The unique and very beautiful Central American nation is nestled on the eastern coast right next to the Caribbean Sea. It used to remain a little off the beaten track, often overlooked in favor of the tourist favorites Mexico or Costa Rica, but it’s becoming increasingly popular as a travel destinaiton. People are drawn here from all over the world to visit its extraordinary diving and snorkeling spots, its truly incredible palm-lined beaches, its hundreds of idyllic low-lying islands, and its dense jungle. This is paradise but with enough edge to keep things very interesting! Here are the best and most beautiful places to visit in Belize…
Blue Hole National Park, Cayo District – one of the most unique beauty spots in Central America
St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park is located just off the Hummingbird Highway in the Cayo District of Belize less than half an hour by car from the capital, Belmopan. It is over 500 acres (2 km²) in area and contains two cave systems (St. Herman’s and Crystal), beautiful nature trails, and the cool jungle pool from which the park gets its name.
The park is well managed with a small visitor center, restrooms and changing rooms so you can take a dip in the magical Blue Hole Pool – remember to bring a towel. Allow enough time for a hike on one of the jungle trails to spot some of the 200 species of birds, including unusual tropical species such as the slaty antwren, piratic flycatcher and red-legged honeycreeper.
The ocelot, jaguarundi, and jaguar have all been recorded in Blue Hole National Park – if you’re very lucky you might get to see a footprint.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark-Ray Alley, Ambergris Caye – a stunning place to explore in Belize
Off the southern tip of Ambergris Caye is Belize’s oldest marine reserve, the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. The reserve focuses on a cut through the Belize Barrier Reef, called a quebrada, which is little more than 25 yards (23m) wide and 30 feet (9m) deep.
It is the single most popular day trip from San Pedro, perfect for snorkeling or diving in the warm Caribbean waters. You need to hire a boat and a guide at San Pedro or Caye Caulker. Most guides offer a mix of diving and snorkeling and trips usually last half a day. The best information can be found at the small visitor center on Ambergris Caye.
The Hol Chan Marine Reserve is divided into four zones: The Reef, The Seagrass Beds, The Mangroves, and Shark-Ray Alley. The latter is highly recommended as an introduction to Belizean waters for all divers. You can almost always see species of fish including jacks, groupers, snappers, parrotfish, angelfish, barracuda, eels, spider crabs, lobster, nurse sharks, manta rays, and eagle rays.
Altun Ha Ruins, Belize District – an important historic attraction to visit
An amazing place to visit in Belize, this is around an hour from Belize City is the ancient Mayan ruins of Altun Ha. Hidden by the forest until 1964, there are now 3sq miles (8km²) of pyramids, temples and palaces rising from the jungle. The site is remarkably peaceful, even when busy, with plenty of space to wander and marvel at the serene structures.
If you want to fully appreciate the experience it’s worth hiring a guide, but otherwise you are welcome to roam at leisure. After exploring the ruins, you can purchase some genuinely interesting local crafts and art from vendors at the site entrance.
The Belize River, Belize District – one of the best places to visit in Belize
Also known as the Old River, the Belize River begins where the Mopan River and Macal River join just east of San Ignacio, Cayo and runs through tropical rain forest 180 miles (290km) across the heart of Belize to the Caribbean Sea.
It served as the main artery of commerce and communication between the interior and the coast until well into the twentieth century and has long been associated with forestry of logwood (for dye) and of mahogany which survives in small stands.
With the logging industries now gone, Belize River has become a center for angling and eco-tour boat trips to spot birds, iguanas, crocodiles and other creatures.
Laughing Bird Caye National Park, Stann Creek District – a gorgeous spot to explore
Laughing Bird Caye is a long coral island off the coast of Placencia, Belize. It is spread over an area of 1.8 acres (0.73 ha) at the very southern end of the Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage Site. The island, protected since 1981, is named after a population of laughing gulls which previously bred there.
Laughing Bird Caye is an archetypical coral atoll with clear turquoise water, white sand beaches and shady palm trees. It’s about 30 minutes by boat from the mainland. There are tour operators that will take you for excellent snorkeling, a picnic lunch on the beach and relaxation time beneath the palms watching pelicans dive into the waters.
A handful of park rangers live on this isolated island to grow coral and protect the bird sanctuary – but expect it to be quiet; few tourists come this far south.
Mexico Rocks, Ambergris Caye – a popular and wonderful snorkeling spot
Opposite Secret Beach on the eastern side of Ambergris Caye is Mexico Rocks. A shallow patch reef complex, part of the Belize Barrier Reef system in the Caribbean Sea.
The site consists of approximately 100 patch reefs clustered on a ridge of limestone composed predominantly of boulder star corals. The reef has accumulated in shallow water, about 8 to 16 feet (2.5 to 5m) deep, over the last 420 years.
The site became part of the busier Hol Chan Marine Reserve in 2015 and is still relatively unexploited with a wider variety of sea life than you can see at Hol Chan. The reef is becoming popular among snorkelers and scuba divers, and it is seen as an important addition to Ambergris Caye’s eco-tourism attractions.
Xunantunich Mayan Ruins, Cayo District – one of the most popular archaeological sites in Belize
A few miles west of San Ignacio, close to the Guatemalan border, are the ruins of the Mayan city of Xunantunich. The experience begins in the small town of San Jose Succotz with a hand-cranked ferry across the Mopan River, followed by a one-mile hike on a broad track through the forest up a gentle incline to the site.
At the end of the road, the site emerges consisting of a series of six plazas surrounded by more than 26 massive temples and palaces. Climb to the top of one of these immense structures for panoramic views across the jungles of Belize and Guatemala.
It’s worth getting a guide for the visit – you will get offers at the ferry and at the site itself – because the structures are huge and complex. After your visit cross back on the ferry to the excellent cafés and restaurants of the small town.
Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve, Belize District – one of the most beautiful places to visit in Belize
Just 20 miles (32km) out to sea from Belize City is this large atoll in the Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage Site. It’s a stunning place to explore and is collectively known as the Turneffe Islands it is home to many marine species that are threatened or commercially important. The land and seascape consist of a network of highly productive flats, creeks and lagoons, dotted by more than 150 mangrove islands and higher cayes.
Large expanses of intact mangrove and seagrass habitat and shallows provide important nursery functionality for a wide array of fish species, crocodiles, lobster, conch and other invertebrates. It is home to more than 500 species of fish, 65 species of stony corals, sea turtles, manatees, dolphins, seabirds, and other wildlife.
There are a small handful of grand resorts and beautiful beachfront lodges scattered throughout the atoll’s eastern islands. There is no ferry, so access is by private transfer. You can also charter a day trip from Caye Caulker or Belize City; the journey takes about 90 minutes but will be remembered forever.
The Split, Caye Caulker – a narrow channel that divides the island of Caye Caulke
The Split is a small waterway that separates the two islands of Caye Caulker in the Gulf of Honduras. It’s a neat destination with 2 beaches of white sand and crystal waters offering swimming, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, bars and restaurants, all cooled by ocean breezes.
Because The Split is on the northern point of the island you can watch sunrise equally as well as sunset, after which the place comes alive with music and partying into the night.
Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve – an incredible World Heritage Site
Glover’s Reef harbors the greatest diversity of reef types in the western Caribbean. A large spawning site for the endangered Nassau grouper is located at the north-eastern end of the atoll. It has been identified as one of only two viable sites remaining for the species and provides nursery and feeding areas and a unique habitat for lobster, conch and finfish. In 2002, it was declared a special marine reserve, permanently closed to fishing.
This is the very definition of remote; around 2-3 hours by boat from the mainland. Although, with luck the turquoise waters will show some of their beauty on the journey with dolphins and manatees. Glover’s Atoll is a huge blue lagoon with a small family-run series of huts on stilts on one island, where the crystal-clear water, the cool breezes, and the eternal horizon combine for the ultimate desert island holiday.
It really does look like a lost paradise, ideal as a pirate hideout – the island is named after a buccaneer. The perfect place for snorkeling, diving, kayaking or just sitting and staring at the endless blue.
Belize City, Belize District – the largest city in Belize
Surprisingly not the capital but still one of the best places to explore in Belize. Located on the east coast of Belize near the mouth of the Belize River, Belize City sits on a peninsula jutting into the Caribbean Sea, cut in half by Haulover Creek. As the nation’s main port, the city is a hub for cruise ships and is often a jumping-off spot for excursions to other parts of Belize, including the Cayo District’s caves and Maya archaeological sites along the Macal and Belize rivers.
In Belize City is the only manual swing bridge in the world and the oldest Anglican cathedral in Central America. There’s also a national heritage museum tracing the nation’s history, art galleries, plenty of hotels and an enormous variation of restaurants with Kriol, Caribbean, Spanish and Western dishes. Definitely worth stopping for a couple of nights to fully appreciate the mix that is Belizean culture.
Placencia Peninsula, Stann Creek District – a popular beauty spot
At the very south of the district known as Stann Creek is the Placencia Peninsula. A narrow spit of land edged by beautiful sandy beaches, known for laid-back hotels, open-air bars and seaside restaurants. Never too crowded, always relaxed and budget-friendly this is a genuine place with amazing white sandy beaches, calm blue seas and welcoming locals. The peninsula is over 10 miles (18km) long in total, so it’s worth hiring a car to get around and find some of the even more deserted beaches.
It’s an area that is also being developed for tourism. There are tons of resorts, shops, restaurants and tourist activities especially at the southern tip. It’s a safe and great place to experience semi-urban Belize.
Belize Barrier Reef, World Heritage Site – an must-see attraction in Belize
A stunning destination to explore in Belize, The Belize Barrier Reef is a series of coral reefs straddling the coast of Belize, roughly 980 feet (300m) offshore in the north and 25 miles (40km) in the south.
The Belize Barrier Reef is a 190 mile (300km) long section of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which is continuous from Cancún on the north-eastern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula through the Riviera Maya and down to Honduras, making it the second-largest coral reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It is Belize’s top tourist destination, popular for scuba diving and snorkeling and attracting almost half of its 260,000 visitors.
In addition to the barrier reef, there are three distinct Caribbean atolls: Turneffe Atoll, Glover’s Reef and Lighthouse Reef. Lighthouse Reef is the most easterly diving area in Belize, it is home to the Great Blue Hole, made famous by Jacques Cousteau in 1970; Turneffe Atoll lies directly to the east of Belize City and is famous as the Neverland pirate haunt of Captain Hook.
These different reefs provide diverse scuba diving opportunities that include walls, pinnacles and reef flats that are located throughout an enormous area of sea. If there is one thing you must do whilst in Belize it is visit the Belize Barrier Reef!
Ambergris Caye, Belize District – the largest island of Belize
Ambergris Caye is the largest island of Belize, located northeast of the country’s mainland, in the Caribbean Sea. It is about 25 miles (40km) long from north to south, and about 1 mile (1.6km) wide. The very top of the island almost kisses Mexico; being separated by just a narrow stretch of water.
The island is mostly a ring of white sand beaches and turquoise seas around mangrove swamps and lagoons in the center. Most of Ambergris Caye is reserved as national park and wildlife sanctuary. To the north of the main town of San Pedro is the destination of Secret Beach, one of the more popular beach destinations in Belize yet, because of the restricted development, a place of remoteness and charm.
The main attractions are excursions to the Belize Barrier Reef and its diving, snorkeling and beaches. The caye has a small airstrip that can be reached by plane from Belize City as well as by numerous fast sea ferries. Ambergris Caye can also be reached by ferry from Chetumal in Mexico. Because of the island’s small size, the main form of powered transportation is by golf cart.
Tobacco Caye, Stann Creek District – a paradise-like island
A truly idyllic, remote, laid-back, 3-acre island with beaches, snorkeling and five rustic resorts with waterfront cabins and dining. Tobacco Caye is a coral island surrounded by lagoons teeming with sea life. It is about 10 miles (16km) east of Dangriga on the mainland and can only be reached by boat.
The island also features Tobacco Caye Marine Station, an education center focusing on the marine environment around Tobacco Caye. The station also gives information to tourists and is one of the only places on the reef to run night snorkels.
Caye Caulker, Belize District – a small limestone coral island
A small limestone coral island off the coast of Belize in the Caribbean Sea measuring about 5 miles (8km) long by less than 1 mile (1.6km) wide. The town on the island is known as Caye Caulker Village. The island is located approximately 20 miles (32km) northeast of Belize City; you can get there by high-speed water taxi or small plane.
Over the last few years, the island has become a popular destination for backpackers and other tourists. There are over 50 hotels and plenty of restaurants and shops. It is a tiny jewel of a paradise island with great beaches, amazing snorkeling, street food and a bit of partying – just for fun – all soaked in a laid-back Caribbean vibe and without the costs of the luxury resorts. Definitely one of the most beautiful places to visit in Belize!
Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve, Stann Creek District – a stunning protected marine reserve in the central part of Belize’s Barrier Reef
Established in 2003, the Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve is a protected area in the central part of Belize’s Barrier Reef. It covers a vast 26,000 acres (10,500ha) lying 22 miles (36km) off the coast of Placencia. Gladden Spit is a promontory forming the southernmost tip of a sunken atoll with a steep shelf dropping down. There are three small cayes – North Silk, Middle Silk and South Silk, just south of Gladden Spit which are used for snorkeling and diving day trips from Placencia.
The reserve contains some of the healthiest parts of the reef system due to its elevation and good water quality. Gladden Spit itself hosts over 25 species of reef fish. Historically, whale sharks were sighted in large numbers. Nowadays tourism to see whale sharks is strictly limited, but you might get lucky with a tour in the early part of the year.
Half Moon Caye, Belize District – a romantic and beautiful Belize destination
Half Moon Caye is a small archetypal Caribbean paradise island nestled on the very edge of the Belize Barrier Reef and surrounded by warm tropical seas full of life. There are perfect white sandy beaches, drooping coconut palms and even someone humming amongst the trees as they cook lunch.
It’s a day trip from Belize City, often combined with Turneffe Atoll or the Blue Hole for snorkeling and diving. On the land you will see red-footed booby birds and iguana, in the reef, you will find the best-relaxed snorkeling or kayaking. The downside is that you cannot stay.
South Water Caye, Stann Creek District – a small, serene island featuring beach resorts
A coral reef island that has a bit of everything. There are a few small resorts, some beach bars, a handful of restaurants and marine study center. Plenty of white sand beaches, shady palms and clear blue waters for swimming or snorkeling. The perfect place to stay over or just stop over from a sailing or snorkeling trip.
It is roughly 45 minutes by boat from Dangriga or Hopkins on the mainland through the South Water Caye Marine Reserve; a huge 118,000 acres (48,000ha) of mangrove and coastal ecosystems. It includes the crown reserve of Man-O-War Caye, a nesting site for the brown booby and magnificent frigatebird.
Secret Beach, Ambergris Caye – a popular stunning white sandy beach
This place isn’t secret, but it is good! A popular stunning white sandy beach, roughly 1 mile (1½km) in length, facing clear, shallow waters.
There are plenty of bars and restaurants on the beach with free sun-loungers, tables and umbrellas, reaching right into the cool sea. They have a wide choice of food and delicious drinks all along the shore – served directly to your table in the waves. There’s a water park and water sports for those who want something a bit more energetic.
This is the best west-facing beach in the whole of Belize; the perfect stop for watching the most unforgettable Caribbean sunsets.