St. Bart’s is the island for the indulgent traveler. Cuba is retro, ideal for the foodie with a history bent. You go to Barbados if you love outdoor sport, like surfing and golf. Aruba is the best place for beach bums.
It seems that every destination in the Caribbean has a reputation for a type of vacation, from luxury to adventure. If you love sand, surf, and tropical climates, you’ve probably explored the Caribbean from north to south and east to west — but I bet you haven’t been to Belize.
Unlike the more popular Caribbean destinations, Belize isn’t one island — in fact, it hardly has any islands at all. Located on the eastern coast of Central America, just south of Mexico and east of Guatemala, Belize is an independent Commonwealth of the U.K. that borders the Caribbean Sea. That means you can enjoy warm, white sand, cool, turquoise water, and stunning tropical scenery from the safety of the continent.
Belize isn’t new; it has a long and significant history. The region was once a hub for Mesoamerican cultures, and the country contains several major Mayan sites. During the Colonial period, Belize was ruled by Spain and then transferred to Great Britain and renamed British Honduras. Today, Belize has the lowest population density of Central America, but that isn’t stopping the country from showcasing its unique beauty. After agriculture, tourism is Belize’s second-largest development priority — which means there are plenty of world-class accommodations, transportation options, and attractions.
Where to Stay
Belize is just big enough to offer vastly different experiences in different regions of the country. As a result, it is advisable for you to plan to move around from town to town during your trip. The largest airport is in Belize’s largest urban center, Belize City, but you can catch small flights to nearly any other city or town in the country.
- Placencia. Located in the south, Placencia, Belize is a sandy peninsula that juts straight into the Caribbean Sea. It is a prime location for marine adventure, like kayaking and scuba diving, as well as lounging on the beach.
- San Ignacio. The largest city to the west, San Ignacio Town is the best home base for exploring Maya ruins, and it makes an excellent waypoint if you are planning to visit Guatemala, as well.
- Caye Caulker. If you miss island life, you can spend some time on Caye Caulker, a small and stunning island off Belize’s coast. The island is surrounded by reefs (the largest in the Northern Hemisphere), making snorkeling a top activity.
- Hopkins. A small town with big heart, Hopkins, Belize is the country’s cultural center for its Garifuna population. The Garifuna are the mixed-race descendants of Africans, Europeans, Island Carib, and Arawak people.
What to Do
While a fulfilling Caribbean vacation might only include sunbathing, swimming, and straightforward relaxing, Belize offers so much more. You can wander around Belize’s cities and towns, snorkel and scuba dive in its bright blue waters, or enjoy any of the following exciting adventures:
- Tour a cacao plantation. Chocolate is native to North America, and though most of the world’s chocolate is now grown elsewhere, some of the oldest chocolate plantations still exist in Belize.
- Visit the Maya ruins. Belize is littered with pre-Columbian history. Visitors’ favorite archaeological sites include: Xunantunich, Caracol, Altun Ha, and Lubaantun.
- Dive the Great Blue Hole. It’s mysterious; it’s beautiful; and its terrific fun. A submarine sinkhole off Belize’s coast is the home to all sorts of unique Caribbean marine life.
- Explore some caves. Belize boasts the largest cave system in Central America, so there is plenty to explore. You can see underground waterfalls, crystal formations, and sinkholes.
- Go birdwatching. Anywhere else in the world, this might be boring, but in Belize, it is the definition of thrilling. A boat tour takes you to an island dedicated as a bird sanctuary, where you can spot some of the most beautiful and fascinating birds in the world.
What to Eat
Fusing Caribbean and Central American cultures, Belize offers some of the best eats in the world. While you are traveling through the region, you can’t miss the following meals:
- Ceviche. Fresh seafood cooked in tangy citrus juice.
- Chimole. A savory creole stew that turns dark brown or black from its unique mixture of spices.
- Bollos. Belize’s take on tamales, which are more closely related to traditional Mayan fare.
- Pupusas. Corn pancakes stuffed with savory fillings.