Trying to plan a trip to Belize? Below is a list of my top ten favorite things to do in this Caribbean nation. I numbered them in order from 1 to 10, but grouped them according to geographic region for ease of travel. I’m hoping that those with limited vacation time will find this guide helpful when deciding which areas they want to visit the most. I prefer being active as opposed to lying on the beach. So if you’re not into the occasional rush of adrenaline this is probably not the list for you. Also for you budget travelers Southern Belize tends to be more expensive than Northern because of it’s remoteness.
$ Under 50.00
$$ around 100.00
$$$ at least 200.00
Cayo (Santa Elena/San Ignacio)
I lived in “Cayo” for two years. While Cayo is the name of the district, the sister towns of Santa Elena and San Ignacio are referred to collectively as “Cayo”. So technically I lived on the Santa Elena side for 2 years. San Ignacio is a quaint little town built up the side of a hill. Sunsets are a nice time to get pictures of the surrounding landscape, but if drunk people make you nervous I recommend avoiding the city center after dark. As far as restaurants go, if you want to try a local favorite, Yolli’s pizza has excellent beans and rice with stew chicken at midday. The French bakery near the market has great pastries and bread to start your day off right.
1. The ATM Cave $$
Actun Tunichil Muknal or ATM, is a cave in Belize, near San Ignacio, in the Cayo District. It is a notable Maya archaeological site that includes skeletons, ceramics, and stoneware. There are several areas of skeletal remains in the main chamber. The best-known is “The Crystal Maiden”, the skeleton of a teenage girl, possibly a sacrifice victim, whose bones have been calcified to a sparkling, crystallized appearance. It also contains pottery used for ceremonial purposes, and has small cave dwelling animals.
If you love caves this is a fantastic wet and wild exploration. Claustrophobics beware though, this cave has a lot of tight spaces, and you are squeezing thru them while in water. Good physical condition is a must. This was by far the most exciting thing I have ever done in Belize.
3. Tikal $$
Tikal may be in Guatemala but it is most accessible from Belize. It is one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centers of pre-Colombian Mayan civilization. It has been a UNESECO World Heritage Site since 1979. This is at least a full day activity and if you want to catch the sun rise at the ruins its best to spend the night before in nearby Flores.
The Island of Flores is worth the stopover if you are already going to see Tikal. Built in the 1500’s it has cute cobble stone streets. Nice views of Lake Peten Itza. Cheap hotels and good food. It resembles a miniature Antigua in style. Its a great place to spend a relaxing evening, but the island as a whole can be explored in a mater of hours.
5. Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve $$
Visiting Mountain Pine Ridge is usually a full day activity. Excursions typically include a variety of stopping points or options, but these are my favorite sites.
Caracol is a large ancient Maya archaeological site. It was one of the most important regional political centers of the Maya Lowlands during the Classic Period. Covering approximately 200 square kilometers, it is much larger than present-day Belize City and supported more than twice the modern city’s population.
Rio Frio Cave has the largest entrance of any cave in Belize. The sheer size of it is amazing.
Rio On Pools has hundreds of tiny waterfalls. The rocks here are incredibly smooth and many of the falls act as miniature slip and slides that you can ride down.
Big Rock Falls is breath taking. The river Rio Frio has one of its largest drops here, and if that isn’t good enough you can actually jump of this waterfall into the deep pool below.
9. Xunatunich $
You can easily spend a day exploring this site. Pack a lunch to eat from the top of the ruins. No guide is necessary. If you go on non-cruise ship days you can have the place almost to yourself. The first time I went the armed guards roaming about really freaked me out but they are just there to make sure no one tries to pick pocket you so be glad they are there.
Belize City can be dangerous and for this reason most people just pass thru on their way to other places. I have never personally had a bad experience while in the city, but there is just not really anything worth seeing here.
4. Jaguar Paw $$
Cave tubing in Belize is an amazing, relaxing, and unique experience for the whole family. Its a much safer activity if everyone in the party can swim, but the guides do provide life jackets. Tours are available from Belize city. The excursion starts with a short hike through beautiful jungle and dry caves. Knowledgeable guides explain interesting facts about the local ecosystem. Then the real adventure begins. Every one enters a gorgeous, aquifer, feed river either by jumping off a small ledge or climbing down it. Then you float on an inner tube in and out of gigantic caves. There is even a small section of rapids. Its a relaxing and enjoyable day. You can swim, jump off cliffs, swing off rope swings into the river, and eat BBQ chicken.
6. Caye Caulker $$
Caye Caulker is the local favorite. Its much closer than and cheaper to visit than San Pedro. Its also less built up than San Pedro and has more of a Caribbean feel. There are no motorized vehicles, only golf carts. A little strip of beach runs around most of the island making it a great place to take a stroll. Shark Ray alley is a great place to snorkel or dive. Here you can feed nurse sharks and rays. Most of the reef is only 30 ft. deep making the waters warm and the visibility excellent. If your on a tight budget its easy to arrange a day trip.
10. Belize Zoo $
If you’re an animal lover the zoo is a must see. No lions or tigers. All of the animals are native species. Most of them were rescued from poachers and are used to human contact. This a great family activity. Wear long sleeves and long pants the Mosquitos can be really bad. On on the bright side it’s mostly shaded so you’re not walking around in the hot sun. Go on cruise ship days. There are more people, but it’s also more interactive. You can take bananas and nuts to feed the animals (I would stick to the herbivores though). They love treats, but please don’t feed them anything unhealthy like bread or crackers. Even one of the Jaguars is friendly and can be pet. The staff is very knowledgeable and kind.
Ambergris (San Pedro)
Ambergris a great small resort town. You can stay in an all-inclusive or a hotel right on the beach. It’s pretty built up, and fairly expensive, but I hear it’s the perfect place to relax, which isn’t really my thing. I’ve only been here once, and prefer Playa Del Carmen as Playa has a lot more amenities, cheaper prices, and better service. For this reason San Pedro didn’t make my top 10 list, but its far too popular of a destination not to mention.
Toledo/Stann Creek (Down South)
2. Whale sharks $$$
Diving with the whale sharks is one of my most memorable activities I have from living in Belize. It even beat out Tikal for the number 2 spot. I will usually pick nature over anything man made. That said I will warn you that this dive isn’t for everyone. It classifies as an adventure dive. Check the weather before going and if its windy you might want to rethink it. The whales sharks are gathered at the edge of a trench that’s around 1,600 ft. deep just on the other side of the reef. The day I went the 2 hour boat ride from Placencia to the edge of the reef was like glass, but once we crossed over and were on the other side of the reef the seas were quite turbulent. A number of people were throwing up. We had to immediately drop to a depth of 80ft and that day none of the snorkeler’s saw anything as the whale sharks were hanging out below the turbulence. That being said I saw a 35 ft. whale shark from a little over a meter away. It’s is hard to put into words how amazing that is. To be fair I’ve also seen a lot of videos of people snorkeling with whale sharks when the water is like glass.
Placencia is a cute little beach town. It’s the best place to stay if your going to dive with the whale sharks. Its one of my favorite places in Belize to eat good local food.
Wendy’s restaurant is close to the Hokey Pokey water taxi and it serves fantastic meals. I love to stop there for breakfast, and order their fried jacks. the portion sizes are huge.
Tutti Fruity has the best Italian gelato. Its a must stop for an afternoon treat, and with so many flavors to choose from you might find yourself stopping more than once.
The Tipsy Tuna is my favorite dinner stop. Local beer and burgers are served with Garfina music and dance lessons. They also have beach chairs so you can sit next to the sea and listen to the waves crashing on the shore.
* Beware of ordering drinks in some restaurants and resorts where there is no price on the menu! Many places advertise 5 dollar hamburgers, but don’t tell you the piña coladas cost 18.00. This is a huge tourist trap used in Belizean resort towns and resorts.
8. Tobacco Caye $$
It’s a tiny island, and the conditions are a little rustic, but you are literally staying right on the Belize barrier reef. Meals are included with lodging. There’s great diving and its great deal for the price. Relax in a hammock when not snorkeling or laying on the dock. There are also rays swimming in the shallow waters surrounding the island. You can schedule a daily water taxi from Dangriga, but its important to book your lodging ahead of time as rooms are limited.
Dangriga is a cool little Garfina town with a great second-hand clothes market where you can find good prices and boutique items.
7. Blue Creek Cave
The great thing about down south is the freedom. In most places tourism is so restricted. The Toledo district is still one of those places where you can explore relatively on your own. Blue Creek is lovely. The picture above isn’t filtered. That’s the rivers actual color. Blue creek cave, which is to the back of Blue Creek can be explored on your own with headlamp, and if your a good swimmer has a small waterfall in the back. I spent hours exploring this cave and the surrounding areas with some of my local friends. The draw back is isolation. I would still recommend hiring a local guide as it can be easy to get lost and this is the jungle which includes poisonous snakes and other creepy crawlies.
Rio Blanco Falls is fantastic after a heavy rain, but beautiful any time of year. I wouldn’t recommend jumping off the falls durning the rainy season if you aren’t a strong swimmer, but that being said I’ve done it multiple times.
San Antonio Falls is considerably smaller, but a cute stopover on the way to Rio Blanco. Plus you can run down the falls. The rock formation under the one side is super rough and its easy to keep traction on.
The Maya Experience. You can stay the night with a local family. Try traditional food. Its a major cultural eye opener.
Unfortunately I’ve never spent much time is this lovely rum making, sugar cane filled region. Hopefully some day I’ll make it to Lamanai. It’s the only ruin in Belize to be reached by river.
Belmopan is the capital and good place to get stuff done. Embassy’s and government buildings are centered here. Belmopan is another city most people pass thru on their way to somewhere else.
It didn’t make the cut but if your on a budget or looking for something else to do while in Belize the Little Blue Hole and St. Herman’s Cave just outside of Belmopan are a great way to spend an afternoon or even a whole day. You can pay for a self guided exploration of the St. Herman’s cave. A river runs thru the cave and you can pay to go on a cave tubing excursion for considerably less than Jaguar Paw. The Little Blue Hole is fed by an underground aquifer. This natural swimming pool is filled with beautiful azure water and at about 25 feet deep in the one corner, it feels refreshingly cool on a hot day. There are also several hiking trails with good views in the park.
My Belize Bucket List
Three things I’ve always wanted to do and haven’t had an opportunity to do yet.
Blue Hole $$$
Huge underwater sink hole in the middle of the ocean. Need I saw more? It has fantastic formations along the edge. Some day when I’m a more accomplished diver I really want to go here.
Glover’s Reef Atoll $$$
Is a partially submerged atoll located off the southern coast, approximately 45 kilometres from the mainland. You can camp in rustic conditions, dive, snorkel, kayak, and feast on fresh sea food.
White Water Rafting $$$
Belize doesn’t have local white water rafting tours, but I heard there are guided tours from the UK that I would like to try that include flying into the country with your European guide.