Calm Caribbean waters protected by the second largest barrier reef in the world, consistently warm weather that basically begs you to cool off in the water, and a long list of coastal villages each with their own seaside charm: Belize has basically everything a beach lover is looking for.
Except for lots of beaches. At least, the coastline isn’t exactly one long stretch of white sand, and the many cayes off the shore are more likely to be encircled by native mangrove to protect the small islands from seasonal hurricanes than to be a classic beach destination. While Belize does have beaches – and they are spectacular – they are rare and unique enough that it’s worth knowing their location in advance so you don’t arrive thinking every spot on the water will have what you’re looking for. There are certain parts of the country where more beaches are found, so if beach time is a priority, that’s where you should head.
Like the country’s culture and the rest of its natural landscape, Belize’s beaches are diverse, meaning you might be digging your toes into white sand at one while stepping over rocks on another. While the country is free of the kind of all-inclusive resorts that other Caribbean or Latin American countries might have, sometimes the best way to get in beach time is to book a hotel that has built out its own beach onsite.
Here are 7 of the best beaches Belize has to offer.
1. Secret Beach, Ambergris Caye
San Pedro on Ambergris Caye is the top tourism destination in the country, but up until recently, it didn’t really have the kind of beach for which the Caribbean is known. Over the past few years, a formerly local spot on the lee side of the island called Secret Beach has been developed into a proper beach destination, and while it is certainly no longer a secret, it’s more fun and more accessible than ever.
Renting a golf cart is the best way to reach Secret Beach, which is 4.5 miles north of San Pedro. Once you’ve made it through the pockmarked road that winds through the swamp, follow the sound of the music to the right to find the party scene. Grab a chair and a pińa colada at Pirate’s Not-So-Secret Beach Bar & Grill, or any of the other bars along the beachfront. It’s free to visit Secret Beach but not to use the various amenities therein.
The water here is calm, clear, and shallow. It’s great for snorkeling and other water activities and is as picturesque as they come.
Planning tip: As the only proper public beach spot on Ambergris Caye, getting here before the day starts to heat up is the best way to beat the crowds. It can be a little bit rocky, and stingrays hide in the seagrass throughout Belize, so be sure to bring waterproof footwear for sensitive feet.
2. Placencia Beach
Placencia Beach extends from the village’s municipal pier up the peninsula, where many resorts enjoy the access it gives their guests. The bulk of the beach is at the end of Placencia’s famous boardwalk, which has colorful shops, restaurants and bars. Tipsy Tuna Sports Bar and Barefoot Beach Bar are two of the best spots situated directly on the beach – they can either be entered via the boardwalk or directly from the sand.
During the day this is a family-friendly, local spot with a volleyball net that always seems to be in use. If you bring a towel or a chair, it’s great for lounging and watching the fishers come in and out, or taking dips into the water every so often. This is a public beach that’s free for anyone to use, and while nearby hotels may have their own sandy spit with water access, it can be fun to go where the locals gather to get to know who calls Placencia home. There is a lot of culture packed into this tiny town and it’s worth exploring.
Planning tip: If you’re looking for more of a private resort beach experience, head just a little bit up the peninsula and book a room at Francis Ford Coppola’s property Turtle Inn, an inventive, high-end property with a beautiful beach of its own.
3. Turneffe Atoll Resort
Belize is home to three of the four atolls found in the entire Caribbean Sea and Turneffe Atoll offers some of the best beaches among them. Turneffe Atoll Resort is a top destination among fishing enthusiasts and adventurous divers, but the property itself has plenty to explore on its own, including a long stretch of beach on the east side of the island it occupies.
It takes a few hours to reach the resort by boat, but once there, this beach can be home when you’re not out on an excursion. It stretches from the arrival/departure dock around to the last accommodation. There is seasonal bird nesting at that far end and the staff will close it off when that’s the case. However, it’s a special experience to witness the life cycle of a seabird up close, so be sure to check out the nests from an appropriate distance.
The beach is great for swimming, and there are lounge chairs and hammocks perched along the water for guests to use. It’s the perfect place to relax in-between diving on the reef, fishing, or dining at the resort’s restaurant. Plus, there’s a bar on the beach right next to the pool, so you can indulge in cocktails as much as you desire. To get even more in touch with the beach, gather any coconuts fallen from palm trees and bring them back to the bar area: the resident dogs love to play with them.
4. Hopkins Village Beach
About 90 miles south of Belize City is the sleepy seaside village of Hopkins, which is home to a thriving Garifuna community and some of the best beaches in the country. Hopkins Village beach stretches along the entirety of the town, and even though private hotels and businesses are adjacent to the sea, the beach remains in public use no matter the location. Lounge chairs and hammocks are a different matter.
Hopkins Village Beach is predominantly sandy, though it can be steep to the water in some places. The sea is warm and refreshing, albeit somewhat murky compared to the crystal clearness of the barrier reef. No matter where you set up a place to relax, you are bound to meet interesting locals, be nearby delicious food, and get caught up in the pace of tropical paradise.
5. The Split, Caye Caulker
Caye Caulker is like the adventurous younger sibling of Ambergris Caye, a backpacker’s favorite where the motto – and way of life – is to go slow. The island is split in two by a channel called The Split, which is one of the top places in the country to go for a swim, snorkel for free, or just lounge and grab drinks at The Lazy Lizard bar and restaurant. There is always reggae music playing and locals and visitors alike have a great time enjoying Belize’s beautiful water.
Accessing the water is free, and it’s clear and clean. This is partly because it’s a channel impacted by the tides, so be sure to keep an eye on how strong the water is before getting in. Boats also use the channel to cross over the island, so stay aware of your surroundings in order to keep safe. Otherwise, grab a delicious drink, make some friends, and enjoy this special beach.
6. Big Rock Falls, Cayo
Not all of Belize’s swimming destinations are on the coast – in fact, there are many rivers, cenotes, and various other waterways with unique beaches of their own. One of the most popular spots is deep in the Cayo District on Belize’s western border in an area called Mountain Pine Ridge. Though not a sandy beach, this watering hole is fed by a huge waterfall surrounded by giant boulders ideal for relaxing, picnicking, and jumping in for a cool break from the sun.
Reaching Big Rock Falls is possible by car, horseback ride, and tour operator, and requires a very steep descent down a rickety set of stairs. Once at the bottom, careful footing is required over the smooth rocks to find a place to set up a towel or blanket. Tourists and locals often visit here, but it’s rarely crowded – which makes it one of the most photogenic beaches in Belize.
Local tip: Rain is basically a daily occurrence in Belize, so don’t let a basic weather report keep you indoors.
7. South Water Caye
South Water Caye is an island off the coast of Hopkins and Dangriga that is a picture-perfect representation of tropical paradise. Palm trees, clear turquoise water, and of course, warm sandy beaches. The island is capped on either end by two resorts – Pelican Beach and Blue Marlin Lodge – each offering its own amenities and perks. But all visitors can enjoy the tranquil beach experience for which the caye is known, including snorkelers who can just walk in and out of the water at their leisure.
Planning tip: If you aren’t staying at one of the resorts, day trips can be arranged out of Hopkins and Dangriga to enjoy the peaceful and chill 15 acres that are South Water Caye. It takes about 40 minutes via boat, which can be booked via an on-shore hotel or private tour operator.