Travelers to Belize often arrive expecting a beach paradise but walk away in awe of how much natural diversity is on display in this Caribbean country. It’s the second smallest country in Central America, but Belize’s conscientious approach to eco-tourism has allowed for some of the most beautiful national parks on Earth to flourish. Here are 10 of the best.
Cockscomb Basin Forest Reserve
Jaguars are some of the most fearsome cats on the planet, but they’re also some of the most endangered. Cockscomb Basin is the world’s first jaguar sanctuary — and while it’s rare to actually spot these predators out in the wild, the waterfalls and jungles that have taken root along the slope of the Maya Mountains are stunning in their own right.
Shark Ray Alley
The nurse sharks and smaller rays that call this stretch of water home are perfectly harmless, but they keep returning because they know that they’ll be well fed by local fishermen. Today it’s one of the more popular dive spots in the Caribbean Sea because divers can get up close and personal with these gentle beasts.
Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve
While rainforests are prominent in Belize, dry pine forests have also managed to find purchase. Mountain Pine Ridge Forest was designated a national park to preserve this fading ecosystem, and it continues to cover over 100,000 acres in the Cayo District. There’s plenty of natural splendor on the park grounds, but the highlight is the massive and popular Big Rock Waterfalls.
Great Blue Hole
Jacques Cousteau first brought international recognition to this crystal blue sinkhole in the Caribbean Sea, but the sheer bliss of diving here is what keeps people coming back. The sea life here is both diverse and stunning, but it’s an experience best reserved for divers with a little more experience under their belts. This may be a popular attraction, but it remains one of the most surreal and alien dive spots on the planet.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Given the fact that it’s conveniently located near the tourist meccas of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, there’s no reason not to visit this marine park. It serves as a protected ecosystem for mangroves, coral, seagrass, and the various creatures that call these habitats home — and that richness and diversity have allowed it to become one of the more popular places to go snorkeling and diving.
Community Baboon Sanctuary
This park is proof of what a community can do when they band together to protect local wildlife. Born out of an initiative to save the local species known as the black howler monkey, the Community Baboon Sanctuary is now home to over 3,000 of these creatures. The baboons here aren’t exactly shy, and the tours of the park provide education on the importance of conservation.
Laughing Bird Caye
A group of laughing gulls earned this park its name, but people keep coming back for its isolation and beauty. First declared a national park in 1991, it’s essentially a thin strip of land off of the coast of the Placencia Peninsula. That makes it great for just kicking back and spending an afternoon sunbathing — but it also offers some exceptional diving and snorkeling opportunities for those who want to explore the Belize Barrier Reef ecosystem up close and personal.
St. Herman’s Cave and the Inland Blue Hole
St. Herman’s Cave was once believed by the Mayas to offer a path to the underworld, but it’s since transformed into one of the most popular destinations for spelunking and cave tubing. Without the assistance of lighting, the cave itself is pitch black. Meanwhile, the nearby Inland Blue Hole offers a natural swimming pool with some of the clearest waters you’ve ever seen. And if that isn’t enough, there’s plenty of hiking available in the forests surrounding these two attractions.
Half Moon Caye
Half Moon Caye wasn’t designated as a national park until 1981, but it had earned its status as a bird sanctuary almost six decades before. It continues to offer some of the most varied bird watching opportunities in the Caribbean, and it’s also a part of the larger Belize Barrier Reef. Half Moon Caye is also a nesting spot for a wide variety of different sea turtle species.
Guanacaste National Park
This national park is named after a single enormous tree that managed to avoid being destroyed by logging. After being transformed into a reserve, the park has become a showcase for the sheer variety of flora and fauna that manage to thrive in Belize. It’s one of the best places to go bird watching in the country, and it’s home to rare local mammals like the kinkajou and paca.
These may be the most beautiful parks in Belize, but they still only cover a fraction of the beauty on display. Whether you’re looking to explore the world beneath the waves, delve deep into the jungle, or uncover the ancient cities left behind by the Mayas, you owe it to yourself to see what Belize has to offer for yourself.