February 12th 2020
Known as British Honduras until 1973, it’s not uncommon for Belize to be relatively unknown by travellers outside of the Americas. Yet this small nation, which was once a British colony, has come to the forefront in recent decades as a fast-growing tourism hotspot.
With English as its primary language, Belize immediately had an advantage as it began to open up and promote itself as a tourism destination to the wider world. For English speakers, it makes travelling through Belize, making friends and getting to know the locals really easy, even in less densely populated areas.
Mountains, tropical rainforests, abundant with nature and edging onto the Caribbean Sea, Belize offers a sure slice of heaven for travellers and it has been hailed as “Central America’s hidden gem” by the Evening Standard.
Like all Americas regions, Belize has its own native dishes and, of course, it produces some pretty spectacular rum – a must when relaxing by such amazing beaches and waters.
Despite being considered a small nation, the country does still extend itself across 22,965 km² of land; the mainland is about 180 mi (290 km) long and 68 mi (110 km) wide. Therefore, if you are planning a trip to Belize, you need to have an itinerary in place.
We’ve put together the ideal itinerary of the five must-visit places in Belize to ensure you experience the best side of the amazing country that is Belize.
Cayo, San Ignacio and Maya Temples
One of Belize’s most lively areas, it’s hard to believe that San Ignacio was once just a small little village of farmers and logging camps.
This vibrant town is ultimately the heart and soul of the Cayo District with a busy marketplace that’s surrounded by beautiful rainforests. It is also one of the easiest places to get to so it comes as no surprise that it is consistently rated one of the best places to visit in Belize.
In fact, its proximity to neighbouring Guatemala means travellers often cross the border into Belize from Guatemala just to experience this unique, beautiful town for themselves.
A visit to San Ignacio can enable you to take in some of Belize’s most famous historic sites and Mayan ruins including Xunantunich, Caracol and Cahal Pech, which is one of the earliest Mayan sites in Belize.
Surrounded by rivers, San Ignacio is extraordinarily popular for river tours, offering a unique way to get around and see and experience a South American town while spotting birds, reptiles and fish.
The Green Iguana Conservation Project is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area, offering lots of outdoor activities. You can also stroke and handle iguanas, which are born and raised on-site.
Need some quiet time? San Ignacio is home to the House of Culture Museum, several beautiful churches and a diverse range of restaurants serving up everything from authentic Belizean dishes to worldwide cuisines (including some fantastic steakhouses!)
The twin town to San Ignacio, you should also be sure to make Santa Elena part of a “twin visit” when in the Cayo district. The population of San Ignacio’s’ twin town is just 1,000 people and given that there is only the metal suspension Hawkesworth Bridge separating the two, the activities and sites we have outlined for San Ignacio stand for Santa Elena too. In fact, the Hawkesworth Bridge itself is worth a stroll over to get some aerial views of the rivers and rainforests surrounding the twin towns.
When in town you have to try the famous Belizean BBQ!
If you want to visit San Ignacio and Cayo why not try our 8 Day “Pirata Maya” Trip
Once the capital of Belize when the country was still known as British Honduras, Belize City is the largest city of this small nation and it is home to more than 57,000 people. While it may no longer be the capital, it is still considered one of the most prominent areas in the country, especially as it houses a cruise ship terminal, international airport, banking and commercial centre.
While Belize City has experienced a series of natural disasters over the years which led to the demise of some of their most famous buildings, it is still abundant with things to see and do.
Four museums – the Bliss Institute, Image Factory Art Foundation and Gallery, the Maritime Museum and the Museum of Belize – are all located here while the city also hosts several cultural events and festivals every year which attract people from near and far.
Fun fact – you may recognize the wonders of Belize City from some famous movies and TV shows. 1980’s movies The Dogs of War and The Mosquito Coast, featuring Christopher Walken and Harrison Ford respectively, both included scenes shot in Belize City. In more recent times, Belize City also featured in TV show Mad Dogs in 2015.
From Belize City, you can do some great day trips such as the Baboon (Howler Monkey) Community Sanctuary, Belize Zoo and Conservation projects, Altun Ha Archaeology Site and all manner of soft adventure trips such as Cave Tubing at Caves Branch. Belize City is also the starting point for amazing catamaran sailing trips along the Belize reef!
If you want to visit the area around Belize City why not try our 8 Day “Pirata Maya” Trip
Belmopan & The Hummingbird Highway
Belmopan is Belize’s capital city, but was only built after the country’s original capital, Belize City, was significantly damaged by a hurricane in 1961. With a population in the region of 16,000, it is the lowest populated capital city in the continental Americas regions.
While Belmopan was certainly a purpose-built city and is still quite “new”, the lodges in this area make an ideal base for exploring the many tourist attractions and historic sites that are close by.
A short journey away from Belmopan lies St Herman’s Blue Hole National Park, which is home to St Herman’s Cave, one of the very few caves in Belize that travellers are allowed to explore without a guide. The 575-acre park contains lots of different hiking trails and a Visitor Centre with a 45-minute trek through the park to reach the Blue Hole, with Billy Barquedier Waterfall also nearby.
Other things to visit in the region include the Aktun Tunichil Muknal Cave trip, Crystal cave and many different horse riding adventures. The scenic drive from Belmopan down the “Hummingbird Highway” to the coast is also very enjoyable.
If you want to visit the area around Belmopan why not try our 8 Day “Pirata Maya” Trip
Caye Caulker & Hol Chan Snorkel
Caye Caulker is, quite simply, paradise.
A small coral island, it is located just off the coast of Belize and is a huge attraction for global tourists. When you think of a dream getaway on a beautiful island, Caye Caulker is that island.
It is tiny (the entire island could be feasibly walked in about an hour or so) but oh so tranquil. Picture perfect palm trees, incredible white sand, brilliantly blue waters, bars, stalls and cute little streets, it just doesn’t seem real until you’re there.
You will even see lots of signs around saying “No shirt, no shoes, no problem” – can an island be any more laid back?
Surrounded by the Belize Barrier Reef, Caye Caulker is not just for the tranquility seekers but the adventurers too, with lots of people visiting the island to go snorkeling with sharks in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve or scuba diving in the nearby Great Blue Hole.
Caye Caulker consistently remains one of the best places to go in Belize.
If you want to visit Caye Caulker why not try our 8 Day “Pirata Maya” Trip
Rounding off our list of the top five places to visit in Belize is the town of San Pedro, located on the island of Ambergris Caye, which is the largest of the country’s islands and situated northeast.
Its beach bars and seafood restaurants alone are good enough reason to visit but, ultimately, it is San Pedro’s proximity to the Coral Reef alongside its sandy streets, wooden houses and relaxing beaches that draw the tourists in year after year.
In fact, the Belize Secret (or not-so-secret!) Beach is located just north of San Pedro town, and features remote cenotes, sinkholes, and caves. Also north of San Pedro is the Bacalar Chico National Park where you can observe protected wildlife while the impressive Chac Balam Mayan ruins are also worth a visit when in the area.
San Pedro is also famous for its annual festivals, such as the El Gran Carnaval de San Pedro, a 150-year-old traditional festival that includes a fabulous carnival parade.
Adding to the fun of San Pedro is the fact that, due to its small size, and indeed the small size of Ambergris Caye island itself, golf carts are the main means of transport in the town!
Be prepared for the breath-taking beauty
With the right itinerary in place and some planning ahead, you can to do and see a lot in Belize in a relatively short amount of time.
But be prepared, this place is truly phenomenal. Extended stays and return trips are a regular occurrence for travellers to Belize who are simply blown away by its beauty when they experience it in real life.
A small nation with so, so much to offer, Belize is ready and waiting for you to explore.
February 12th 2020