Cultural, social and ecological diversity are the hallmarks of Southern Belize. It's here in the south that open savannah and citrus-filled farmland give way to forested hills dotted with Maya villages and ruins, while towns like Hopkins and Placencia offer sun, sand and a bit of local culture.
Daydream a little. Conjure up your ultimate tropical island fantasy. With over 100 enticing isles and two amazing atolls, chances are that one of the northern cayes can make this dream a reality. If you imagined stringing up a hammock on a deserted beach, there is an outer atoll with your name on it.
What a contrast is the district that shares its country's name! Belize District comprises 1600 sq miles at the heart of the country, and includes its largest population center and some of its most pristine tropical bush. Belize City gets a bad rap for its impoverished areas, some of which are plagued by crime and violence.
Hiking, biking, birding, canoeing, kayaking, spelunking and all-around adventuring! The lush environs of the Wild West are covered with jungle, woven with rivers, waterfalls and azure pools, and dotted with Maya ruins ranging from small, tree-covered hills to massive, magnificent temples.
Stann Creek District
Bordering the Belize District to the north, Cayo to the west and Toledo to the south, the Stann Creek District is home to a number of spots popular with visitors, from the coastal villages of Hopkins and Placencia, to amazing inland parks and jungle sanctuaries and some of Belize's least visited cayes.
Belize City does not exactly top the list of tourist destinations in Belize. In fact, many visitors choose to bypass the country's only major urban area. This may be because the country's main attractions are natural and nautical, rendering superfluous a prolonged visit to its only metropolis.
When Madonna sang about her dreams of San Pedro, she was referring to the captivating capital of Ambergris Caye, which has since adopted the inevitable nickname La Isla Bonita. Of course, it was more than 20 years ago when Madonna crooned about all the nature being wild and free.
'No Shirt, No Shoes…No Problem.' You'll see this sign everywhere in Belize, but no place is it more apt than Caye Caulker. Indeed, nothing seems to be a problem on this tiny island, where mangy dogs nap in the middle of the dirt road and suntanned cyclists pedal around them.
Together with neighboring Santa Elena, on the east bank of the river, San Ignacio forms the chief population center of Cayo District. Staying here is generally the more economical option for travel in Cayo; furthermore, there is no shortage of tour operators who are willing to show you the attractions and activities in the surrounding area.
Perched at the southern tip of a long, narrow, sandy peninsula, Placencia has long enjoyed a reputation as 'the caye you can drive to.' This is more true today than ever since the 27-mile road from the Southern Hwy is no longer spine-crushing, having now been fully paved. How you wind up feeling about Placencia really depends on what you're looking for.
Dangriga is the largest town in Southern Belize, and the spiritual capital of the country's Garifuna people. Stretching along the coast, Dangriga has a funky vibe about it – it's tumbledown and mildly untidy. Despite sharing a similar ramshackle exterior with Belize City, Dangriga exudes little of the larger city's menace, and is generally a safe place to explore.
Bordering Guatemala to the south and west and the Stann Creek and Cayo Districts to the north, the 1669-sq-mile Toledo District encompasses an area most Belizeans refer to lovingly as 'The Deep South.' Around 27,000 people live in this huge area, and about half the district is under protection as national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, forest reserves or nature reserves.
Orange Walk District
Orange Walk is one of the more spread out and thinly populated districts in Belize. The Northern Hwy cuts through the district's population center in its far northeast, and most of the communities and attractions scattered west of this are connected by a network of (mostly) unpaved roads.