The country of Belize has some indeed one-of-a-kind tourist attractions. It’s not the kind of place where you’ll find large structures like skyscrapers or shopping centers. In Belize, you can see beautiful landscapes and a wide variety of wildlife.
Although relatively small, this country is packed to the gills with exciting opportunities for exploration and discovery. The land of Belize is bursting with vibrancy and color. Plus, you can get through Belize with a backpack! Listed here are the top attractions, activities, and experiences that visitors to Belize can enjoy.
Relax and peruse the following information about what to see and do in Belize. If you like great outdoor activities, this is the country for you. Divers and scuba enthusiasts would adore visiting Belize. Tropical rainforests cover more than 40 percent of the landmass. Offshore is home to one of the world’s largest coral reef systems. And it’s surrounded by stunning islands and blue water. It’s no surprise that the country’s natural beauty is its most significant selling point.
1) Go slow on Caye Caulker
The plane lands in Belize City, so you should make a detour to Caye Caulker from there. For some it is too touristy, for others the island is perfect. Caye Caulker is a small island paradise just off the coast of Belize. It is one of the most popular destinations for travelers to Belize. By the way, you can walk around the entire island one morning without any problems.
You won’t find any sights on the island because the island is the sight.
On Caye Caulker, there are only three sandy streets. Small streets connect with them, but the main action is in those three places. If you stand on one of the connecting roads, you can already see the sea at both ends. Cars are not used on the island. People use golf caddies and bicycles most of the time. This makes the island peaceful and the air clean. The rest of the infrastructure is fully adapted to tourism (restaurants, supermarkets, internet, etc.).
The island’s motto is “Go Slow!”. The most common hairstyle of the isle is Rasta. Their favorite piece of furniture is the hammock. There are palm trees everywhere, and the famous music is reggae. So Caye Caulker is the perfect place to relax for a few days and enjoy a few beers or cocktails by the sea.
Caye Caulker is also a great starting point for diving and snorkeling tours. This includes the famous Blue Hole or Lighthouse Reef. For those who prefer to stay on the water, kayaking, and SUP, are available here.
So there is something for everyone here. And you can easily spend 3-4 days on the small island without getting bored.
2) On to the Mayan ruins
Everyone has heard or read about the Maya. But who were the Maya anyway? The Maya were one of the most advanced cultures in history. Since about 2500 BC they settled in Belize and large parts of Central America. They were masters of agriculture. They even observed the stars with the help of observatories. They also created their calendar, and many argue that it is more accurate than the one we use today.
Unfortunately, there was a thing they did not know. By deforesting the rainforest for arable land, they were ruining their native land. It is a sad story that they were responsible for their downfall.
Because, unlike today’s Maya ruins, their buildings were not in the middle of the jungle. Fields surrounded open spaces. The jungle only gradually reclaimed its lands after the Maya disappeared. Today you can find hidden and overgrown Maya ruins in the jungle everywhere. This is true for Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. Of course, you should not miss a visit to such a Mayan ruin when traveling through Belize. So we have listed the largest and most famous Mayan ruins in Belize here:
Lamanai is one of Belize’s oldest Mayan ruins and one of the longest inhabited. It was only about 20 years ago that the last descendants of the Maya were expelled from the country. Since then, the region has been under monument protection. A visit is only possible with a tour. You can find Lamanai in the middle of the jungle. You first have to take the boat down the river into the wilderness. That takes about 40 minutes from the nearest town of Orange Walk.
Translated, Caracol means something like “snail.” This, however, was only a result of a series of translation errors. The city was called Oxwitza, meaning “three mountains of water.” The Mayan city is over 80 square kilometers and includes structures up to 45m high. Caracol is around 75km from San Ignacio, near the border with Guatemala. It is only accessible by 4×4 as the route gets bumpy through the jungle.
To get to the ruins, you have two options: A) drive your own 4×4 or B) book a tour in San Ignacio.
Every tour office includes Caracol in its offering. In the past, there was an attack on this route by a gang from Guatemala, and a military post was set up for security. Since this accident, all vehicles gather there as a starting point. And then, they drive to the ruins in convoy with military protection. But, have this thing in mind. Every tour operator in San Ignacio offers this tour. So, we doubt there is an acute risk of muggings on the route.
The Xunantunich Mayan ruins are just a few kilometers from San Ignacio. They feature many imposing buildings. Among other things is a nearly 40-meter-high pyramid. The name Xunantunich means something like “stone woman.” It derives from traditions that say that in the past, a statue of a woman was seen in the city again and again. The ruins can be visited either on tour or alone because it’s across a river from the highway. So, after taking a bus, taxi, or car, you’ll have to take another hand-powered ferry to reach the ruins.
Cahal Pech is a comparatively small Mayan ruin just off San Ignacio. It used to be outside the city on a hill. But now, the city has grown significantly, and the suburbs have settled around the area of the ruins. Therefore, today it is possible to visit the ruins with a walk of about 20-30 minutes from the center. Guides are already waiting at the entrance, which you can book if you like. But otherwise, it is not a problem to walk through the ruins on your own. The ruins here may not be as flashy compared to other Mayan cities. But chances are you’ll have it all to yourself since not many tourists come here.
the Mayan city of Lubaantun is located near Punta Gorda in southern Belize. Just like Cahal Pech is a small Mayan ruin that few tourists visit. So if you’re nearby and have time, it might be worth a visit.
The Mayan city of Altun Ha is the closest ruin to Belize City. It is about 45km away and features some impressive Mayan structures. Of course, you can book a tour of the ruins. But the cheaper option for a visit to the Mayan ruins is to take the bus from Belize City. Go towards Orange Walk to Crooked Tree and hire a guide there. Or drive directly to the ruins in your car.
3) The small backpacker fishing village Hopkins
Once in Hopkins, you won’t be able to leave the small fishing village in a hurry! The village only consists of a sandy main street about 7 kilometers long. Along this street, all the essential shops and accommodations are lined up.
In addition, there is a beach full of palm trees, which stretches along the entire length of the village. But you can’t hope for dream beaches with turquoise water here. There is also accommodation here, but it is a bit more expensive. But what should you do at Hopkins now when there isn’t much?
For one thing, Hopkins is the perfect place to end your trip through Belize or take a breather for a few days. Since the village is located directly on the sea, the climate is quite pleasant. The place has an excellent wind breeze. Moreover, the residents’ tranquillity here is immediately transmitted to you.
During the day, you dangle a little in your accommodation in the hammock or walk through the village. In the evening you can sit with a beer on the beach or on the jetty. You should know that there seems to be only one jetty at the entrance to the village. You can watch the local fishermen bringing crabs out of the water. It is satisfying to watch them fill their baskets for their dinner. The children are playing on the beach, and some restaurants or bars are only now coming to life.
Hopkins also offers excellent inland tours. Excursions are offered everywhere. There are motorbike tours, adventure tours (ziplining, tubing, etc.), and diving safaris. Then, there are horseback riding excursions and culture tours as well. You can have cooking, chocolate, wellness, or Garifuna class if you are not into those. We already mentioned the famous Mayan ruins. There are much more, so you will find some tours for your liking.
On the other hand, you can also go on many day trips and excursions from Hopkins. Either do it on your own, or there are a handful of tour operators and dive shops. They will allow you to scuba dive, snorkel, and hike in Cockscomb National Park. You can even canoe down the river for crocodile watching. Hopkins also offers a night tour of a lagoon. Weather permitting, you can admire the spectacle of bioluminescence! This means that the water in the lagoon reacts to movement and starts to glow blue!
4) Cockscomb national park, the world’s only jaguar reserve
Over 40% of Belize’s area is covered with rainforest and is a protected area. You will find the largest contiguous rainforest in all of Central America here. Part of this is Cockscomb National Park: it is the most famous and largest national park in Belize.
It is also the world’s only jaguar reserve and offers the animals a huge protected area to live. Jaguars have not been seen here for a long time except on hidden cameras in the jungle. However, fresh tracks from the night always reveal that jaguars are in the area. It is said: “Even if you don’t see a jaguar on your hike, they will see you!” Who knows if that’s actually the case, but it sure is an exciting hypothesis to consider!
The park offers a wide range of trekking trails for all difficulty levels. On some trails, there are waterfalls with natural pools for swimming. Depending on the water level, you can float down the river for a few minutes. It is a thrill to go through the jungle with inflated tires.
5) Placencia, the peninsula in the south
The small peninsula of Placencia is located in southern Belize. It is one of the most popular destinations for travelers in Belize, along with Caye Caulker. In the center of Placencia, you will find everything you need. There are supermarkets, snack bars, restaurants, bars, etc.
There are no sights on the peninsula. If you come to Placencia, you come here to spend a few relaxing days by the sea. Or, you can go with one of the diving schools out to the reefs in front of the small dream islands. You can visit Glover’s Atoll, Laughing Bird Caye, Silk Caye, etc., and dive or snorkel there.
Placencia is the best starting point to get to the reefs of southern Belize. Placencia is also a good starting point for exploring south Belize from there, especially if you are traveling through Belize with your car or a rental car.
If you’ve always wanted to dive with whale sharks, Belize could be your chance. Whale shark season off the coast of Placencia is around February through June. At this time, the snappers always spawn around the full moon, and this is good food for the whale sharks. Unfortunately, we just missed this time. However, it is worth checking with the diving schools if you are in Placencia or Belize. Ask them about the current situation and whether they have spotted whale sharks.
6) San Ignacio
This city is just before the border with Guatemala. It is one of the main destinations for most tourists in Belize. This is obvious from the tourist infrastructure here. Next to Caye Caulker, this is where you will see the most travellers. On the one hand, San Ignacio is the interface for all those who only use Belize to transit to Guatemala. That is the reason why there are a lot of sights around San Ignacio.
The city itself only serves as a base for tours into the jungle surrounding areas. Unfortunately, you cannot experience many things on your own. Because even if you have a rental car, you are still dependent on equipment or need a guide. The well-known tour to the ATM Cave also starts from here.
Tours are also offered to various other caves in the jungle. All these caves were once sacrificial sites for the Maya. And they are still being studied by archaeologists. You can also book tours to great Mayan ruins like Tikal in Guatemala or Caracol in the jungle of Belize. There are also tours to canopy routes, river tubing (driving along the river with a tube), etc.
The best thing to do is to take a look at the tour offer on-site. There you can decide for yourself what is most interesting for you and what your wallet allows you. Because the tours are not a bargain and all start at around 120 BZD. Bargaining a little is not wrong here. The chances of you getting a discount are quite high. There is great competition among tour operators.
One excursion that you don’t need to book a tour for is a short walk. It will take you about 20-30 minutes from the city centre to the Mayan ruins of Cahal Pech. You can see the ruins without a guide and only pay a 10 BZD entrance fee. Since the ruins are not that well visited, with a bit of luck you will have the mystical scenery all to yourself.
7) Belize Cave Tubing
Belize offers many adventures. We went to San Ignacio during our tour of Belize.
The ATM Cave is one of the most beautiful and popular limestone caves in the world. Since the tours are booked out very quickly, we recommend booking in advance.
Those who are claustrophobic should not do this tour. Again and again, you have to squeeze through rocks, crevices and holes. You MUST have sturdy shoes with you (you can also borrow shoes). Bug spray is also a must-have. The mosquitoes in the rainforest are aggressive. Our guide told us a lot about the Mayan culture during the 5-hour tour. Very, very cool!
There is also the Barton Creek Cave Tour, Cave Tubing, Hiking, and Mayan Ruins Tours. Then, there are bird Tours, Horseback Riding, Ziplining and much more. For these tours, you have to shell out a lot of money. In general, such tours are very expensive, but in the end, every euro is usually worth it. Not far from Belmopan, the capital of Belize is St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park. This park is home to a beautiful natural pool that is part of a cave system.
8) Belize Barrier Reef, diving and snorkelling
Everyone knows the largest contiguous coral reef off Australia. We speak about the Great Barrier Reef! But who knows that the second largest reef in the world lies off Belize? The reef runs almost the entire coast. This is what makes Belize a popular destination for snorkelers and divers. Water sports enthusiasts from all over the world gather in Belize.
Known as one of the largest reef systems in the world, The Belize Barrier Reef comes after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. This reef stretches from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Then it goes down east of the Honduran north coast. Many beautiful islands dot the reef’s 256 km. Thus accordingly offer a variety of water activities.
Along this reef are the small islands in Belize, the so-called Cayes. There are around 450 islands in total. The most famous island is Ambergris Caye which is the largest island in Belize. But. there are also St. George’s Caye, Tabacco Caye, and Caye Caulker. If you have time, visit Half Moon Caye, Blackadore Caye or Long Caye as well.
Some islands are protected as national parks or marine reserves. Belize has three out of four Caribbean atolls. These include Lighthouse Reef Atoll, Turneffe Atoll and Glovers Reef Atoll. So you can probably already guess how wonderful the underwater world in Belize is. The snorkelling and diving trips are amazing. Whether you’re in Placencia, Dangriga or Caye Caulker, you should try them out!
9) On to the Great Blue Hole
The Great Blue Hole features prominently in most photos of Belize. It is one of the most popular highlights in the country. You can book boat tours and go snorkelling or diving at the Blue Hole. You can start from Caye Caulker, San Pedro, Belize City and many other places in Belize.
The name Great Blue Hole lives up to the sight created by Mother Nature. It looks like a circular shoal in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Belize. The Great Blue Hole has been protected by UNESCO as a natural monument since 1996.
There are few underwater cave systems on earth with stalagmites and stalactites. Stalactites are stone formations formed by water dripping from the ceiling. They carry particles of limestone with them. This fact alone proves that the Great Blue Hole cave system could not always have been below sea level. The entrance to the cave system is now at a depth of between 35 and 40 meters. There, experienced divers can admire stalactites. These are with a length of up to eight meters and a diameter of up to two meters. According to Forbes, the Great Blue Hole is one of the top 10 most popular diving spots in the world.
The Great Blue Hole was made famous by a film by Jacques-Yves Cousteau. This Frenchman is considered one of the legends in the field of marine research.
He discovered his love for the sea during his training as a gun diver with the French Navy. In 1950, the Irish-based Guinness brewery donated him a British Navy minesweeper. He converted it into a research ship. This ship went down in the history of marine research under the name “Calypso”. From 1980, Cousteau sailed the world’s oceans with the new research ship “Alcyone”.
10) Howler Monkey Sanctuary
Not only can you see howler monkeys in the wild, such as at the Lamanai ruins, but also at the Howler Monkey Sanctuary. This sanctuary is located almost 40 km west of Belize City. It includes 7 villages (Belize River Valley). Here the Black Howler Monkeys are protected, as well as many other animal and plant species.
Howler monkeys are found exclusively in the rainforests of South and Central America. They are known for their screams, which sound crazy. According to our research, the Nature Walk in the Howler Monkey Sanctuary costs around 10 USD. The River Tour is 30 USD, and the Night Hike is 20 USD. The museum and visitor centre are open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
11) Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary
This sanctuary is west of Belize City. You can take public buses directly from Belize City to Crooked Tree. Incidentally, the name “Crooked Tree” is derived from the cashew tree. In this swamp landscape, you can see about 300 different bird species. The dry season is best for observing a large number of birds.
In the protected area you can go on hikes through the picturesque surroundings. You can also do your canoe tours. Locals also offer bike tours and travel excursions.
12) Belize Attractions – Belize Zoo
A visit to the Belize Zoo should be worthwhile. Most native animal species are at home there. For example, you can see the beautiful, colourful rainbow toucan there. There are generally more than 500 bird species in Belize. The zoo itself is home to more than 170 animals from around 45 native species. Here you can take a tour of the zoo, guided hikes in the area, canoe trips or night hikes through the zoo. You can also stay overnight at The Belize Zoo Jungle Lodge.
13) Discover waterfalls
Belize is more than rainforests, caves, dream islands and Mayan ruins. Waterfalls are also among the top sights in Belize. In the forests of the country, you will also find some really beautiful waterfalls. According to a brochure from Belize, a popular destination is the “ Rio on Pools ”. This attraction is approximately 44 km from San Ignacio. It is found in the heart of the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve.
Fir trees and granite rocks surround these water cascades. The Thousand Foot Falls is also located in this region. There are vantage points here from where you can admire the waterfall in the best possible way. In the dense forest of the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve, you will find the Big Rock Falls and the Five Sister Falls. You can find the Rio Blanco Falls in the south of the country in the Rio Blanco Waterfall Park.
14) The Garifuna culture
Punta Gorda is the southernmost city in Belize. Only 5,300 people live here on the border with Guatemala. This city was originally founded by the Garifuna, an ethnic group of over 100,000 in Belize. They work as fishermen on the coasts and as workers in banana cultivation. The culture of the Garifuna is being discovered more and more by the tourism industry every year.
In Punta Gorda, you can experience many of them live. According to a local, they also live in Hopkins, Dangriga, Seine Bight and Barranco. You can find a variety of tours here, and each of them is unique in its way. They cover different aspects of Belize’s life. Cooking, playing the drums, making music, dancing, tours to the museum and much more.
15) Mayan Cocoa
Finally, you should take a look at a commodity that is very important to the Maya: cocoa. On the cocoa trails, you embark on a journey into the Mayan heartland. Cocoa has not only been a drink for the Maya for over 1,000 years but a part of their culture.