When it comes to choosing a place for your Caribbean vacation, Belize is an amazing holiday spot for those that enjoy stunning settings and a variety of activities. The country’s eastern side provides the azure blue waters that make the Caribbean such an in-demand destination, as well as hosting 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.
Belize has had some of the fastest growth of any tourism destination in the last few years, so the secret is quickly getting out. There are many compelling reasons that travelers looking for the best of the Caribbean often head to Belize.
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, Ranguana 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.
This will especially appeal to fans of "The Crown" television show: during her 1994 visit to Belize, Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, 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 two-bedroom royal suite, complete with an outdoor private jacuzzi.
The San Ignacio Resort Hotel grounds are also host to the vitally important Green Iguana Conservation Project. This 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 the injured or sick ones 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.
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 Natural Monument. Marine explorer Jacques Cousteau conducted several excursions in the area and uncovered the history of the sea formation.
Rappel Down the Black Hole Drop
In western Belize, Actun Loch Tunich is a massive sinkhole that begins high above the rainforest. Daily tours are given within the “Black Hole Drop” from a variety of local guides, but this is not for the faint of heart. The tour begins with an intensive hike into the foothills of the Maya Mountains. 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.
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.
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 and Spa in Placencia. Opened in January 2017, the beachfront 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.
Add a little sweetness to your stay with a real Mayan chocolate experience. During the tour offered by a variety of outlets, sample the food of the gods by drinking a 4,000-year-old beverage (still consumed by the Mayans today). You can also learn how chocolate goes from bean to bar, walk through a chocolate farm, or 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 your tour. The Xunantunich ruins are 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
A great outdoor activity for the adventurous is exploring a stunning Maya ceremonial cave by canoe. The Barton Creek Cave has been named 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 aren't fans of tight spaces or suffer from 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.
Take a two-hour tour through historic parts of Belize City, the country's oldest city, which was settled in the 1700s. You'll learn about the culture, seeing colonial-era buildings, landmarks, and a local market.
Then get ready to have fun tasting some rum punch at the Travellers Liquor Heritage Center, where you'll find out more about the tropical drink's origins in Belize and watch the rum being distilled.
Venture as high as 190 feet above the Belizean rainforest and across a river via a zipline in the Nohoch Che'en Caves Branch Archaeological Reserve, a well-developed system of limestone caves north of Belmopan, Belize's capital. You can also add the option to view Mayan caves from an inner tube as you learn about the fauna and flora of the area.
The fun takes place about an hour's drive from Belize City. Don't forget your bug repellent, sunscreen, and a camera. Kids are welcome to join, as long as they are 40 inches tall.
Learn all about the beloved yellow fruit and the process of growing bananas in this entertaining, two-hour agritourism experience with Bunches of Fun Banana Farm Tours in Placencia. On an easy walking tour, you'll be guided through the banana fields and educated on all the steps to farming.
There are three tours a day; tours are not available on Sundays. Children five and under are free.
Jump on a horse in Belize and take in all the natural beauty on a tour personalized to your preferences. In San Ignacio, combine horseback riding on an open savannah and wooded trails with a cave-tubing tour. Or take a 4-hour private tour ride to the Maya ceremonial center of Xunantunich from a riding stable in San Ignacio, which may include spotting of tropical birds and howler monkeys. Riding classes are also available.
If you'd love to see some local wildlife in Belize, you won't want to miss this guided tour near the small settlement of Monkey River Village, a remote jungle in the southern part of the country. The area is known for wildlife, including the highly vocal black howler monkeys. You'll start out on a boat before heading on foot through undeveloped terrain seeking turtles, manatees, and crocodiles where the river converges with the sea. The guide will also show you a variety of plants and trees used for medicine by locals. Lunch at a Belizean Kriol restaurant is part of the tour.
If you are in Belize City, check out the interesting Museum of Belize to learn about the history and culture of the country through exhibits of Maya artifacts, ethnic groups, and colonial life. The building has a curious history as the former site of "Her Majesty’s Prison," which was completed in 1857. The Museum of Belize officially opened in 2002 after financial assistance from Mexico and Taiwan in refurbishing the building.
The museum is closed Sundays and Mondays.
For most people, the chance to see crocodiles up close is rare, but thanks to the American Crocodile Education Sanctuary, a nonprofit organization, visitors are able to view and learn about the threatened and vulnerable creatures on the two-hour Eco Croc tours in Ambergris Caye. Join a family-friendly group on a night boat ride in search of crocodiles in Isla Bonita’s mangrove habitats.
The tour proceeds go toward helping the nonprofit continue crocodile rescues, rehabilitation, community outreach, and conservation efforts all throughout the country.
Everyone in the family will have fun and learn about local culture while watching a two-hour drum and dance performance by some of Belize's indigenous Garifuna people from the south of the country. The festivities take place at the Warasa Garifuna Drum School in Punta Gorda. The event includes dinner under the shade of a palapa (an open-sided, thatched-roof dwelling) and a chance to try out the traditional local dances.
The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center, about halfway between Belmopan and Belize City, calls itself "the best little zoo in the world." The zoo started in 1983 and cares for over 175 animals, representing over 45 native species from macaws to spider monkeys to white-tailed deer and jaguars. The animals you'll see were orphaned, rescued, rehabilitated, born at the zoo, or sent from other zoological institutions.
Special animal encounters are available if you'd like a closer look and the chance to give a jaguar a high five. The zoo holds the unique distinction of being the first nature destination in the country accessible to visitors with physical disabilities.
Established in 1885, the white and red Baron Bliss Lighthouse on Fort Street in Belize City is a popular tourist destination with an interesting background. The landmark is named after one of the country's most impressive benefactors, Baron Bliss, born in England. The sailor died on his yacht; it was said Bliss never made it to the mainland that was British Honduras at the time. But he was so fond of the warmth of the people that he willed almost two million Belize dollars to the citizens. Bliss was buried in Bliss Park, Belize City.
Indulge yourself while traveling in an environmentally-friendly way at Table Rock Jungle Lodge, set on a 105-acre reserve on the ancient Macal River in San Ignacio. Swim in the pool looking out on the jungle, hike, bird-watch, canoe, or lounge in one of the 10 cabanas or other lodging options such as a three-bedroom, solar-powered home. Dine in Table Rock's open-air, thatched roof restaurant and visit the on-site farm.
Those looking for unique afternoon and evening activities (plus a little beer) would enjoy The Truck Stop. A mile north of San Pedro in Ambergris Caye, this destination features shipping containers that have been creatively made into eateries with global flavors of food and ice cream. The spot also offers fun live music, a pool, movie nights, farmers markets, and ping pong, among other entertaining activities.
The Truck Stop is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.