Belize kayaking vacations

Belize is home to the second-largest barrier reef in the world – one that is ideal for kayaking.

“It acts like a giant breakwater,” says Laurenne Mansbridge, from our partner Pioneer Expeditions. “When you’re above it and going around the offshore atolls you’re paddling in protected waters. It’s the perfect environment for kayaking, as well as diving and snorkelling.”

And, when the sea is this clear, warm and teeming with marine life, the temptation to lay down paddles and leap overboard is ever-present.

“Sea kayaking is different in the tropics,” says Laurenne. “It’s a vessel that can be used to get into really shallow waters and conveniently used as a platform to get into the water.”

River kayaking in Belize is an entirely different, although no less enjoyable, experience. You’re enveloped at all times in thick rainforest that buzzes with the activity of monkeys and birdlife. Maya communities live and work by the river too, and you’ll often pass scenes of village life playing out on the banks. Paddling between jungle cabanas until you reach a coral atoll in the open sea, there are straits of white water and pour-overs to negotiate on an adventurous journey along a constantly dynamic river.

Our guide to Belize kayaking vacations outlines the different experiences you can expect either on the river or the sea, as well as the practicalities involved. Never tried kayaking before? It’s a breeze in Belize.

River kayaking in Belize

Kayaking the Moho River, which meanders through the Belizean rainforest to the Caribbean Sea, it’s easy to feel almost entirely cut off from the rest of the world. The only sounds are those of the running water and your paddles as they scythe through it, the chattering of tropical birds in the trees, and occasionally the thunderous rumble of a howler monkey alerting its troop to your presence. Eagles, falcons and sleepy iguanas can sometimes be seen perched on branches, and you never know if that log in the distance is really a log, or something far more toothy.
Calm stretches are followed by mild and easily navigable patches of white water, the river shrouded in dense, atmospheric jungle that hides tumbling waterfalls and provides fertile territory for Maya folklore to take root. That cultural dimension, as well as the ecology of the rainforest and its colourful inhabitants, will be explained by your Maya and Mestizo guides as they help you improve your paddling techniques and keep you heading towards your next overnight stay in a comfortable riverside camp.

Before reaching the coast, you’ll pause to share a traditional lunch with a local family in a remote village, tour ancient sites and a spice farm as you join the Rio Grande, and discover the ‘bean to bar’ secrets of delicious Maya chocolate. Such visits give you a deeper insight into river life and Maya culture, but also provide valuable economic benefits to areas that see far fewer tourism dollars than more well-known parts of Belize.

Our top Belize Vacation

Belize sea kayaking vacation

Belize sea kayaking vacation

7 day sea kayaking discovering tropical islands and reefs

From US $2695 7 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2022: 17 Dec, 24 Dec
2023: 29 Jan
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.

Sea kayaking in Belize

Along with the joys of paddling leisurely between cayes and occasionally stopping for a snorkel, one of the most pleasant aspects of sea kayaking in Belize is the frequent encounters with local fishermen.

Many fishermen also work in tourism, which can provide a useful additional income given that Belize has suffered from years of overfishing and illegal fishing, which has led to depleted stocks. When not acting as guides, they’ll be able to point out a good spot for snorkelling on any particular day or just stop for a chat about the weather (sunny again!) and all things Belize. They might even help you try a little bonefishing with their fly rods. The national language is English, so most travelers should be able to get by with at least a basic conversation, but it never hurts to throw in a few Spanish or Belizean Creole phrases too if you have them.
As opposed to river kayaking inland where your guides tend to be of Maya or Mestizo descent, on the Southern Barrier Reef they are likely to be drawn from Creole or Garifuna communities on the coast. Their way of life is influenced by generations of earning a livelihood from the sea. After you’ve pulled your kayaks up onto a powdery beach in the afternoon, they’ll often share their culture with you through dancing, drumming and storytelling while coconut palms sway in the distance.

Your days are spent paddling above submerged coral reefs, and through sheltered lagoons, turtle grass beds and mangrove channels. The water around the South Water Caye Marine Reserve is invitingly shallow and glassy, so that every time you lay your paddle down and look over the side you’ll see everything from stingrays to nurse sharks to turtles swimming about. You’ll be able to join them after your guides have shown you how to snorkel safely and without causing any damage to the coral.

What do kayaking vacations in Belize involve?

These are usually small group vacations, so as well as a guide you’ll be paddling alongside 8-12 other people, which makes for a sociable and motivational atmosphere.

Nights will be spent at riverside lodges and island camps, which our partners select based on their solid environmental credentials. For instance, some accommodation will source water from rain catchment, some aim to use biodegradable products throughout to ensure no harmful chemicals reach the reef, and others use solar-generated power.

No experience is necessary. Your guides will ensure you’re familiar with the fundamentals of kayaking before setting off, and as the trip goes on your skills will naturally develop. Alongside the basics like how to paddle effectively and steer, you’ll also be taught safety protocols including group and self-rescues. Waterproof gear bags are also provided, so you can stow away valuables like phones and cameras.

Best time to go kayaking in Belize

The best time of year for a Belize kayaking vacation is between December and April, although December and January can be quite windy. This is the dry season – temperatures are cooler, rainfall lower, but the water is still lovely and warm.

Responsible Travel would like to thank Belize for their sponsorship of this guide.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Belize Tourism Board] [Intro: Belize Tourism Board] [River kayaking: Belize Tourism Board] [Sea kayaking: Belize Tourism Board]