By Robert Schrader | Published on July 8, 2022
The sheer number of Belize landmarks belies the country's small size, to say nothing of its fierce beauty and enchanting array of things to do. Some travelers head for the water's edge for sunbathing or diving into underwater caves. Others explore Belize's lush interior, from fascinating Mayan pyramids to rejuvenating waterfalls. No matter what shape your trip to Belize takes, there's a lot to keep you informed and inspired.
When most people think about Belize travel, they think about the Caribbean Sea — and not just Belize's amazing Caribbean islands, which I'll talk about in a minute. They imagine peering down into the Great Blue Hole, a massive underwater cavern that sinks down beneath the surface of the crystal-clear sea.
Once you decide you want to see the Great Blue Hole, you'll have to decide whether you see it from above or below. If you choose the first option, you can hop on an airplane or helicopter tour for unforgettable aerial views. As you peer down onto the scene, keep in mind the patchwork of color and texture you observe from above represents massive reef formations that are home to tens of thousands of marine creatures.
Ideally, you would follow up your sightseeing flight with a Great Blue Hole diving or snorkeling trip, which is just as indispensable to a Belize vacation cruise. Whether you look down from the surface of the water or dive into it, look out for Caribbean reef sharks, graceful sea turtles, countless schools of colorful fish and a rich mosaic of corals.
The good news? If you're so inclined, you can sleep on a "Liveaboard" vessel anchored above the Hole, which allows you to dive down into it whenever you want. The better news? Even if you don't stay overnight at the Great Blue Hole, another of Belize's vacation paradises is only a short boat ride away.
Pick an Island, Any Island
Ambergris Caye is a gateway not only to the Great Blue Hole but to many other island destinations in Belize. Take a water taxi to Caye Caulker, to start. While your first impression of this island might be of a sleepy fishing outpost, don't be fooled. From colorful watering holes that serve rum cocktails during the day, to waterfront nightclubs that turn up the music at night, Caye Caulker is a place where people come to party.
If you're after more of a natural escape, you might explore the Belize Barrier Reef. Part of this 185-mile long ecosystem is coral reefs, which, like the Blue Hole, are home to more species of marine life than you'll ever be able to see on a single dive trip. However, some parts of the reef have enough land that people have settled there, including on Tobacco Caye, which can make for an especially secluded place to stay.
Turneffe Atoll, on the other hand, is Belize's most developed barrier island. Although it sits farther from the mainland than the Belize Barrier Reef, it's home to luxurious accommodations and high-end restaurants. Interestingly, the atoll has also sparked speculation online that it might be the real-life "Neverland" from Peter Pan, although you thankfully don't need to wish upon a star to get here — just hop on a boat.
The country's beaches are amazing, but many of the best things to do in Belize are located far inland. For example, the country is home to several collections of Mayan ruins. In spite of being less-visited than their more famous northern cousins in Mexico, these pyramids are every bit as amazing. One of the most popular sites to visit is Altun Ha, which is 30 miles from Belize City.
The best thing about Altun Ha? In addition to taking in the beauty of the temples and palaces from ground level, you can actually climb to the top of the pyramid. Said to have been built more than 2,000 years ago, the Temple of the Sun God offers a stunning panorama of the entire site from its perch nearly 60 feet above the ground.
Other famous Belize landmarks left by the ancient Maya include Lamanai, near Belize city, and Xunatunich, which sits farther west near the country's border with Guatemala. The ruins of Lamanai are deeper into the jungle than those at Altun Ha and require you to take a riverboat safari in order to reach them. At Xunatunich, meanwhile, you'll be amazed not only by the scale of the architecture but the detailed ancient stone carvings.
Xunatunich's El Castillo pyramid is particularly magnificent, both for the stunning vantage point it offers, as well as the intricate designs on its facade. While Altun Ha and Lamanai largely developed during the very ancient period, Xunatunich features architecture and monuments from several phases of Mayan history. Some of the structures in the site's four main zones were built as recently as the 7th century A.D., not long before the Mayan civilization mysteriously collapsed.
Who says the Great Blue Hole is the only water in Belize worth swimming in? In addition to towering Mayan pyramids, the country's lush interior is filled with pristine waterfalls. These include Tiger Fern Falls in the Cockscomb Cabin Forest Preserve and Big Rock Falls, which cascades more than 150 feet down a sheer cliff face in Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve in Belize's western reaches.
Belize's interior is home to a captivating collection of caves. Climb down into Barton Creek Cave Reserve, where you'll not only find dramatic stalagmites and stalactites, but also additional Mayan ruins. A trip to Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave allows you to peek at skeletons left from ancient rituals, while the huge opening of Rio Frio Caves allows the light and greenery of the surrounding jungle to shine in.
Alternatively, you can pack away your swimming trunks, and instead rub elbows with some of the terrestrial wildlife that calls Belize home. Meet the live-in lizards at the Green Iguana Conservation Project, or take a trip to Jaguar Reserve Nature Center. In addition to seeing the sanctuary's namesake big cats, you can enjoy hiking and river tubing.
The jungle itself can also be the focus of your inland Belize expedition. Several companies offer canopy tours departing from Belize City and the islands, which take you to destinations near and far for customizable adventures. Take the more exhilarating route, and opt for a thrilling zipline over the lush rainforest, or walk amid the canopy at your own pace on bridges suspended amid its branches.