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If you're in search of natural wonders from treetops to shore, incredible culture and a warm welcome, Belize needs to be on your travel to-do list.

There's great food, incredible nature and wildlife, and vibrant villages, each with its own distinct personality.

And because of the country’s small size and how easy it is to navigate, there’s no need to decide between the beach and the rainforests, the reefs or the caves, the parties or the peace. In Belize, you can have it all. These are the nine places you can't afford to miss when you get there.

1. Ambergris Caye

Belize's unmissable destination

Ambergris Caye is the top place to go for visitors to Belize and the vibrant town of San Pedro is the beating heart of this unique island. This colorful caye has hotels ranging from budget to luxe and classic Caribbean activities like snorkeling and sailing. Many of Belize’s best restaurants can be found here, as well as excellent nightlife and shopping.

Just about every kind of traveler comes to Ambergris Caye and it’s a great hub from which to experience Belize’s water-based activities.

While you can make day trips to Maya ruins and the jungle from here, it’s advisable to switch to an inland destination for those – otherwise, you will spend a lot of time traveling.

Must-see spots include driving a golf cart up to Secret Beach, eating fry jacks for breakfast at The Fry Jack House, and grabbing a glass of rum at Havana Cigars.

As for things to do, snorkeling at Hol Chan Marine Reserve is one of the most popular activities in the country, but heading up north to Mexico Rocks can provide an equally fish-filled experience with fewer crowds.

Planning tip: Ambergris Caye has a small airport that’s only a 15-minute flight from Belize’s international airport and it’s easy to rent a golf cart – the island’s quintessential mode of transportation – from there.

A pair of feet in hiking boots rest at a viewpoint above an ancient city in the jungle
Base yourself in San Ignacio and explore nearby Maya ruins © pxhidalgo / Getty Images

2. San Ignacio

Best hub for outdoor adventures

Adventure abounds in San Ignacio, a large town on Belize’s western border that embodies the country's Central American side, trading beaches for waterfalls and snorkeling for cave exploration. Much of Belize’s jungles and land-based wildlife can be found around here.

There are also many Maya ruins nearby, such as Xunantunich and Cahal Pech, as well as the famous ATM cave. San Ignacio makes an excellent starting point for excursions, including to other spots down the coast.

The bar and restaurant scene is on the rise and there is plenty to enjoy in the area. Head to Guava Limb Cafe for wood-fired pizza, and don’t miss the breakfast fry jacks at Pop’s Restaurant.

The overall vibe of the town feels very local, with hotels the only spot where tourists stand out among the crowd, making the bars fun for anyone craving connection with Belizeans.

Check out Soul Project below Old House Hostel on Wednesday and Friday nights to see local musicians and artists in action. 

For those craving jungle immersion, book a stay at Chaa Creek to experience the luxurious side of nature, or go further into the wilderness at Black Rock Lodge, where birders feel right at home.

Planning tip: San Ignacio is the best starting point for travelers looking to cross the border into Guatemala to explore Tikal or continue their travels in Central America.

3. Punta Gorda

Best place for adventures away from the tourist crowds

Punta Gorda is the largest village near Belize’s southern border, a spot largely off the typical tourist track. It’s where the country’s densest jungles are found, as well as a concentrated Maya community.

This is a popular spot for adventure travelers, those who have already been to other parts of Belize, and visitors who prefer to avoid the crowds. Though it’s on the water, it’s not too beachy, so keep yourself busy with excursions out to nearby cayes or visit some of the Maya ruins nearby. 

The town of Punta Gorda has a few restaurants and bars, as well as places to stay. Copal Tree Lodge is a favorite among visitors looking for a little luxury, with large rooms built into the hillside and an open restaurant area that’s often visited by howler monkeys in the morning.

There’s also a rum distillery onsite – don’t miss a chance to see how Copalli Rum gets made.

Two figures in silhouette sit at the end of a low-level pier as the sun rises over the sea
Placencia is one of Belize's top beach destinations © CampPhoto / Getty Images

4. Placencia

Best place in Belize for beaches

The coast of Southern Belize feels like what Ambergris Caye was like before Belize became a major tourism destination, but today Placencia gets the honor of being one of the country’s top beach destinations.

This former fishing village has transformed into an upscale retreat with beach bars, top restaurants, and high-end resorts.

Francis Ford Coppola’s Turtle Inn is one of the most desirable spots to stay, with design, decor, and a wine selection straight from the filmmaker’s imagination. Three Iguanas is an excellent, affordable accommodation option that’s right in town. 

Popular excursions include taking a boat ride out to the Silk Cayes or booking an inland trip with DTOURZ to explore the nearby Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary – it even offers overnight trips to maximize the chances of seeing the nocturnal jaguar.

In town, visitors enjoy shopping along the boardwalk, relaxing on the sandy beach, and cooling down with a scoop of gelato from the Italian-owned Tutti Frutti

5. Ray Caye

Best private island experience

There are hundreds of islands off Belize’s coasts to choose from and Ray Caye is one of the best. The Raye Caye resort is developed, has modern, clean lodging and an incredible restaurant.

Visitors can either choose to stay overnight or visit for the day, though overnight guests will have access to the entire island while day guests are restricted to certain areas.

It’s worth booking a few days at Ray Caye for travelers who want to get a sense of what it’s like to live on a Caribbean island – it ensures being closer to the reef than staying on shore.

It's very relaxed here, and you can happily hang around the island all day taking soothing soaks in the warm water. If you're in search of an adventure, though, there are excursions and activities to choose from, including sailing trips and snorkeling along the island's reef.

Planning tip: Look out for yoga weekend getaways, when local yoga teacher Brice Dial takes over Ray Caye with a group for a few days of relaxation and mindfulness.

6. Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve

Best spot for nature lovers

The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve is an area in Cayo near San Ignacio with lots of options for those seeking experiences in nature.

Though it doesn’t have the towering canopies of a rainforest, this unique ecosystem is still home to plenty of species of wildlife, including cougars, jaguars, acorn woodpeckers, eastern bluebirds and small critters of all kinds.

One of the best hotels in the area is another one of Francis Ford Coppola’s properties, Blancaneaux Lodge. This regal resort is perched above a river, though the onsite pool is a great place to cool off, too. 

Within the reserve, visitors can soak at Río on Pools, cool off at Big Rock Falls, or book birdwatching trips and horseback riding tours. If you continue to the edge of the border, you’ll find Caracol, a Maya ruin that remains the tallest human-made structure in Belize.

Planning tip: Though the main road has been paved to improve accessibility into the area, the volatile weather for which the tropics are known makes renting a 4WD the ideal way to reach this spot.

A highway snakes through a gently rolling landscape of green hills and fields
Don't miss a drive on the scenic Hummingbird Highway © gsphotographybz / Getty Images

7. Hummingbird Highway

Best route for road trippers

Belize’s most scenic road is the Hummingbird Highway, connecting the capital city of Belmopan with the southern villages. The drive takes you through the forested mountains, between orchards and Mennonite farms, with stops for scenic cenotes and the best tamales you’ve ever had along the way.

Make time to stop at St Herman’s Blue Hole National Park to cool off, and pull over for Ms. Bertha’s Tamales for lunch – the red-and-white structure is located on the side of the highway in Middlesex.

You can't miss it, and every local knows where it is – the multiple cars surrounding it at any time are a testament to its popularity.

Because the Hummingbird Highway is situated between some of Belize’s other top destinations, it can be an ideal spot to base yourself – and the options are excellent.

The Rainforest Lodge at Sleeping Giant immerses you in the rainforest, with an incredible view of the canopy and beyond. Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Jungle Lodge is a family-friendly option that helped create Belize as an eco-friendly adventure travel destination and remains one of the best hotels for helping guests plan excursions of a lifetime.

Planning tip: It’s not necessary to stay on the Hummingbird Highway to enjoy what it has to offer – just be sure to drive slowly and carefully to take in everything as you pass through. It’s a unique part of the country that makes any road trip worthwhile.

8. Hopkins

Best village for Garifuna culture

Belize is known for being diverse when it comes to culture, and one of the most unique groups in the country is the Garifuna people, who live predominantly in Hopkins, Dangriga, Placencia and areas near those villages. 

Hopkins is a small, upbeat village with a long sandy beach that, while lacking in many modern trappings of life, is a unique spot to explore Garifuna culture.

One of the most popular ways to do this is by attending a drumming lesson, which inevitably turns into a dance party. The Lodge at Jaguar Reef is a great place to stay in Hopkins, but there are budget options as well. 

9. Caye Caulker

Best place for laid-back travelers

Caye Caulker is an island near Ambergris Caye but with a very different personality. This is a laid-back place for backpackers, younger travelers, and those who like to go slow.

One of the most popular spots on the island is The Split, a hurricane-created channel at the northern end. This is the perfect place to grab a drink, go for a swim, and enjoy Caye Caulker’s relaxed party atmosphere.

Planning tip: Head to Pasta per Caso, an Italian-owned restaurant with handmade pasta dishes, for a delicious meal.

This article was first published Dec 19, 2022 and updated Jan 10, 2024.

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