Awarded Top 10 country to travel to in 2022About Best In Travel 2022
With one foot in the Central American jungles and the other in the Caribbean Sea, pint-sized Belize is packed with islands, adventure and culture.
Reefs & Cayes
Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest in the world, after Australia's, and with more than 100 types of coral and some 500 species of tropical fish, it's pure paradise for scuba divers and snorkelers. Swimming through translucent seas, snorkelers are treated to a kaleidoscope of coral, fish, whale sharks and turtles, while divers go deeper, investigating underwater caves and walls and the world-renowned Blue Hole.
Add to this island life on the sandy cays, where you can spend your days kayaking, windsurfing, stand-up paddleboarding, swimming, fishing or lazing in a hammock, and you've got a perfect tropical vacation.
In the Jungle
Inland, a vast (by Belizean standards) network of national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and protected areas offers a safe haven for wildlife, which ranges from the industrious parades of cutter ants to tapirs, noisy howler monkeys, or the shy jaguar. Birders aim their binoculars at some 570 species, which roost along the rivers and lagoons and in the broadleaf forest. Keen-eyed visitors who take the time to hike can easily spot spider monkeys, peccaries, coatimundis, gibnuts and green iguanas. Even the showy keel-billed toucan – the national bird of Belize – occasionally makes an appearance in public.
In the Land of the Maya
Belize is home to one of the world's most mysterious civilizations – the ancient Maya. The Cayo District and Toledo's Deep South are peppered with archaeological sites that date to the Maya heyday (CE 250–1000), where enormous steps lead to the tops of tall stone temples, often yielding 360-degree jungle views. Explore excavated tombs and examine intricate hieroglyphs, or descend into natural caves to see where the Maya kings performed rituals and made sacrifices to their underworld gods. In the south you can appreciate the culture today by staying in village guesthouses and by learning the art of chocolate-making.
Action & Adventure
Whether you're scuba diving the Blue Hole, ziplining through the jungle canopy, rappelling down waterfalls or crawling through ancient cave systems, Belize is a genuine adventure. Head to Cayo District where you can tube or canoe through darkened underground river systems or hard-core spelunk in renowned Actun Tunichil Muknal cave. Ziplining is virtually an art form in Cayo and Southern Belize where you can sail through the jungle at half a dozen locations. Horseback riding is well organized and hiking is superb in national parks, such as Mayflower Bocawina National Park, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Shipstern Nature Reserve and Río Bravo.
Belize: Voted Top 10 Country as Best in Travel 2022
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Belize.
At the southern tip of Ambergris, the 6.5-sq-mile Hol Chan Marine Reserve is probably Belize's most oft-visited diving and snorkeling site. It offers spectacular coral formations, plus a rich abundance and diversity of marine life – not to mention its proximity to the cays. Hol Chan is Maya for 'Little Channel,' which refers to a natural break in the reef known as Hol Chan Cut. The channel walls are covered with colorful corals, which support an amazing variety of fish life, including moray eels and black groupers.
Perhaps the most fascinating Maya site in Northern Belize, Lamanai lies 24 miles south of Orange Walk Town up the New River (or 36 miles by unpaved road). The ruins are known both for their impressive architecture and marvelous setting, surrounded by dense jungle overlooking the New River Lagoon. Climbing to the top of the 125ft High Temple to gaze out across the vast jungle canopy is an awe-inspiring experience that is not to be missed.
Set on a leveled hilltop, Xunantunich (shoo-nahn-too-neech) is one of Belize's most easily accessible and impressive Maya archaeological sites. Getting here is half the fun, with a free hand-cranked cable ferry taking you (and vehicles) across the Mopan River. Xunantunich may have been occupied as early as 1000 BC, but it was little more than a village. The large architecture that we see today began to be built in the 7th century AD.
If most zoos are maximum-security wildlife prisons, then the Belize Zoo is more like a halfway house for wild animals that can't make it on the outside. A must-visit on any trip to Belize District, the zoo has many animals you're unlikely to see elsewhere – several tapirs (a Belizean relative of the rhino) including a baby, gibnuts, a number of coatimundi (they look like a cross between a raccoon and a monkey), scarlet macaws, white-lipped peccaries, pumas and many others.
Once one of the most powerful cities in the entire Maya world, Caracol now lies enshrouded by thick jungle near the Guatemalan border, a 52-mile, roughly two- or three-hour drive from San Ignacio. Sitting high on the Vaca Plateau, this is the largest Maya site in Belize, having possibly stretched over 70 sq miles at its peak around AD 650. Nearly 40 miles of internal causeways radiate from the center to large outlying plazas and residential areas.
The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is Belize’s most famous sanctuary and one of its biggest protected areas. This great swath of tropical forest became the world’s first jaguar sanctuary in 1984, thanks to the efforts of American zoologist Alan Rabinowitz. Today this critical biological corridor is home to an estimated 40 to 50 jaguars and a vast array of other animal, bird and botanical life.
For those looking to kick it on the soft white sand and in the docile sea, tropical cocktail in hand, surrounded by like-minded travelers, Koko King reigns supreme. It's an all-in-one sort of beach party, with a fully stocked bar, a tasty Caribbean restaurant and a plethora of beach games and water toys – you can easily spend all day here.
This modern museum in the Fort George District provides an excellent overview of the story of Belize, told through exhibits housed in the country's former main jail (built of brick in 1857). Fascinating displays, historical photos and documents bear testimony to the colonial and independence eras, along with an exhibit on slave history and a new contemporary art gallery.
Half Moon Caye Natural Monument is known first and foremost as providing nesting grounds for the rare red-footed booby bird, but the island's enchantments go far beyond that. There's also a lighthouse, excellent beaches and spectacular submerged walls that teem with marine flora and fauna. Underwater visibility can extend more than 200ft here.