient Maya waterway, to witness a living showcase of wildlife and natural scenery. Keep an eye out for crocodiles and iguanas soaking up sun on the riverbanks.
Roam the streets of Orange Walk Town, the district capital, and snack on a delicious, overstuffed taco from street vendors. Also try salbutes — fried corncakes topped with tomatoes, chicken, and cabbage or lettuce. Wash it down with fresh watermelon juice or an ice-cold Belikin beer. The town’s nickname of Sugar City reflects area’s robust sugar cane industry.
Enjoy a River Cruise to the Lamanai Ruins
Surround yourself in ancient mystique and jungle intrigue at Lamanai, the longest-occupied city of the Maya world. Jump-start your imagination even before you arrive by taking a rustic cruise down a tree-shrouded river to reach Lamanai and its many structures.
Meaning “submerged crocodile” in a Maya language, Lamanai abounds with carvings depicting the toothy reptile. And no wonder, as the 388-hectare (960-acre) complex overlooks the untamed New River Lagoon.
Containing more than 700 mapped structures, Lamanai features three ancient temples. Climb the steep High Temple (33 metres / 108 feet) and be rewarded with a panoramic view of Belize and Guatemala. In the Mask Temple, you’ll see artifacts from Maya, Aztec, and Olmec rulers.
Lamanai’s lengthy occupation (roughly 1500 B.C. to 1700 A.D.) means you can see Maya construction techniques spanning from the Classic to Post Classic periods. As you stroll the water’s edge, keep an eye out for crocodiles sunning themselves onshore or silently prowling the river for food.
Discover Blue Creek Cave’s Mineral Pools
Hike the foothills of the Maya Mountains to reach forest-covered Blue Creek Cave, perched atop a limestone formation in southern Belize. Carved by nature over the millennia, the cave contains crystal-clear, mineral pools along with remnants of ancient Maya ceremonies.
Reaching the cave takes a roughly 20-minute hike from Blue Creek Village through lush jungle and upstream along the banks of the blue-green river. The last 91 metres (100 yards) of the journey — the most challenging — involve climbing over roots and rocks.
Near the cave, the river breaks into gentle falls and beautiful pools, fed by pristine water gurgling up from deep inside the cave. Take a swim within the shadowy formation itself or in the pools and gentle falls that descend from the cave’s gaping mouth.
Depending on time of year, you can ease into the water and swim upstream to the cave or hike all the way to its entrance. Either way, you’ll marvel at the mysterious world within.
Visit Punta Gorda for Culture, Caves, & Chocolate
Delight in the dense jungles, serpentine caves, rich culture, sweet treats, and water sports near Punta Gorda, the southernmost town in Belize.
At the inviting Rio Blanco waterfall, you may be tempted to take the exhilarating, 6-metre (20-foot) leap — but beware, the climb up is a lot trickier than the plunge down. For an Indiana Jones-style adventure, go caving at Actun Yok’ Balum, where a 6-metre (20-foot) crawl leads you into an eerie chamber featuring impressive stalactites and stalagmites. For bird and wildlife sightings, hike the Mayflower Bocawina National Park, a natural playground featuring over 2,800 hectares (7,000 acres) of untamed jungle and pristine rivers.
Go for a refreshing swim in the crystal-clear waters of the Columbia River, where rapids and pools create beautiful and safe swimming spots to relax in this tropical jungle escape.
The Maya left their footprint here, as you can see at the ruins of Lubaantun and Nim Li Punit. And their legacy thrives in several indigenous communities where you can see ancient customs in a 21st century backdrop.
In San Pedro Columbia, a Kek’chi farmer walks you through the steps that transform cacao into delicious, Maya Gold organic chocolate. (Samples included!) Try your hand at roasting and grinding the beans to make your own “kukuh,” rich, Maya-style cocoa.
Along the tranquil streets of Punta Gorda, you’ll encounter fishermen hauling in their catches, farmers selling cassava and plantains, and Maya women showing off their handicrafts. The town’s modest waterfront serves as your gateway to offshore fun.
Cruise 64 kilometres (40 miles) out to the beautiful Sapodilla Cayes, 14 luscious islands within the Belize Barrier Reef. Choose from diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and sport fishing. You’re almost guaranteed to see whale sharks (seasonal), manta rays, dolphins, and sea turtles amongst legions of tropical fish.
*Images per destination provided by Belize Tourism Board.