13 Things to Do in Belize

The tiny nation of Belize is often overshadowed by its Central American neighbors, but it’s loaded with activities for adventurous travelers. These are some of the most can’t-miss things to do in Belize.

By: Joe Sills

Photo By: Belize Tourism Board

Photo By: Belize Tourism Board

Photo By: Barry Guimbellot

Photo By: Belize Tourism Board

Photo By: Belize Tourism Board

Explore the Ruins of Xunantunich

It’s said that the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich are haunted by a beautiful woman who floats through its ancient walls of pale stone. While that story may be myth, scientists have recently uncovered archaeological evidence that places this accessible Mayan city at the heart of one of the people's most well documented rivalries—the power struggle between the states of Caracol and Tikal.

How to get there: Xunantunich is accessed via a hand-cranked ferry from the town of San Jose Succotz. Plan to arrive early to avoid cruise ship crowds.

Drive the Western Highway to the Maya Mountains

Belize is still very much a country under construction. It’s not far removed from the days when global travelers would retreat into the jungle here to hide from the law, but its infrastructure is modernizing rapidly. The country’s Western Highway now paints a paved path between Belize City and Guatemala, making both its capital of Belmopan and its remote western rainforests accessible for travelers willing to rent or hire a car.

Thanks to light traffic, an abundance of wildlife and a landscape that morphs from wetlands to mountain tops, the Western Highway is one of the more underrated scenic drives in Central America.

How to get there: The streets of Belize City offer only two routes out of town. Follow the signs for Belmopan to hit the Western Highway.

Get Close to Jaguars at the Belize Zoo

Founded as a rehabilitation center for native animals, the Belize Zoo has become a leading force in the conservation of the country’s jaguar and tropical bird species. Once hunted out of fear and for profit, some of Belize’s most threatened animals are making a comeback thanks to the outreach and education efforts of the Belize Zoo. Inside, you’ll find tapir, scarlet macaw, harpy eagles and—yes—jaguar.

How to get there: Stop by on your way from Belize City to San Ignacio or Belmopan. Belize Zoo is situated just off of the Western Highway.

Dance With a Garifuna Band in Hopkins Village

In 1635, two Spanish ships carrying indentured Nigerians wrecked near the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. The island’s population—already a blend of South American and indigenous islands—soon adopted the Nigerians and formed what would become the Garifuna people. Today, many of the descendants of those islanders live on the coast of Belize, and they’re famous for a good time.

Garifuna bands don’t belt out the watered down steel drum stuff you hear on cruise ships. Instead, they’ll shake your bones to a blend of African, Spanish and Latin American beats that are uniquely their own.

How to get there: Take a two hour drive south from Belize City along the Southern Highway. Visit Laruna Hati Diner in Hopkins Village to find authentic beats, brews and cuisine.

Trek to the Top of Caracol

At its peak, the great Mayan city state of Caracol housed an estimated 100,000 people. But what man carved by hand, nature took back through wind and water. By the time Caracol was rediscovered by the scientific community in the 1930s, its former glory was completely consumed by jungle. Today, however, you can climb to the top of the largest Mayan city in Belize—some 141 feet above the forest floor below.

How to get there: Access Caracol from the town of San Ignacio, near the Guatemalan border. Expect a lengthy drive over rutted roads to reach the site.

Paddle Through the Rainforest on the Macal River

The Macal River dances down from the Maya Mountains for almost 200 miles before merging with its larger cousin, the Belize River in the plains below. Its sleepy, blue-green waters slowly plod their way through thick layers of rainforest, past ancient pillars of stone. Overhead, thousands of species of birds, mammals and insects create a natural chorus that’s best heard over the gentle stroke of a paddle.

How to get there: Daily canoe trips on the Macal depart from regional guide services like Sweet Songs Jungle Lodge and usually conclude in the downstream markets of San Ignacio.

Wander Under Toucans at Belize Botanic Gardens

The Belize Zoo isn’t the only accessible location to find yourself in the thick of the Belizean rainforest. Belize Botanic Gardens, located on 45-acres in the heavily forested Cayo region, houses a dizzying array of flowers and native plant species that create a magnet for tropical birds—including several species of toucan.

If you’re itching to see these beautiful birds in the wild, Belize Botanic Gardens is the place. The park even includes stands for bird watchers.

How to get there: Pair this outting with a trip to San Ignacio or a float down the Maya River. Belize Botanic Gardens sits adjacent to both.

Spend the Night in a Jungle Treehouse

Just 30 minutes south of the town of Dangriga, you'll find a scuba dive resort and lodge offering a unique way to immerse yourself in nature. Located in a hotspot for backpackers and hostels, Hamanasi Resort puts travelers up in their own, personal treehouse for the night. These hideouts are no hostels, however, as they come equipped with electricity, running water and a smorgasbord of entertainment options via the resort itself.

How to get there: Hamanasi sits on the outskirts of Hopkins Village. They can pick you up at Dangriga airport, or you can take the old backpacker's route along the Southern Highway.

Island Hop From Caye to Caye

In large part, Belize has built a reputation as one of the fastest growing Central American tourist destinations behind the gin-clear waters of its cayes. Islands like Ambergris Caye, Tobacco Caye and Lighthouse Reef Atoll are becoming familiar names in the States for good reason. Most of the tiny islands are accessible via small aircraft or short ferries, and some house all-inclusive resorts for those so inclined.

How to get there: Tropic Air runs regular flights to Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker from cities around the country. Access to Tobacco Caye—pictured here—can be gained via a $20 ferry from Dangriga.

Go Fly Fishing for Bonefish on the Coast

Word began to leak about world class fly fishing in Belize in the 1980s. Shortly after Harrison Ford’s Mosquito Coast, about a family that leaves America for a new life in Belize, appeared in theaters, American anglers began to fill the tanks of float planes and head to the movie’s filming locations in Belize. What they found was an untouched haven for bonefish and some of the best flats fishing on earth.

Fly fishing now supports a cottage industry in Belize. However, some longtime guides are too busy carrying tourists on sight seeing tours to bother wetting a line. That leaves most of the prime spots open for you.

How to get there: Fishing is available from many coastal towns and resorts in Belize. If you're overnighting in Airbnbs, check the local snorkel and dive shops for fishing guides.

SCUBA Dive Caribbean Coral Reefs

Belize is a stellar destination for American divers who have a Central American budget and South Pacific taste. The country’s barrier reef is not only a UNESCO World Heritage site, but also the second largest barrier reef on earth. Short flights from major U.S. cities—Belize City is just two hours from Houston and Miami—make its waters an accessible weekend getaway.

How to get there: The Great Blue Hole remains the most well-known dive spot in the country; however, dive sites like Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley are also accessible via outfitters from Ambergris Caye.

Fly Over the Great Blue Hole

Once a geologic novelty known mostly to divers, the Great Blue Hole has become the most recognizable tourist destination in Belize thanks to social media. The hole is nearly 1,000 feet in diameter and reaches down 407 feet to the sea floor below. Though it remains a popular dive destination, it’s perhaps best viewed from the air.

How to get there: Sightseeing tours regularly depart Caye Caulker; but beware, most require a minimum of three people per flight. This tour is not for the faint of wallet, however. Prices to see this world wonder run upwards of $250 per seat.

Hike Through the Home of Mayan Death Gods at ATM Cave

Actun Tunichil Munkal—known colloquially as ATM Cave— is a subterranean cavern pulled straight from the scripts of Raiders of the Lost Ark. However, this is no movie set. It is the real-life home of the ancient Mayan Death Gods, and it houses actual artifacts and alters, as well as the human remains of people who were once sacrificed there.

How to get there: ATM is located in the country's rugger interior.
Strictly regulated guided tours are available from licensed, local guides. Make note: in most cases, photography is prohibited.

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