Un-Belize-able – this is the nation’s tag line and as well as being an incredibly good pun, it is actually something you will find yourself continuously muttering throughout the trip. The crystal clear waters of the islands, the delicious BBQ cuisine, the vast array of nature and wildlife and “Go Slow!” attitude of the locals. The place truly is, Un-Belize-able! We had to say it! But in all honesty, Belize adventure activities span from snorkeling and scuba diving to exploring ancient ruins.
With a country offering just so much it can make it difficult to decide what to do in Belize. But fear not, I’ve put together the best tours, the must-see sights and a few hidden gems we happened upon.
Snorkeling in Belize
Belize boasts the second largest barrier reef in the world, only being topped by The Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The Belize Barrier Reef is a 190 mile stretch that is just 300 meters off-shore in the north. This means you only need to sit on a boat for a matter of minutes until you are in a prime snorkeling spot. Here are the best places to snorkel in the Barrier Reef in Belize:
The best place to experience this world class snorkeling is Hol Chan Marine Reserve, which can be reached from either San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, or Caye Caulker. The reserve consists of coral reef, sea grass and mangroves. The words ‘Hol Chan’ mean ‘Little Channel’ in Mayan, due to the small opening in the reef for boats to fit through.
In this area, there are chances of seeing sea turtles, eagle and sting rays, nurse sharks, barracuda and many more animals.
Due to this being a marine reserve, your boat captain will go via the floating ranger station to collect permits. You will also be guided during this snorkel. It means someone leads your group and will be on hand to point out any wildlife you will see. Snorkeling in Hol Chan was a really cool experience and allowed us to find out extra information that we otherwise would not have discovered ourselves.
I would highly recommended forking out the extra cost of hiring a private boat. This allows you to leave earlier than the group tours. We were the first boat to arrive on site, and by the time we were getting out of the water for the next site, there was at least 15 other boats.
The Split at Caye Caulker
Another great place for taking a snorkeling tour in Belize is just off the beach on any of the islands! You really don’t have to go far to see wildlife. In fact, we spotted rays multiple times just from walking along the docks. However, my favorite free Belize snorkel spot would have to be the famous Split at Caye Caulker. The island was split down the middle during the infamous 1961 hurricane Hattie. The area of the split is now home to bars and restaurants, with a few different swim spots around each side. The deep channel attracts numerous fish and there is even a tall diving platform for some other water related antics, like perfecting your backflip.
Belize has a fairly short whale shark season in comparison to some other places, but if you happen to be in town then it’s always worth a shot! The best chances are in April and May, with some encounters a month earlier or later. The whale sharks turn up during the full moon in order to feed on the fish eggs being released. The reef to see them is called Gladden Spit and is 30 miles east of Placencia, and even if the whale sharks don’t arrive, this is still an incredible spot for diving in Belize.
Belize has more manatees than any other country in Central America! They can be seen around the shallow waters of Belize City, Placencia and other marine reserves. One of the best locations for it is at Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary, which can be reached from Caye Caulker. A local guide told me that swimming with manatees is no longer allowed, due to them being a protected species. But there are still many options for manatee watching, and there is always a chance of a manatee wandering over to you during one of your snorkel tours. They are wild, after all!
Belize Adventure Activities
Actun Tunichil Mukanl (ATM) Cave Adventure in Belize
Proclaimed as the number one sacred cave in the world by The National Geographic Society. The feature of numerous documentaries and visited by archeologists and geologists alike. If you were only ever going to do one cave tour in your life, then let this be it. This is hands down one of the best adventure activities in Belize.
This cave is home to the most spectacular formations of flow stone, with whole caverns glistening from floor to ceiling from mineral deposits. The cave is also home to artifacts of the ancient Maya people. The cave was first entered in 300-600 AD, it was not until 700-900 AD that they went deeper and started using the cave for ceremonies.
Caves were thought to be a connection to the underworld. A place closer to the Gods and therefore very sacred. It is thought that after a terrible drought the Mayan people were desperate for help. They decided to adopt some practices of other native groups further north, and use human sacrifice as an offering to the Gods to help their crops. The remains of which can still be found inside.
What to Bring on The ATM Tour
As mentioned, this is a wet cave. That means only bring with you clothing to swim in, some decent sneakers and a change of clothes after. Unfortunately, a few years ago a tourist let their camera slip and damage the remains of a skull within the cave. Due to this, absolutely no cameras, including GoPros, are allowed in the cave. Take this as an opportunity to immerse yourself in the experience of the cave without distraction.
There is a limit to the number of people allowed in the cave per day. This doesn’t stop it from filling up, so do whatever it takes to get your tour to leave as early as possible. We were one of the first groups in the cave, and after seeing how many people were coming in during our way out, it would have been a very different experience. Here is our full review of the Belize ATM Caves.
Because of the fragility of the site, you cannot visit the ATM caves on your own. Click here to book your ATM cave tour.
Mayan Ruins of Belize
There are a number of Mayan ruins around Belize, with the most impressive being in the ATM cave mentioned above, and Xunantunich ruins. Xunantunich is located in western Belize, just a stone’s throw from Guatemala. It is located on top of a ridge above Mopan River. It is still unsure why the Mayan people abandoned this city, but it is one of the largest ever built. Visiting this ancient site is one of the most unique things to do in Belize.
The main feature is known as ‘El Castillo’ – the Castle – which is still the second largest manmade structure in Belize. It is possible to connect a tour of Xunantunich with Tikal, which is just across the border into Guatemala. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is believed to have once been the capital of one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya. Although these are the most visually impressive, there are a number of smaller Mayan sites around most Belize communities.
Click to book your Xunantunich and tubing tour.
The Great Blue Hole Tour
The Great Blue Hole is a marine sink hole spanning 318 meters across and 124 meters deep. It’s situated near the center of Lighthouse Reef and is absolutely out of this world. The Great Blue Hole is part of the Belize Barrier Reef and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s ranked as number one on the Discovery Channels list of the “Ten Most Amazing Places on Earth”, and is a popular spot amongst divers. Of all the things to do in Belize, the Great Blue Hole is a must!
That’s a whole lot of reasons to get yourself to this spectacle! It truly is a sight to be seen, and I have never seen anything like it before. The best access is from Caye Caulker or San Pedro, as they are closest. Scuba tours are all for the entire day, due to the fairly lengthy boat ride to get there. But you will be rewarded with a deep ocean sinkhole with cave features such as stalagmites. This is a novelty dive, due to the unique experience. The waters can be crystal clear and there is marine wildlife such as sharks. However, to really see the Blue Hole in it’s entirety you need to see it from above.
How To See The Great Blue Hole from Above
To see the Great Blue Hole from the sky we took a scenic flight with Tropic Air. They depart from Belize City, Caye Caulker, San Pedro and Placencia, meaning it is accessible from pretty much anywhere you stay. The planes are small puddle jumpers, which allows everybody to get a window seat. The flight over was breathtaking. The water is so clear that you have the possibility of seeing manatees, dolphins and other marine life en route. Once we reached the Blue Hole, the pilot circled around to give both sides of the plane plenty of opportunity to take it all in. The photos truly speak for themselves and this experience was a highlight of the trip for me.
The scale of the hole is only apparent when you see how tiny boats are in the surrounding waters, which is why seeing it from the sky really is the best way.
Wildlife in Belize and Best Places to See It
I have already mentioned the marine life: manatees, sharks, rays and sea turtles… Well nature is equally abundant on land!
The keel-billed toucan is the national bird of Belize. Its image can be seen all over the country. They predominantly feed on fruits and can be found within the Belizean forests.
One of the most impressive and magnificent birds within the parrot family. The best place to see the Scarlet Macaw in Belize is Red Bank, en route to Placencia, as the frequent this area.
One of the most powerful eagles in the Americas, a harpy eagle is known to feed on large prey such as monkeys and sloths. The eagle has almost been made extinct from Belize due to forest fragmentation, nest destruction and others things. However the Belize Harpy Eagle Restoration Project and the Belize Zoo are doing their best to help restore populations.
The coati is a member of the raccoon family and behaves similarly, in the sense that they will feed on whatever they get their hands on. Their long snout makes them visually distinct from raccoons.
Howler monkeys are like the dinosaur of the Belize jungle. Fun fact: the sound used for the T-Rex in Jurassic Park is from howler monkeys. That gives you a sense of just how scary their howl is. And it is terrifying. The howling is used to warn other groups of monkeys to stay out of their territory. Every evening, just as dusk comes in, the jungle is electrified with their blood curdling roars. We stayed for a few nights along Belize River and were able to find them each day, not far from our hotel near Belmopan. Howler monkeys are one of the coolest things to see in Belize.
Green Iguana Conservation Project
The San Ignacio Resort Hotel is leading the charge in green iguana conservation. At the base of the hotel’s property is an enclosure used as a space for iguanas to grow in strength and size, before being released into the wild. This is a highly interactive activity and our guide was extremely knowledgable and was great at passing that information on to us.
The Best Place to See Wildlife in Belize
The ultimate location for experiencing wildlife would be from one of the many jungle retreats and eco hotels that are found in western Belize. Around the areas of Belmopan and San Ignacio, resorts are spread along the rivers. Water obviously attracts wildlife, and from most of these locations you will see an array of animals and birds. From these accommodations, you can also book guided jungle hikes and canoe tours to get even deeper into nature. See below for recommended resorts.
Where to Stay in Belize
Caye Caulker Accommodation
Budget: Chapito’s Apartments – Just $35 for a one bedroom apartment, this is a great budget accommodation option in Caye Caulker. These apartments are simple and rustic, but have all the amenities you’ll need including kitchen and bathroom.
Splurge: Seaside Villas – These two bedroom villas will actually make you feel like you’re living in Caye Caulker. With balconies that open up to stunning views of the sea, you’ll want to bask in the ocean breeze all day. Each villa has a living room area with TV and a full kitchen. They also share an outdoor pool if you can tear yourself away from the ocean long enough to take a dip!
San Pedro Accommodation
Budget: La Casa de Paz – Short of staying in a 10 person dorm, this is one of the more budget friendly accommodations in San Pedro. The rooms are elegant and clean, the hotel has a restaurant, bar and terrace on site.
Splurge: Mahogany Bay Resort and Beach Club – At $160+ for a room it may seem expensive by Central America standards, but it’s a steal compared to the US or Australia. This luxury resort has beautiful rooms, a gorgeous pool and overwater hammocks. What more could you want?
Budget: Rock Farm Guest House – This rustic guesthouse sits on the Roaring River and is a traveler favorite in Belmopan. The staff is incredibly friendly and the owners run a bird rescue program that they’re happy to share with you.
Splurge: Sleeping Giant Rainforest Lodge – Located in the Blue Hole National Park, this lovely lodge has panoramic views of Belize’s stunning forest. The rooms are designed in the style of natural luxury, with gorgeous outdoor hot tubs and balconies perfect for animal spotting.
San Ignacio Accommodation
Budget: Rainforest Haven Inn – This simple inn is located in the heart of San Ignacio. It may not have all the frills of other luxury lodges, but has clean rooms and private bathrooms. The staff also offers cooking classes for those who want to learn more about Belize through their stomachs!
Splurge: Hidden Valley Inn & Reserve – I think the only downside to staying here would be constantly thinking about Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing… Yum! All jokes aside, this is a beautiful place to stay while visiting San Ignacio. Hidden Valley is an eco-lodge located in the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve. Amenities include a swimming pool, hot tub, yoga school, restaurant, lounge and bar.
How To Travel In Belize
Entering Belize Overland
Belize shares a border with Mexico and Guatemala. There is one main road from both, leading to Belize City. The one bus journey our trip relied on did not go well. Taking a bus in Belize can be difficult to find bus timetables and there were long waits for the Mexican border crossing. It’s possible that others have had more success; this is only my experience. This may be down to needing to link up different operators from Mexico and Belize. As with all countries, you get what you pay for.
A taxi can remove all of the hassle. Drivers are willing to take you between the major towns, usually working out cheaper than booking transfers through a hotel.
Belize by Boat & Ferry
Entering Belize from Chetumal, Mexico is best done by ferry direct to either San Pedro or Caye Caulker. Taking a ferry in Belize is actually fun because the views are stunning and the ride is fairly smooth on the flat Caribbean Sea. Going to Caye Caulker does still require you to depart at San Pedro and go through customs, so factor that in to your schedule.
The Belize ferry system links up all of the islands as well as getting to the mainland at Belize City. Once you are in country, this is fairly inexpensive with multiple departures every day.
Flying to Belize (And Around Belize)
The fasted, most spectacular and hassle free form of transport. Tropic Air Belize offer a number of flights between all of the major destinations. This allows you to turn your transfer day into an adventure of itself. With the aircraft being small bush planes, it means they can get in to the smallest airports in remote locations. The flights themselves are truly breath taking. You’ll fly over jungle and sea, with the opportunity to spot wildlife during that.
Tropic Air also have international flights to Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras.
Hitchhiking in Belize
Hitchhiking is a super common form of transportation in Belize. Many locals use hitchhiking to get around. You’ll probably see small groups forming of people waiting for a ride. You can offer to help pay for gas, but it’s usually not required. Here is our experience hitchhiking around Belize: Tips for Hitchhiking in Belize