If you're craving endless opportunities for adventure, consider Belize for your next travel destination. This tiny country packs a BIG punch!
Located on the northeast coast of Central America at the base of the Yucatán Peninsula, Belize offers visitors a wide variety of outdoor activities both on land and in the water. Take advantage of the second-largest coral reef system in the world, towering Maya ruins, cave systems, and picturesque rainforest reserves exploding with wildlife.
Brad and I spent about a month in Belize staying in San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Hopkins, and San Ignacio. With so many possible activities it can be hard to narrow down what to do! Below I've ranked my top 10 attractions in Belize to help you decide which is right for your itinerary.
#1 Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave
Take a guided tour with MayaWalk through the cave system of Actun Tunichil Muknal to see in situ Maya skeletons, ceramics, and sacrificial altars. Weave your way over and between partially submerged rock formations to reach the grand finale: The Crystal Maiden.
Journey down into the dark depths and breathe the musty air as magnificent stalactites come into view with the glow of your headlamp. Fortitude will be your best friend, especially if you are mildly claustrophobic or dislike bats. ATM is an experience of a lifetime and a must-do attraction worth the physical effort!
TIP: GoPros, cameras, and cell phones are forbidden in the cave. Athletic clothing and water shoes will keep you comfortable during the trek. Socks are necessary to protect your feet towards the end of the route where you will need to remove your shoes to access the artifacts. Hydrate the day before since you will be inside the cave without drinking water for at least 2 hours. The tour costs about $100 USD per person (via bargaining) and includes equipment, lunch, and entrance fees.
#2 Sailing Trip
Go off the beaten path with a relaxing 3 day/2 night sailing voyage to explore the various cayes (islands) along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Join the fantastic crew of Raggamuffin to taste freshly caught seafood, snorkel alongside colorful marine life, and sip homemade rum punch in the sun.
The tour begins in Caye Caulker and ends in Dangriga. Enjoy camp-like conditions during the overnight stays on Rendezvous Caye and Tobacco Caye. Set up your tent on the beach and slowly drift to sleep with the sound of waves crashing on the shoreline. However, prepare for the possibility of intense winds. The first night we had to surround our tent with chairs, benches, and tables to prevent it from blowing out to sea!
Exchange stories with fellow passengers and sway to Reggae beats. This no-frills expedition offers an opportunity to reset and discover a part of Belize few get the chance to see.
TIP: The trip costs $550 USD per person and has a minimum requirement of 8 passengers. Sailing also depends on the weather. Be prepared to go with the flow since there isn't a set schedule.
Caye Caulker was my favorite place in Belize thanks in part to the full day excursion by Caveman Snorkeling Tours. Our guides, David and Zack, took us and several others on a small boat to five different spots including Coral Gardens and Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
The ocean diversity was out of this world! We saw tarpons, manatees, turtles, nurse sharks, sting rays, and a small moray eel. The final snorkeling stop was a huge sunken barge full of corals, purple sea fans, urchins, and crabs.
TIP: The full day tour costs $90 USD per person and includes park fees, snorkeling equipment, and lunch. Soft drinks, water, and fresh fruit are provided. Bring sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen.
Archaeology, history, and bird enthusiasts will enjoy a visit to the Maya ruins of Xunantunich aka "tuna sandwich." The nickname comes in handy for tourists! The site reached its peak between 600-670 AD. Climb the impressive 130 ft (40 m) "El Castillo" pyramid and gaze across the jungle canopy of the Mopan River Valley.
Peek inside chambers with corbeled arches, marvel at carved stucco, and decipher eroded stelae. Walk around tombs, ball courts, and residential sections while keeping a lookout for toucans.
TIP: I recommend to spend at least 2 hours at the site. Tickets cost $5 USD per person. Don't miss the last hand-cranked ferry which leaves the site at 4:00 PM!
#5 Mayflower Bocawina National Park
Navigate your way through the dense jungle along the many trails of this 7,000-acre reserve. The Mayflower Bocawina National Park is full of lush fauna, exotic birds, and strange insects.
Brad and I began our visit with a few hours of birdwatching nearby the main entrance. We observed black-headed trogons, crimson-collared tanagers, and great kiskadees.
After a picnic lunch, we embarked on the trail to Antelope Falls. The 45-minute climb up steep rocks and tree roots was worth the effort to reach the waterfall. The views out to the Caribbean Sea beyond the misty cloud forest were spectacular. We had the serene oasis all to ourselves and even spotted a praying mantis!
TIP: Bring bug repellent and a waterproof bag for your gear. The climate can be unpredictable in the rainforest with sunshine one minute and thunderstorms the next. Tickets cost $5 USD per person.
#6 Belize Zoo
A visit to the Belize Zoo is a fantastic way to get to know the indigenous animal species of Belize. Get up close to tapirs, jaguars, monkeys, snakes, toucans, and harpy eagles. The large natural habitats offer plenty of space for the animals to roam.
Sharon Matola initiated the project to help save injured (by vehicles or fires), threatened (by farmers), or neglected (pets) animals. A zoo animal is never taken from the wild unless there is a problem. Most of the animals are rehabilitated for release unless there are health concerns requiring continued care.
I typically avoid zoos because of the prison-like environments. However, after researching this one I wanted to support its mission to help protect these beautiful creatures. Tickets cost $15 USD per person.
#7 Nohoch Che'en Caves Branch
Adventure meets relaxation at the Nohoch Che'en Caves Branch. Customize your experience with exhilarating zip-lining in the canopy before a brief hike to the cave entrance with your inner tube, helmet, and lifejacket.
Cool off in the crystal clear water beneath enormous rock formations before embarking on the float. Kick up your feet and marvel at the sheer size of the stalactites and stalagmites. A highlight is turning off your headlamp to be in complete darkness before you reach the exit on the other side. Spooky!
TIP: Don't feel pressured to hire one of the local cave tubing guides who will undoubtedly bombard you upon arrival. Some will even approach you on the highway! Brad and I opted to purchase a zip-lining and tubing combo pack with Caves Branch Outpost for $60 USD per person. Our private tour was approximately 2.5 hours.
#8 Green Hills Butterfly Ranch
Perhaps one of the best ways to see Mother Nature's color palette is in the numerous species of butterflies at Green Hills Butterfly Ranch. Step inside the peaceful enclosure and observe intricate wing patterns bursting with deep blues, vibrant purples, and bright oranges.
Patiently wait at the nearby patio for the whirlwind of hummingbirds sure to take a sip at the feeders. Long billed hermit, rufous tailed, white necked jacobin, and violet sabrewing hummingbirds were fighting like F-18s in a dogfight to access the nectar!
TIP: Tickets cost $10 USD per person. The 250-acre property also has trails perfect for birdwatching. Don't forget your camera!
#9 Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
The 128,000 acres of Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary make up a vital habitat for approximately 200 jaguars. Although a sighting is rare in the reserve, visitors can see tropical fauna, stunning waterfalls, and colorful birds along the numerous hiking trails.
Brad and I chose to complete the Tiger Fern Trail; a 6.7 km (4.1 mi) out and back steep rocky path. We munched on a picnic lunch with views of Victoria Peak in the distance after cooling off in the scenic waterfall. We were lucky to have this refreshing pool all to ourselves!
TIP: Wear supportive hiking shoes and bring a waterproof bag for your gear. Take your time on the slippery rocks and be careful swimming at the waterfall. I hurt my toe which prevented us from doing another trail. Ow! Tickets cost $5 USD per person.
#10 Marie Sharp's Factory
How about an adventure for your tastebuds?! Chances are you will find Marie Sharp's famous habanero hot sauce in every restaurant, souvenir shop, and convenience store. The condiment is a national treasure in Belize and the taste lives up to the hype.
Take a tour of the factory to learn about the history and production. Your guide will offer samples of every hot sauce, jam, and steak marinade. We had a great time comparing flavors and narrowing down our favorites. Prepare to be hooked!
TIP: Reach out in advance via phone or email to book a tour. Tickets cost $10 USD per person and last about 1 hour.
Most of the aforementioned places are difficult to get to without a vehicle. Public transit is limited and tours are expensive. In the end, Brad and I decided to rent a car in Hopkins (4 days) and San Ignacio (1 day). Some days we planned two attractions to save time and money.
Driving rules in Belize are similar to the United States. Gas is expensive and calculating mileage will help your wallet. Reservations are a good idea especially in the smaller towns. Belize City has more rental options.
My hunger for an outdoor adrenaline rush was satisfied over and over again in Belize. This unique country in Central America is pure fun. Every day is guaranteed to put a smile on your face!