Belize travel guide

If Belize was a dating website profile, you would just think, ‘This is made up. Too good to be true’. Caribbean cool, wildlife-filled sub tropical mountains, multi-cultural marvels that flavour cuisine, language and music, the second longest barrier reef in the world, and 400 sandy islands to explore by diving, snorkeling or kayaking.
I always thought that Belize was a Caribbean island, not a mainland Central American country. And then I realised it has 400 islands or cayes to its name.
English speaking but fluent in Spanish, friendly, open and with a passion for enjoying the good things in life, from hiking and swimming to ancient archaeology and chilling with a Belizean beer as the sun sets. And then rises again, every day of the year. And here’s when you think you really should just swipe left, and that it must all be a lie – there are enough producers to merit an annual chocolate festival. But there really are. So, swipe right, and be prepared to fall in love.

Read on in our Belize travel guide.

Belize is...

a cultural concoction of Garifuna, Creole, Maya and Mestizo. Making for one multi-cultural, magical mix.

Belize isn't...

only diving and delicious islands. The Maya Mountains are wildlife and walking havens, with ancient Maya sites too.

What we rate & what we don't


Canoeing & camping

There is a lot of focus on reef and diving in Belize, but for inner beauty go canoeing and wild camping along the Belize River. Also known as Old River. This, and also the adjoining Macal and Mopan Rivers, just east of San Ignacio, travels for 290km of natural pathway, where local people bathe in the river, birdlife basks on limestone or jungle covered cliffs, and life takes on a real Belizean pace.

Sea kayaking

Paddling paradise, spend days just kayaking from caye to caye, cove to cove. Discover bits of the coral reef that are far away from divers and snorkelers, along traditional routes of local fishermen to places such as Billy Hawk Caye or South Caye Marine Reserve, following the line of where the Barrier Reef waves crest, or adding sails to the kayaks and letting the wind take you to all the best haunts.


Home to the culturally rich Garifuna ethnic group, direct descendants of a group of Africans who escaped two ship-wrecked Spanish slave ships in 1635. Everywhere you go, the traditional drumming and music is heard, as is the language, a French and Arawak mix. Their home is location, location, location, with the Caribbean Sea on one side and Maya Mountains on the other. Not to be missed.

Southern Belize

There is a north-south divide when it comes to tourism, but oh those southern belles. The cayes, the coves, the culture, and the effortless Caribbean joie de vivre. Try kayaking in Stann Creek, go hunting for Mayan temples around Toledo, Belize’s Mayan hub, or chill on the beach at Placencia, where the Lobster Festival in June is pure Belizean fun. With a lot of rum.

Mayan archaeology

Although neighbouring Guatemala is more famous for its Mayan sites, Belize is also on the Mayan Trail, with over a million Mayans living here over a period of 2,000 years. Popular sites are Xunantunich, Altun Ha, Cahal Pech and Caracol. Or check out Lamanai on the banks of the New River Lagoon which you can access by boat. Just you and the crocs on this particular Mayan Trail. And birds, in paradise.

Marine conservation

Belize has the second largest barrier reef in the world, and so not only are diving vacations the biz, full on marine conservation trips are the real biz. Heading into the quieter waters of southern Belize, conservation vacations explore the likes of Sapodilla Cayes Marine Park, identifying marine species, training for PADI qualifications, and learning how to spear invasive lionfish. Tough gig but someone has to do it.

St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park

There are two blue holes in Belize. Well, actually it is brimming with blue holes. But the two most famous ones are this inland one and the one at sea, officially called Blue Hole Natural Monument. Both beautiful. This one is a limestone wonderland of sapphire sinkholes, St. Herman's Cave, ancient stalactites and stalagmites, as well as Mayan artifacts for whom this was a spiritual underworld. And for us visitors, it's a magical world of adventure.

The Cayes

Pronounced ‘keys’, these are small islands formed by a gathering of sand on top of reefs. Belize is caye central boasting over 400. The most popular are Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker both gateways for snorkelling and diving in Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Head south for the lesser known Snake Cayes, accessible from Punta Gorda and Monkey River Town, or treat yourself to private Thatch Caye, with impressive eco resort.

Buying coral

Most coral is illegal, except black coral which is still legally harvested in Belize and it should display the government licensed label. But responsible travelers tend to just enjoy leaving coral where it should be. In the water. Be wary of jade too, and get a certificate of authenticity otherwise you risk buying loot from an ancient, unprotected Mayan site. In fact, most jade-like jewellery is actually nephrite nowadays.

Diving only in Blue Hole

The Great Blue Hole is stunning, but some scuba divers find it an anti climax, after having it at the top of their dive wish lists for as long as they have had their PADI. It is very deep, so you have to be experienced, dives are often short, and the conditions have to be perfect to really see clearly. Don’t let it upstage the myriad marine experiences all along this extraordinary coastline, where caye follows cove, atoll follows archipelago.

Belize City

Although the largest city, and the one that tourists fly into, the capital is actually Belmopan nowadays, following Belize City’s destruction by a hurricane in 1961. It’s still considered a stormy city by some metaphorically however, with occasional instances of crime reported, but these have fallen in recent years. Tourist areas are well policed, but it isn’t really a city that evokes chillin’ in the Caribbean. Unlike the rest of the country. Which is Belizean bliss.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Belize or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Food, shopping & people

Eating & drinking in Belize

Rice and beans – it’s the law to eat this in Belize. Meat cooked with local spice recado, rice, beans, all served with gravy, and lashings of potato salad.

Cashew wine on ice, very very nice. Although locally brewed beer is the local staple, as is rum.

Shrimp and conch ceviche is a good way to start your seafood safari.

For yummy Yucatac-Maya traditions, seek out cochinita pibil slow roasted pork or escabeche chicken soup.
I am still craving craboo fruits. I ate them like sweets straight from the market, treated myself to a craboo ice cream daily, and a craboo wine nightly.

People & culture

As a former British colony, English is the national language, spoken with a beautiful Caribbean lilt. Belizean Creole (or Kriol) is commonly heard, especially on the coast, and you will also come across Spanish near the Mexican or Guatemalan borders. You might also be lucky enough to hear some Maya or Garifuna (Carib).

Try out some of these Creole expressions – you'll work out what they mean when you say them out loud!


“Weh di gaan an?”

“Gud maanin.”

“Mi love Bileez!”

“Fu chroo?” (Is that so?)

Gifts & shopping

Hot Sauce is a Belizean institution, and it travels well.

Basket weaving is a Mayan tradition, so look out for beauties in the markets.

Toledo is the best region for buying the country’s famous chocolate. The food of the gods, according to Mayan tradition. And most of us chocoholics.

Garifuna drums come in all shapes and sizes, and sounds.
Ah Waahn Noa Hoo Seh Kriol Noh Ga No Kolcha? – Who said the Creole don’t have any culture?
– Belizean Creole artist and performer, Leela Vernon

How much does it cost?

Bike rental: £12 - £15 per day

Rice and beans lunch: £4

Belikin beer: £1.80 - £2.80

Bunch of bananas: 30p

3 hour snorkel trip: £25 - £40

A brief history of Belize

You just need to look at the delightfully diverse demographics of Belize to get a quick overview of this country’s history. First of all, the national language is English, a hangover from its years of British colonial rule, when they took over from the Spanish who had claimed it as part of their Central American Territories. Defeating the Spanish first in 1798, at the Battle of St. George's Caye, and then formally declaring British rule, they renamed it British Honduras in 1862. It remained a British colony until 1981 and is still a Commonwealth member. Read more

Responsible Travel would like to thank Belize for their sponsorship of this guide.
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: Chuck Taylor] [Is/Isn't: Frank Wynes] [Underrated: pxhere] [Rated: cjuneau] [Overrated: The TerraMar Project] [People & culture: cloud2013] [How much does it cost?: Kent Wang]