When it comes to choosing a place for your Caribbean vacation, Belize might not be at the top of your list — there are more popular Central American and Caribbean destinations, after all. However, what makes Belize a truly amazing holiday spot is its diversity in both terrain and activities. The country’s eastern side provides the azure blue waters that make the Caribbean such an in-demand destination, as well as the second largest coral reef system in the world. On the west side, you’ll find lush rainforests, historic Mayan ruins and many different species of exotic wildlife.
Tourism is continuously expanding in this small, but lovely, country, as Belize had the fastest growth of any tourism destination in the last year, with an overall growth of 13% in the last two decades. Aside from its growing popularity, here are the top 10 reasons why you should visit Belize this year.
Snorkel at a Caye
Most hotels and resorts on the eastern edge of Belize offer full day tours of the popular islands that lie off the coast. Whether you choose South Water Caye, Runguana Caye, or the “crown jewel” Ambergris Caye, you’ll find white sandy beaches, hammocks for relaxing, and crystal clear waters perfect for stand up paddleboarding, swimming, and snorkeling.
Live Like the Queen
Fans of The Crown, this is for you. During her 1994 visit to Belize, Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, were guests of honor at a luncheon hosted at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel. You too can dine like the royals at the hotel’s award-winning Running W Steakhouse & Restaurant, featuring local pork, grass fed beef, seafood and vegetarian options.
The queen also rested at the hotel during her visit in one of the aptly named, Regal Rooms, but if you really want to feel like royalty, stay in the newly completed 2 bedroom Royal Suite, complete with an outdoor private jacuzzi.
Support a Conservation Project
The grounds of the San Ignacio Resort Hotel are also host to the vitally important Green Iguana Conservation Project. This excellent program collects and hatches iguana eggs, and then raises the reptiles until they are past their most vulnerable age. Depending on the health of the iguanas, most are released into the wild, but injured or sick have a permanent home within the preservation area. You don’t have to be a guest of the hotel to book a guided tour of the center and adjacent medicinal jungle, and by doing so, you'll get the opportunity to handle the curious creatures and learn about their habits and life cycle.
Visit the Blue Hole
If you have your SCUBA diving license, you would be remiss not to visit Belize’s most spectacular attraction, the “blue hole”. True to its name, the stunning natural wonder is the result of a depression that was created when the roof of an underground cave collapsed. Over time, this hole eventually filled with water and became a part of what is known as Blue Hole National Park. Marine explorer Jacques Cousteau conducted several excursions in the area, and uncovered the history of the sea formation.
Rappel Down the Black Hole
In western Belize, Actun Loch Tunich is a massive sinkhole that begins high above the rainforest. Daily tours are given within the “black hole”, but this is not for the faint of heart. The tour begins with an intensive hike into the foothills of the Maya Mountain. Then, prepare yourself — you’ll be descending down over 200 feet until you reach the canopy of the forest below. After that, you have another 100 feet to go before reaching land safely.
Taste Fry Jacks
There are plenty of Belizean delights for you to taste during your trip, but other than the incredibly fresh fruit, fry jacks (delightful little bread clouds) are a favorite for breakfast. Eaten with jam, honey or savory refried beans, fry jacks are the way to go, whether you prefer a sweet or salty breakfast. Just make sure you do some hiking afterwards. These are very high in calories, but oh, so delicious.
Get a Spa Treatment
No vacation is complete without a little pampering. If a spa treatment is what you seek, there is no better place for unwinding than the Naia Resort in Placencia. Opened in January 2017, this brand beachfront new hotel offers the best in luxury. The spa is located in a hideaway from the rest of the resort, and uses private treatment bungalows for every service.
While all of their spa treatments are a deluxe escape, the signature “Sun Quenched Clay Treatment” tops them all. The deeply detoxifying and revitalizing treatment uses golden clay collected from the Toledo District of Belize. The clay is rich in nutrients and feels smooth on the skin, while also acting as a gentle exfoliant. After washing off the clay, the treatment ends with tension relieving and hydrating massage.
Learn About Local Chocolate
Add a little sweetness to your stay with a real Mayan chocolate experience. During the one hour presentation, you’ll sample the food of the gods by drinking a 4,000 year old beverage (still consumed by the Mayans today), learn how chocolate goes from bean to bar, and even try your hand gently mashing cocoa beans on an authentic stone grinder.
With so many Mayan sites and ruins in Belize, it can be difficult to choose the one that is right for you. That being said, Xunantunich is appropriate for both kids and adults of all ages, given it is the most accessible and also most impressive Maya archaeological site. If you feel up for the challenge, climbing to the top of the site is a great workout and offers incredible views.
Kayak Through a Cave
Explore a stunning Maya ceremonial cave by canoe. The Barton Creek Cave in particular was recently listed as one of the “nine most beautiful and unusual cave destinations” in the world by the Mother Nature Network.
Rowing in the Barton Creek Cave does not command a high level of physical fitness, and the cave, despite being a bit snug, is one of the better ones to visit for those with claustrophobia.
Other than the occasional bat, and low hanging stalactites, your safety is nearly guaranteed in Belize's caves, but beware: at Barton Creek, there are human remains leftover from sacrifices dotted throughout the historical site.