From first timers to nature lovers, culture vultures to chilled-out beach-lovers, there’s a trip to suit anyone in Belize. Here are 4 itineries for exploring this Central American gem
Best for... First-timers
With rainforest, reefs and ruins, all washed down with a dash of Belizean rum, there's a lot here to like. This is a classic tour of Belize, designed to show off a tasty selection of its best bits and leave you itching to return for deeper explorations.
Most travellers fly into Belize City. From here, take the highway west, stopping off at Belize Zoo, the ‘best little zoo in the world’, a haven for rescued animals such as jaguars and iguanas.
Continue on into the jungly highlands where you’ll find lodges tucked alongside rivers and hidden amid the thickets, including everything from no-frills hammock-swinging cabins to opulent rock-star retreats. Spend a few days being serenaded by the rainforest sounds, and getting active by kayaking peaceful rivers, hiking the trails of Mountain Pine Ridge or making a swim-trek-spelunking expedition to see the Mayan ‘crystal maiden’ skeleton inside the cave of Actun Tunichil Muknal.
While you’re in the west, visit some of the country’s finest Maya ruins. You could make the bumpy detour south to Caracol, Belize’s largest Maya site, lost to the world for 1,000 years before its rediscovery in the 1930s, and still romantically subsumed by jungle. Alternatively, take the hand-winched ferry across the Mopan River to explore the hilltop site of Xunantunich.
All this adventuring can be tiring, so, after a few days, return eastwards for some well-earned collapse-by-the-Caribbean time. Choices are numerous, but the northerly islands of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker both offer sublime sugary sands, laidback beach bars and some of the best snorkelling and diving in the world.
Best for... Beach-loungers, relaxation-seekers
It is perfectly possible (indeed, downright delightful) to spend a week in Belize doing very little at all. The scatter of azure-lapped tropical cayes along the country’s Caribbean coast is conducive to slow-paced exploration.
From Belize City, it’s easy to access the northern islands. Easygoing Caye Caulker is only a 45-minute water-taxi ride.
The world’s second-biggest barrier reef lies just off Caulker, so if you can bear to leave your favourite beach bar or hammock, spectacular snorkelling awaits, as well as good windsurfing, sailing and kayaking amid the mangroves.
A little further north, Ambergris Caye has plusher resorts and more buzzy bars, if that’s more your scene. It’s also simple to plan trips from these hubs to the remoter outer reef, to Turneffe Atoll and Lighthouse Reef (home to the iconic Blue Hole dive site), for some of the planet’s best and most iconic underwater experiences.
You could spend all your time by the sea, but you might want to tag on some mainland relaxation. Head northwest from Belize City to the lagoons of Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary to be serenaded by a bevy of birds, and take a lazy kayak downriver to reach the Maya ruins of Lamanai.
Best for... Wildlife fans, nature-lovers, active adventurers
There are things you can do in Belize that you can’t do anywhere else and this action-packed itinerary aims to squeeze in as many unique adventures as possible.
From Belize City, head inland into the cave-riddled Cayo district. Start by Indiana Jones-ing through the jungle for the descent into Actun Tunichil Mucknal (home to the sacrificed ‘crystal maiden’). Go zip-lining above the canopy at Calico Jack’s, looking out for birds. Canoe through Barton Creek Cave, which is forest-fringed and scattered with Maya relics.
Jungle-trekking is a treat for adventurous types and there are plenty of options. Consider exploring Mountain Pine Ridge or, as you continue southwards, stop for swimming, scuba diving and hiking in Blue Hole National Park. On the nature trails in Mayflower Bocawina National Park, listen out for black howler monkeys as you roam.
Mayflower Bocawina is near Dangriga, from where you can access the awesome atolls of Glover’s Reef. Hop in a kayak to paddle between them. Pack a snorkel too, to spot rays, turtles and rainbow-hued fishes.
Tempting as it is to stay, return to the mainland to tackle Ignacio’s Bike Trail through Cockscomb Basin, then continue south for Maya-inflected adventures in Toledo. Caving, hiking and canoeing with local guides are all possible here.
Best for... History buffs, culture vultures
Bijou Belize has quite the cultural mix, encompassing everything from the ancient Maya to the colonial Brits. Focus on the far south for a fascinating insight into this rich heritage, with some beautiful beach life thrown in too.
From Belize City, head south, picking up the lush Hummingbird Highway to reach laidback Dangriga. This is the town to meet the Afro-Creole Garifuna peoples. Visit the Garifuna museum, browse the craft market and catch a performance of mesmeric Garifuna drumming, the heartbeat of the Garifuna culture. Dangriga is also the disembarkation point for trips to paradisiacal cayes, such as tiny Tobacco and exclusive South Water.
On the mainland, continue south to the old Garifuna fishing village of Hopkins, a relaxing base for forays into the Maya Mountains. You can hire a local guide at the Maya Center and explore the Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary, home to jaguar, as well as the Maya ruins of Kuchil Balam. However, even more impressive is the site of Lubaantun, further south, where plazas, ball courts and temples hide amid the forest. Two further sites, Nim Li Punit and Uxbenká, are nearby, both worth exploring.
To interact with the modern Maya, organise a village homestay here in the Toledo region. You’ll swing in a hammock in a simple wood-and-thatch home, eat meals prepared by your host family and have the chance to get involved in daily life. You could help out on the farm or learn how to make authentic tortillas, bringing the recipe home to be able to bake a happy reminder of the country.
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: Mayan mask temple at Lamanai (Dreamstime)