Located on the eastern coast of Central America, the English-speaking country of offers a ton of things to see, taste, and experience. Here, you can pack your days with adventures, ranging from diving among sharks and rays to exploring Mayan ruins reminiscent of an Indiana Jones set. Or, you can just take it easy, and drink pina coladas on white-sand beaches and feast on fresh seafood. If you're looking to plan a trip to this Central American paradise and don't know where to start, check out our guide to a few of the best things to do in Belize.
1. Discover ancient Mayan ruins.
Most people think of Mayan ruins with destinations such as the Yucatan in Mexico (home to Chitchen Itza), or even Guatemala, where the iconic Tikal ruins are found. However, the ancient Mayan civilization flourished across what is now known as Belize for centuries, and many of the ruins here remain. In fact, by some estimates there are more ancient Mayan ruins (albeit some buried) than there are modern structures in Belize. Significant sites include Caracol, a 25,000-acre ancient city in the Cayo District that once had over 100,000 residents, and Xunantunich (pictured), a ceremonial city that was built during the later years of the Mayan civilization. Getting to the latter still requires a river crossing on a hand-crank-operated ferry.
Cayo District Hotel Pick:
2. Take a dip in a cenote.
Cenotes, or water-filled sinkholes (often encased in caves), are yet another natural feature associated with the Yucatan, but also exist in Belize. The Mayans once used these freshwater pools as sources of water as well as for sacrifices. In fact, historians have proposed that the Mayan people viewed cenotes as portals to the underworld. The most popular in Belize include the cenote at the Blue Hole National Park, as well as the Great Blue Hole, an enormous underwater sinkhole in the Lighthouse Reef Atoll that’s popular with scuba divers.
3. Swim with the fishes (and rays and turtles).
Belize offers great opportunities for snorkeling and diving, and is home to the Western Hemisphere’s largest reef system, a 185-mile span of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef located just off its coast. Here, you’ll find everything from manatees to sea turtles, along with sharks, rays, and a huge variety of brightly colored fish. Snorkelers won’t want to miss the protected Hol Chan Marine Reserve just off the coast of Ambergris Caye, and the Silk Cayes Marine Reserve, where visitors may even spot a whale shark. Adventurous (and experienced) divers should look into exploring the gargantuan Giant Cave under Caye Caulker, which many speculate might be the largest sea cave on the planet.
4. Eat like a local.
Seafood lovers will not go hungry in Belize. There’s no shortage of seafront restaurants serving fresh catch-of-the-day across the country’s coastline and cayes. As Belize is a culturally diverse country, with large populations of Mayan, Mestizo, Creole, and Garifuna people, you’ll also find a huge array of culinary offerings. Start your day off with a breakfast of refried black beans (often pureed to silkiness and cooked up with tasty coconut oil), served up with Belize’s beloved fry jacks (deep-fried wheat-based dough with a consistency similar to beignets). Creole favorites include stew chicken (the national dish), often accompanied by rice and beans popular throughout Central America. Other popular options include cassava dumplings, fish soup, and barbecue seafood. And if you need a little extra heat to your meal, just add a few drops of the ubiquitous Marie Sharp’s hot sauce, a delicious carrot-based sauce flavored with habaneros.
5. Relax on white sands.
Finally, if you just want to take it easy, Belize has you covered. No matter where you are along the country’s coastline, you’re sure to find a stunning patch of sand. In fact, many travelers devote their trips to the sea and sun, particularly those vacationing in offshore hot spots like as Ambergris Caye (a quick puddle-jump flight from Belize City) and the increasingly popular Caye Caulker nearby. Your best bets on the mainland are the white-sand beaches along the Placencia Peninsula, which juts out between a lagoon and the Caribbean Sea.
Ambergris Caye Hotel Pick:
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