What do you know about the Central American country of Belize? Do you know that it has a Caribbean-inspired culture? Or that the official language is English since it was colonized by the British? What about its Mayan past?
Belize, bordered by Mexico and Guatemala, is a small country – but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot to do there.
If you’re planning your own getaway to Belize, here are six adventures you won’t want to miss:
Visiting Maya ruins
Before any Europeans came to the Americas, Belize’s main population was the Maya people. Even though most travelers associate the Maya with Mexico, the civilization actually extended through Belize, Guatemala, and even Honduras at its height. The largest Maya city in Belize was Caracol (which you can still visit today), and it’s estimated that, at one point, up to 400,000 Mayas lived in the area that is now Belize.
Some popular Maya ruins to visit in Belize include Caracol near the Guatemalan border; Xunantunich in the Cayo District; Cahal Pech, which you can walk to from the city of San Ignacio; and Lamanai on the New River.
Caving in San Ignacio
Not far from the city of San Ignacio, travelers can find the Actun Tunichil Muknal (the Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre). It’s known locally simply as the ATM cave, and has historical significance as well as being cool to explore. Today, the ATM cave is an importance archaeological site because it houses remains (including skeletons) from the Maya civilization. The ATM caving expedition is not for those afraid of the dark, water, or confined spaces, but is entirely unique in Belize.
The ATM cave isn’t the only cave near San Ignacio, though. Local companies also offer cave tubing tours down the Caves Branch River and through nearby cave systems, which are very popular.
Snorkeling with sharks and sting rays
Off the coast of Belize lies part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which stretches from the upper Yucatan peninsula all the way down to Honduras, making it the second-largest reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Because of how close the reef is to the coast of Belize, it is easily the country’s top tourist attraction, popular with both snorkelers and divers.
One particular place of interest is known as “Shark and Ray Alley.” This used to be the spot where fishermen would come to clean their catch at the end of the day, and thus the local marine “residents” have been conditioned to be curious whenever a boat is in the area. Here, snorkelers can hop in the water with nurse sharks, stingrays, and all sorts of colorful fish.
Diving the Blue Hole
SCUBA divers flock to Belize, too – mostly for the famous Blue Hole which sits about 40 miles from the mainland. The hole is nearly perfectly round, and more than 400 feet deep. The dive site was shot into fame when marine researcher Jacques Cousteau called it one of the top ten SCUBA diving sites in the world.
Plenty of dive tours leave each day from the islands, with a large number starting in Ambergris Caye.
Sailing through the Cayes
In fact, if you’re spending any time in Belize’s islands, you should consider booking a full-day sailing tour that will take you to some of Belize’s top sorkeling spots. These include Shark and Ray Alley, the Coral Gardens, and Hol Chan Marine Reserve, where you can usually spot some sea turtles. There are a large number of tour companies that operate tours like this, especially from the islands of Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye.
If you want to spend even MORE time on a boat, companies like Raggamuffin Tours also offer multi-day sailing trips through the Cayes and along the coast of Belize.
Watching a sunset from The Split on Caye Caulker
Lastly, no trip to Belize would be complete without taking in a sunset from the Lazy Lizard bar at “The Split” on Caye Caulker. Named because of a narrow channel that literally splits the island, The Split is the closest to a beach that you’ll on Caye Caulker. And it’s THE place to be at sunset. Pull up a picnic table, grab a drink, and chill out to some reggae beats as you watch the sun slip below the horizon.