The friendly, slightly scruffy, coastal village of Hopkins attracts travelers looking to soak up sea breezes and Garifuna culture. It's an unpretentious place to meet other travelers or satisfied expats and makes a good base for explorations to the cays, reefs and islands to the east, and the jungles, mountains and parks to the west.
About 1.5 miles south of Hopkins, Sittee Point is a small community where high-end beachfront resorts and a few interesting independent restaurants gather. It's like the Paris end of Hopkins. Just where Hopkins ends and Sittee Point begins is the subject of mild debate locally, but it's generally considered to be at the junction with the Sittee River Rd.
Maya Center, at the junction of the Southern Hwy and the access road to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, was established in the 1980s to relocate Mopan Maya villagers when the sanctuary was proclaimed. Many of the villagers now make their living from the sanctuary, running tourist accommodations or guiding tours, selling handicrafts or working as park staff.
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is Belize's most famous jaguar sanctuary; at 200 sq miles, it's also one of Belize's biggest protected areas. Part of the eastern Maya Mountain range, most visits to the sanctuary are restricted to a small eastern pocket, which contains a visitors center, the sanctuary's accommodations and a network of excellent walking trails.
Mayflower Bocawina National Park
Easily reached from Hopkins or Dangriga, this beautiful 11-sq-mile park offers high-adrenaline adventure activities or plain old-fashioned DIY jungle hiking to mountains, waterfalls, swimming holes and small Maya sites. It's remote enough that you might find yourself alone (apart from the birdlife) on some spectacular walking trails.
If you're serious about getting away from it all, Glover's Reef is the place. Named after the 18th-century English pirate John Glover (who attacked Spanish merchant ships from here), the atoll is 16 miles long and 7 miles wide, and is pretty much as far from mainland Belize as you can get.
Most visitors to Placencia just breeze through Seine Bight, the Garifuna village in the center of the peninsula, which, with its shacks, shanties and cheap restaurants contrasts sharply with the resorts and condos either side of it. But as the home of many of the folks who keep the surrounding resorts running and with an obvious local flavor, Seine Bight is worth a stop.
Sitting right on the barrier reef, 12 miles from Dangriga, tiny Tobacco Caye is the budget destination among the central cays, relative to other resort islands of course. It shows in the fairly basic array of cabañas (cabins) and lodge rooms, but the setting and the surrounding azure waters are still dreamy.
Thatch Caye & Plum Caye
Thatch Caye, and neighboring Plum Caye, are stunning twin private islands with an air of exclusivity and a luxury-meets-castaway, sand-between-the-toes vibe. Activities on offer at the resorts include swimming, diving, snorkeling, fishing and kayaking, or just hanging out on the islands' white sands.