Belize map & highlights
Make the most of your time
You can fill your time in Belize by exploring not only the 290km of jungle lined coast, or 200 cayes that kiss its shores, but also by traveling the 110km that cover its width. Which doesn’t sound far, but with the Maya Mountains in between, covered with sub tropical forests boasting equally tropical wildlife, not least over 300 species of birds, as well as ancient ruins from Mayan times, Belize is never boring. Caribbean culture, with its chilled coastal vibes and marine conservation ethos are a big pull here, as are the waters for eclectic species, from whale sharks to turtles, manatees to manta rays. You gotta Belize it.
Actun Tunichil Muknal
Known as ATM, this giant cave system hands out pure gold when it comes to natural, cultural and spiritual experiences. This is a Mayan sacred spot where it was believed gods lived. Wade through water to explore this cavernous world, where humans were sacrificed, and where remains are still visible, calcified and crystallised. Guided tours take you climbing, swimming and gawking at these marvels.
One of the idyllic sandy islands perched on Belize’s Barrier Reef, it’s gateway to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. You don’t have to be a diver to think you have died and gone to heaven here though. Just a penchant for beach, rum, sailing, cycling or snorkeling will do. And good Belizean food, particularly in the main town of San Pedro. Or rent a boat and go catch your own. There’s no shortage.
Taking a canoe trip along this central artery, also known as the Old River, which begins where the Mopan and Macal Rivers meet, just east of San Ignacio, is full immersion in Belizean landscape. Especially if you head off on a proper expedition, wild camping at spots on this 290km natural pathway, with wildlife such as river otters, iguanas, grey foxes, and many bird species to serenade you in dawn chorus.
Caracol Mayan site
A little far off the beaten track, the journey is worth it to see this elevated masterpiece on the edge of the Maya Mountains, enveloped by the Chiquibul Forest Reserve. Discovered in 1938, excavations revealed the largest pyramid in Belize at 42m and excavations are still ongoing. It’s hard to grasp the fact that this ancient city was possibly the size of current day Belize City.
Less touristy than Ambergris and a bit more laissez faire. They started the trend of for summer LobsterFests, this island holding theirs in July – which is carnival on the Caye time. And with plenty of resident artists and musicians you can imagine the vibe. A coral atoll only 8km by 1.8m, size doesn’t matter when beauty wins out. Also a gateway spot for those heading to the Blue Hole.
Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary
Why is it that beautiful birds are attracted to equally beautiful places? Belize certainly is a place for birds in paradise. This wildlife sanctuary is a top birding spot and – with nearly 300 species, including the migratory jabiru stork – it is a wetland wonder. You can also see crocodiles, monkeys, otters and freshwater turtles. Only accessible by boat until 80s, Crooked Tree town still feels like an island lost in time.
You have to love a village that has its own National Day. In fact, you have to love Hopkins, home to the Garifuna people. Their language, dance and music were declared Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Look east to the Caribbean, west to Maya Mountains tumbling down to the shore, the nearby Sittee River carrying copious sediment and centuries of stories with it.
On the west bank of the Macal River, it segues with Santa Elena on the east bank to create a candy coloured confluence, not only of towns but cultures. It has always been a hub for travelers, not just tourists and ex-pats but also Mestizos, Maya and Garifuna, creating a lively melting pot of cultures and adventures, such as kayaking, hiking and caving.
Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve
In the very untouristy southern region, you are talking 125km2 of coral reef, sandy cayes and Caribbean crystalline perfection. Because this is a remote spot, it is particularly popular for marine conservation vacations, identifying species, gaining a PADI qualification, and enjoying the tourist free spots around Toledo and Placencia. Sightings include whale sharks, manta rays, dolphins, and sea turtles.
South Water Caye Marine Reserve
The largest marine reserve in Belize, the main port of call is South Water Caye, 24km off Dangriga town and it is, of course, part of Belize’s Barrier Reef. Particularly popular with kayakers paddling from one fish filled paradise to another, staying in caye cabins at night, and pootling past coral reef, mangroves, seagrass beds and littoral forests by day. Littoral loveliness all round really.
St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park
A magical place; the main attractions are St. Herman’s Cave and the Blue Hole. The former is one of many limestone formations, linked to the turquoise waters of the latter – a collapsed cave and swimming haven. Among the stalactites and stalagmites lie Mayan artifacts for whom this was a spiritual underworld. Ethereal in beauty, birdsong is in surround sound as you take on the park’s ornithological odyssey.
Over 40m tall, these are masterful Mayan ruins, with an impressive palace building taking centre stage. The most developed Mayan site in Belize, much of the city has been excavated and protected. There are six ancient plazas, more than 25 temples and an impressive museum. To combine culture with nature, go kayaking or rafting some of the rapids on the nearby Mopan River.
Sample travel times in Belize
The following times give you a rough idea of the travel times between the main attractions in Belize.
- Belize International airport – San Ignacio : 1.5 hours by car
- San Ignacio – Hopkins : 3 hours by car
- Belize City – Caye Caulker: 45 minutes by water taxi
- Belize City – Ambergris Caye : 15 minutes by air
- Dangriga – South Water Caye : 45 minutes by boat
- Placencia - Belize City: 4.5 hours by bus
Responsible Travel would like to thank Belize for their sponsorship of this guide