Trekking through tropical jungles ringing with the sounds of exotic animals, ascending a Maya pyramid to the clouds to look upon an ancient city, diving into the thriving ecosystem of the planet’s second-largest barrier reef, and soaking up plenty of tropical sun—these are all things you can look forward to while traveling in Belize!
In a country that has so much to offer, how do you decide what to do? Luckily, we’ve put in the leg-work and compiled this Belize travel guide to help you out. Learn more about the most popular attractions so you can plan a whirlwind adventure through Belize!
Know Before You Go
Bring your Travel Documents
A passport and plane ticket are all you need to enter the country. No visa is required for Americans staying 30 days or less, though you may need to show your return ticket to prove you do, in fact, plan on leaving Belize.
Establish a Budget
Not only will this keep you from draining your bank account, it will greatly help you plan your trip. In a country like Belize where there’s so much to do, setting a budget will allow you to prioritize. It’s okay if you don’t do everything you set out to do, either—you’ll just have another reason to return!
Decide How You’ll Get Around Belize
Will you rent a car to have complete freedom, or will you rely on buses to save money? You can always take a taxi from the airport and use public transportation to get around. If most of your time will be spent on the cayes, you’ll just need bicycles or a golf cart to be mobile.
Read Up on Possible Health Risks
Naturally, you’ll be exposed to a number of potential health risks when traveling to a new country. Check out this article on safety in Belize, and talk with your doctor to make sure you’re all caught up on the recommended vaccines before flying internationally.
When traveling to a tropical location, you’re right to pack your swimsuit, sandals, and other warm-weather clothes. Be sure to throw some rain gear into your suitcase, as well, in case you decide to explore one of the forests—they receive quite a lot of rain throughout the year. Sturdy walking shoes and pants are always a good idea, too.
Arrival in Belize City
If you’re arriving by plane, you’ll most likely fly into Philip Goldson International Airport just 10 miles outside of Belize City. There are many activities within easy reach from the city center, so it’s not a bad idea to spend a few days here. Whether you explore this area at the beginning or the end of your trip is totally up to you!
Just 30 miles west of Belize City, the Belize Zoo is a great attraction for all ages. Home to over 170 animals and 45 species (all native), you’ll see jaguars, spider monkeys, manatees, toucans, scarlet macaws, and more. Many of the animals have been rescued, and you can learn each of their stories as you tour the grounds.
No trip to Belize is complete without a visit to the impressive ruins of the ancient Maya civilization. There are many scattered around the country, but one of the most accessible is the old trade center and religious site, Altun Ha.
Settled around 200 B.C., this site features two large plazas surrounded by mid-height pyramids. There are many more structures still hidden in the jungle. Located just 30 miles north of Belize City, you can get here easily by car or bus.
Into the Jungle
As part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, Belize takes great pride in preserving its biodiversity. With 37% of its land under some form of official protection (compared to Costa Rica’s 27%), you’ll have opportunities to see species you’ve only dreamed of while having diverse ecosystems within reach everywhere you go.
Follow either the Northern or Western Highway from Belize City to reach some truly spectacular destinations in the jungle. While these may be a little off the beaten path, you’ll be rewarded with few crowds and a sense of wonder.
Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary
The first Wildlife Sanctuary declared in Belize, Crooked Tree, covers 16,400 acres of lagoons, creeks, forest, pine savanna, and swamps. Protected since 1984, this land is a great destination for enthusiastic birders and wildlife enthusiasts. It is home to not only birds, but also the Central American River Turtle, Mexican Black Howler Monkey, and more.
The Jabiru Stork is the most popular resident, arriving to nest in the lowland savannas in November, with large congregations gathering in spring until the rains come. Belize has the greatest number of these birds in Central America—who knew?
It’s impossible to not feel a sense of wonder when this ancient Mayan city suddenly appears soaring out of the dense jungle along the riverbank. With a name meaning “submerged crocodile” in the Maya language, Lamanai is one of the largest and most impressive ruins in northern Belize.
Consisting of three large pyramids, open plazas, and a ball court, it is believed to have once been a ceremonial and trade center where a great deal of copper was found. The easiest way to get here is by taking a 26-mile boat ride up the New River from Orange Walk Town.
If you follow the Western Highway to Belmopan and a little beyond, you’ll reach Caracol, the largest Mayan site in the country. Covering 75 square miles (larger than current Belize City), this was once the epicenter of the Maya Lowland region, and archaeologists believe it survived the initial collapse of the Maya civilization.
There are no words to describe the wonder and sensation of looking down upon this ancient city and the forest from the clouds.
When you’re wandering the grounds, you’ll naturally be drawn to the towering structure at the heart of the site—Ca’ana, meaning “Sky Palace” in Maya. There are no words to describe the wonder and sensation of looking down upon this ancient city and the forest from the clouds—you’ll just have to experience it for yourself.
Blue Hole National Park
Craving a wet-and-wild adventure? Go cave tubing in Blue Hole National Park! Spectacular cave formations are connected by an underground stream, which is perfect for floating with an inner tube. If you hire a tour guide, you can navigate the caves completely, learn some interesting facts, and view Mayan artifacts.
If you forgo the guide, you can still journey to the moss-covered cave entrance and swim in the refreshing, sapphire waters of the aptly-named “Blue Hole.” More extreme adventurers may wish to take a guided tour through Crystal Cave, where Mayan shamans once journeyed to perform sacred rituals in the underworld.
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
A unique ecosystem filled with majestic waterfalls, mountain views, trails, and many neotropical birds, Cockscomb Basin is a magical place. If you want to see a jaguar in the wild, this is the place it will most likely happen. Cockscomb was actually the world’s first jaguar preserve, and boasts the highest density of jaguars ever recorded.
While jaguar sightings are pretty rare, you’re guaranteed to see something interesting while hiking around here. You may want to don your rain gear for this excursion, as this tropical moist forest receives about 100 inches of rainfall per year.
Paradise on the Caribbean
After your escapades through the lush jungles, you deserve to bask in the peaceful atmosphere of Placencia Peninsula. This up-and-coming destination is still relatively unknown, so with a bit of searching you might find yourself alone on a beautiful beach to watch a blazing tropical sunset. The peninsula has the ocean on one side and a tranquil lagoon on the other.
On the more popular south end, you’ll find a variety of restaurants, coffee shops, and gift shops, while the north end offers a quieter retreat. The peninsula is small enough that you can easily get anywhere with just a cruiser bike.
When you crave the simple island life, Caye Caulker is the place to go! This limestone coral island just 20 miles offshore of Belize City provides easy access to the Belize Barrier Reef, and boasts the most laid-back atmosphere you can possibly find. The opportunities for relaxation are endless:
- Wade into the ocean on the sandbar to do some fly fishing
- Lounge in the shallow water while indulging in a beverage from the Lazy Lizard
- Chill in a hammock or dance to the groovy tunes at I&I Reggae Bar
Keep in mind, the main modes of transportation here are bicycles and golf carts.
White sandy beaches and easy access to the best dive sites in Belize make Ambergris Caye the sparkling gem of Belize’s tourism industry. Home to San Pedro, you’ll find plenty of modern conveniences, including delicious restaurants, bistros, and shops. Whether you prefer water sports or lazing with a coconut under dancing palm trees, everyone will find happiness just steps away on Ambergris Caye.
Dive into the Belize Barrier Reef
Home to more than 500 species of fish, the Belize Barrier Reef is the planet’s second largest barrier reef in the world. It is also protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While any point on the reef is spectacular, there are a couple exceptional locations you won’t want to miss!
Great Blue Hole
With calm turquoise waters surrounded by a reef in the middle of the ocean, Great Blue Hole is a wondrous spot that any avid scuba diver and snorkeler should visit!
Enter this vibrant ecosystem at your own caution, which is a favorite gathering place for sharks and vibrant tropical fish.
This 400-foot deep submarine sinkhole gained world-wide recognition when Jacques Cousteau declared it as one of the best 10 dive sites in the world. Enter this vibrant ecosystem at your own caution, which is a favorite gathering place for sharks and vibrant tropical fish.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Mayan for “little channel,” this reserve is located just four miles from San Pedro. Declared as a reserve in 1987 to protect the quickly diminishing population of marine life from illegal fishing, Hol Chan Marine Reserve consists of three square miles of ocean that have since regenerated into a thriving ecosystem that divers and snorkelers will be lucky to explore.
Between the four zones—reef, seagrass beds, mangroves, and Shark Ray alley—you will swim among:
- 160 species of fish
- 40 species of coral
- Three marine mammals
- Three species of sea turtle
Whatever you plan for traveling in Belize, make time for one of these sites on our Belize travel guide to experience something new. You never know what this paradise has in store for you!
Featured photo courtesy of Jakob Owens
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