Reasons to Visit Belize at Least Once

The Blue Hole, largest underwater sinkhole and popular diving site, Lighthouse Reef, Belize
The Blue Hole, largest underwater sinkhole and popular diving site, Lighthouse Reef, Belize | © Minden Pictures / Alamy Stock Photo Minden Pictures / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Rosanna Stevens
26 July 2021

From jungles teeming with howler monkeys and jaguars, to the 240 miles of crystalline Caribbean Sea coastline with over 400 islands (called cayes), Belize is small but beautiful. There’s a huge variety of landscape and culture – plus the country is home to Caracol, some of the best-preserved Mayan ruins. Whether you choose to roam the caves, jungle and mountains inland or head to the cayes for some island living, here’s why you should visit Belize at least once in your lifetime.

Transport is easy

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Shuttle boats transport tourists from a cruise ship to the port dock.  Belize City, Belize
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Getting around in Belize is easy, whether by car, boat, bus or plane – not least because English is the official language. There are two small airlines – Tropic Airways and Maya Island Air – that run shuttle flights between hubs like Belize City, San Pedro and Placencia, and there are multiple ferry routes between the mainland and the cayes too. If traveling by land, a bus network spans the whole country, and you’ll get to ride down the beautifully scenic Hummingbird Highway that connects central Belize to the southeastern coast, via citrus groves, rushing rivers and the Maya Mountains.

Its ethnic and cultural diversity

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Hopkins Village, Belize - July 03, 2016: Garifuna troupe performs traditional songs with drumming and dancing in Hopkins Village
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Belize is rich in cultural diversity, and its population is a vibrant medley of ethnic groups. From the Maya to the Mestizo, Garifuna, Creole and the Mennonite communities who came to Belize in the late 1950s, this melting pot creates a unique and beautiful cultural landscape. Many Belizeans are multilingual and might also speak Creole, Spanish and Mayan dialects depending on their heritage. Learn more by visiting the Museum of Belize in Belize City. If you can, definitely try to catch a live performance of Garifuna drumming, or even take a lesson at Warasa Garifuna Drum School in Punta Gorda.

Lobster is on the menu

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BBQ Lobster Placencia Lobster Festival, Belize, Caribbean. Bar Be Que for take away in plastic container. barbecue
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The food in Belize is as bright and varied as its culture, with influences from Mexico, Guatemala and the Caribbean colliding with traditional Mayan cuisine. Eat fry jacks for breakfast: deep-fried pieces of dough served with refried beans and whichever tropical fruit is local, ripe and ready. Try stewed chicken or tamales (corn-based dough mixed with meats, or beans and cheese) for lunch from street sellers, or go on a fishing trip and catch some red snapper or barracuda. If you visit between June and February, Caribbean spiny lobster is in season and on menus everywhere. Fresh off the grill and served with a side of plantain chips, it’s to-die-for with some local Marie Sharp’s hot sauce and a frosty bottle of Belikin beer.

Belize has world-class diving and snorkeling

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Tourists snorkeling, Turneffe Atoll, Belize Barrier Reef, Belize
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Belize is home to the second-largest reef system in the world, and the underwater sites rival those above sea level. The Belize Barrier Reef is a Unesco World Heritage Site and contains hundreds of species of fish and coral, including the endangered hawksbill turtle and several threatened species of shark. If you like diving or want to try, don’t miss a visit to the Great Blue Hole, a vast marine sinkhole over 400ft (125m) deep. It’s so big, it’s visible from space.

It has the most caves in Central America

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Rio Frio Cave
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With the highest concentration of caves in Central America, Belize has a cave experience to suit everyone. The Rio Frio cave in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve has a yawning 65ft (20m) entrance and is small enough that you’ll never lose daylight, whilst the sprawling Actun Tunichil Muknal (or ATM) cave delivers a more thrilling adventure. You’ll venture underground and have to swim, scramble and wade through water for parts of the journey, but it’s well worth it. The ancient Maya believed caves to be portals to the underworld, and you’ll find relics from rituals and even skeletons that have become fused into the rocks over thousands of years.

The wildlife is incredible

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Central America, Belize, Belize City, Belize Zoo. Jaguar
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Belize has an abundance of wildlife, all fiercely protected under the Wildlife Protection Act. Bird watchers have the opportunity to observe nearly 600 species, including the keel-billed toucan (the national bird of Belize) and the red-footed booby. Underwater, you’ll find the Belize Barrier Reef and the highest-known density of Antillean manatees anywhere in the world. Five species of big cat, including the jaguar, puma and ocelot, roam the jungle along with tapirs, rare frogs and crocodiles. Belize Zoo near Belize City is a fully accessible destination to view all 45 species that are native to the country.

You’ll see some of the best-preserved Mayan ruins

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Plaza B temple, Mayan ruins, Caracol, Belize, Central America
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Widely thought to have been the center of Mayan civilization – with over 600 Mayan sites and counting – Belize has a lot to explore when it comes to ancient history. Caracol is the largest archaeological site, spanning an area greater than Belize City and containing a caana (sky-palace) pyramid that is the highest man-made structure in the country. Wander among the ball courts, astronomic observatory, altars and reservoirs and admire the views of Chiquibul National Park from atop the pyramids. It’s well worth employing a guide who can offer extra insight into this ancient culture and enrich your experience.

It’s surrounded by hundreds of islands

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Beautiful  caribbean sight with turquoise water in Caye Caulker island, Belize.
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Out of the hundreds of cayes (islands) in Belize, many are tiny, uninhabited dots of white sand, whilst others – like the much larger Ambergris Caye – are bustling hubs with hotels, bars and restaurants. Slower-paced Caye Caulker has a relaxed backpacker vibe and excellent snorkeling – plus the entire island is car-free, leaving you free to amble and enjoy island life. For a swashbuckling day out, head to King Lewey Island near Placencia. The entire island is a pirate-themed bar-resort, with a few private cabanas for visitors who overindulge on local rum or want to keep the party going.

You can hike in the jungle

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CAYO DISTRICT BELIZE Thousand Foot Falls in the lush Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve
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Almost half of mainland Belize is covered in rainforest, and the best way to connect with the natural landscape is on a hike through this unspoilt wilderness. In addition to caves, the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve contains wonders like the Thousand Foot Falls, a narrow waterfall that tumbles between the trees into a misty plunge pool, where you can take a refreshing dip to cool off. Nearer to the coast, a tour of Monkey River in the Toledo district takes you upstream and then for a walk into the jungle where you can hear the – alarmingly loud – howler monkeys screaming above you. Bring DEET-strength insect repellent.

You might spot a wild jaguar

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BELIZE, Hopkins, the road into Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
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A jaguar sighting in the wild is at the top of many a bucket list for travelers to Belize, and as one of the country’s largest protected areas, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is the place to try and spot one. Home to an estimated 80 jaguars plus hundreds of other flora and fauna species, there is plenty to see besides the shy big cats – which you do have to be lucky to see. Come alone or in a small group and come early, as nothing frightens wildlife away more than noisy hikers and the hot midday sun. Afterwards, hike the Tiger Fern Trail and enjoy views across the Maya Mountains.

This is an updated version of an article originally by Patrick Foot.

These recommendations were updated on July 26, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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