Belize’s most beguiling attraction remains its old world eccentricity. It’s a place where villages are named Double head Cabbage and bound to shine. With a population that hovers around 390,000, Belize is one of the most culturally diverse places on earth. Read our Rough Guide to discover the best things to do in Belize.
Snorkelling the Belize Barrier Reef just offshore from the relaxed little island of Caye Caulker is among the best things to do in Belize. One of the most popular destinations is Caye Caulker. This working fishing village was originally settled by mestizos fleeing the Caste War in Mexico’s Yucatán in the mid-19th century.
Sand dredged from the back of the island and pumped to the front creates a lovely – but artificial – beach several meters wide along the seaward shore. The Split, at the north end of the village, is a channel through the island made by Hurricane Hattie in 1961. It’s one of the most popular gathering places on the island, with a nice swimming area (be careful of the strong current and speedboats, however) and an open-air bar.
At the island’s northern tip is the Caye Caulker Forest and Marine Reserve, home to mangroves, gumbo limbo, and poisonwood. Other native inhabitants of the reserve’s littoral forest include scaly-tailed iguanas (here called ‘wish willies’), geckos, and multiple species of land crab. Local tour companies will offer day trips here upon request.
Uncover marine life around the Belize Barrier Reef on this snorkeling cruise from Caye Caulker. Swim in protected waters among turtles, sharks, manatees, pristine corals, and a shipwreck.
San Ignacio is the best place from which to explore inland Belize. Here you'll find lush, mountainous rainforests around the town of San Ignacio — long the heart of the country’s eco-tourism trade.
San José Succotz, a village a few miles/km southwest of San Ignacio is the jumping-off point for the Maya ruins of Xunantunich. This is one of the biggest attractions in the Cayo District, and one of the most impressive Maya sites in all of Belize.
The ruins are reached by crossing the Mopan River on a hand-winched ferry. The Maya site of Xunantunich is inspiring, and the view from the top of the highest structure is breathtaking. The view of the Mopan River from the ferry on the way over is itself memorable.
Discover the Mayan temples and palaces of Xunantunich - a historic complex located in the village of San Jose Succotz and one of the most popular sites to visit in Belize. Combine your visit with an optional activity including horseback riding or tubing.
Dive deep into the inky waters in the coral-encrusted cavern of the Blue Hole. Located in St Herman’s Blue Hole National Park, the Blue Hole is a beautiful, circular swimming hole that is surrounded by dripping forest.
These waters are an astonishing sight: it’s truly blue, with just a touch of green at the edges of the 30ft (9-meter) diameter pool. The natural wonder is actually a collapsed karst sinkhole, estimated to be about 100ft (31 meters) deep.
If you are an avid diving enthusiast, also explore our list of the best diving destinations in the world.
Among other best things to do in Belize is hiking the winding jungle paths of the world’s first jaguar reserve. Seen from satellite photographs, the Cockscomb basin looks like a huge meteor crater blasted from the centre of the Maya mountains. From closer to earth, it is a lush mountain basin, full of pristine tropical forest and riddled with jungle streams.
It is Central America’s densest concentration of jaguars. Although it is the jaguar for which the sanctuary is famous, you will be lucky to glimpse one of the big cats, which mostly hunt at night. The chance to experience nature attracts an increasing number of visitors.
This fascinating tailor-made tour off the tourist trail and highlights of Guatemala and Belize visits archaeological sites such as majestic Tikal before an idyllic private island stay off Belize’s Caribbean coast completes the trip.
One of the best things to do in Belize is to relax on Belize’s beautiful, white-sand beaches in Placencia. Or head out to sea for snorkelling and diving.
The roots of Placencia’s name vary depending on who you ask. Some say ‘pleasant point,’ others think it means ‘peaceful point'. While still others believe it stands for ‘patience.’ The exact meaning doesn’t really matter, as Placencia is both pleasant and peaceful, which has made it one of the country’s top tourist destinations.
Placencia is firmly on the itinerary for visitors, who come to enjoy the sun by day, and the lively restaurants and bars by night. Despite the many upscale resorts lining this coast, there are still many secluded beaches to call your own for the afternoon.
If you're looking for the best beach holiday, check out our guide to the world's best beaches.
Climb to the top of a 1200-year-old temple complex of Caracol and admire Belize's greatest Mayan city. Guatemala has Tikal, Honduras has Copán, and Belize has Caracol. The list of things to do in Belize will not be complete without visiting this Mayan historical site.
This ancient Mayan city was pnce massive and sophisticated metropolis that remained hidden from the world under a blanket of rainforest for nearly a millennium. Rediscovered half a century ago, archaeologists have realized that Caracol was far more important and powerful than they had guessed. The lost names of Caracol’s heroic kings and their legendary battles have triumphantly been returned to their place in history books.
Discover the Caracol Ruins and learn about this ancient metropolis on a guided tour. Hike through the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve to explore Rio Frio Cave and relax in the waters of the Rio on Pools or Big Rock Waterfalls.
Actun Tunichil Muknal (also known as ATM; 40km/25 miles southeast of San Ignacio) is one of the country’s grandest underground sights, consisting of a subterranean river with soaring chambers that are strewn with astonishing Maya archaeological finds, including calcified skeletons of human sacrifice victims.
ATM is only accessible via guided tour, the majority of which depart from San Ignacio or Belmopan.
Pass the gateway of the Mayan Underworld, stepping into hidden chambers revealing ancient Mayan artefacts, human skeletons and geological processes that have helped to shape the Mayan underworld on this Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave Full-Day Tour.
Like any other self-respecting tropical island, Ambergris Caye looks to the sea. The island is set in the Barrier Reef, and it is offshore that one heads for swimming, fishing, diving, and snorkelling.
Snorkeling along the reef is one of the most exciting things to do in Belize. The truly adventurous will want to take the plunge at Shark Ray Alley. This dive site offers the unique experience of diving or snorkelling with stingrays and sharks – well, nurse sharks. They are generally harmless (although they don’t look that way at feeding time), but this is not a swim for the fainthearted.
You may jump into the water fairly confident but suddenly start feeling a little nervous when the wings of a ray brush against you. You can only visit Shark Ray Alley with an experienced guide.
If you're looking for a secluded getaway, there are a couple of private islands around Placencia that offer relaxation in authentic resorts. Consider the following resorts, which are perfect for immersing yourself in a relaxed atmosphere:
A visit to Bacab Eco Park is one of the best things to do in Belize if you are travelling with kids. The park is located just 20 minutes from Belize city and offers a great variety of exciting activities.
This park is worth a visit under any circumstances. You can enjoy all kinds of outdoor activities here, from kayaking and cycling through the jungle to touring the Mayan ruins and trekking the many hiking trails.
Take a family-friendly tailor-made adventure through Guatemala and Belize. Head out to Belize for its fantastic underwater world and gorgeous beaches.
The impressive Maya ruins of Altun Ha a Classic Period ceremonial centre, with two large plazas and 13 ancient structures, were probably occupied from 1100 BC to AD 900. Some 3,000 Mayas are believed to have lived here, mostly supporting themselves by farming and trading. Excavation of the site began only in the mid-1960s.
The dominant pyramid of Plaza A, known as the Temple of the Green Tomb, is actually several temples built on top of one another. Around 300 artefacts have been found inside it. From skins to jewellery, and stingray spines to parts of an ancient Maya book. The tallest structure at Altun Ha, the Temple of the Masonry Altars (also known as the Temple of the Sun God) at a height of 60ft (18 meters).
Altun Ha is an easy half-day trip and it is a hugely popular stop on the cruise ship circuit. Bring plenty of water and wear long sleeves and long pants – the insects, and the sun, can be brutal.
Visit the temple of Altun Ha. Climb the temples and enjoy a nice panoramic view from the top after a tour of Belize and its historical sights.
There is one place in Belize where you can be sure of seeing scarlet macaws, jaguars, or Baird’s tapirs in a natural setting. Belize Zoo is an oasis of ponds, forests, and flowers among the sprawling savannas. More than 60 indigenous Belizean animals live here in large, natural enclosures.
If you can, try to visit the zoo first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon, when the animals are more active. You will often feel that you are in the forest, peering through a tangle of vines and shrubs to catch a glimpse of a puma, jaguarundi, or ocelot. Patience and persistence are necessary to view the creatures here, but your patience will be rewarded.
Discover the real Belize, past and present, with a tour of Belize City and a visit to the Mayan archaeological site Altun Ha. The Belize Zoo will enchant you with Belize’s history, culture, and wildlife.
With the help of a guide, trail systems can be explored throughout Belize on horseback, mountain bike, or on foot. There are some of the best options for riding a horse around the area. Consider travelling towards the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve. This is a highly protected area of humid forest in the foothills of the Maya Mountains, run by the Belize Audubon Society.
Although the reserve itself is closed to the public, farther south is a comfortable ranch, with cosy rooms and a central dining area called the Cantina. It is run by Mountain Equestrian Trails, which offers horseback riding for all abilities as well as exciting tours of the Mayan ruins and much more.
When visiting Belize you'll want to be sure to get a taste of Belizean wilderness. This can be done without having to go too deep into the ‘bush’. Only 5 miles (8km) west of San Ignacio is a turn-off that follows a tributary of the Macal River, Chaa Creek, to the heart of cabaña country.
The best-known lodge here, the rustic-chic Lodge at Chaa Creek, is nestled amongst rainforest-covered hills in the Macal River valley. Each room is a separate cottage, decorated with local handicrafts and hardwood furniture made on-site by craftsmen.
Cool breezes waft through large open windows facing down on the luscious river valley. The all-inclusive resort has its own natural history centre and butterfly farm. It offers a wide range of adventure activities in the area; horseback riding, canoeing, hiking, bird-watching, and mountain-biking.
While in Belize you can stay in Sweet Songs Jungle Lodge with their own white-sand beach by the River Macal. The lodge’s owners have established the Belize Botanic Gardens on 50 acres (20 hectares) of their property. It has developed after more than 10 years of reforestation work, planting some 2,500 trees.
There is an excellent guided tour of the impressive grounds, which include hundreds of species of native trees, orchids, and a network of nature trails. The gem of the gardens is the Native Orchid House which contains an impressive collection of orchid species.
The legacy of the late Ken Duplooy, who founded the garden, continues to inspire. Fourteen new species of orchid have been discovered by him. And one, Pleurothallis duplooyii, with tiny purple blooms, has been named for Duplooy.
Find more inspiring ideas for your exotic journey in our guide to the most exotic places to travel in the world. And if you are looking for some more exotic destinations read our best things to do in Costa Rica or the best things to do in Bermuda and find some inspiration for your holidays.
Ready for a trip to Belize? Check out the snapshot of The Rough Guide to Belize with Tikal & Flores. If you travel further in Belize, read more about the best time to go and the best places to visit in Belize. For inspiration use the itineraries from The Rough Guide to Belize with Tikal & Flores and our local travel experts. A bit more hands-on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.
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