10 Places Not To Miss In Belize

Five people laughing and talking at an outdoor table.

Belize is a spectacularly beautiful country in Central America with a 240-mile Caribbean coastline featuring pristine beaches and the largest offshore barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. The reef and nearby cayes (islands) provide shelter for an incredible diversity of marine life making it a world-class destination for fly fishing and other water-based adventures including snorkeling, scuba diving, boating and swimming.

For land-based adventurers and explorers, inland Belize is made up of hundreds of acres of tropical rainforests and jungles featuring mountain ranges, meandering rivers, vast cave systems, and ancient Mayan ruins. Much of this land is in conservation and includes various wildlife preserves providing rich opportunities for viewing hundreds of exotic plant and animal species.

In addition to its breathtaking natural scenery, Belize is an appealing destination from a cultural perspective, as its inhabitants represent an interesting mix of nationalities and customs. It is a warm and welcoming vacation spot, not too far from home.

Belize is similar in size to Massachusetts which means it’s small enough to navigate easily, especially given its modern transportation system. There are so many incredibly interesting and unusual sights and opportunities for adventure in this tropical paradise; the biggest challenge facing visitors is trying to decide what to do first and how to fit it all into a brief visit. Here’s a sampling to help you get started.

  1. Ambergris Caye - Also known as San Pedro Town or Isla Bonita, Ambergris Caye is the largest island in Belize and remains unspoiled in spite of being the most popular tourist destination in the country. At 25 miles long and a mile wide, it’s a great jumping-off spot for exploring the reef, which is a half mile offshore. It features white sandy beaches, soft sea breezes, an amazing assortment of wildlife and a laid-back atmosphere. Adjacent to the reef are many other stunning cayes to visit including some that are blissfully secluded.
  2. Half Moon Caye National Monument - This island—Belize’s first National Park, and the first marine protected area in Central America—is located at the southeast corner of the Lighthouse Reef atoll. It is a popular destination for scuba divers, who are attracted by the spectacular exotic underwater marine life. Furthest away from the mainland, this island is a long-established bird sanctuary and home to a colony of red-footed boobies. The island features special platforms for bird watching. Other wildlife includes two rare lizard species and several endangered species of turtles who go ashore to nest there.
  3. Great Blue Hole - Blue Hole Natural Monument otherwise known as the Great Blue Hole, is a massive, 400-foot-deep underwater sinkhole near the center of Lighthouse Reef. It is an ancient vertical cave in the ocean that harbors an amazing collection of marine wildlife, making it a popular destination for snorkelers and scuba divers. This natural monument is so large and striking, it can be seen from space.
  4. Placencia - Consisting of a 16-mile-long, narrow peninsula of enticing sandy beaches, dotted with resorts, restaurants, and shops, this is one of the most popular destinations in Belize, for good reason. It also offers year-round saltwater fly fishing, and whale shark watching June through September. Its inland-side lagoon is ideal for kayaking or canoeing, where wildlife abounds, including manatees, dolphins, crocodiles, and birds.
  5. Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary - Also known as the Jaguar Reserve, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is home to Belize’s five species of wild cats. A birdwatcher’s paradise, Cockscomb Basin boasts 300 bird species. A 128,000-acre preserve featuring hiking trails, rivers for canoeing, and waterfalls, it is only a short drive from Placencia.
  6. Hopkins - Don’t miss this charming, traditional fishing village conveniently located between the Maya Mountains and the Caribbean Sea. As the cultural center of the Garifuna people, it is known as one of the most laid back and friendliest places in Belize.
  7. Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve - The oldest and largest nature preserve in the spectacular Cayo District of southern central Belize features a hilly, fragrant pine forest, which is an interesting (and possibly welcome) contrast with the adjacent tropical lowland vegetation. In addition to hiking throughout the preserve, you can swim in the pools below the Big Rock Falls, an incredible 150-foot waterfall on the Privassion River. Explore the incredible and vast Rio Frio Cave located in the preserve.
  8. San Ignacio - Along with its sister city across the river, Santa Elena, San Ignacio is the bustling population center of the Cayo District. It has a diverse, multicultural population and unique history. It’s a convenient place to establish as a base of operations for exploring Mayan ruins and the country’s extensive cave systems.
  9. Caracol - A two-and-a-half-hour scenic drive from San Ignacio, this is the largest known ancient Mayan site in Belize and one of the biggest in the Mayan world. It is located in the remote Chiquibul Forest Reserve in the foothills of the Maya Mountains in western Belize. Caracol is an active archeological site where many historical treasures remain undiscovered. Visitors can climb its massive stone temples to enjoy spectacular views of the surrounding jungle.
  10. Actun Tunichil Muknal - Known locally as ATM, its translated meaning is “Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre.” This multi-chambered rainforest cave is a mecca for adventurers, offering opportunities for hiking, swimming, and exploring. This ancient Mayan burial site features artifacts such as ceramics and stoneware, as well as many skeletons including the famous “Crystal Maiden.”

Depending on your interests and how much time you have, you might take in some of the many other beautiful, interesting destinations in Belize. The places we have listed above are particularly geared to active adventurers. However, if you’d rather learn more about the local culture or kickback on a warm beach, there are many other remarkable choices.