BELIZE OUTDOOR TRAVEL GUIDE
Belize is a small, but mighty, Central American country packed with endless opportunities for adventure. Sandwiched between Mexico and Guatemala, it’s the lush heart of Central America. Between the incredible beaches, rain forested mountains, colorful reefs, and ancient ruins Belize teems with nature. The amount of natural beauty is astounding for it’s size, and is one of its most important resources. In one day you can scuba with sharks, discover Mayan ruins in the jungle, lay on a beach and zip line through the rainforest.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT BELIZE
Belize has a subtropical climate that is good to visit year round. For the most ideal weather, visit during the dry season from November to April. This is also high season, so expect higher prices and more tourists. The days during the dry season are hot and sunny, and the waters are calm. The rainy season is from June to November, with hurricane season happening from July to October. This time of year is characterized by late afternoon rainstorms, so you’ll likely still have decent weather if you visit now. Plus it is low season, so you’ll find good deals on hotels and excursions
GETTING AROUND BELIZE
For such a small country, it’s not as easy as you would think to get around! Tropic Air and Maya Island Air are the two major airline providers in the country. Their small charters run many routes from Belize City to the islands and major cities along the coast. Riding in these tiny planes are the quickest and most convenient way to get around.
The San Pedro Belize Express is a water taxi connecting Belize City to Caye Caulker, Ambergris Caye, and Chetumal Mexico. It’s a convenient and cheap way to access the islands.
There are many bus routes connecting all the major cities (and small towns). There is pretty much one main road running north to south from Belize City to Punta Gorda. The local buses are old American School buses. You can literally wave down a passing bus on the highway and it will stop for you (there are also designated bus stops). Once you sit down (or stand if it’s crowded) the ‘bus helper’ will come to you and collect the fare, which is generally no more than a couple of dollars. No matter how crowded the bus is, local vendors always manage to squeeze on selling food and drink. Riding the local buses is a fun and interesting experience that is worth having while in Belize. If riding the local ‘chicken buses’ doesn’t sound appealing, there are also quicker, express buses you can book tickets for in advance.
HEALTH & SAFETY IN BELIZE
It’s always important to pay attention to the news and read up on your destination before leaving the country. That being said, you’ll likely feel pretty safe in Belize. There are parts of Belize City you should avoid, and be cautious when walking around in cities after dark. In general though, you’ll find that most people are friendly and helpful.
A couple of things to note about health while in Belize: Though people may tell you that the water is okay to drink, only drink bottled water. The chances of contracting a tropical disease are slim, though be aware that malaria and dengue fever are found here. Check in with your doctor before traveling to Belize to determine if you should take anti-malarial pills. The biggest thing to watch out for is the sun. Drink A LOT of water, avoid the sun between 11 and 2, and wear sunscreen. Consider getting travel insurance to cover yourself in case anything does happen.
TOP OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES IN BELIZE
Caving – Caves dot the landscape of Belize, and played an important part in ancient Mayan ceremonies. Nowadays, you can explore a cave from the comfort of an inner tube, in a kayak, or on your own feet. Barton Creek Caves is one of the largest river caves in the country and a popular one to explore in the Cayo District. Join a tubing tour through Caves Branch River Cave System in the Maya Mountains. The ATM tour has you walking, crawling and swimming through these caves in the Cayo District.
Boating – Water sports in Belize are more than snorkeling and swimming. The ocean, rivers and lagoons offer many opportunities to get on top of the water. Kayak through the calm waters of Glover’s Reef Atoll. Go on a sailing adventure along the coast of Placencia. Raft through Class III whitewater on the Macal River.
Fishing – 500+ kinds of marine life fill the freshwater rivers, lagoons, and ocean of Belize. It is an ideal spot to partake in sport fishing all year. Go fly-fishing for bonefish in Turneffe Atoll. Try inland river fishing for tarpon, or go deep-sea fishing beyond the reef for big game fish. It’s important to know that a fishing license for a week will set you back $20, and most of the fishing is catch and release.
Hiking – Most of the hiking trails through the parks of Belize are well maintained, and you can choose from a quick day trek to a multi day camping trip. Consider hiring a guide (even if it’s a short trek) to tell you about all the nature you will see. Climb Victoria’s Peak on s 4-day hike (Belize’s tallest mountain) in Cocskscomb Park. Hike through the rainforest of Blue Hole National Park – ending with a dip in the famous Blue Hole Cenote.
Zip lining – Something about Central America and zip lining go hand in hand. Swinging through the tops of trees is pretty adventurous, and there is no shortage of opportunities to try it out in Belize. Find the longest zip line in Central America (2,300 feet) in Mayflower Bocawina National Forest. You can combine zip lining with rappelling and a jungle swing at Calico Jack’s in El Progresso. And if you are just making a stop in Belize City, Belize City Zipline will take you on a whirlwind adventure through the jungle.
Visit Ancient Ruins – According to archeologists, Belize was once the center of the Mayan Civilization, with over one million Mayan people living in present day Belize. There are preserved pyramids, temples, and tombs throughout the country to find. Altun Ha and Lamanai are the closest ruins to Belize City. Xunantunich, near San Ignacio, has been beautifully excavated and was once a major ceremonial center. Caracol is home to the tallest Mayan building in Belize and the largest ruins in the country. And Tikal, just over the border in Guatemala, is worth a trip.
Snorkeling – With over 500 kinds of marine life, atolls, cayes, mangroves and reefs there is a whole underwater world to discover in Belize. There are hundreds of snorkeling spots throughout the waters of Belize, each a little different. The best snorkeling is in the northern part of the country where the water is the clearest, but you’ll find snorkeling anywhere along the coast. Shark Ray Alley (though crowded with tourists) gets you up close and personal with nurse sharks. Gladden Cayes and Split is chock full of sea life and opportunities to snorkel alongside whale sharks.
Bird Watching – 500+ species of birds call Belize home. So it makes sense that it’s a fantastic birding destination. Bird enthusiasts will find plenty of tours and guides to show you the best spots for watching. And non-bird enthusiasts will be amazed with the cool looking birds you see everywhere you go. Crooked Tree Park is a good place to go on a bird watching trek
Scuba Diving – Belize is, without a doubt, one of the top scuba destinations in the world. It’s home to the second largest barrier reef in the world, as well as cayes and atolls bursting with marine life. Diving the Blue Hole, the world’s largest ocean sinkhole, is a bucket list experience for many divers. Gladden Split is where you can dive with whale sharks. And anywhere throughout the Belize Barrier Reef will be a good diving spot.
NATIONAL PARKS IN BELIZE
- Five Blues Lake National Park is found in the foothills of the Maya Mountains 20 miles south of Belmopan. The main attraction of this park is the karstic lake – a cenote – that has five different colors of blue (hence the name of the park). The park is also filled with stunning karsts, caves and tons of wildlife (5 different kinds of wildcats, 200+ species of birds, and various monkeys).
- Guanacaste National Park, not to be confused with the same park in Costa Rica, is a 50 acre tropical forest named for its giant Guanacaste tree. It has miles of well-maintained trails perfect for trekking. Find it three miles north of Belmopan.
- Blue Hole National Park is not the same place as the famous Blue Hole in the ocean. This national park (on land) is named for the deep blue pool surrounded by dense jungle that makes up the park. St. Herman’s Cave, the largest caves in Belize, are in the park as well. It’s 12 miles south of Belmopan.
- Chiquibul National Park is the largest national park in the country and surrounds the ancient Mayan City of Caracol. It’s deep in the Mayan Mountains and home to Doyle’s Delight – the highest point in Belize – and the longest underground cave system in Central America.
- Cockscomb Basin National Park was created to protect the jaguar population of Belize, this national park is 30 miles south of Dangriga. It is home to the world’s only jaguar reserve, and largest density of jaguars on the planet (though the chances of seeing one are quite slim). It has a huge range of hiking trails; from short and easy to long and challenging.
MARINE RESERVES IN BELIZE
- Hol Chan Marine Reserve is a narrow channel through the reef split into four zones: reef, seagrass, mangroves and Shark Ray Alley. It covers three square miles and has some of the most interesting sea life. It is best accessed from San Pedro on Ambergris Caye.
- Glover’s Reef Atoll Marine Reserve is a string of islands surrounding an oval shaped lagoon, with over 800+ reef patches and some of the most diverse sealife. The marine reserve is an important feeding ground for sharks, turtles, rays, and many fish. It has some of the clearest waters and best wall diving in the Caribbean.
- Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest barrier reef in the world (right behind the Great Barrier Reef in Australia) and made up of 185 miles of coral, cayes and atolls. Most of the reef is protected by a reserve and includes the famous Blue Hole.
TOP BELIZE TOWNS TO EXPLORE
San Pedro, Ambergris Caye is the largest of all Belize’s islands. If you are looking to relax – this is the place to do it. You can stay in the main town of San Pedro, but the farther down the island you go the more remote it will get. Get around the island by bike and golf cart. It’s a good place to base yourself for scuba and snorkeling excursions.
Caye Caulker is close to Ambergris Caye, but a bit more relaxed. It’s popular with backpackers for it’s cheap prices and laid back atmosphere. The beaches aren’t as nice as in Ambergris Caye, but it’s much less expensive. There isn’t much to do here other than relax and head out to the ocean – a great base for scuba and snorkeling in the area.
Placencia is a nice and relaxing town to visit along the coast of Belize. Base yourself here for explorations throughout the area. Kayak in the lagoon, canoe with manatees and crocodiles in the wetlands, and go snorkeling with whale sharks in the ocean. Downtown Placencia consists of a long, thin sidewalk (recognized as the thinnest main street in the world) which runs parallel to the ocean in Placencia Village.
Hopkins is the hub of Garifuna culture in Belize. This tiny village, just south of Dangriga, has unpaved streets and friendly people. It’s the best place in the country to immerse yourself in the arts, food and language of the Garifuna people. Similar to Placencia, it’s another good place to base yourself for exploring the area.
Find the friendly and relaxed town of San Ignacio in Western Belize on the banks of the Macal River. The town has a good mix of just about everything – surrounded by rivers, forests, hills, caves, waterfalls and Mayan ruins. It’s sweet spot – close to many popular sites – makes it an ideal place to hang out for awhile.