Belize, a small country in Central America that shares a border with Mexico and Guatemala, is known for its lush rainforests and Mayan ruins. But it's most famous for its snorkeling and scuba diving, which are among the best in the world: The barrier reef off shore is second only to the Great Barrier Reef off Australia, and visitors can see turtles (both green and leatherback), nurse sharks, stingrays, and a variety of tropical fish. Divers swarm the Blue Hole, a large sinkhole. The waters are clear and warm, but as in other reef destinations, the beaches are manmade; the reef prevents the breaking waves that create natural sand, and the seaweed can make swimming close to shore difficult.
The country is dotted by Mayan sites of varying sizes, where visitors can explore the ruins and climb to the tops of staggeringly high stepped pyramids with gorgeous views. The cuisine in Belize has Mayan, Caribbean, and African influences; the country is known for its fresh seafood (especially grouper and conch), and diners can still find traditional rice and beans with coconut milk. Those looking for a scene after dinner should stay in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, which has several oceanfront bars and nightclubs that can get hopping; the rest of the country has little nightlife to speak of.
Peak season in Belize lasts from late November through April, which is also the dry season. April can get hot, but otherwise the weather is generally sunny and comfortable during these months. Off-peak season is rainy, and visitors can expect lower room rates and no crowds.
Most tourists head to the Northern Cayes and Atolls, a string of small islands along the reef, where visitors will be a short boat ride away from world-class snorkeling and scuba diving. Ambergris Caye, the largest and most popular caye, has the highest concentration of hotels, with options for every price point. San Pedro, the main town, is on southern Ambergris Caye, and it's here that visitors will find some of Belize's best restaurants, including Elvi's Kitchen and Wild Mangos. The beach in San Pedro operates as a major thoroughfare, with golf carts and pedestrian traffic, so it can be a bit tricky to find a place to lounge. The luxury resorts on Northern Ambergris Caye are a 15-minute water taxi ride from the action in town, but have nicer (though still manmade) beaches.
The inland Cayo District is the second most visited area, and home to beautiful countryside, lush rainforests, and perhaps the most impressive Mayan ruins in the country. Visitors can explore the region's limestone caves, swim and canoe along the Macal River, and go zip-lining. The Cayo District's diverse wildlife (including howler monkeys, jaguars, and toucans) also makes it popular with bird watchers and nature lovers. Environmentally conscious travelers will likely be pleased by the region's many eco-lodges, built in harmony with the natural surroundings. Due to the country's small size, it's possible for tourists to experience both the Cayes and the Cayo District in one visit.
Although most visitors fly into Belize City, few stay there. It has several museums, as well as markets to buy local art and jewelry, but the area is known for its gang violence and can be dangerous at night. During the day, though, plenty of tourists -- especially those in for the day from cruise ships -- walk the streets.
Southern Belize is home to arguably the most beautiful beach in Belize, Placencia, as well as beautiful rainforests and a wildlife sanctuary. There are also Mayan ruins here, though they aren't as impressive as those in the Cayo District.
Late Nov. - April
110 V, 60 Hz
10 to 15% in restaurants is expected and appreciated.