With tropical rainforests, vast subterranean cave networks and coral-filled waters, Belize's diverse landscapes makes it a haven for active, adventurous travellers...
Actun Tunichil Muknal tour (Belize tourist board)
Why Belize? It’s like a Swiss cheese
For the ancient Maya, Belize’s vast karst cave network was the entrance to Xibalba, the underworld. For today’s visitors, it’s a spectacular subterranean playground. There are caves to hike around, abseil into, climb about and float through. Some caves have dark rivers flowing through, while others contain Maya art and remains. All of them offer opportunities for adventure.
Actun Tunichil Muknal is the best known, for good reason: you get to hack through jungle, then swim and clamber deep inside to a Mayan burial site, where broken pots are scattered around a sparkling, calcified skeleton.
But there are plenty more options. Off the Hummingbird Highway, the Caves Branch River is dotted with cenotes (sinkholes) and grottoes. Join a tour from Caves Branch Jungle Lodge to rappel down an underground waterfall and drift through limestone tunnels on a rubber inner tube.
Alternatively, join a local guide to hike into Chechem Ha Cave, which is strewn with well-preserved pottery, and enter cathedral-like Río Frio Cave, where stalactites hang like chandeliers.
Diving at Hol Chan Marine Reserve (Belize tourist board)
Why Belize? Cousteau said it’s great
Legendary diver Jacques Cousteau rated Belize’s Blue Hole as one of the world’s Top 10 dives. Puncturing Lighthouse Reef like a giant eyeball, it’s certainly one of the most arresting when viewed from above. Down below, its deep waters harbour reef sharks and curious invertebrate life. However, Belize’s location alongside the world’s second-longest barrier reef means there's no shortage of striking and rewarding underwater sites.
The wider Lighthouse Reef, 80km off the mainland, is arguably even more impressive, with sites ranging from the Cathedral’s spectacular sponges to Half Moon Caye Wall’s thrilling swim-throughs and coral formations.
Easily accessible Hol Chan Marine Reserve, just off Ambergris Caye, is teeming with life. It’s great for snorkellers, but divers can go deeper to dabble around the Amigos wreck. There’s excellent underwater action off southerly Glover’s Reef too, with pristine coral and chances to see turtles and manta rays.
Belize is a brilliant place to learn to dive. The water is warm and clear, and there are many reputable diving schools in hubs such as Ambergris Caye and Placencia. Learn here, and even your early, educational dives will be undertaken in vibrant, fish-filled waters.
Couple in canoe off the coast of Belize (Dreamstime)
Why Belize? To paddle via ancient cultures and cool cayes
The first thing you need to do is pick your paddling environment. With jungle rivers, a long stretch of Caribbean coast, lagoons and mangrove forest, there are a multitude of paddling choices in Belize.
Inland, you could canoe along the jungle-fringed Macal and Mopan rivers, via rapids, Maya ruins and myriad birds. Many lodges run tours or rent equipment. Alternatively, paddle the mystic river through Barton Creek Cave, listening to your oar strokes echo through chambers where the Maya once buried their dead.
Those who prefer sea-kayaking might head to Glover’s Reef to explore the dazzling white sand outcrops. You can swim, snorkel and paddle between them by day, and haul ashore to stay in a beachside cabaña each night.
Cyclist in Placencia Village, Belize (Dreamstime)
Why Belize? It’s an off-road heaven
Belize isn’t a big road-biking destination. But off-road the country really comes into its own. Experienced riders should bring their bikes and hit the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, where trails cut through the trees and waterfalls.
Alternatively, many lodges in the Cayo District offer bike rental and tours. For instance, from Chaa Creek Lodge, you can pedal a route that combines the Maya site of Xunantunich with Clarissa Falls and the Mopan River. Further south, try Ignacio’s Trail, a 12km track through jaguar-roamed Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.
On Caye Caulker, bikes are de rigueur. There are no cars on this dreamy, slow-paced island, so bikes are the best way to get around. Nature-lovers should cycle down to the island’s swampy south, a great birding spot.
Belize waterfall (Belize tourist board)
Why Belize? The trails are truly wild
Going for a walk in Belize is more about an immersion in nature than cranking out the miles. It's most rewarding to hike with an expert guide who can point out the birds, identify the animal scat and explain the medicinal uses of the plants.
Many ecolodges have excellent trails and some will offer night hikes, an especially atmospheric experience. Try Can Chich Lodge, which has an extensive trail network, or luxurious Blancaneaux Lodge, where themed walks might seek out orchids or jaguars.
Mayflower Bocawina National Park is a lovely spot for an independent stroll, via wildlife, Maya sites and refreshing pools. The Thompson Trail at Shipstern Conservation Area leads to the lagoon edge, with chances to spot agouti (a kind of rodent) and birds.
Horses in Belize (Dreamstime)
Why Belize? It’s a top place to trot
The rural nature of Belize lends itself well to horseback travel. There's an assortment of village-to-village and forest-tucked trails, and a lazy hacking pace seems about right for such a laid-back country.
Several lodges have stables and will typically offer everything from hour-long to multi-day jaunts, often open to guests and non-guests. Trips might include trips to hidden Maya ruins and waterfalls, with great birding, cooling river crossings and picnics by tropical pools thrown in. For instance, try Outback Trails, near Hopkins, where even novices can head out into rainforest and ride their horses into the Sittee River for a dip.
Alternatively, join Mountain Equestrian Trails for a multi-day trek in through the broad-leaf jungle and pine savannah of the Mountain Pine Ridge with guides who are not only expert horsemen, but also keen naturalists and knowledgeable historians.
Zip-lining in Mayflower Bocawina National Park (Belize tourist board)
Why Belize? It’s all happening in the treetops
Central America is the spiritual home of the zip-line, and the region’s combination of wildlife-filled jungle and adventurous spirit lends itself especially well to whizzing about on wires.
Belize has plenty of high-up, high-adrenaline options, comprising treetop platforms, runs of various lengths, hammock bridges and strict safety procedures, making them ideal for family adventures.
The country’s longest zip-line is in Mayflower Bocawina National Park, a 4km ride above a forest filled, with more than 200 species of birds. For extra thrills, this line can be zipped at night. The five zip-lines at Calico Jack’s, in Cayo district, use a sophisticated braking system, so you remain safe while exploring the tropical rainforest at faster speeds.
This article was supported by the Belize Tourist Board (www.travelbelize.org) but it is independent and impartial, just like all Wanderlust editorial.
Main image: Diver at Lighthouse Reef (Belize tourist board)