Things to do in Belize
The wisest move you can make when planning your Belize trip is to fill your itinerary with variety. Sure, you want beach time, hammock time and your fill of fabulous restaurants, and if you read more than one guide book, you’ll spot commonalities despite different editor picks. But why bother to read guides when our list of Top 10 things to do in Belize includes all of the hot spots? After all, we want you to spend that extra time shopping for flip-flops and bathing suits!
1. Go beachcombing. No Belize beach is identical, and since the country’s coastline runs an impressive 175 mile stretch along the Caribbean Sea, prioritize the most highly-recommended: Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, the Placencia Peninsula and the southernmost beaches in Hopkins. Kill two birds with one stone near the Belize Barrier Reef, because you can swim to your heart’s content without worrying about undercurrents. If you long for privacy, 200 little cayes along the coast–a majority of which are deserted–should do it for you.
|2. Talk to the animals at the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary—if they come out! As the only jaguar reserve on the planet, this property is vast and filled with jungle hiking trails, so whether you come for a day or stay at a rental cabin onsite (book in advance), explore this area to your heart’s content and learn about U.S. research scientist Alan Rabinowitz, whose persistence and energy morphed this reserve from great idea to popular destination. Bring hiking boots. There are over 128,000 acres of lush jungle edged by the Cockscomb Mountain Range, and you wouldn’t want sore feet to keep you from seeing it all.
3. If the only cat you care to see is the one you left home, tour Belize’s Cultural Capitals, Dangriga and Hopkins Village, both homes of Punta Rock, the lively pairing of traditional and contemporary music that’s the signature sound of Belize. Love a good party? Stick around Dangriga Town, the capital of the Stann Creek District, where festivals and celebrations are frequent and ongoing. Some are traditional affairs showcasing the Garifuna people who settled in Belize a century ago. Take drumming lessons or spot an impromptu dance party. In this area of Belize, nobody needs an excuse to express their joy.
4. You’ll have plenty of Mayan ruins to choose from in Belize, but if you don’t get your fill, it’s just a short drive to Tikal in Guatemala. Will you need to cross that border when so many ballparks, palaces, stele and temples built by former residents exist? No way. Maya centers like Xunantunich, Caracol, Altun Ha and Lubaantun showcase both buildings and objects d’art, carvings, paintings, jade, pottery, vessels, ritual objects and enough folklore to keep you happy as you (and your imagination) wander places that time seems to have forgotten.
5. If you can only see one Mayan site during your visit, make it Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM), a cave that requires stamina to reach it. After being driven to the ATM Cave, you must hike through the jungle and slog through water to access chamber after chamber of limestone caverns (lit only by beacons affixed to hard hats). Your walk ends at the biggest surprise of all, The Cathedral. This ceremonial chamber is filled with remnants of rituals performed here: a crystal-encrusted skeleton, human bones, altars, pottery and artifacts. You must be accompanied by a licensed guide since this fragile cave is protected by laws, rules and regulations. Even cameras are prohibited.
6. There’s no sign that reads “Welcome to Hiker Heaven” at Belize’s international airport, but there should be. Giving in to your inner trekker not only gets you up close and personal with the plants, creatures, jungles, flowers and forests of Belize, but you’ll get a lesson in ecological responsibility as well. Whether your taste runs to guided walks, mountain trails or you’re up for wandering on your own with map in hand, trails and paths are marked, so rest assured, you won’t get too lost. Don’t want to hike? Get yourself some wheels. If your lodging doesn’t loan bikes to guests, there’s likely a rental resource nearby, so you’ve no excuse to skip exercising when you visit.
7. Go up a creek with a paddle, down a river or do both courtesy of Belize’s network of rivers that connect so efficiently, Belize commerce once relied completely on these waterways. The largest among them are the Mopan and Macal Rivers that flow into the Belize River; you can canoe, sail or kayak these waters so ask your resort host to fix you up. Alternately, take a fishing cruise on the New River, Sarstoon or Temash. Adventure-seekers will find whitewater challenges in some places while those seeking a slow and easy cruise won’t miss a photo opportunity along these jungle-edged waters.
8. The Museum of Belize is headquartered in Belize City at the junction of Gabourel and Hutson Streets. It’s a nostalgic remnant of Colonial British architecture with a fascinating history. Built originally to house prisoners in the 1800s, the museum was fully-functional as late as 1993, at which point, it was restored and turned into a museum. You’ll still see cells, graffiti, chains and balls, but they’re used as decoration to enhance permanent exhibits that include romantic aspects of Belize’s history: Maya artifacts, treasures left behind by buccaneers and pirates and a history of Belize’s labour movement.
9. Commune with the animals housed at the Belize Zoo; they’re all treated like honoured guests rather than caged specimens clinging to iron bars. Designed to emulate natural habitats, the zoo is is home to a jungle of native plants, trees and flowers so more than 150 animals indigenous to Belize feel right at home here. This special population is composed of rehabilitated and orphaned animals in addition to those born here at the zoo. Located west of Belize City, the Zoo is across the road from the Tropical Education Center. It’s worth the drive to visit both.
10. Go big or go home! Far be it from us to remind you that life awaits back home, but you can’t leave Belize until you see the stars in the nation’s constellation: Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker and the Placencia Peninsula, known as the Big Three. Each area has a flavour and vibe that distinguishes it from the others. You will want for nothing when you divide your time between them, because merchants and residents alike adore tourists. Expect gourmet dining, ethnic eateries, attractions and a collection of lodgings that is so extensive, if you can’t find the accommodation you crave at each location, it might not exist.