The small country of Belize belies a hugely diverse place to explore that is just as interesting away from the coast as it is when you are exploring the stunning Caribbean coast of this Central American nation. Its history as a British colony means that it is the only country in Central America where English is commonly spoken, with Creole and Spanish also being spoken by many of the nation’s residents. The country lies between Mexico to the north and Guatemala to the south, and is a narrow country at less than 70 miles between the coast and the western border, but the very best things to do in Belize make this a country that should be on your travel agenda.
The Main Attractions in Belize
Probably the biggest factor that will draw people to Belize is the coast and the range of water sports that can be enjoyed by those people who are visiting the country. There are some fantastic scuba diving and snorkeling sites that can be seen around the coastline, and while the Blue Hole is probably the most famous of these, there is also has an extensive Belize barrier reef which also allows people to see some of the fantastic marine animals that live in this tropical place. There are also some fantastic islands and beaches to visit along the coast, to give you some time to unwind after some of the Belize activities you’ll be doing.
It isn’t just the coast that offers people a taste of adventure, as the inland areas of Belize have also looked to identify and develop adventurous pursuits that will allow people to enjoy a thrill or two. There are several zip-lining courses that have been opened that allow you to fly through the jungle, while there are also underground caves which you can explore by kayak or where you can go cave tubing. There are also networks of caves where you can go spelunking, with tight tunnels opening out into spectacular underground chambers that are remarkable to behold.
The Mayan history of Belize will also be of great interest to history buffs, as the great Central American empire is believed to have been dominant here for up to 2,500 years, until the arrival of the European explorers which decimated the Mayan people. There are several temples and Mayan pyramids to explore, which give only an idea of how influential this culture would have been in its heyday. These Mayan ruins are often found in the series of National Parks and wilder inland territories, and provide a great opportunity to combine eco-tourism and the historical sites of the country.
Belize City And District
While the district may be named after the biggest city in the country, this area also covers several islands off the coast of Belize, and some of the territory around the city as well.
Is Belize safe? It is hard to ignore the reputation that Belize City itself has developed as somewhere that is dangerous for visitors and tourists, and the challenge for visitors is that the country’s main airport is naturally close to the capital. As of 2019 there are still warnings about exploring Belize City issued by UK and US governments due to the potential for gang crime and violence, although most experts agree that the rest of the country is as safe as any other Central American country.
You shouldn’t spend much time in the capital city. There are plenty of things to see in Belize, but most of them aren’t in the capital city. However, the Belize Zoo is a showcase of the country’s native animals and is worth a visit and might be the only Belize tourist attraction in the city. It began as a small backyard zoo in 1983, and today, the zoo covers 29 acres and contains 170 animals from 45 species and is worth seeing.
One of the Belize points of interest that is a must-see is the Great Blue Hole It lays a few hours trip from the coast of Belize, it is one of the most unique and popular scuba diving destinations in the world and if you can get above it provides the most iconic photo in the entire country.
It was formed thousands of years ago when sea levels were much lower, and was effectively a karst formation that filled with water at a later date, and unlike much of the coast there is very little marine life here. However, taking a scuba diving trip to this site, which is over 100 meters deep, reveals some spectacular cliff formation in the eerie dark blue water that is otherworldly to explore.
Ambergris Caye and Hol Chan
Hol Chan Marine Reserve is another great diving spot and it is located about 4 miles southeast of Ambergris Caye. Hol Chan is often referred to as ray alley, since you are highly likely to get to see shark rays in their natural environment.
Elsewhere in this part of Belize there are some spectacular islands to visit and explore, with Ambergris Caye being a particularly popular destination, with some lovely beaches and a vibrant nightlife as long as you follow the tipping rules in Belize. Caye Caulker is another island that is popular as prices are more competitive, while still offering a nice place to visit and explore. Most Belize itineraries are going to include some time in these areas, since the beaches and the nightlife there are a highlight of the country.
Prices for accommodation in this area can vary significantly, and especially when visiting Belize City it is worth checking the location and reviews of the accommodation options, including AirBnB options.
Here are a few a few hotels and other places to stay:
Budget – Ambergris Sunset Hotel – Situated in the town of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, this hotel has a small pool and decking area, along with a rooftop terrace, and a convenient location for the town’s facilities. Rooms are simply furnished, with Wi-Fi and air conditioning. Rooms begin from $45 per night.
Mid-range – D’Nest Inn – This hotel is located in the northern part of the city on a quiet street, which is convenient for the airport. Rooms are simply furnished offering air conditioning and free Wi-Fi available, and there is a free breakfast as well. Rates start from $80 a night.
Luxury – Costa Blu Beach Resort Trademark Collection by Wyndham – This resort is a short drive north of San Pedro, and is an adults only resort on the beach with kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving all available. Rooms are spacious and tastefully decorated, with balconies and air conditioning, along with the usual facilities. Rooms start from around $145 per night.
One of the most interesting places to visit is the the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave, which is a natural cave that has the remains of at least 14 Mayans, along with pottery and other artifacts from their presence. The chamber with these preserved skeletons is part of a cave network that is nearly three miles long, with the ‘Crystal Maiden’ being a particularly well preserved example.
You can get a ATM cave tour from San Ignacio, and due to the site’s historical significance, the caves are not open to those looking to explore independently, only to people taking the tour. In addition, you are going to want to see Cahal Pech in that area, which covers two acres and contains over 30 structures, including temples, altars, residences, and a sweat-house.
Much of the terrain in the Cayo region of Belize is jungle, and one way in which you can explore this part of the country is by taking a zip line tour, offering the thrills of speeding through the canopy and viewing the natural beauty of these jungles. There are two zip line tours that you can take from the town of San Ignacio, with one offering a shorter beginner route, while the two main tours are longer, giving you more time to enjoy the views.
There are also Maya ruins that are worth seeing called Xunantunich, Cahal Pech, and Caraco, which show off the distinctive architecture used by this civilization. Barton Creek Cave is another spot that is well worth visiting in the area, as well as checking out Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve.
This western region of Belize lies along the border with Guatemala, and is generally a rural area that offers some fantastic outdoors experiences and activities, along with being home to some spectacular Mayan ruins. The two main settlements in the area are Belmopan, which has been the country’s capital since 1961, and San Ignacio, which is a town near the border with Guatemala, which is a base for exploring the region as well as being an important trading town. There are a few other villages around the area, but these two main towns are both connected to Belize City by the Western highway.
Where to stay in the Cayo region? Here are some accomodation options.
Budget – Western Guest House – Located in San Ignacio, this hotel offers rooms with air conditioning and fans, which have been simply furnished. There is a garden area, and a shared kitchen with free purified water, and free Wi-Fi. Rates start at around $40 a night.
Mid-range – Rock Farm Guesthouse – Lying on the fringes of the capital Belmopan, this hotel has a pleasant rural location on the banks of a lazy river. The rooms are en-suite with tea and coffee facilities, and some rooms having private balconies, while the gardens are a very pleasant place to relax. Rooms from $75 per night.
Luxury – The Lodge At Chaa Creek – This luxury eco resort offers some spectacular surroundings, with villas with large glass windows for you to see the rainforest all around. Rooms are beautifully decorated with natural art, and have air conditioning, while the hotel has an infinity pool, and even its own 400 acre nature reserve! Rooms from around $200 per night.
At the northern end of the country and bordering with the southern border of Mexico, the Corozal area is a quieter area for tourists, with relatively little infrastructure set up for visitors. However, if you do explore this part of the country, you will find that there are some interesting historical sites to visit, where you can get particularly close to some of the ruins of the Mayan empire. You will also find that there are some opportunities for fishing and exploring the Caribbean coast in this part of the country, where there are some remote beaches that generally need to be accessed by boat.
More Maya ruins
One of the most popular areas to visit in the Corozal district are the Santa Rita ruins, which was inhabited by the Mayan people from around 3,000 years ago, and was once an important town in the empire. Today you can see an impressive pyramid, which has several stairways, and a sheltered chamber in the middle of the structure. Another Mayan site worth visiting is the Cerros Archaeological Reserve, which can either be reached by a 4-wheel drive vehicle or by boat. This is a site which does have a smaller stepped pyramid, but is particularly interesting because of the decorative carvings in the stone of the pyramid.
There are several good places to stay in this part of Belize, and here are a few to consider:
Budget – Mirador Hotel – Just a stone’s throw from the ocean, this hotel is located in the town center of Corozal, with access to its facilities. The rooms are simply furnished with air conditioning, while the hotel has a rooftop terrace, free Wi-Fi and a restaurant on-site. Rooms from $45 per night.
Mid-range – Sarteneja Inn – Situated in the village of Santaneja, this hotel offers comfortable rooms that have air conditioning, flat-screen televisions and are brightly decorated. There is a bar and restaurant on-site, while the hotel is conveniently located in the village. Rates from $60 per night.
Luxury – Almond Tree Hotel Resort – This attractive small resort has a private beach and has been landscaped with palm trees, and has its own swimming pool. The rooms are nicely decorated and have their own balcony or terrace either facing the pool or the ocean. Rooms from around $100 a night.
Orange Walk District
North and inland of the capital, the Orange Walk district is a rural agricultural area that is centered in the town of the same name. The town is not generally a tourist destination, but for the intrepid traveler you will find some interesting sites that are worth exploring. Some say the Mayan ruins of Lamanai is a Belize must see, but there are also some fascinating natural areas to explore as well. There are several areas of jungle where you can take a trip, while there are some resorts which will be located among the trees, while a trip along the river will allow you to see howler monkeys, crocodiles and the wealth of bird species present here.
Even More Maya ruins
The Lamanai ruins are another of the Mayan ruins to be seen in Belize, and at the heart of the complex is the steep sided stepped pyramid, which was once the center of a city in the Mayan empire. For me, this is one of the best Belize attractions. Today the areas surrounding the pyramid are largely covered by the jungle, but the pyramid is still an impressive structure, while there are also some impressive decorative carvings around the sides of the structure.
For the more intrepid explorer, there is another large Mayan site at La Milpa, which is believed to be one of the largest of known Mayan ruins, although as yet very little has been excavated.
Here are some of the accommodation options in the Orange Walk area:
Budget – Akihito Hotel – A simple hotel in the center of the town, the rooms are simply furnished with a flat screen television and air conditioning. There is free Wi-Fi and also a restaurant on-site. Rooms start from $23.
Mid-range – Lamanai Landings Hotel And Marina – Just to the south of Orange Walk itself, this riverside hotel offers rooms that each have a private terrace facing the river. The hotel has a lovely riverside bar and restaurant, and can arrange trips to explore the surrounding natural area. Rooms from $95 per night.
Luxury – Chan Chich Lodge – Situated in the jungle near the Guatemalan border, this resort is a stunning spot to explore the natural beauty of Belize. The hotel is located in its own natural reserve with a jaguar population, and offers rooms that are beautifully decorated, and have an open deck to see the surroundings. There is also a pleasant indoor pool. Rates start at $274 per night.
South of Belize City, this coastal area offers a range of activities to enjoy ranging from the typical watersports such as snorkeling and diving, alongside some wonderful natural areas to explore, which for me in the combination of the best things to do in Belize.
Beaches in the area
If you are looking for beaches and a quiet place to relax, you will find some peaceful stretches of sand in Placencia and Hopkins, while in these areas there are also some great snorkeling opportunities and perfectly safe places for scuba diving. Among the species that can sometimes be spotted in this part of the country include turtles and nurse sharks, while there are also some companies that offer scuba diving trips to the barrier reefs that lie off the coast here.
One of the small islands that is quite popular with visitors is Tobacco Caye, which is a tiny island which can be fully explored in around 5 minutes on foot, but has a couple of hotels and has a very laid-back atmosphere. If you are interested in the natural legacy of Belize, taking a trip into the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is worth the effort, and while you will have to be lucky to spot one of the elusive jaguar, there is a wealth of bird species here, while some trips will also include river tubing through the jungle and cave tubing for a really unique experience. For even more thrills, you can also head to the jungle zip-lining course near the town of Dangriga.
There are plenty of places to stay in Stann Creek, and here are a few worth considering:
Budget – Bamboo-Belize – This eco-resort in Dangriga is a different type of budget accommodation in a comfortable tent, with a mattress and easy access to the beach and the natural surroundings. There are also cabanas available, and from the resort you can rent kayaks, or even go fishing. A bed in a glamping tent from $25 per night, with the cabanas from $65.
Mid-range – Paradise Vacation Hotel – Located on the Placencia peninsula, this hotel has comfortably furnished rooms with air conditioning and some with ocean views. There is a rooftop Jacuzzi, and you can also rent kayaks or bikes to explore both land and ocean. Rooms from around $75 per night.
Luxury – Almond Beach Resort at Jaguar Reef – Offering everything you would expect from a luxury resort, the rooms are beautifully decorated and comfortable, with terraces offering direct access to the lovely beach. There is a lovely pool with a bar, and a restaurant. Rates start around $190 a night.
At the south end of Belize, Toledo has Guatemala both to its south and east, and is an area that is just starting to open up to tourism, both for the marine activities around the coast, and for exploring the natural and Mayan heritage of the region. One of the more interesting adventure activities here is to pay a visit to the Hokeb Ha Cave, which is in the Blue Creek Wildlife Preserve. Here you can swim deep into the cave with only a headlamp illuminating your way, highlighting the stunning way that the water has carved the cave into its current shape, while the entrance to the cave sees the rock towering above you.
Another of the attractions to visit in the Toledo district is the Mayan site of Lubaantun, which has some interesting stone platforms that were built without any mortar, although time has taken its toll in some areas. A visit inland to San Antonio is also worth a trip, as it is a Mopan Maya village, which has a distinct culture from much of the surrounding area, with some women still wearing traditional colorful blouses. A short distance from the village are the San Antonio Falls, which is a beautiful waterfall surrounded by greenery and is a lovely natural site.
Here are a few places to stay if you are visiting the Toledo region of Belize:
Budget – Sun Creek Lodge – Set in a rural location near the town of Punta Gorda, the cabanas here are comfortable and colorfully furnished, with thatched roofs. There are pleasant decking areas with hammocks in which you can relax, while you can also explore the surrounding jungle. Rates from $38 per night.
Mid-range – Sea Front Inn – As the name suggests, this hotel has a seafront location in Punta Gorda, with a lovely terrace where you can enjoy a drink or some food from the restaurant. Rooms have air conditioning and are comfortably furnished, with free Wi-Fi. Rooms from $75 a night.
Luxury – Copal Tree Lodge, a Muy’Ono Resort – This jungle resort is set in a large nature reserve, with the sensational infinity pool with views over the jungle being a particular highlight. Rooms are beautifully decorated with stunning bathrooms, while there are also plenty of walks to take into the surrounding countryside. Rooms from around $150 per night.
Travel To And Around Belize
As Belize is a relatively small Central American country, there is only one international airport which is around 15 minutes away from the capital Belize City. The airport serves routes from the USA, Mexico and other Central American countries, so those visiting from further afield will usually need to arrange connecting flights through an airport in the USA or Mexico. There are some bus companies that offer services that connect Belize with Guatemala and Mexico, while there are also some boat services to Honduras and Guatemala that can be used to get into Belize.
There are several options for getting around once you are in Belize, and there are three main bus routes that all center on Belize City, heading, North, West and South from the capital. Another of the interesting ways to explore the country, especially if you are traveling along the coast or to one of the Cayes is to take a water taxi. For some of the more rural areas that may not be well served with public transport, there are also several small airports around the country, where there are domestic flights from Belize City.
The Food Of Belize
The food in Belize is quite varied, with influences from the former British and mestizo colonial cultures along with the Mayan and Caribbean influences, while there is also plenty of international cuisine, especially in the bigger resorts. One of the most common lunch dishes is chicken, rice and beans, while along the coast, ceviche is a dish made with raw fish that has been marinated in citrus juice. You will also find tamales and panades which are stuffed dough pockets from street vendors, while one of the soups worth trying is chicken escabeche, which is made with onions and jalapeno peppers.
You will find many international drinks brands present in Belize, but it is worth keeping an eye out for Belikin, which is the only beer brewed in Belize and is worth a try. There is also a rum distillery in the country, so it is worth trying the local rum punch as well.
I hope you get a chance to enjoy this great and diverse Caribbean country at some point in the near future!