Occupying one of the last, remaining unspoiled places on earth just south of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Belize is a beautiful Caribbean getaway where tourists can laze away on white sandy beaches, dive in the Western Hemisphere’s largest barrier reef, hike through lush jungle, and explore ancient Mayan ruins all in one vacation. An English-speaking country with a multicultural population, Belize is best known for its tropical beauty and outdoor adventures. The hundreds of cayes and coral islands are also among the best places to visit in Belize, with their stunning beaches and world-class diving sites.
Belize City is the largest city in Belize. It is located on a small peninsula at the mouth of the Haulover Creek. It was the capital city until flooding and other damage from a hurricane prompted the government to relocated to Belmopan in the 1970s. Most tourists use Belize City as a transportation hub and spend little time in the city. With that said, Belize City is still the cultural center of Belize and offers a relatively large number of cultural attractions.
The small village of Hopkins, south of Dangriga and stretching along a bay, is probably best-known as the cultural center of the Garifuna population in Belize. The Garifuna are the descendants of African, Island Carib, and Arawak people. The town hosts its own national holiday, Hopkins Day, and welcomes people for their celebration on Garifuna Independence Day as well, they do this with drum ceremonies that can last till early hours in the morning. Garífuna continues to be widely spoken here and the village is a great place to learn more about this unique culture.
The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, also known as the Jaguar Reserve, is one of the biggest, protected destinations in Belize. Although roughly 60 of Belize’s 700 jaguars are believed to live in the sanctuary, the chances of seeing one are very slim. However, it’s an ideal environment for plant-spotting, bird viewing or seeking out other wildlife, and the trail system is the best developed in any of Belize’s protected areas. For those who have the time, it’s also possible to take a four- or five-day hike and climb to the summit of 1120 meter (3670 foot) high Victoria Peak.
Tobacco Caye is a small island located at the northern end of the South Water Caye Marine Reserve, approximately 16 km (10 miles) from Dangriga. Travelers to this island can choose from 6 different small and modest lodges in which to enjoy some rest and relaxation. Because Tobacco Caye is located in a protected marine reserve, it is known for being an excellent spot for shore diving. Over the years, this cay has earned a devoted following among backpackers and snorkel and scuba enthusiasts.
Located about 35 km (22 miles) from Belmopan, San Ignacio is a friendly, relaxed town offering a pleasant climate, good food, inexpensive hotels and frequent bus connections. Surrounded by rivers and forested hills, it’s an ideal base from which to explore the Mayan ruins and nature reserves in the region. San Ignacio is also an important transit town en route to or from Guatemala. The town is usually referred to as Cayo by locals, the same word that the Spanish used to describe the offshore islands.
The largest of Belize’s several hundred islands, Ambergris Caye is a dreamy, tropical place where shorts and flip-flops are the dress code, golf carts are the mode of transportation, and lazing away on sandy white beaches is the primary activity. A short plane flight or ferry ride from Belize City, Ambergris Caye is one of the best places to visit in Belize because it presents the ultimate Caribbean getaway with classic beaches, world-class accommodations, fabulous dining and ultra relaxation.
A long, narrow peninsula of sandy white beaches hugging Belize’s Caribbean coastline, Placencia is a popular destination for beach lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. Placencia comprises the three villages of Maya Beach, Seine Bight and Placencia Village. The most popular attraction in Placencia Village is the paved pedestrian path known as “The Sidewalk,” a strip lined with shops and numerous bars and restaurants. Most of the activities in Placencia are centered around the peninsula’s natural scenery. The Placencia Lagoon is a great place to kayak or canoe along the wetlands to spot wildlife like manatees, dolphins, crocodiles and birds.
Situated high on the Vaca Plateau, 500 meters (1650 feet) above sea level, Caracol is the largest Maya site in Belize. It was once one of the largest ancient Maya cities, with an estimated population of about 150,000, more than twice as many people as Belize City has today. Its greatest period of construction occurred between 484 AD and 889 AD when over 40 monuments were built. The largest pyramid in Caracol is Canaa (Sky Place), at 43 meters (143 feet) it is still the tallest man-made structure in all of Belize.
Caye Caulker may not offer the beautiful beaches of Ambergris Caye, but it’s casual atmosphere, cheap prices and abundance of bars and restaurants draw numbers of backpackers and tourists who are looking for a break from traveling around Central America. A small island accessed by small plane or water taxi from Belize City, Caye Caulker is not a place for sightseeing, but rather, a place to simply hang out and relax. The most popular activities on Caye Caulker are diving and snorkeling. The island’s closeness to Belize Barrier Reef offers some of the best diving spots in the Caribbean.
The Belize Barrier Reef is a 300 kilometer (190 miles) long section of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second largest coral reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It is Belize’s top tourist destination, popular for scuba diving and snorkeling and attracting almost half of all its tourists. A large portion of the reef is protected by the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, which includes 7 marine reserves, 450 cays, and 3 atolls. The reef also includes the Great Blue Hole, the most famous dive destination in Belize.