Things to see and do in Belize
Attractions in Belize
Climb up Caracol’s ‘Sky Palace’
The archaeological site of Caracol is one of Belize's best-preserved Maya remains, not far from San Ignacio. Thought to be one of the most important Maya cities in the region, Caracol covers a vast area larger than present-day Belize City. Its largest pyramid, Caana, meaning 'Sky Palace', is the largest Maya construction in the country.
Discover Belize’s floral abundance
Learn about the flora of Belize at the San Ignacio Botanical Gardens, its manicured grounds filled with orchids, heliconia and many more tropical plants. Or, if you're interested in the healing properties of plants, discover the native herbs of Belize at the Chaa Creek Medicine Trail nearby. And, while you're in the area, visit the ancient agricultural settlements of the Maya at the archaeological ruins of El Pilar.
Discover Mountain Pine Ridge’s epic waterfalls
Enjoy fine views and secluded streams in the 121-hectare (300-acre) Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve in the Cayo district. The area contains the Hidden Valley Falls, which plunge 305m (1,000ft) into the valley. With many trails, rivers and waterfalls, the Reserve offers a wealth of outdoor activities, including hiking, horse riding, kayaking and birdwatching.
Dive off the Cayes
Belize's most popular destination, Ambergris Caye has everything from diving and snorkelling to golf and even a casino. The reefs and dive sites here are world class; it also has an excellent nightlife and fine seafood restaurants. Ambergris is now often called 'La Isla Bonita', from Madonna's song penned in tribute to its main town San Pedro.
Explore ancient ruins
Wander through Xunantunich, containing some of the most intricate carvings in the Maya world and the most popular Maya site in Belize. The ruins date from AD200 and are found close to the Guatemalan border. Dominating the site is the El Castillo Temple, looming some 40 m (131ft) over the Mopan River; you can climb its steep steps for awesome views over the surrounding jungle.
Get down and dirty in Belize City
An eye-opening alternative to the countryside's natural beauty, Belize City, though tiny, is its gritty capital, showing a different side to Belize. Here, however, is where you'll find real Belizean life, which doesn't depend solely on tourism. It's worth a couple of hours by day to witness its raunchy vibes, but don't expect a Caribbean paradise.
Go underground to discover hidden Belize
Belize's interior hides thousands of caves, providing a rich network of routes to attract cavers and spelunkers. The most accessible cave is Rio Frio Cave in the Mountain Pine Ridge area. Other caves that are easy to visit include Che Chem Ha Cave in Cayo district and Blue Creek Cave in Toledo.
Look out for jaguars in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
Otherwise known as the Jaguar Sanctuary, the 40,500 hectares (100,000 acres) of tropical forest were set aside in the Maya Mountains in 1984 as the world's first reserve for this rare wild cat. You'll be extremely lucky to spot a jaguar, but other residents include jaguarundis, howler monkeys and toucans. There are nature trails and rustic accommodation for visitors.
Plunge into Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave
Near San Ignacio, Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave is a vast chamber used by the Maya for sacrifice to the gods; offering hardy visitors a full day of jungle hiking followed by wading, swimming and clambering through narrow passages. Not one for the claustrophobic or faint-hearted, but this site is possibly one of Belize's most rewarding adventures.
Scale a Maya temple at Altun Ha
Visit Altun Ha, a major Maya centre dating from 250BC. A huge quantity of jade was uncovered in the site, including an ornate carved head of a Maya god, which is now a national symbol of Belize. You can explore the plazas and temples dotted around the site, the largest of which is the Temple of the Masonry Altars, where the jade head was found.
See Belize’s amazing animal life
For its wealth of wildlife, in particular birds, Belize is a natural hotspot. Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary is most notable for its jabiru storks as well as monkeys, coatimundis and reptiles. Alternatively, visit Half Moon Caye Bird Sanctuary between March and August to see the rare red-footed booby with its chicks. The island sanctuary is a day trip from either Belize City or Ambergris Caye.
Snorkel and dive off Belize’s barrier reef
Belize has the longest barrier reef in the Western hemisphere, a wall of coral stretching almost the length of the whole country. You can go snorkelling from cayes such as Ambergris, Caulker and Half Moon Caye; or for one of the world's best dive sites, try the Blue Hole: the vivid blue sinkhole measures 300m (1,000ft) across and over 120m (400ft) deep.
Surf or swim off Caye Caulker
Its pristine coral cayes are the main reason most people visit Belize, and Caye Caulker is the quiet, laid-back one. Windsurfing or kite-surfing here is magic: the water is so clear, you can spot fish, stingrays and even dolphins from above the waves. The best wind conditions usually occur from February to June.
Swim in St Herman's Blue Hole National Park
This inland pool is not to be confused with the offshore Blue Hole dive site. The turquoise waters of the Blue Hole, a 7.6m-deep (25ft) collapsed sinkhole, are a popular swimming spot within the national park near Belmopan. The park is home to an abundance of birds, animals, flora and St Herman's Cave, an ancient Maya cave.
Swim with sharks and rays in Hol Chan Marine Reserve
An option off Ambergris Caye for non-divers is to swim and snorkel with the nurse sharks and stingrays in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. The animals swirl around you in the crystal-clear waters. This protective reserve is also the habitat of some 40 types of coral as well as dolphins, manatee and many tropical fish.
Take a boat trip to Lamanai
Some 25 miles (40km) by motorboat up the New River from Orange Walk leads through tropical jungle to Lamanai, site of a spectacular Maya citadel. Today, the ruin sits in its own archaeological reserve, home to howler monkeys and many birds. You can climb the High Temple, or visit the museum, the remains of two 16th-century Spanish churches and a 19th-century sugar mill.
Wait patiently for a passing manatee
Belize is one of the world's best places to observe manatees, or sea cows, in the wild. Join a tour at the Swallow Caye Marine Sanctuary: these gentle aquatic mammals are an endangered species, typically growing to about 3m (9.8ft) long. You'll need to have patience – but it'll be worth it.
Belize Tourism BoardAddress: Lower Flat, New Horizon Investment Building, 3 1/2 Miles Northern Highway, Belize City,
Telephone: 223 1913 or 1 800 624 0686 (toll-free from the USA only).