When you’re looking for an incredible place to both explore and unwind, look no further than the Central American nation of Belize. You’ll find a new kind of adventure in this beautiful country that is rich with Mayan heritage, rainforests and sandy beaches. Located on the southeastern tip of Mexico and east of Guatemala, Belize is perfectly situated along the ever-enticing Caribbean Sea. As the only country in Central America that recognizes English as its first language, many people find it easy to navigate and communicate with members of the local communities.
Belize is located just offshore is the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS), the western hemisphere’s largest barrier reef and second largest reef in the world. This makes Belize a great place for scuba diving, snorkeling, parasailing and other water adventures. The beauty of approximately 500 different species of fish finding their home in the reef is matched only by the brightly colored coral surrounding them.
Take your time enjoying the unique marine life, soak up some sun on the beach, or head inland to explore ancient Mayan ruins and other archaeological sites. Whether you want to get a glimpse of Caribbean reef sharks in the world-famous Blue Hole or trek through the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) caves, you’ll soon see that Belize is a place worth coming back to again and again.
Water Activities in Belize
Starting with offshore options like the Great Blue Hole, one of the world’s most popular destinations for scuba diving. Thousands of years ago, a cave collapsed and this created the Great Blue Hole. Today, visitors swim through gorgeous underwater tunnels and open caves. Within the hole, which is about 43 miles off the coast, you will likely see reef sharks and black tips. Ideal conditions to visit this underwater phenomenon are found during the dry season in April and May.
A bit closer to shore is Hol Chan Marine Reserve, a sanctuary for a range of species including eels, stingrays and sharks. Translating to “Little Channel”, Hol Chan covers an area of about three-square miles of coral reef and offers great opportunities for snorkeling and scuba diving. Separated into different areas based on the unique wildlife, you can swim through each and find something new every time.
Once you’re ready to get your feet back on dry land, head four miles northeast to the island of Ambergris Caye. While you could easily go out for some snorkeling just offshore, this 25-mile long island provides a wealth of activities out of the water. Make your way to San Pedro for some delicious Belize cuisine such as chirmole, fish escabeche and many other Mexican-style dishes. After you’ve finished eating, rent a golf cart and drive around to the numerous galleries and shops to get some local souvenirs or check out a local beach bar.
Exploring Mainland Belize
As you make your way further inland from the islands and beaches, discover a completely different world of rainforests and ruins. A truly unique and slightly macabre experience is found when you visit Actun Tunichil Muknal caves. Once used as a sacred place for human sacrifices, ancient Mayans believed these offerings pleased their gods and granted fertility to the land. You can see ancient pottery, stoneware and even skeletons from these sacrifices when you trek through the caves.
For the animal lover who doesn’t want to miss species that are hard to find in the wild, Belize offers a nice zoo with many animals in residence. Located about 30 miles from Belize City, the zoo features wildlife that is endemic to the country. Although it is a smaller zoo, at about 29 acres, it is home to 45 different species. You’ll see many of the native Belize cats including jaguars, ocelots, and pumas. Most of the animals are rescues, making the zoo more like a wildlife preserve. Its focus is on conservation through wildlife rehabilitation and environmental education. A few more species, like howler monkeys, scarlet macaws and harpy eagles, are seen hanging out in the overhanging trees.
Head to Xunantunich when you’re ready to see some ancient Mayan ruins. These ruins are well-preserved and ready for you to explore. They grounds contain six major plazas and temples as tall as 133 feet. There are incredible sculptures of sun masks carved into the sides of larger structure. There is also a local museum showing off artifacts found in the ruins. If you’re interested in a great photo op, less than a mile away is the Mopan River. Here you will get a beautiful shot of some whitewater rapids with the entire valley in the background.
What experiences do you want to have on your Belize vacation?