My name is Suzi and Belize has been my vacation destination for the past couple of years. While I call Seattle, Washington my year-round home, Belize has become another home base since I work virtually with Hanna Stables. Owned and run by a local Belizean family, this tourist establishment has been welcoming visitors for horseback rides and organic farm stays for several destinations. I’m lucky to work with them to help plan vacations for guests and coordinate online bookings.
Belize’s best sites are spread all over the country so the best way to see them is to hire a taxi or rent a car. Alternatively, you can take public buses or local flights.
Off the coast of Belize City, there are cayes or islands that are popular tourist destinations. While the most popular is the town of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, there is another smaller, cozier caye right next to it: Caye Caulker. Both are accessible via water taxi from Belize City. Five miles long, Caye Caulker is a small limestone island with just over 30 tiny hotels and a cluster of restaurants, shops, and snorkeling and diving businesses.
Located on mainland Belize in the Cayo district, San Ignacio is 90 minutes from Belize City. Close to the Guatemala border, it’s usually a stopover for travelers heading to Tikal. However, there are many Mayan ruins and jungle adventures in San Ignacio and it is worth exploring for a few days. Accommodations vary from cheap hostels to treehouse cabanas to high-end resorts. Activity-wise, the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich, Cahal Pech, Caracol and Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave are popular.
Even further away from Belize City (3.5 hours) is the former fishing village of Placencia. It is home to a number of beachfront hotels, cabanas, and restaurants as well as the narrowest street in the world. It is a great base for travelers wishing to do snorkeling or scuba diving day trips or head into the mountainous jungles close to San Ignacio while spending the night closer to the beach.
There is no shortage of Mayan archeological sites; most are located inland in the Cayo District. The most historically significant is Caracol, a site that was once the center of one of the largest Maya kingdoms. The most popular site is Xunantunich, meaning “Stone Woman” – a reference to a ghost believed to inhabit the site. In Belize, it’s legal for visitors to climb all over the ruins, something you can’t do in the surrounding countries.
Caving is another reason why many adventure travelers flock to Belize. Whether you’re an experienced caver or beginner, there’s a tour for you! One of the most popular caving tours is Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave. This intense adventure involves swimming, crawling, scampering, and climbing for nearly four hours in an underground cave. At the end of the cave, you can see where Mayan shamans allegedly conducted rituals. Believe it or not, this tour is perfectly fine for inexperienced cavers, as long as they are in good physical condition.
You might already know about the Great Blue Hole, a widely photographed large submarine sinkhole off the coast of Belize. There are many tours that allow you to dive or fly over the hole.
But did you know that Belize boasts the world’s second-largest great barrier reef?!From any of the Cayes or Placencia, you can take a trip out to snorkel or scuba dive, and there is also a special tour to Shark Ray Alley that lets you swim with rays and sharks!
The culture in Belize is very diverse and so is the food! Coastal towns have more Kriol influence in their foods and serve lots of fresh seafood. Try the lobster and if you’re adventurous, the conch and barracuda as well.
Inland, Belizean food is more Hispanic, serving staples like rice and beans with cochinita pibil (slow roasted pork) and empanadas. If you’d like to try something new, try the gibnut (a large rodent), cow foot soup, or bamboo chicken (which is actually iguana!)
Belize is one of the only countries in Central America where English is widely spoken and U.S. dollars are openly accepted, making it an ideal destination for American tourists. That being said, there is also quite a bit of Spanish spoken throughout the country, especially as you head further inland. Most Belizeans are very friendly and will greet you with a smile. The country is also fairly safe, but I’d avoid Belize City.
Travel on the Cheap
Belize can be a relatively expensive country to visit, especially when compared to nearby Guatemala. You can save money by staying in budget hostels and buying your food at the farmers’ markets. Taxis can get expensive. It’s much cheaper to take the public bus, but it will take you longer to reach your destination. One the best ways to save money is to visit during Summer – the slow season.
Thanks so much for sharing, Suzi! I’m sure lots of you have been to Belize – what would you add to this list?
Photos: wikipedia // Glen Murphy // Eric Pheterson // Larnie Fox // Drriss and Marrionn // Ian Morton