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- Flexible itineraries, from the weeklong best of Belize to three weeks exploring the whole country
- Strategic advice for water sports lovers, foodies, wildlife enthusiasts, and more, plus suggestions for supporting local businesses and exploring ethically and sustainably
- The top outdoor adventures: Hike rainforests filled with medicinal trees and howler monkeys, snorkel the second-largest coral reef in the world, go spelunking in ancient underground caves, or hop through the vibrant cayes
- Unique experiences and can’t-miss highlights: Canoe to a farmers market to sample fresh pupusas and cashew wine, and cool off beneath the waterfalls. Marvel at Mayan archaeological sites or experience a traditional homestay in Punta Gorda. Relax on the beach all day, and spend your night dancing barefoot in the sand to the sound of Garifuna drums
- Honest advice on when to go, what to pack, and where to stay, from Belize expert Lebawit Lily Girma
- Full-color photos and detailed maps throughout
- Essential background on the landscape, climate, wildlife, and culture, plus handy phrases in Kriol, Garifuna, and Q’eqchi’ Mayan
- Helpful recommendations for health and safety, traveling solo, and suggestions for LGBTQ visitors, travelers with disabilities, and seniors
Looking to expand your trip? Try Moon Yucatán Peninsula or Moon Costa Rica.
10 TOP EXPERIENCES
Planning Your Trip
IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR . . .
The Best of Belize
For Adventure Junkies
RHYTHMS OF BELIZE
THE MUNDO MAYA
My first 10-day trip to Belize ended up lasting three weeks, courtesy of an extension and a stiff airline change fee. But I felt no remorse: This small country had surprised me with its mind-boggling diversity in both nature and culture.
“The Jewel,” as Belizeans affectionately call their home, has a spectacular living reef—the second largest in the world—with premier diving and snorkeling. A handful of its 200 offshore islands offer the kind of seclusion and dreamlike surroundings that continue to provide both luxury and romance.
For those willing to explore deeper, the rewards are even richer. Virgin rainforests boast more than 30 percent protected land. The largest cave system and the tallest waterfall in Central America are here. Riverbanks are home to singing birds, giant iguanas, and roaming jaguars. Miles of turquoise Caribbean water and golden sand and a dazzling array of marinelife—from whale sharks to the rare seahorse—are the lures of the coast.
Beyond its natural wonders, Belize is an unexpected cultural and sensory feast. This is a Caribbean country at heart, with splashes of ancient Mayan, African, and European influences. That mélange underpins every aspect of life, from a cuisine of coconut rice and beans, tacos, and mashed plantains to annual celebrations of both Caribbean and Latin Carnivals.
In Belize, no two days are the same. Canoe down to the farmers market to sample fresh pupusas. Scour ancient Mayan ceremonial caves and cool off under waterfalls. Drink cashew wine from a Kriol vendor. Hike through rainforests filled with medicinal trees to the roar of howler monkeys. Laze around a beachfront village all day and dance barefoot to Garifuna drums at night.
A small country with a big heart, Belize will continue to surprise and teach you. That’s the jewel you’ll take home.
10 TOP EXPERIENCES
1 Dive and Snorkel: The Belize Barrier Reef, the second longest in the world, is filled with over 300 species of fish and myriad opportunities for novice and expert divers and snorkelers. Explore the country’s nine marine reserves—including Half Moon Caye National Monument—and three coral atolls.
2 Caye Hop: Belize’s offshore plots range from vibrant, populated islands such as Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye to isolated escapes such as South Water Caye and diving-friendly favorites like the Silk Cayes.
3 Feast on Belizean Cuisine: Local dishes and drinks are a treat, whether Kriol, Garifuna, or mestizo.
4 Experience Garifuna Culture: Enjoy Garifuna Settlement Day at dawn in Dangriga, or sign up for a drumming or culture class in Hopkins.
5 Descend into the Underworld: Venture inside Actun Tunichil Muknal or Barton Creek Cave, fascinating chambers that once served as the Maya’s underworld.
6 Wander Mayan Archaeological Sites: Belize is filled with magnificent reminders of its past at archaeological sites like Altun Ha, Xunantunich, and Lamanai.
7 Hike through the Jungle: Explore Belize’s verdant terrain in areas such as the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, Mayflower Bocawina National Park, and Río Blanco National Park.
8 Watch Wildlife: Choose your own animal adventure. Seek howler monkeys and iguanas at the Community Baboon Sanctuary, spot birds by boat at Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, or catch a glimpse of a jaguar at Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.
9 Visit the Mayan Villages of Punta Gorda: Experience a traditional homestay, or take a tour to see a day in the life of this ancient culture.
10 Celebrate Independence: Belize’s month of independence overflows with cultural experiences, showcasing the country’s unity and diversity in Belize City, San Pedro, and Orange Walk.
Planning Your Trip
Where to Go
This stretch of coastline, islands, and swampy lowlands includes former capital Belize City, still the hub of Belizean city life and the heart of its colonial past. A few historic sights and events, such as Carnival (for Belizean Independence Day) and the Museum of Belize, make it worth a quick visit, even for a couple of hours. Whether or not you appreciate the city’s unique grit and Caribbean texture, don’t miss nearby attractions like The Belize Zoo, Community Baboon Sanctuary and surrounding Creole villages, Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, and Altun Ha.
The Northern Cayes
This group of islands is the most visited part of Belize. Ambergris Caye lures with swanky beach resorts, endless bars, and plentiful restaurants, and is the most tourist-heavy destination. Caye Caulker, just down the reef, offers a less dizzying pace with a palpable Caribbean vibe and opportunities for snorkeling at The Split, swimming with nurse sharks and rays at Caye Caulker Marine Reserve, or viewing manatees at Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary. The northern atolls of the Turneffe Islands and Lighthouse Reef offer spectacular wall diving, beautiful beaches and birdlife, plus Jacques Cousteau’s old favorite, the Great Blue Hole.
Belmopan and Cayo
Once the heart of the Mayan civilization, Belize’s western interior offers a remarkable selection of outdoor activities. Explore the Mayan archaeological sites of Xunantunich, near San Ignacio, or Caracol, farther south. Wander the Belize Botanic Gardens, spelunk through Actun Tunichil Muknal—one of the world’s most amazing caves—or overnight in a jungle lodge on the Macal River or in the Mountain Pine Ridge, where you can dip in several waterfalls. While the capital of Belmopan might not grab your attention, its surrounding countryside boasts the gorgeous Banana Bank Lodge and Belize Horseback Adventure and the beautiful Hummingbird Highway, snaking south through the district to some of the most beautiful parks, including St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park, and to iconic adventure lodge Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch.
Southern Coast and Cayes
Dangriga is the center of Belize’s Garifuna population, with an Afro-Caribbean beat, cultural and outdoor activities, and a strategic location close to Billy Barquedier National Park. Just down the coast, tranquil Hopkins has long stretches of beach and plenty of dining and accommodation options, as well as a strong Garifuna vibe. Farther south, the Placencia Peninsula is the home of “barefoot perfect,” 16-mile beaches and the low-key but touristy village of Placencia. The surrounding Stann Creek District offers some of the best hiking in Belize, including Mayflower Bocawina National Park in the Maya Mountains, through which five waterfalls cascade, and the world’s only jaguar preserve at Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, a hiking haven. Off the coast of Dangriga, the Southern Cayes of Tobacco Caye, South Water Caye, and Glover’s Reef Atoll offer spectacular diving and snorkeling, while Laughing Bird Caye National Park, off the coast near Placencia, is a World Heritage Site.
Punta Gorda and the Deep South
Forest and reef, river and ruins, caves and ridges—all await the small handful of visitors who get off the beaten path into the “deep south” of Belize. Whether you follow Eladio Pop’s Cacao Trail through Punta Gorda or take a private drumming lesson at one of the Garifuna drum schools, find the opportunity to sign up with a homestay program in the Mayan villages, where you can immerse yourself in everyday life. The archaeological sites of Lubaantun and Uxbenka beg exploring, as do the beautiful waterfalls at Río Blanco National Park and Blue Creek Cave. Farther off the coast, Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve offers top-notch, uncrowded snorkeling and diving.
Northern Belize is often skipped by travelers—unless they’ve heard about the gorgeous accommodations along the New River, lining the vast Mayan ruins of Lamanai Archaeological Site, or Chan Chich Lodge, a rainforest eco-lodge at the Gallon Jug Estate, where Belize’s wildcats are often spotted. These are all set deep in the bush and as popular with birders and naturalists as they are with archaeologists and biologists. Aside from these draws are the hubs of Orange Walk Town and Corozal. Corozal is a great launching pad to nearby picturesque Sarteneja, home of Belize’s traditional wooden sailboat building.
Before You Go
High and Low Seasons
High season is mid-December through May, a period many travel agents will tell you is the “dry season,” in a vain effort to neatly contain Belize’s weather patterns. In many years this is true, with sunny skies and green vegetation throughout the country during the North American winter. However, November can be dry and sunny, while December, January, and even February can play host to wet cold fronts that either blow right through or sit around for days. The weather has become more unpredictable each year, like most places in the world.
June, July, and August technically form the rainy season—which may mean just a quick afternoon shower or rain for days. This also means significantly discounted accommodations. August is most popular with European backpackers, while December and February are dominated by North Americans. Some tourism businesses shut down completely during the month of September and part of October, the peak of hurricane season.
Your best bet? Be prepared for clouds or sun at any time of year. A week of stormy weather may ruin a vacation planned solely around snorkeling, but it could also provide the perfect setting for exploring the rainforests or enjoying a hot tub in the Mountain Pine Ridge.
Passports and Visas
You must have a passport that is valid for the duration of your stay in Belize. You may be asked at the border (or airport immigration) to show a return ticket or ample money to leave the country. You do not need a visa if you are a citizen of a British Commonwealth country, Brazil, Belgium, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mexico, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, the United States, or Uruguay. Visitors for purposes other than tourism must obtain a visa.
Technically, a certificate of vaccination against yellow fever is required for travelers older than one arriving from an affected area, though immigration officials rarely, if ever, ask to see one.
In general, your routine vaccinations—tetanus, diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella, and polio—should be up to date. Hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for all travelers over age two and should be given at least two weeks (preferably four weeks or more) before departure. Hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for travelers who will have intimate contact with local residents or potentially need blood transfusions or injections while abroad, especially if visiting for more than six months. It is also recommended for all health care personnel and volunteers. Typhoid and rabies vaccines are recommended for those headed for rural areas.
The vast majority of travelers arrive in Belize by air at Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport, approximately 10 miles outside Belize City. From the airport, short domestic flight connections are available around the country. A few travelers fly into Cancún as a cheaper back door to Belize; once there, they board a bus or rent a car and head south through the Yucatán Peninsula to reach Belize or catch a bus and a boat over to the Northern Cayes. You can also fly Tropic Air from Cancún to Belize or Aeromexico from Mexico City to Belize.
Belize is small and extremely manageable, especially if you fly a domestic airline from tiny airstrip to tiny airstrip. You can also get around by rental car, taxi, or bus, which is most affordable. Another option is to let your resort or lodge arrange your airport transfer and pick a local tour company for your excursions.
Water taxis are another way to get around in Belize, especially to and from Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker and the mainland; there are regular daily routes between Belize City and these islands.
The Best of Belize
A week provides just enough time to see a few of Belize’s major destinations and get a taste for just how much more there is to discover. This trip includes plenty of self-guided activities, as well as some guided tours. One thing is certain: You won’t run out of things to do and see!
Arrive at the international airport just outside of Belize City. Hop on your connecting Tropic Air domestic puddle-jumper flight to laid-back Caye Caulker; stay camera-ready to capture the gorgeous views. After dropping off your bags at the hotel, schedule a snorkel trip to Caye Caulker Marine Reserve for the next day, then watch sunset at The Split and Lazy Lizard Bar, the island’s social headquarters. Continue on with dinner alfresco at Hibisca by Habanero—pick the fresh catch of the day and relax on the outdoor veranda. Walk the sandy streets up to I&I Reggae Bar for a drink on the rooftop and some island tunes, or head to El Portal at The Split for cocktails and dancing by the sea.
Today you’ll head out on a half-day morning snorkel trip to Caye Caulker Marine Reserve’s Shark Ray Alley. Swim and snorkel alongside a dozen or more nurse sharks and stingrays, among other marinelife, and admire coral gardens. Back on the island, grab your things and catch the early afternoon water taxi to bustling San Pedro. Spend the rest of the day walking around San Pedro Town, with plenty of opportunities to shop, eat, swim, barhop, and be merry. Grab a romantic dinner at Red Ginger or Mayan specialties at Elvi’s Kitchen, and end the night with drinks at the over-the-water Palapa Bar and Grill. If you’re a night owl and it’s the weekend, continue on to Jaguar’s Temple nightclub.
Catch the first water taxi to Belize City. Stash your bags at the water taxi terminal while you explore the Swing Bridge, the Fort George area, and the Museum of Belize for an hour. Transfer to the Cayo District by bus, shuttle, or car. As you travel along the George Price Highway, visit the The Belize Zoo or stop for a hike at Guanacaste National Park, near Belmopan. Overnight at a lodge in Bullet Tree Falls, or head to downtown San Ignacio and settle into your guesthouse or stay at Cahal Pech Village resort, with stunning views and access to nearby ruins. For more solitude, opt for Black Rock Lodge, one of the area’s remote jungle lodges. Spend the evening strolling the mellow town, then grab food at Crave House of Flavors on West Street.
Rise early and visit the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich, on foot, by mountain bike, or on horseback. Or opt instead for a canoe trip up the Macal River. Depending on the water level, you might make it to the Belize Botanic Gardens. If you’re more adventurous, spend the day on an exhilarating cave trip to Actun Tunichil Muknal in the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve, or find “the showers” waterfalls in Cristo Rey.
The next day, venture past the Vaca Reservoir on a pontoon boat adventure, or you could enjoy a ride along the Mountain Pine Ridge to the Mayan ruins of Caracol. Along the way, take a dip at Río On Pools or get more off the beaten path with a short hike to Big Rock Falls, where you can cool off in a jade pool. Stop at Calico Jack’s Village for a unique zip-line experience or for a photo op at Thousand Foot Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in Central America.
Inland or island? A couple of puddle-jumper flights—or a drive down the Hummingbird Highway—will get you to Dangriga. Take an afternoon trip to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, where you can hike through the rainforest past fresh jaguar tracks and chill in waterfalls under a green canopy. Overnight here for night walks or sunrise hikes. You could also end the night with dinner back in Dangriga at Pelican Beach Resort and head to town for cold beers and dominoes under a thatch cabana at Wadani Shed. Island lovers could instead hop on a boat and transfer to nearby Tobacco Caye or South Water Caye for diving and snorkeling along the pristine southern barrier reef and some blissful beach time. These islands are oh-so-stunning and romantic.
Take a Tropic Air puddle-jumper flight back to Belize City, and start planning your return.
Extend Your Stay
- On Sale
- Oct 29, 2019
- Page Count
- 432 pages
- Moon Travel