Where the rainforest meets the reef: 5 incredible places to visit in Belize

August 8, 2023

Located in the Lighthouse Reef atoll off the coast of Belize City, the Great Blue Hole is one of the world’s most famous diving zones. At over 400ft deep, this giant sinkhole was made by the collapse of a cavern formed during the ice age tens of thousands of years ago.

In Central America’s northeastern coast, Belize has a distinctly Caribbean feel which sets it apart from its neighbours, Guatemala and Mexico. A visit here reveals an astonishing diversity of attractions and experiences, including hiking through jungles to enigmatic Maya sites and visiting national parks teeming with wildlife. Here are five incredible places not to miss.

1. The Great Blue Hole

Home to over 500 species of fish and the longest unbroken barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, Belize is a world-class diving destination. It’s also the location of one of the most singular dive sites on Earth — the Great Blue Hole. Stretching 1,000ft wide and over 400ft deep, this giant sinkhole is filled with extraordinary marine life and looks like the opening to some oceanic netherworld. Diving here isn’t for the fainthearted, but nearby Ambergris Caye has several accredited schools teaching scuba diving and free-diving to all levels.

2. Ambergris Caye

Diver or not, if you’re planning a trip to Belize, Ambergris Caye should be high on your agenda. The largest and perhaps most beautiful of the country’s 200-plus islands, this is the centre for tourism in Belize, with some of Central America’s finest accommodation — from thatched-roof-style properties to private islets. There’s a big focus on water-based activities here, from diving and snorkelling to sailing and jet-skiing. The Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve is arguably the star of the show, with superb coral reefs and the chance to swim through a channel dug by the Maya civilisation around 1,500 years ago.

3. Xunantunich

Central America is peppered with remnants of the mighty Maya empire. Yet, while sites like Chichén Itzá, in Mexico, get overwhelmed with tourists, Xunantunich, in the western reaches of Belize, remains comparatively undiscovered. Consisting of palaces, plazas and pyramids, the site is what’s left of a once-thriving ceremonial centre. It was abandoned around 1000 CE and eventually fell into disrepair, before excavations in the 1960s revealed its intricacies. Today, visitors can explore a city that may have been home to 10,000 people.

4. Cayo District

Hugging the border with Guatemala, the Cayo District is home to some of the densest jungle in Belize, making it a haven for wildlife and adventure. Here, visitors can choose from a number of hiking trails, discover temples, explore sprawling cave systems and drift down rivers in a kayak. The semi-aquatic Barton Creek Cave, located near San Ignacio, is a spot worth exploring by canoe. This allows visitors to enter a haunting cave network where the Maya once interred their dead. Those who prefer to stay out of the underworld should hike to the ancient Maya site of Caracol, deep in the jungle, stopping at Rio Frio Cave, Rio on Pools and Big Rock Falls as they go.

5. Belize City

While Belmopan takes the title of administrative capital, much of the nation’s commerce and industry happens in Belize City, on the Caribbean coast. The city’s colourful, ramshackle streets are peppered with plenty of buildings from the British colonial period, including the historic Courthouse and St John’s Cathedral. There are also various seaside parks, bustling shopping areas and sailing boats that bob at the mouth of Haulover Creek. For a primer on the country’s past, the Museum of Belize depicts the nation’s heritage through fascinating displays and historical photos inside what was once the city’s largest jail. Elsewhere, the Image Factory, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to promoting local artists, is worth a visit for its innovative exhibitions, book launches and sculptures.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *