Situated on the Caribbean coast between Mexico and Guatemala, Belize is so exotic, so packed with natural beauty and divergent cultures that you’ll be surprised to hear that everyone speaks English.
Most famous for the second largest barrier reef in the world and its numerous cayes (pronounced “keys”), this tiny nation could you lure you in just with pictures of the impossibly blue sea. But dig in — you’ll soon find that Belize is much more than a typical beach vacation.
The mainland, with dense green jungles, limestone caves and cenotes, exotic wildlife, neon-colored birds and Mayan temples, can keep those seeking adventure busy for months.
These exciting experiences will give you a sense of why so many return to this tiny paradise year after year.
Dive Under the Waves
Snorkeling is one of the most popular vacation activities in Belize for good reason. The barrier reef is bursting with sea life ranging from tiny neon fish to huge turtles and manatees. The most popular snorkel trip takes you to vibrant Hol Chan Marine Reserve off Ambergris Caye and then to Shark Ray Alley.
As you arrive, nurse sharks and huge stingrays circle your boat as you hesitantly put your snorkel mask on, but fear not. The sharks are as gentle as puppies and you’ll find that your bravery is seriously rewarded with an experience you’ll never forget.
Spelunk the ATM Cave
Don’t listen to your guide as he jokes that ATM stands for “Another Tourist Missing”— the acronym actually means for Actun Tunichil Muknal, which translates to “Cave of the Stone Sepulcher.”
Trek through jungle with your small group and specially trained guide (like you’d find with Pacz Tours) to the partially submerged mouth of a limestone cave, click on your headlamp and swim in. Climb over rock formations, around stalagmites crusted in crystal and into a hidden chamber deep within the cave to visit the site’s most famous resident: calcite-covered skeletal remains dubbed The Crystal Maiden.
A few hours later you will emerge into the sunlight feeling incredibly accomplished and more than a bit like Indiana Jones.
Sip and Sun At The Lazy Lizard
Legend has it that the small island of Caye Caulker was cut in half by Hurricane Hattie in 1961. Though the story isn’t true, the small land mass is, in fact, sliced down the middle by a shockingly blue channel appropriately known as “The Split” and it serves as the swimming hole for the entire caye.
The colorful and slightly ramshackle Lazy Lizard Bar on the water’s edge is a gathering spot for kids, locals and visitors longing to take in the Caribbean’s jaw-dropping sunsets. Spend an afternoon at this sun-drenched perch sipping local Belikin beer, listening to reggae and watching people jump off the wooden high dive.
Explore the Mayan Ruins
Belize has some serious history. In fact, it is estimated that there were two to three times as many people living in the country 1,000 years ago as there are today. Modern Belize is literally covered in shards of centuries-old pottery and the rolling hills on the mainland might very well be uncovered Mayan temples.
Two of the most beautiful and well-preserved sites can be visited from almost anywhere in the country. At Lamanai in the north and Xunantunich along the western border, marvel at the magnificent statues and carvings and then climb to the top of the largest pyramids for spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.
Eat Like A Local
Belize’s rich melting pot of cultures translates into a diverse and delicious array of food offerings. Eat like a native during a culinary stroll through San Pedro with Belize Food Tours.
Spend a few hours hearing stories about growing up on the sandy island streets and fishing for lobster just outside the front door. You’ll stop at restaurants, stalls and shops, tasting the various local rums, eating the national dish (stewed chicken, rice and beans), savoring Belizean chocolate and sampling fresh conch ceviche.
Flyfish the Vast Salt Water Flats
Belize is a top destination for fly-fishing, with its massive reef creating miles and miles of crystal-blue shallow fishing flats. The elusive permit, a game fish often called the holy grail of fly-fishing, attracts anglers from all over the world, as do the plentiful bonefish and the sometimes-monstrous tarpon.
Belize takes its fly-fishing seriously. It was the first country in the world to legally protect all three fish — lovingly called the “grand slam,” this saltwater trio is catch-and-release only — and many guides are second- or third-generation anglers.
Pack your rod for some DIY casting on north Ambergris Caye or book a week at one of the outer atoll lodges for a serious fishing adventure.
Fly over the Great Blue Hole
Perhaps Belize’s most famous sight, the Great Blue Hole is at the top of every scuba diver’s bucket list. But the best way to view this perfectly round, deep blue sinkhole is from the air.
The breathtaking trip, whether by small plane or helicopter, is the only way to see the surrounding white ring of coral and the thousand different shades of blue of the surrounding lagoon.
On the way back, swoop over Caye Caulker and the nearby shipwreck on Lighthouse Reef — this is absolutely the best way to be awed by the magic of Belize’s barrier reef.
Party At A Festival
Belizeans love to party and nothing brings out local pride like a festival. During the late spring and summer, the parties can seem non-stop. The Mango Festival in Hopkins, the Crooked Tree Cashew Festival in the west, the Toledo Cacao Festival in southern Belize and three seaside Lobsterfests along the coast are just a few notables.
The entire month of September, with two national holidays celebrating Belize’s relatively recent independence (from Britain in 1981), feels like one big party. Every town and village is decked out in red, white and blue and there are concerts, beauty pageants, dances and spelling bees across the country to celebrate.
Expect lots of local food, music and rum. Don’t be at all surprised if you end up dancing in a local street parade late into the night.
Luxuriate On A Private Caye
Have you ever dreamed of having your own private thatched cabana on a remote Caribbean island? Perhaps your vacation fantasy involves fishing for your own dinner or, maybe, enjoying a private plunge pool and butler.
That vision can become a reality in Belize, where a surprising number of secluded island getaways are on offer, from casual camping spots like Glover’s Atoll Resort & Island Lodge to dream honeymoon destinations like Cayo Espanto or Coco Plum Island Resort.
The best way to explore the coast and cayes is by sailing — steady winds, reef-protected waters, the numerous atolls and natural ports make Belize ideal for it. Daily catamarans sail and snorkel the waters between Ambergris and Caye Caulker, serving unlimited rum punch along the way.
For a more luxe adventure, charter a private yacht with friends for a few days and hop between islands, exploring some of the more remote snorkel and dive spots, while a local chef prepares your daily catch for dinner under the stars. Belize’s night sky, free from the bright lights of any nearby urban centers, is so dark that shooting stars can be seen almost nightly.