Belize marches to its own drumbeat. Although geographically part of Central America, the former British colony identifies more with the laid back English-and-Creole speaking Caribbean islands to the east than with its Spanish-speaking neighbours. Culturally and ecologically diverse, Belize offers such a dizzying array of choices for visitors that the most difficult part of your trip might be deciding what to do first.
Head under the sea
With almost 80 miles
of nearly unbroken reef, Belize’s Barrier Reef might be the best spot in the northern
hemisphere to kick your fins beneath the waves. Explore fantastic coral
formations and swim with kaleidoscopic tropical fish, colourful crustaceans and
the massive whale sharks that come to spawn in mid-spring. If you are an
advanced diver, challenge yourself with a deep dive at the Blue
Hole – possibly Belize’s most popular dive spot. And for snorkelers there
is plenty to see within swimming distance of most of Belize’s Central Cayes.
Dive into the
underworld at Actun
Tunichil Muknal, with a bracing swim (with helmet and headlamp) through icy
waters to the cave’s entrance. Three miles of walking, climbing and
crawling through blackness and past strange rock formations will take you to the
cave’s sacred main chamber.
If all this sounds a bit
strenuous, opt instead for a cave tubing trip at Nohoch Che’en,
just east of Belmopan. After a 45-minute jungle hike to the caves, hop on a
sturdy inner tube and float peacefully through an underground network of caves
filled with schools of eyeless cave fish, stalactites and ceiling art painted
long ago by Mayan artists. To beat the crowds, try a sunset trip.
See Mayan Belize
Cayo is where you
will find Belize’s grandest Maya sites. Spread out over nearly 65 sq miles, the
ancient and remote city of Caracol
is said to have once been home to between 120,000 and180,000 people -- to put
this into perspective, Belize’s population today stands just over 300,000. Aside
from a handful of students and archaeologists, visitors will have Caracol to
themselves as they explore the temples, palaces, plazas and markets of the city
that once rivalled Guatemala’s Tikal in military power and political influence.
be accessed by independent travellers, so you will need to hire a guide before
If you have less time on
your hands, Xunantunich
– just 20 minutes outside of San Ignaciao – is another Maya site worth visiting.
Take a hand-cranked ferry across the Mopan River and then walk through the bird-
and butterfly-filled jungle to a complex of temples and plazas that date back
to the early Classical Maya period.
Relax on the beach
Many visitors to Belize steer clear of activity entirely. If this is your
preference then head to Placencia, a beach town offering great restaurants,
lively bars and a long stretch of sand filled with palm trees, hammocks and low-key
guest houses. If Placencia’s pace is still too quick, an hour’s drive north will
bring you to Hopkins, a laid-back beachfront village renowned for Garifuna
culture, cuisine and drumming. Or hop on a boat to Thatch Caye, Tobacco Caye or
even distant Glover’s Reef, tropical islands that offer adventures in idleness for
every budget range.
The article 'The very best of Belize' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.