Sandwiched between Mexico and Guatemala, the small Caribbean Sea facing nation of Belize offers a myriad of travel opportunities to suit any type of traveler. It doesn’t matter if you are looking to just relax on idyllic white sand beaches or prefer to hike rainforests and climb ancient Maya ruins — whether it’s your first or tenth trip — you could easily spend months exploring Belize’s many cultural and historical facets.
Unfortunately, many of us don’t have the luxury to set out on a leisurely exploration of Belize for months at a time. However, if you can spare 10 days and are looking to get a thorough overview of what Belize has to offer, we’ve picked some of the best jumping off points in the country.
How to Get Around in Belize
Tropic Air and Maya Island Air are the domestic carriers in Belize and offer quick and easy flights between most major areas in the country, including the major cayes. For those who prefer not to fly on the mainland, buses are the way to go. Or, if you are the type who likes to stop in small villages and explore roadside shops, rent a car and drive between regions yourself.
2 Days in Belize City
Only about 10 miles from the Belize International Airport, Belize City is worthy of a two-day stop. Here you can explore Belize’s prior capital city. It is often considered the heart of the country and mainly sees an influx of visitors arriving via cruise ship.
While in Belize City, you can brush up on the cultural history at the Belize Museum or spend a day amongst the wild animals at the Belize Zoo. The zoo is spread out over 29 acres of tropical savanna and is home to more than 150 animals belonging to over 45 species, all of which are native to Belize.
Beer connoisseurs are likely to quickly discover the local beer, Belikin, which has a Maya temple depicted on its logo. Interested in learning more about the beer, the Maya site, or both? Belize City is a good jumping off point for a tour of the nearby Belize Brewing Company that makes Belikin, and to visit Altun Ha, the Maya site housing the Temple of the Masonry of Altars, the temple depicted on the Belikin bottle.
3 Days Cayo District
The Cayo District is the western-most district that borders Guatemala and is really the gateway to Belize’s most visited sites. It’s the largest geographically and one of the most diverse districts in the country, showcasing Maya ruins, rainforests, caving, and more.
San Ignacio is one of the most popular spots in the Cayo District and offers a range of lodging options from jungle-style accommodations to several five star boutique resorts.
After settling into the Cayo District, you could start Day 1 off by exploring one of the numerous nature trails in the region or go canoeing on the Macal or kayaking on the Mopan rivers. On the second day, explore Xunantunich or Caracol, both important Maya ruin sites.
For your last day in the Cayo District, set yourself up for some real adventure by exploring one of the two most popular caves in the area, Barton Creek Cave or Actun Tunichil Muknal, commonly called ATM.
2 Days Placencia
Placencia is located on the southern coast of Belize and is a welcoming spot for a little R&R or world-class diving. Don’t be fooled by the idyllic white sand beaches and crystal blue waters, there is still plenty to do for adventure seekers visiting Placencia.
One way to start your first day in Placencia is to hire a boat and explore Monkey River where you can spot howler monkeys and perhaps a crocodile or two along the way. Or hop on a sailboat and enjoy a leisurely sail around the area, perhaps visiting some of the neighboring Cayes. During the evening, be sure to stroll into town and down the “World’s Skinniest Street”, more of a sidewalk, but with all the shops lining both sides, it is a considered a street and landed itself in the Guinness World Book of Records in 2009.
If you time your visit during the months of March through June, you might have the opportunity to scuba dive or snorkel with the captivating whale sharks, a bucket list item for many. If you’ve dreamt of interacting with these gentle giants, Placencia is the place to do it and local dive shops can tell you the best travel weeks in hopes of seeing them.
3 Days Caye Caulker or Ambergris Caye
While the mainland has some incredible coastline, being within a mile of the second largest barrier reef in the world is a sight to behold. Depending on your speed, Caye Caulker and/or Ambergris Caye are worth a visit.
If you prefer a really laid back, backpacker type of vibe, Caye Caulker and its “Go Slow” motto will be right up your alley. If you prefer a little variety, more nightlife, and a range of lodging options, choose Ambergris Caye.
Both islands are quite close to each other (about a 30 minute water taxi ride) and are easily accessible from the mainland via local flights or water taxis. From here, you can chill out on the beach or get in some serious diving with countless dive sites within a ten-minute boat ride.
If you aren’t a diver, the snorkeling is still top-notch, with a morning trip to Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley highly recommended. Here you can snorkel with some of Belize’s exotic marine life, and then swing by Shark Ray Alley for an up close and personal interaction with stingrays and nurse sharks.
For the ultimate in kick back spots, go swimming in Caye Caulker’s “Split” and enjoy a Belikin at the Lazy Lizard, the prime hang out on the island. On Ambergris Caye, head north to the Palapa Bar and Grill where you can lounge in tubes with a bucket of Belikin beers.
For those who may be itching to see more Maya Ruins, many tours are available from the Cayes. They are all day trips since you need to travel back to the mainland, but popular tours like Lamanai Ruins, cave tubing, zip lining, and even the Belize Zoo are all options available from multiple tour companies on Ambergris Caye and some may be available from Caye Caulker as well.
Just be sure to save time while on Ambergris Caye to explore some of the island’s nightly live music scene and the world famous Chicken Drop at Wahoo’s Lounge on Thursday nights.
photos by: Dennis Jarvis