Are you planning a trip and trying to decide where to go in Belize? For such a tiny country, Belize boasts so many fabulous cities, towns, beaches, and archeological sites to see! Here are twenty-one of the best places to visit in Belize, selected by travel writers (with a few from yours truly, of course)!
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The Best Places to Visit in Belize
In no particular order…
If you’re looking for an underwater paradise, you can’t do better than Placencia, Belize. Whether snorkeling or scuba diving, this southern town takes things up a notch from the standard coral reef to give you a look at gigantic lobsters, eels, sea turtles, and even whale sharks in season.
Snorkeling trips for all levels head to a sandbar outside of Silk Caye where you’ll be surrounded by docile nurse sharks and stingrays for a fascinating encounter. PADI certification classes take just a few days and are led in pool-like bays, in case you’re inspired to try diving for the first time.
When you’re not diving in Placencia, you’ll love the town itself. It’s incredibly walkable with a wide sandy beach for swimming and sunbathing. There’s a laidback vibe that makes it easy to settle in and relax. Cool down with a gelato or walk to Sunset Pointe for a boat ride to a public swim-up bar.
If you’re more ambitious, popular day trips include wildlife-watching at Cockscombe Basin or making your own Mayan-style chocolate at a cacao farm. With restaurants ranging from high-end seafood to local joints with barbecue chicken, beans, and fry jacks, there’s something for everyone.
The Belize Barrier Reef System
Stretching over 550 miles from Cancun to Honduras, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef is the world’s second-largest coral reef system (after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef). The Belize Barrier Reef makes up around one-third of it, stretching 190 miles along the Central American country’s coastline.
The reef was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 and remains vital to Belize’s fishing and tourism industry. In fact, the reef is the #1 tourist attraction in Belize, with exceptional snorkeling and Scuba diving attracting nearly half of the nation’s annual visitors.
Though the reef has suffered some coral bleaching caused by global warming, it was thankfully removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2018. It had been added to that list in 2009 due to the destruction of mangroves and marine ecosystems, offshore oil extraction, and unsustainable development. But Belize smartly put a moratorium on oil extraction and stepped up their conservation efforts.
Now, the reef’s surprisingly pristine walls, pinnacles, holes, and reef flats are home to an exceptional array of aquatic life (including 70 hard coral species, 35 soft coral species, 500 species of fish, and hundreds of invertebrates). During our dives there, we saw a Nurse Shark, Moray Eel, several Spotted Rays, a Sea Turtle, Pufferfish, Lobsters, and thousands of colorful fish. It’s truly a must-see for anyone who visits Belize.
Contributed by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett of Green Global Travel
San Pedro & Ambergris Caye
San Pedro, the main city on Ambergris Caye, is a popular spot for travelers with a little money to burn since it has many luxury accommodation options. However, you don’t need to spend a fortune to have a great time here!
Some of my favorite things to do in San Pedro include visiting the beach bars down on the waterfront, the restaurant at Ak’bol Retreat, and the Belize Chocolate Company (simply delicious)!
San Pedro is also a great place to base yourself if you want to enjoy diving and snorkeling in the Barrier Reef.
If you’re planning a trip to San Ignacio or Belmopan, you can’t miss doing an ATM cave tour, one of the best places to visit in Belize for adventure seekers.
Short for Actun Tunichil Muknal, this cave is located deep in the Belize interior, a 45-minute hike and 3 river crossings away from the nearest road. Once you reach the mouth of the cave, the adventure intensifies, as you’ll have to swim through dark pools, squeeze through narrow rocks, and even climb up slippery rocks in order to get to your endpoint.
The reward for visiting the cave is amazing, as you’ll find the remains of some dozen or so human sacrifices from the times when the Mayan empire ruled over this part of Belize. They’ve been calcified and crystallized by the minerals in the water that flows through this cave, preserved through the centuries.
You’ll also find shards of pottery, which were ceremonially broken in part of the sacrificial ritual. The cave isn’t for the faint of heart, but you’ll have the experience of a lifetime if you’re brave enough to give it a try!
Contributed by Allison Green from Eternal Arrival
San Ignacio is the second-largest city in Belize. Located in the Cayo District in far western Belize, the town of about 20,000 people is a popular place for adventure-seekers eager to explore the surrounding area.
The Cayo District is known for its dense jungle, countless caves, and ancient Mayan ruins. In fact, you can even find ruins directly in the town of San Ignacio. The Mayan site, Cahal Pech, is located on the southern edge of town and in walking distance to the main streets. Although Cahal Pech is a great, historic site, many who visit San Ignacio venture out further to see the even more impressive ruins of Xunantunich and Caracol.
While the town is a popular base for those exploring western Belize, there are a lot of great things to do in San Ignacio, as well. The town has a variety of locally-owned restaurants and shops that will give you a true taste of the country and its rich culture. On Saturdays, the local market draws crowds of locals and tourists alike. Vendors from around the area come to sell their produce and goods, while families gather at the market each weekend for a full day of music, fun, food, and shopping.
On hot days, you’ll find numerous people hanging out on the shores of the Macal River, which runs through the town. Kids will splash about in the shallow river while their parents relax in the shade nearby. Visiting San Ignacio is a small glimpse into real life in Belize.
Contributed by Melissa from Parenthood and Passports
Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Want to swim in a real-life aquarium? Add Hol Chan Marine Reserve to your list of must-go places when visiting Belize. Snorkelers and divers staying in Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker are perfectly located to visit Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Alley.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve is a protected area off the coast of Belize which is part of the world’s second-largest barrier reef (see above). The area protects wildlife by restricting fishing zones. What this means for the visitor is that you’ll enjoy seeing all kinds of wildlife: different types of live coral, seagrass, sharks, dolphins, stingrays, parrotfish, eels, and a huge selection of fish.
After snorkeling for a while, your guide will take you to the area known as Shark Alley. Fishermen used to stop in this spot to clean their nets prior to returning home, making it a favorite place for sharks to hang out. Once boats arrive, tour operators, chum the waters attracting nurse sharks that swarm the back of the boat. You’re then encouraged to go into the water with these sharks. The nurse sharks here are enough to initiate you into the world of swimming with sharks without posing a major risk.
No matter how long you’ll be visiting Belize, visiting the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Alley should be included in your Belize itinerary.
Contributed by Annick from The Common Traveler
The Belize Zoo
Belize Zoo is one of the must-visit tourist attractions in Belize. It was opened in 1983 and since then it became a place for locals and tourists to find out more about animals of the country. It is home for more than 175 animals and there are around 45 native species represented in the zoo. This place is unique because they really take care of the animals. Most of the animals brought to the zoo were seriously injured, rescued or orphaned.
If you want it is possible to stay at the lodge near the Zoo to make your visit even more interesting. This place has different education and conservation programs. Consider these options if you are interested in learning more about animals living in Belize.
It is very easy to reach Belize Zoo from both – Belmopan or Belize City. It stands almost in the middle between these two cities and you can jump on any chicken bus going in the right direction. You just need to tell the driver that you need to jump off at the Zoo.
Entrance fee to the Zoo is 15$ per person for adults and 5$ for a child if you are a foreigner. Don’t miss Belize zoo while in the country, it is definitely worth a couple of hours!
Contributed by Joseph from Nomad Joseph
While it’s definitely not a secret anymore, Secret Beach is a remote spot on Ambergris Caye. Its the distance from San Pedro makes it a great place to escape to after you spend a few days in San Pedro.
The easiest way to get here is by renting a golf cart, but you can also take a (pricey) taxi. Once you get here, you’ll find comfy palapas, a few great beach bars, and even public wifi!
If you’re spending time on Ambergris Caye, make sure to give yourself at least a day to enjoy this “secret” spot!
If you’re looking for some of the most offbeat Mayan ruins in Central America, you shouldn’t miss Caracol. While it’s the largest site in Belize, it gets nowhere near the number of tourists that Chichen Itza in Mexico or Tikal in Guatemala get.
It’s a long, bumpy drive from San Ignacio but it is entirely worth your trouble! This Mayan site is located deep in the jungle and you’ll find toucans, howler monkeys, and other wildlife within the Caracol grounds. You’ll be able to ascend the largest pyramid in the complex, where your vista is so unbroken that you can even see across the border into Guatemala!
After spending a few hours exploring the site and the archaeological wonders that have been unearthed here, don’t miss the chance to cool off the nearby Rio On pools, a great stop on your way back from Caracol (most Caracol tours will make a stop here!).
Contributed by Allison Green from Eternal Arrival
Just 45 minutes by water taxi from Belize City, Caye Caulker is located a mile inside the Belize Barrier Reef, the second-largest in the world, this is a fabulous place to live by the island’s slogan of “go slow.”
There are no cars on the island, transport is by bicycle or electric bikes and golf carts. Most visits here, do indeed focus on going slow, but there are a great number of things do to on Caye Caulker if you want to do them. There’s snorkeling directly from the beach in clear, warm water or kayaks can be rented from most accommodations or simply rent a hammock, chair or cabana on the beach and sip cocktails.
Caye Caulker is a great place to spot seahorses at the Iguana Reef Hotel while clutching a sundowner cocktail at the same time. The food is pretty darned food on the island too – ceviche, fresh fish, lobster when it’s in season and the famous fry jacks that will have you coming back each morning for breakfast.
When the sun does go down its time to head to the Lazy Lizard at the Split for some laid back chilling or you can catch a movie 3 times a week at the outdoor movie theatre.
But you know, this really is the place to go slow, so if all you want to do is chill in the hammock, then Caye Caulker is definitely the place for that!
Contributed by Sarah Carter, of ASocialNomad
The Great Blue Hole
The Great Blue Hole is one of Belize’s natural wonders. This giant sinkhole is a popular spot for snorkeling and scuba diving.
If you’re more excited to appreciate this beautiful wonder from above, you can go on a Blue Hole flyover and see the gorgeous spot from an airplane.
Hopkins, Belize is found in the eastern coastal region of Belize’s mainland. Hopkins is home to a large population of the Garifuna people, a UNESCO-recognized culture of African-Caribbeans who settled in Belize during the 1800s and brought forth a unique cultural twist to Belize’s naturally Latin and Mayan communities.
What I love most about Hopkins is that it provides a true jungle-beach experience with the Maya mountains on one end, and the lush jungle on the other that reaches right up to the Caribbean Sea. At Hopkins, I really enjoyed staying at the beautiful eco-luxury Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort because it is the only place in Belize where you could see the reef and the rainforest from the same place.
This made for the perfect base to explore inland and the amazing jungle hikes, waterfalls, and kayaking the Sittee River, but also off-land where you could easily access the Belize Barrier Reef for snorkeling, diving, or exploring some of the untouched beaches and islands.
There are few places in the world where you can really experience both the beach and the jungle at the same time, and Hopkins is Belize with its lush and pristine coastline is a destination among them that should not be missed.
Contributed by Mona from MonaCorona.com.
A tour of the Lamanai Mayan Ruins begins with a 90-minute boat ride along the New River from Orange Walk, Belize. It’s a scenic journey that takes you past an old rum distillery and a Mennonite community. Keep your eyes open for the abundance of orchids growing on the tree branches hanging overhead as well as the many birds and monkeys that call the surrounding jungle home.
I’ve visited other Mayan Ruins in Mexico, and Lamanai is distinctive in several ways. First, is the layout of this ancient city. The ceremonial structures were built along the banks of the river rather than around the plazas as is typical in other Mayan sites.
Second, Lamanai was built in layers. New temples were built directly on top of previous structures rather than demolishing them. And third is the amount of time Lamanai was inhabited – an impressive 2500-3000 years, right up until the Spanish infiltrated the area.
Lamanai means “submerged crocodile” in the Mayan language and you’ll see several crocodile representations in the carvings on site. You can climb the main structure, the High Temple using a staircase that winds up the back.
And you absolutely should in order to observe the amazing river views above the towering palms. Immense history, native flora, and spectacular scenery make this one of my favorite places in Belize.
Contributed by Julien from Cultures Traveled
One of the highlights of the Cayo District, Xunatunich is a set of Mayan ruins located just east of the Belize border with Guatemala.
The name Xunatunich means “Sculpture of Lady” or “Stone Woman,” and refers to a ghost that nineteenth-century locals believe inhabited the site.
One of the most beautiful waterfalls in a country famous for them, Butterfly Falls is over eighty feet high and is actually in a pool that attracts butterflies!
To visit the falls, you must be staying at the Hidden Valley Inn, which owns the land the falls are on. You can read more about how to visit Butterfly falls here.
Just nine miles south of the border with Mexico, Corozal is a more traditional Belizean city with fewer tourists and far fewer resorts. However, the less tourist aspect makes it a more fun place to test your photography skills, and there are far more opportunities for fun street photography than in traditional tourist centers.
Popular with bird waters and tourists looking to get in some fishing, there are also opportunities for getting great beach and bay shots. It’s also a great place to base yourself from if you want to see the gorgeous water-side Cerros Ruins.
Most people will arrive in Belize by flying into Belize City, and few choose to stay and make this area of the country part of their vacation. It’s not a particularly picturesque town, but it does own one of the most famous Instagram spots in Belize: the colorful Belize sign.
If you’re simply heading straight from BZE to Caye Caulker or Ambergris Caye, you can still see this sign on the way to or from the airport to the water taxi terminals. We asked our taxi driver to stop and let us do a quick photoshoot.
However, if you do decide to spend a night or two here, it’s a great place to base yourself for a visit to the Belize Zoo and Altun Ha.
Just fifty miles north of Belize City, the images here might seem familiar to anyone who picked up some Belizean banknotes (or a local Belikin beer). The site tourists visit is smaller than some of the other Mayan ruins, which, combined with its proximity to the airport in Belize City and its beautiful central plaza, make it a great place for a day trip.
Rio Frio Caves
Located in the western Cayo District in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, this slightly heart-shaped cave is super popular on Instagram, but it’s also just a great place to cool off in a country that’s hot year-round. Follow the little river through the cave and you’ll come out on the other side at a sandy and secluded beach.
Laughing Bird Caye
This tiny island off the coast eleven miles off the coast of Placencia is the perfect place to escape for some snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming, or even just to enjoy the local birds. Come with a sense of adventure and the utmost respect, and you may just get to photograph sea turtles, stingrays, and even barracudas.
Part of the Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve, you can’t stay at Silk Caye but you can enjoy a day in its beautiful, crystal waters.
A great way to visit is to go on a diving or snorkeling trip to Gladden Spit and the Silk Cayes from Placencia.
5 Things to Pack for Your Trip to Belize
I have an entire post on what to pack for Belize, but if you don’t read it, make sure to have these five things with you before you get to the Belize City Airport:
- Lonely Planet Belize which is available as a paper copy or in a Kindle edition.
- Mosquito Repellant is the single most important thing you’ll want on you as soon as dusk hits. Have enough to at least get through the first night.
- Full-Sized Travel Towel This is the best travel towel in the world. It’s pretty enough for the beach, large enough that you forget it’s a microfibre towel, and quick-drying, which is crucial in super humid Belize.
- Sunscreen – sunscreen is crazy expensive in Belize compared to other countries. If you can bring some with you, then do. If you’re flying carry-on only, then at least grab a travel-sized to get through your first day before getting to a store.
- A GoPro for underwater and action photography. Why go all the way to Belize and not be able to capture some of the most exciting parts of your trip?
More Belize Travel Resources
If you’re still trying to decide where to go in Belize, check out my post on the best Belize beaches, plus my overview the most Instagrammable places in Belize which will give you some trip inspiration beyond just the country’s (spectacular) beaches.
If you’ll be headed to Caye Caulker, check out my guide on how to get there from BZE and Belize City.
Finally, here’s my guide to snorkeling at Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley. Even if you plan to go snorkeling in a different part of the country, this guide goes over what generally to expect and what to bring with you.
And of course, if you’re headed to Belize soon, check out my complete Belize packing list for what to wear in Belize and the best Belize puns and Instagram caption ideas for if you’re having too much fun to stop and think up what to say.
Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
It’s a good idea to always have a valid travel insurance policy before you travel someplace like Belize where you’ll be doing activities and spending time outside. It’s just a fact that accidents can happen on the road, and you don’t want them to ruin your trip!
I pay for World Nomads, and I happily recommend them. It’s especially important to get travel insurance when you’ll be doing any outdoor activities (like…ahem…snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming…).
I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for travel insurance for three years, and I happily recommend them. It’s an especially good idea to get travel insurance when participating in outdoor activities or driving in foreign countries. Even in the cities, though, you’ll be happy when you’re able to replace your stuff if it’s lost or stolen or have help with any medical bills.
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