Despite being small in landmass, Belize offers a great deal more than you’d expect when it comes to experiences. Wedged between Mexico and Guatemala, this tiny Central American country is not only home to ancient Mayan ruins, tropical forests, and coral reefs but some of the most pristine white beaches you’ve ever seen. What’s more, unlike many of its Latin neighbors, Belize has managed to preserve its unique features by designating over a quarter of its land as protected reserves.
The colorful country has many other bonuses, too: the official language is English, a godsend for many travelers; and getting to this veritable Eden is also quick and painless. With connections via Miami and Atlanta taking only three and a half hours or less, there's no reason you shouldn't make this piece of paradise your next getaway. If you need more reasons however, we have plenty:
Ancient Mayan Ruins
Only thirty minutes away from San Ignacio – a small town with a multitude of Mayan ruins and even more rustic charm – lies Xunantunich, commonly known as the Maiden of the Rock. An ancient city surrounded by 26 temples and palaces, it is perfectly located atop a ridge and provides visitors with gorgeous views of the Mopan River and the surrounding valley. Hike up to the famed ruins and make it a day trip by continuing to Cahal Pech to explore its overgrown jungles.
For those looking to delve a bit deeper into the local archaeology, a two hour drive deep into the Chiquibul Forest Reserve will reveal one of the largest Mayan sights in the world, Caracol. Its secluded location provides guests with the unique opportunity to see the area and local wildlife as the Mayans once did, untouched and thriving.
Across the Guatemalan border is the expansive Mayan capital of Tikal, easily reachable within a couple hours. Not only is the area considered a UNESCO World Heritage area, but the extensive animal life (tapirs, monkeys, jaguars, etc.) has made it once of Guatemala’s most cherished national parks.
For a real adventure, thrill-seekers can head underground to visit Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave. While getting there requires canoeing across three rivers, swimming into a cave and a bit of rock-climbing, it is certainly well worth the effort as the trek ends in a brilliant assortment of Mayan artifacts on view, ranging from skeletons to sacred ritual pieces.
Tropical Rain Forests
Belize is home to what is easily the most accessible tropical jungle in the world. From Belize City, a 30 minute flight gets you within close range of more than a handful of national parks and protected reserves. Better still, a number of rustic yet charming lodges, such as The Lodge at Chaa Creek and Blancaneaux Lodge, are here to make your foray into a the wild a bit more comfortable.
For the horticulturally-interested, the forests here contain as many as 4,000 species of flowering plants, including 250 varieties of orchid. What’s even more incredible though is the variety of fauna: jaguars; enormous tapirs, armadillos; anteaters, and the endangered black howler monkey all call this ecosystem home. This doesn’t even touch on the 500-plus species of birds that flitter through these canopies, among the most coveted to spot being Scarlet Macaws, Keel-billed Toucans and Harpy Eagles.
Don’t forget to stop by one of the butterfly farms in the area which give guests a chance to view the stunning Belizean Blue, otherwise known as a Blue Morpho. And while the wildlife is amazing, the jungle also provides for some thrilling adventure options such as zip lining through the canopy or rafting down the Makal River.
White Beaches & Coral Reefs
We save the beaches for last only because they are the most well-known of Belize’s stunning features. In the north lies the infamous Ambergris Caye, the largest Belizean island and home to the second largest coral reef in the world. As such this is prime territory for indulging in some scuba diving or snorkeling. On any given day, even a brief dive into these turquoise waters can yield encounters with numerous tropical fish, manatees, and sea turtles. The brave of heart can also head to nearby Shark-Ray Alley for a chance to interact with some (mostly) harmless rays and sharks. Or better yet, take a splash in none other than the Great Blue Hole; a more than 400 feet-deep underwater cave that we are pretty sure gave even Jacques Cousteau the chills.
Down south near Placenia, the ocean opportunities are just as plentiful. Guests at stunning resorts, such as Belize Ocean Club, have the daily struggle of deciding between a jaunt to their own private island, fishing for the night’s dinner, swimming with whale sharks, or simply relaxing on the beach with some classic coconut rum -- the struggle is real.
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