Best Things To Do in Belize
Belize is compact, occupying about 9,000 square miles. But don't let its size throw you off. Swimmers, snorkelers and scuba divers will discover paradisiacal spots along the barrier reef like Hol Chan Marine Reserve and the Great Blue Hole. Wildlife-seekers will marvel at Belize's magnificent jaguars, pumas, howler monkeys, parakeets and keel-billed toucans at the Belize Zoo. And culture hounds will reach new heights exploring impressive Mayan archeological sites like Corozal, Altun Ha and Lamanai. With so much to do, it can be difficult to decide where to begin in Belize. But the logical first step is grab your bathing suit and savor a tropical papaya or carambola (star fruit) along the beach.
Updated June 18, 2019
- #1View all PhotosfreeAmbergris Caye#1 in BelizeBeaches, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND
With its plentiful outdoor activities, this 25-mile-long island off the coast of northern Belize caters to the snorkeling and diving set. The island was originally inhabited by the Mayans to serve as a far-extending trade route, spanning from present-day Mexico to as far south as Honduras. Today, Ambergris Caye welcomes thousands of visitors seeking easy access to the barrier reef that surrounds the island. Snorkelers and intrepid divers alike will want to explore Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Most of the diving and snorkeling shops and instructors are found in San Pedro, including the Belize Pro Dive Center, Tuff E Nuff Tours and Scuba School Belize, which all offer a variety of daily excursions. Prices vary depending on the type and length of tours, plus any certification fees for diving.
When you're not underwater, explore San Pedro, Ambergris' main town. Here you'll find beachside restaurants, lounges, shops and luxury hotels. You'll notice the difference between this tourist hub and the more urban Belize City as soon as you step onto its cobblestone streets, which are filled with golf carts and bicycles, rather than cars.
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Plunge into this deep blue hole and you'll discover imposing ancient stalactites (calcium deposits resembling icicles) and coral fringe. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 — along with six other areas surrounding Belize's barrier reef — the Great Blue Hole remains one of the world's most distinguished scuba sites. Created approximately 10,000 years ago after a cave roof crumbled in, this blue channel contains underwater tunnels, caverns and rock formations.
You'll likely spot marine life lining the coral wall at the surface of the hole. As you descend about 410 feet below sea level, you'll discover the stalactites, but it's unlikely you'll encounter many underwater creatures (except the occasional shark!). Even if you're not a diver, recent visitors recommended snorkeling around the hole and the nearby reefs. Make sure to visit in the dry season, with ideal weather conditions most likely in April and May.
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Facing the southern edge of Ambergris Caye, Hol Chan Marine Reserve is the oldest reserve in Belize. Its name translates to "Little Channel," in reference to a coral-filled gap in Belize's immense barrier reef. Encompassing 3 square miles, this densely populated aquatic zone is a sanctuary for stingrays, eels and sharks, among other creatures.
The reserve is separated into four parts: the mangroves, the reef, the sea-grass beds and the most recently added Shark Ray Alley. Because of its diversity, the reserve has flourished as a hot spot for scuba divers and snorkelers. Recent travelers said Hol Chan Marine's crystal clear waters and abundant sea life make it a prime spot for snorkeling and diving.
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Just about 20 miles north of Belize City sits Caye Caulker, a 4-mile-long, sun-soaked island that boasts superb diving and snorkeling spots and a relaxed tropical ambience. Though the island is mostly uninhabited by locals, visitors flock to the restaurants, shops and hotels perched at the northern tip near the Split (the area where Hurricane Hattie parted Caye Caulker into two halves in 1960).
Like Ambergris Caye, this remote island offers a broad range of snorkeling, scuba, sailing, kayaking and fishing services to nearby sites located along the surrounding barrier reef. There are also some unique attractions like the manatee preservation site, Swallow Caye.
- #5View all PhotosfreeCayo District#5 in BelizeFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Travel west of Belize City and you'll discover a cluster of ancient Mayan sites, rolling hills, gorgeous sunsets, tranquil butterfly gardens and verdant jungles. In the heart of the Cayo District sits San Ignacio, a small town that boasts traditional culinary dishes and affordable hotels.
Start your tour just 6 miles south of the town at the ancient Mayan ruin Xunantunich. Set along the Mopan River and less than a mile from the Guatemalan border, the temple at Xunantunich was once a civic ceremonial center for the Mayan people.
- #6View all Photos#6 in BelizeFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Imagine tranquil beaches topped with rustling palm trees and backed by pastel-colored beachfront villas and calm Caribbean waters. This is Placencia, Belize's rapidly booming beach town. Stretching across a 16-mile-long peninsula, Placencia boasts a myriad of nature reserves and underwater sanctuaries along with postcard-perfect vistas. The area offers the only golden sands on mainland Belize.
While you're visiting Placencia, consider a trip to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and the nearby Mayan sites. The Monkey River — which contains crocodiles, howler monkeys, boas and iguanas — is also worth checking out. Plus, don't forget to sample some of the peninsula's cuisine — the area is known for its Kriol (Creole) seafood dishes.
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Perched on the New River Lagoon in northern Belize, this sprawling 960-acre Mayan site stands masked in crocodile art. Lamanai means "submerged crocodile" in Yucatec Mayan, which should give you a good idea of what you'll encounter here: artifacts depicting representations of the reptile, plus crocodiles (and iguanas) crawling along the banks of the New River to catch some sunlight.
Inhabited from about 1500 B.C. to A.D. 1700, Lamanai is the longest-occupied known Mayan site in the world. Its dense compound features three Mayan pyramids, the remains of a 16th-centruy Spanish Church and several noteworthy plazas and temples established during Pre-Classic Mayan rule. You won't want to skip climbing the High Temple, and you'll also want to visit the Mask Temple, which includes ancient artifacts linked to Mayan, Aztec and Olmec rulers. Just come prepared with sunscreen, light clothing and plenty of water.
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This popular Mayan site, speckled with tombs, pyramids and temples, served as a trading nexus during the Mayan Empire's Classic Period (A.D. 250 to 900). Altun Ha —meaning "Rockstone Pond" in Yucatec Maya — features a man-made lagoon, which remains intact. During your visit, you'll likely encounter foxes, deer, birds and perhaps crocodiles occupying Rockstone Pond. Visitors also recommended exploring the Temple of the Green Tomb, where elite priest-kings were buried with luxurious items, such as jade, pottery and pearls.
But keep in mind: If you don't like hiking, Altun Ha may not be for you. Travelers said that while the ruins are amazing, the uphill hike to the site can be exhausting. If you're looking for something less strenuous, consider visiting one of Belize's other Mayan ruins like Lamanai or the Cayo District.
- #9View all Photos#9 in BelizeZoos and AquariumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDZoos and AquariumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Stroll through this 29-acre zoo and you might think you've trespassed into a jungle. The small zoo houses more than 45 species: Jaguars roar, keel-billed toucans squawk, colorful scarlet macaws flutter and coral snakes slither across the thick forest floor. Peer through the zoo's leafy canopy trees and you may catch sight of Belize's beloved howler monkeys, or at least one tropical parrot, tapir, Jabiru stork or harpy eagle. And on the zoo's rustic path, especially during the late afternoon, keep your eyes peeled for one of Belize's beautiful native cats, which include margays, ocelots, pumas and jaguarondis.
Started as a rescue facility for animals that were used in documentary films, the Belize Zoo feels like more of a wildlife preserve than a commercial zoo, according to recent visitors.
- #10View all Photos#10 in BelizeSightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDSightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
In Belize, jaguars rule the land. And the best place to catch a glimpse of these striking wildcats is Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. This sprawling reserve was founded in the 1980s to protect Belize's endangered species. Today, Cockscomb also houses ocelots, pumas, peccaries, tapirs, king vultures, armadillos, otters, along with hundreds of native birds. The sanctuary contains 12 miles of nature trails that span across the 150-square-mile sanctuary. You'll likely only have time (and strength) to mosey up a few marked trails, so choose wisely.
Recent visitors praised the reserve's beautiful scenery, but some noted the trails are challenging. Still, most said the hikes were worth it simply for the picturesque vistas of the southern tip of the country. Increase your chances of seeing active wildlife by visiting at the beginning of the rainy season or on cooler, cloudy days when animals are more likely to be active.
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