Get to know Belize with these suggestions from locals.
Comprised of more than 400 islands and nearly 9,000 square miles of mainland, Belize is home to rainforests, jungles, mountains, rivers, an extensive cave system, and many well-preserved ancient Maya ruins. Adventures on both land and sea make Belize a popular destination, and its beaches and resorts are terrific for visitors who simply want to relax and enjoy the tropical climate.
To better understand the variety of ways travelers might get to know Belize, we gathered suggestions from local experts, including Patricia Johnson, head of trip design at Absolute Belize (and a Travel + Leisure A-List Travel Advisor); David Benzaquen, general manager at Cayo Espanto; and multiple team members with Alaia Belize. Anoushka Brandl, commercial director at Matachica Resort & Spa and Gaïa Riverlodge, and Janet Woollam, managing director at Victoria House Resort & Spa, shared their thoughts as well.
This list of things to do in Belize features ideas for everyone, from adventurers and history buffs to foodies and travelers looking to chill out on a lounge chair in the sun.
Tour the ancient city of Caracol.
One of the largest Maya sites in Belize, this ancient city covers about 25,000 acres in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve. “You’ll marvel at the massive pyramids, detailed carvings, and remarkably well-preserved ancient artifacts,” says Johnson. “And you’ll learn fascinating details about ancient Maya culture, from daily life and religion to the ingenuity of their buildings.”
Snorkel or dive in the Great Blue Hole.
Located about three hours by boat off Ambergris Caye, the Great Blue Hole is a ring of coral encircling a huge underwater sinkhole. It’s home to colorful fish, shrimp, groupers, black tip and reef sharks, and other Caribbean marine life. Almost 1,000 feet across and 400 feet deep, the Blue Hole is accessible by dive boat tours.
Fly over the Great Blue Hole on a helicopter tour.
For a birds-eye view, stunning photos, and a thrilling experience, take flight over the Great Blue Hole. Several of our experts suggested this tour, and Benzaquen pointed out that Cayo Espanto “is home to a helipad and partners with a local service provider” for convenient pick-up and drop-off.
Enjoy traditional Belizean dishes.
“I suggest checking out local eateries like El Fogon in San Pedro’s downtown for traditional Belizean food,” says Eric Porter of Alaia Belize. At Matachica Resort, Brandl tells T+L, “The Captain’s Table, a social gathering for eight guests, is a five-course dinner hosted by a different resort team member each time, a true local food experience.”
Explore the underground caves of Belize.
The ancient Maya believed that caves were entrances to the underworld, and in Belize, travelers can explore a number of them by hiking, canoeing, tubing, or swimming. The experience is “an adventure you will never forget,” according to Johnson. “One such sacred cave is Actun Tunichil Muknal, which contains a remarkable collection of artifacts and skeletal remains that have been preserved over the centuries.”
Join a tubing tour through the caves.
Offered by many local tour companies, cave tubing is a visitor favorite in Belize. After a drive to the rainforest, there’s a short hike before you hop on an inner tube to float along an underground river through the natural caves. A guide navigates the tubes, so no paddling is required. Lunch and transportation from a central meeting point are usually included.
Feast on your own fresh catch.
According to Woollam, “Reef fishing with a beach BBQ is fun and widely popular. The fishing is quick and easy, followed by lunch cooked over an open fire. Fresh seafood with Belizean spices, marinades, and condiments has been called the best lunch ever.” Describing a Cayo Espanto excursion, Benzaquen tells T+L, “After snorkeling, you catch your own fish, conch, or lobster, then you head to an uninhabited island beach where your guide will cook your 'catch of the day.’”
Hang with locals at Secret Beach on Ambergris Caye.
The secret is out, and it’s the place for all-day music, food, and drinks. “Alaia’s guests often rent a golf cart to visit Secret Beach, where a day of relaxation, paddle boarding, and jet skiing awaits,” says Jesus Oba, concierge with Alaia Belize. Nearby, The Truck Stop features a beer garden, pool with swim-up bar, movie screen, games, and live music.
Learn all about chocolate.
The ancient Maya are said to have invented chocolate, and the annual Chocolate Festival of Belize celebrates that history, local culture, and more. If you can't attend the May event, there are other options. Brandl suggests that visitors “Experience traditional Maya chocolate making at Ajaw in San Ignacio, then try the delectable chocolate brownie at Gaïa Riverlodge's Five Sisters Restaurant as a midday sweet treat.” In San Pedro, visit Belize Chocolate Company or Mahogany Chocolate.
Dive or snorkel at Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley.
“Our most popular and sought-after tour is snorkeling or diving among the vibrant marine wildlife in Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley," says Oba of Alaia Belize. "Our guests get a thrill out of swimming with nurse sharks, giant jackfish, blue tangs, and sea turtles. Some guests overcome their fear of getting in the water and come out wanting to go back in."
Experience the Belize Barrier Reef.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site and second in size after the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, the Belize Barrier Reef extends more than 180 miles along the coast of Belize. Dive, snorkel, or do as Patricia Johnson suggests: “Hop on a sailing adventure and explore the vibrant marine life, colorful corals, and picture-perfect islands along the Belize Barrier Reef.” Woollam recommends “an easygoing sunset cruise along the reef," noting that most catamarans sail for about two hours.
Browse the shops in San Pedro town on Ambergris Caye.
“As a local, one of my favorite things to do is explore the small shops, restaurants, and bars in San Pedro town," says Eric Porter of Alaia Belize. "If you are an art buff or just looking to take home a souvenir, stroll downtown where small galleries, gift shops, and nifty nooks are in abundance."
Learn about the Garifuna people.
“Experience the culture of the Garifuna people by taking part in traditional drumming and dancing celebrations, sampling local dishes, and even staying in a Garifuna village," suggests Johnson of Absolute Belize. "You’ll come away from this experience with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the richness and friendliness of the Belizean people.” ToursByLocals offers a full-day Garifuna culture tour with convenient pick-up and drop-off.
Get dive certified.
“The proximity of the reef to the resorts makes getting dive certified an easy, safe, and fun experience," says Woollam. "If you have the desire to learn how to scuba dive, dive organizations like PADI have made classroom time a thing of the past. The theory portion of the certification is easily accessible online and can be done at home prior to arriving in Belize.”
Explore Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve.
Located about two hours from San Ignacio in the Cayo District of south central Belize, this reserve is home to natural pools, caves, Maya ruins, and waterfalls, including the highest waterfall in Central America, Thousand Foot Falls. Stay within the reserve and above Five Sisters Falls at Gaïa Riverlodge.
Meet new feathered friends.
Grab your binoculars and try to spot some of the nearly 600 species of birds that live in Belize. The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve is a great place for birdwatching, and Paradise Expeditions offers a variety of expert guided tours on the mainland and cayes.
Go on a fishing excursion.
On a half-day or full-day deep sea fishing adventure, you’ll be fishing for tuna, mackerel, marlins, and more. For a more casual day of fishing different spots along the reef, you can choose reef fishing in calmer seas. Ideal for families, the latter trip includes rum punch, snacks, sodas, and lunch. Turneffe Atoll is also a favorite fishing destination.
Get active in the Caribbean Sea.
Once you’ve relaxed on the beach and you’re ready to get wet, it’s time for your favorite activity on the water. “While Ambergris Caye is known for its proximity to the reef for snorkeling and diving, our guests also enjoy other adventurous water activities, including parasailing, windsurfing, or jet skiing, which our concierge is able to organize for them,” says Oba of Alaia Belize.
Visit Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center.
More than 150 native animals make the 29-acre Belize Zoo their home. Most of the zoo’s residents are rehabilitated or rescued, and they include tapirs, jaguars, spider monkeys, toucans, macaws, coatimundi, and more. The fully accessible zoo offers VIP guided tours.
Browse and shop at San Ignacio Market.
Located in the Cayo District in western Belize, this market is set on the banks of the Macal River in San Ignacio. Open every day until 6 p.m., the market gives visitors a true glimpse into Belizean life, with handmade clothing, handicrafts, fruits, vegetables, and herbs for sale by farmers and local craftsmen. Nearby San Ignacio town offers restaurants, bars, and shops.
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