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Guatemala to Belize: Local Traditions & Tropical Wildlife11 days from $2,549 (USD)
Sharing a border and deep cultural connections to the mysterious Mayans, Guatemala and Belize are world-renowned biodiversity hotspots.
Nestled between Mexico and Guatemala is Belize, the new Central American tourism superstar. For those who adored Costa Rica and want to feel the connection of an authentic experience, this tranquil and exotic destination has an irresistible lure. Lush jungles, a showstopping barrier reef, peaceful sand cays, and crystalline sea views promise one of the most beautiful vacations money can buy. Once this land gets under your skin, it will own a piece of your heart forever.
Belize was once the home of the proud and mighty Maya. Today, Mayan ruins are a significant part of the Belizean tour experience. Trekking through the jungle to behold the sight of the statuesque, crumbling, and yet majestic temples of this brilliant, ancient civilization is a singular experience. Some Mayan ruins are only partially excavated, a fact that lets every new visitor play anthropologist as they scramble over structures lost to mankind for hundreds of years. Ecotourism is on the rise thanks to growing awareness of the need to preserve the country’s stunning acres of verdant forestation and other native wonders.
There are seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the barrier reef of Belize alone. These sites exemplify the country’s natural and cultural treasures; truly the best of the best. This is a land full of rich experiences both great and small, however, and visitors are equally enchanted by the bird sanctuaries, butterfly gardens, cave paintings, and roadside food stands that represent some of Belize’s more humble offerings. At the end of it all, a few of your finest memories may yet be the hours spent cozied up in a hammock on the beach, letting the tropical sun kiss your skin as the breeze’s swing lulls you into daydreams.
Top Sights in Belize
The town of Orange Walk abounds with traditional Belizean charm! Small shops dot the city center, and the best breakfast in town is a walk-by from the local taco carts. Scenic drives of the surrounding countryside offer romance and breathtaking landscapes. You’ll notice sugar cane farms and the exquisite farms of the Mennonites. Dense jungle distinguishes this region, and driving the winding jungle paths is an unforgettable, exhilarating experience. Get up close and personal with bird life at the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, the home of dozens of tropical species of feathered friends. The Laminai Mayan ruins are the area’s premier attraction, and a quick boat ride (replete with views of crocodiles and monkeys!) up the river.
The largest of the tiny islands scattered to the far north of the Belizean mainland is Ambergris Caye. Relaxed island charm is the cay’s big bragging point—it’s an authentic Central American treasure mostly untouched by the spoils of consumerism. Pristine beauty and the savor of quiet are your rewards for uncovering this barrier reef treasure. Diving and snorkeling are huge here, as are boat charters and tours accessible off the long piers adorning the coral sand beaches. Check out Hol Chan Marine Reserve for a relaxed, unhurried look at the local sealife. Hop a water taxi over to Caye Caulker, home of several restaurants renowned for their fresh-caught lobster dinners! A divine chill is the norm here, so don’t discount the appeal of just sipping a cool drink with your feet up on the balcony of your ocean-view hotel or chatting the night away with friends new and old at a beach barbecue! Let Ambergris Caye change your perspective and slowly, easily melt your cares away.
Carved from thickets of dense jungle, the Cayo District was a carefully-planned experiment in visitor happiness. Restaurants, shopping, and dining sprang up around the jungle lodges that first attracted visitors to the area, creating a sturdy little infrastructure that’s made the District Belize’s second most popular destination. One can zipline from Calico Jack’s, learn about butterfly breeding at Green Hills, or canoe through the caves at Barton Creek Cave for a look at Mayan cultural remains. A major draw here is the town of San Ignacio, home of the massive Caracol Mayan ruins containing Ca’ana, the Place of the Sky, as well as Cahal Pech. Active pursuits framed by the outstanding jungle landscape are fantastic: trek the jungle, tube the rivers, and go exploring on horseback.
The peninsula of Placencia juts into the sea off Belize’s Caribbean coastline. Belize’s barrier reef, the second-largest in the world, is a short boat ride away… and Placencia is your gateway for some of the world’s finest snorkeling and diving. Get to know the local wildlife at Laughing Bird Caye, the national park that is also a World Heritage Site: dolphins, moray eels, turtles, barracuda, and several species of shark are all targets for potential viewing! If diving isn’t your thing, kayaking, fishing, and sailing are also on offer as well. The food is especially tasty here! Most Belizean dishes feature chicken and take advantage of its versatile nature by preparing it in every delicious way possible. Lobster, conch, and many other kinds of seafood are also ultra-fresh and absolutely delicious. Famed Hollywood director Francis Ford Coppola originally fell in love with Belize by way of Placencia and built a group of luxury villas here that are a byword for magnificence.
Sleepy, southern Punta Gorda is appreciated in the travel community for the taste of the “real” Belize it offers patient visitors. The city’s diminutive size makes it very walkable and amenable to bike touring! The park and clock tower on Main Street are major landmarks. Rent a kayak to tour the scenic coastline, or get intrepid and row ‘til you meet up with the Rio Grande! Jungle walks and crocodile experiences are popular tickets. As is the case in all Belizean coastal towns, snorkeling, diving, and fishing are superb. Learn to play traditional drums or cook like a local, search for sea glass, or dance your feet off at a beachfront tiki bar—the pleasures here are off the simple, soul-enriching kind that suffuse one from the inside out and contribute to the warm overall feeling of relaxation and happiness that are the principle Belizean exports! Water taxis shuttle visitors to and from nearby Guatemala in good weather.
The civilization of the Mayans hit its peak thousands of years ago. This ancient people, who settled in Central America and up into the Yucatan area of Mexico, were renowned artists, astronomers, and scientists whose learning was astounding for the time period in which they lived. Today, some of the most significant ruins of the Maya sit in elegant decay within Belize. These include Laminai, the longest continuously-occupied site in Mesoamerica, which is located close to Orange Walk Town; Cerros, a complex on Chetumal Bay significant for its unique structure; and the massive, sprawling ruins of Caracol in the north. Some ruins are fully uncovered, while others (Caracol among them) remain in a state of ongoing excavation. This gives these sites archaeological as well as historic interest. The jungle treks to these ruins are as exciting a part of the experience as the actual tour, and can encompass a full day of exploring or more.
|Primary Airports: Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport (BZE)|
|Government: Parliamentary Democracy|
|Currency: Belizean Dollar (BZD)|
|Population: 324,060 (2012 est.)|
|Language: English and Spanish|
|Electricity: 110V/60Hz (North American)|
|Time Zone: UTC -6|
Belize Travel Reviews
A Brief Visit to Belize
For our tenth wedding anniversary, my husband and I loaded up the children and went on a cruise through Central America. We chose this particular cruise because the itinerary took us to a variety of destinations, including Belize City. A full day in the port allowed us to explore the land beyond the Belize Tourist Village and focus on the true heart of the city. While others on our cruise went snorkeling in and around the Belize Barrier Reef, my family and I took a guided tour through the city proper.
Our tour guide took us to the most notable sights of the city, including Baron Bliss Lighthouse, St. John's Cathedral, Swing Bridge, and the Government House. We drove along the shore, eagerly spying dolphins and manatees. He also took us through downtown Belize where we were able to communicate with locals, explore the area on foot, ask questions, and stare in awe at the simplistic beauty of the architecture.
At the end of our tour, we returned to the Fort Street Tourism Village where we picked up souvenirs and enjoyed the general safety and cleanliness offered by this commercial street on the edge of the water. I will never forget my first taste of Marie Sharp's Hot Sauce or my journey for Belikin beer while we waited for the tender. It was a joyous day trip, but one that left us anxious to spend more time in the Old Capital.
Wedding Trip to Belize
My husband and I wanted to get married on the beach and thought Belize would be a great place to get married. We flew to Belize City directly from Houston, Texas. Once we arrived, we hopped on a puddle jumper over to San Pedro located on Ambergris Caye. We were met at the airport and taken straight to Athens Gate on a golf cart. It's a small, but very luxurious condominium project a little outside the village of San Pedro. Everything with the wedding was taken care of by Rhonda Lawrence, Owner of Athens Gate. All we had to do was show up. You have to actually be in the country three days before you can get married, but she had a cake, champagne, flowers, and the minister all there for us. While we were on Ambergris Caye, we went to several restaurants, walked up and down the beach, and took a kayak out to the reef. We didn't need to snorkel as the water was so clear, you could see beautifully colored fish from the pier, just steps from our condo. We spent some time relaxing out by the pool and the swim-up bar as the weather was absolutely gorgeous. We wanted to see Ambergris Caye, so Rhonda gave us a tour of the island and our own golf cart to use as we wished. It was definitely a wonderful experience and we are so pleased we chose Belize to have our wedding.
Day-long stop in Belize
My family and I, including three young children, stopped in Belize for a day as part of a cruise. However, our family rarely takes the excursions offered by the cruiselines, as we would much rather go off the beaten path. The same holds true for Belize. While we did not have much time to spend there, we wanted to spend what little time we did have soaking up the culture and scenery of this beautiful country. We began our stay in Belize with a historical drive around the country, given by a local driver. We were able to see both the new and more modern areas of Belize, as well as the beautiful historical areas. Our first stop was the Belize Zoo in Belize City. This zoo is the perfect activity for families with young children. The exhibits were gorgeous and all of the animals were housed in areas that resembled their native lands, making for some awesome wildlife photography opportunities. Snorkeling near the country’s famed Blue Hole and exploring El Caracol, one of the remaining Mayan sites, helped us to take in the pure beauty of this country. The more adventurous travelers in the group enjoyed cave tubing in Crystal Cave. Trust me, there is not a better way to explore Belize’s caves than to be floating down the river getting up close and personal with the unique cave formations! Finally, no stop in Belize is complete without exploring one of the many gorgeous beaches the country has to offer. Water sports, swimming, and just hanging out on the beach with a rum punch in hand made a perfect ending our time there.
Belize: A Country of Wonder and Beauty
As a part of my undergraduate degree in archaeology, I partook of a summer study abroad program in Belize. While we did stay in several modern cities—San Ignacio being my favorite—the major attractions were the archaeological sites. One place we stayed during our trip was Pook’s Hill Lodge. Located deep in the lush jungle at the foot of the Maya Mountains, this accommodation takes its name from a playful rendering of an ancient Maya settlement. From there, we traveled to several places of interest, including Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave, a Maya ceremonial site, and the Little Blue Hole, a fresh water cenote of astonishing hue where locals and tourists alike enjoy swimming in the crisp, glass-clear water. ATM is a wet-dry cave, so be prepared to swim in and climb through the twisting limestone galleries.
Xunantunich was perhaps the most impressive of the Belizean city sites we visited, with perfectly preserved frieze work and Maya glyphs on the pyramids. Other sites well worth the visit are Cahal Pech, Lamanai on the lagoon of the New River, Pilar, and Caracol. As well, we had the opportunity to enjoy the Belize Zoo, which serves as a refuge and preserve for the abundant, rare wildlife of the area. Our final days were spent on Caye Caulker, one of the barrier islands along the coast. We were able to enjoy the three underwater national parks, snorkeling among the beautiful reefs in aquamarine waters. My time in Belize was marked by extraordinary experiences of archaeological and natural scope, exotic wildlife, delicious food, and a variety of cultures. The inhabitants were warm, friendly, and helpful, which makes this a country I intend to revisit.
Cycling Tour Through Belize
Of all of the places we visited as we cycled through Central America, our favorite was most certainly Belize. Though we only stayed for a single week, we packed in as many activities as possible and visited some of the more popular destinations within the small country. My friends and I had decided well in advance that our first day should be spent at the Blue Hole Natural Monument out on Lighthouse Reef. After a long day spent diving, we unwound with a few beverages and made plans for the following day.
We hopped on a bus the next morning to go zip-lining and cave tubing at Jungle Jaguar Camp. We spent the first few hours exploring the caves while relaxing in our tubes, then were thrilled to be able to zip-line through the dense jungle over expanses of up to 700 feet. Our day ended with a meal that included chicken, rice and beans, but it was the cashew and blackberry wine that was the real treat.
After a few days spent riding our bikes to various beaches and snorkeling through the crystal blue waters, we decided we could not leave Belize without seeing some of the famous Mayan architecture. We took the water taxi out of Belize City to get there, and then explored the Lamani ruins for the duration of our last day. While we all certainly enjoyed the sights in Belize, we all agreed that it was the people that we would remember most from our brief stay.
Belize's Underwater Playland
Belize is full of friendly people who are eager to help make your stay enjoyable. We encountered that on our trip and that is one of the major reasons we have held Belize in our hearts for over 10 years. My husband and I had one thing in mind when we stepped foot on the ground: diving. Known for the topical fish near the barrier reef, Belize is one of the top dive sites in the world. With visibility of up to 100 feet divers are treated to visual delights at all levels. From shore diving to dropping in from a boat in the deep sea, beginners and experts will get an eyeful in Belize. Advanced divers can dive in the Great Blue Hole, a sinkhole created in the last ice age. There divers will see multi-colored stalactites and stalagmites and submerged caves.
Belize is less traveled Caribbean islands such as Sint Maarten/St. Martin, Jamaica, and Aruba, so you won’t find as much in the way of touristy activity even at the docks where the cruise ships come in. But that only adds to Belize’s allure. The people speak Papaimento to you with fever and teach you a bit before you walk away. It is a true respite from the hustle and bustle of daily life and if you enjoy that type of vacation, Belize is a great destination for you.
Relaxation in Belize City
I recently took a trip to Belize with an old friend from high school. When planning our trip, we were searching for exotic locations to visit and settled on Belize City. We had an amazing week-long trip to Belize, packed with all the kinds of activities you can hope to expect from a dream vacation. Our first priority was relaxation, and Belize offered pristine beaches to lounge on, as well as exotic pools hidden in the jungle. We got our fill of historical sightseeing by going on a tour down the Olde Belize River to see the Altun Ha Mayan ruins. We took the trip with Altour Native Belize Services, and our tour guide was very knowledgable. The ruins were interesting and worth the trip, but the trip down the river was my favorite part, seeing wild birds and reptiles along the way. We visited the Belize Zoo as well, which is the best zoo I've ever been to. Seeing indigenous animals in their natural habitat was great, and it felt like the animals really belonged there.
We took our trip in April, when temperatures were in the high 80s and low 90s every day. A bike trip through the jungle was a bit steamy, so be prepared for some heat unless you're planning traveling to Belize in December or January. The only drawback of the trip was we didn't find a lot of great places to eat, but it was still an amazing vacation.
SNUBA and Mayan Ruins in Belize
The last time my wife and I were in Belize was in 2007 as we crossed from Mexico into Guatemala. This trip we spent a week exploring this former English colony with equal shares of Latin and Caribbean cultures mixed in.
We started our trip in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, an island 30 miles offshore from Belize City. We booked a SNUBA tour through Viatorm, that leaves several times daily. SNUBA is like super-snorkeling. We were on an air tethers, so we did not have to surface while exploring endless coral reefs. We saw hundreds of colorful fish, nurse sharks and a big sting ray.
After three days, we headed back to Belize City then west toward the Guatemala border. There are ancient ruins all over the country, but one stands out: Xunantunich, which means lords of war and fertility. It is the oldest established archeological site in Belize dating back to 200 AD.
It is a fun mini-trip to get there. You take a bus from San Ignacio a mile north of Benque Viejo. From there, you cross an emerald green river on a single-car ferry. After a mile’s walk through the rain forest, the main pyramid suddenly rises out of the foliage. It is almost startling.
That trip went fast, but it showed us a little more of what Belize offers. Frankly, we have only scratched the surface so far, so we are definitely going back next year.
El Pescador Resort, Ambergris Caye
Fantastic lodging, food, and staff. We went specifically to bone fish and had a great time. All of our needs were taken care of by the staff and managers. We didn't know how good we had it until we traveled to a second resort. We all wished we had stayed at El Pescador Resort the entire trip. The staff there can also arrange inland trips if you desire, which many of the guests took advantage of. If you are heading to Belize to fish, this is the best place to go and stay.