You booked your flight to Belize. Congratulations! Now you get to plan what you’d like to do on your vacation. Belize has many offerings. We know it’s hard to choose where to go and what to do, but we’re here to help! Here’s a list of areas (in alphabetical order) and the highlights of activities.
Ambergris Caye (pronounced Amber-grease Key)
The top tourist destination for those coming to Belize. It has become such a favorite spot of tourists that many Americans say they feel like they haven’t even left the states when coming to this little island. Water lovers that want to be close to the Great Barrier Reef, the Blue Hole, and experience amazing sea colors, this is the place for you. There are many restaurants, bars, and gift shops too, that are more hard to come by in other areas. The prices here are more expensive the rest of Belize but there are also more conveniences as well.
Most tourists are advised to stay outside of Belize City, as it is not considered a desirable vacation spot. However, outside of Belize City are many popular attractions that tourists may explore in conjunction with an airport day or even dedicate an overnight stay as well. Below are activities just about 30miles from the Philip Gholson International Airport.
Altun Ha, or Temple of Masonry Alters, is an impressive Maya site that many artifacts and remains have been discovered over the years. This ruin is known for the people there having elite burials, as much jade has been found there highlighting their trading activities. This is also the structure that is on the Belikin beer labels, and easy recognizable to many people.
The Belize Zoo is unlike any zoo most have ever seen and is the number one attraction in Belize. It is an education and wildlife rehabilitation center that every Belizean school child gets to experience. The Belize Zoo is filled with only native animals of Belize, with large areas for maximum comfort. You won’t find any pandas and penguins there! The National Animal of Belize, the tapir is there, as well as scarlet macaws and toucans. The grounds are also worth checking out as they are naturally beautiful, filled with much fauna.
Also located outside of Belize City is the Community Baboon Sanctuary Visitor Center and Museum. (The black howler monkeys are affectionately called “baboons” in Creole.) The goal of the center is to preserve the natural habitat of the howler monkeys. The center is unique in that the area residents have signed pledges to the center in protecting the area. If you have never heard or seen a howler monkey it is an unforgettable moment as they roar like loud lions. One is usually in disbelief that the amazing sound is coming from the monkey you are staring at in the trees.
Belmopan is the world’s smallest country’s capital. It is called the “garden city” and the government offices are designed to resemble Maya ruins. It is home to the University of Belize and many Embassies. It is the political epicenter, but also a good stopping point for those traveling that need to break up their trip. Because of government stipends, food and hotels tend to be more expensive than the other places on the mainland.
Tourists typically stay in the outskirts of Belmopan at some of the jungle lodges where they can explore hiking trails by foot or horse, zip line, climb Maya ruins, go cave tubing, and cave kayaking.
Corozol District is in northern Belize and considered the gateway to Chetumal, Mexico, where many Belizeans cross over to go shopping for items that are more difficult to find in Belize. (There are box stores there, like Home Depot and Sam’s, as well as local hardware stores with larger and more diverse inventory.) Mexico’s influence can be seen in the Corozol street vendors selling any type of taco you could wish for, tamales, and empanadas. This is the most concentration of sugar cane growing. Northern Belizeans are proud of this and it is included in smoothies and drinks. This area is not known for an active night-life or an abundance of tourist attractions. However, there are many worthwhile activities as it is home to Lamanai, Gallon Jug Estates, and Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary.
Dangriga is a business center and not considered a highly desirable area for travelers. There is an airstrip there, for people moving on to Hopkins. It is also where the buses go to change before heading south and a good place to catch a water taxi out to cayes, like South Water and Tobacco as they are closer (and cheaper) than from Dangriga than from Hopkins. Water taxis run on the hour for the most part and one catch’s them at Riverside Café. One should swing by the Gulisi Garifuna Museum while in town and learn about the Garifuna culture and history.
Known for its culture, beach-lovers come to this laid-back village of 2,500 to experience the Garifuna drumming, dancing, and food. Tourist enjoy the Hopkins vibe as locals’ wave to them as they travel around the two-mile village by foot or bike. There are several little gift shops filled with home-made wares, like bowls carved from the woods of Belize, earrings and necklaces made from various shells, and hand-sewn tapestries.
Hopkins is also considered a centrally located spot as it is on the beach, but Cockscomb National Park aka “the jaguar reserve” is just 20-minutes away where one can float the river and hike many different level trails. Mayflower Bocawina National Park is about the same distance the opposite direction and home to Antelope Falls. Next to the park, is Bocawina Adventures, the longest zip line in Belize. Lastly, the cayes are about a forty-minute boat-ride diving and snorkeling are considered some of the best in the world.
The most popular spot for beach-lovers to go on the mainland! There is also an airstrip and water taxi service making Placencia an easy to get to spot. Home to the world’s smallest sidewalk, Placencia has more night-life and shopping than Hopkins. Coffee shops, jewelry shops, art galleries, and yoga studios, are just a few of the attractions. There are also several popular beach bars that have live music and drink specials. In addition to all the usual water activities, Placencia has a Bunches of Fun banana tour located close by and Maya King zip line. Monkey River tours head out from Placencia too.
The Southern Highway was paved in 2010 to Punta Gorda, so for years it was not on tourist’s radar. Locally, it’s known as “PG” and is the largest town in the Toledo district. They now have an airstrip as well.
While there is not a beach in PG, there is a striking sea wall. Cave exploring, hiking, and such are popular with travelers and many stay at the jungle lodges. Every May, PG hosts the Toledo Cacao Festival, celebrating the areas ancient and modern ties to the many cacao farms and chocolate.
PG is the jumping off point to continue to Guatemala as well. There are daily water taxis to Puerto Barrios, in Guatemala and twice weekly to Livingston, Guatemala. These are not like the water taxis from Belize City to the cayes but smaller, open air boats.
San Ignacio area is an in-land lover’s paradise and where one has an opportunity to see some of the over 600 species of birds in Belize. Nature-lovers will struggle what to do first. Home to Xunantunich and Caracol—and it’s highly debated as to which Maya ruin is most impressive-are the most impressive Maya ruins. San Ignacio is also where many people continue over into Guatemala to visit the Maya ruins of Tikal.
The Mountain Pine Ridge is full of great views and many water falls. Horseback riding, jungle hiking or even mountain biking tours are available. Or, some choose a less adventurous path and choose to relax on their veranda “bird watching” on their own or treat themselves to a spa service or decadent meal at a jungle lodge.
Burns Avenue is a pedestrian-only street in downtown San Ignacio, filled with an electric mix of restaurants to choose from for meals. There are also many hotel accommodations for those who want to have a “downtown” experience in Belize.
This post was written for RideBZE.com by Leslie Sorrell, and posted with her permission.
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