With its sun-soaked islands, lush jungles, incredible reef system and lively, colourful towns, it’s easy to see why Belize is one of the Caribbean’s most beloved getaways. Whether you’re an adventure lover, wildlife watcher or sun-seeker, it’s the kind of place that has something for everyone, including jungle lodges, Mayan ruins, world-class diving and unforgettable animal encounters. While one week isn’t enough to see the whole country, it is enough time to see most of the main highlights, stretching from the Guatemalan border all the way out to the Caribbean Sea. Here’s the best itinerary for spending an un-Belize-able week in Belize (sorry, I couldn’t resist!).
Days 1-3: Cayo District
After touching down at the airport in Belize City (BZE), grab your bags and head straight for the jungle which is about a two hour drive away. The Cayo district in western Belize is the place to be for adventure-seekers and history buffs alike, thanks to its concentration of Mayan ruins, caves for exploring, rivers to tube down and wildlife spotting: think toucans, howler monkeys, crocodiles and even jaguars.
What to do:
ATM Cave Tour:
One of the most unforgettable activities in all of Belize is found here: the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave Tour. And it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.
The cave was once frequented by the Mayans to perform human sacrifices—evidence of which remains today in the form of crystallized skeletons complete with bashed-in skulls (hey, no one ever said the Mayans were nice). To get there, visitors walk about 45 minutes through the jungle and swim across three rivers, before slipping on a headlamp to navigate through the pitch-black cave. Inside, there are a series of obstacles like huge boulders and tight rock spaces to climb over or swim through, which makes for an exhilarating adventure. Combine that with a fascinating history lesson thanks to the ancient artifacts within an arm’s reach, and it’s easy to see why this is one of the country’s most popular tours.
Tikal Mayan ruins:
While it’s not technically in Belize, another popular day trip is to the ruins found in Tikal, Guatemala—plus, it’s an easy way to get another passport stamp! The journey through the scenic Guatemalan countryside takes about two hours from the town of San Ignacio, including stops to admire shimmering lakes and sample the coffee the country is famous for.
Nicknamed “Jurassic Park” and nestled among 60-thousand hectares of forests and wetlands, Tikal was once a stronghold for the Mayan civilization and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, the sprawling site is home to impressive temples that visitors are welcome to climb to the top of, to enjoy incredible panoramic views of spots like the Great Plaza and Lost World complex. Tikal is also popular with wildlife lovers, as the reserve is home to more than 300 species of birds plus jaguars, pumas, monkeys and those cute coati.
Other activities in the Cayo district include horseback riding over the lush hillsides, canoeing down meandering rivers, and exploring the Mayan sites of Xunantunich and Cahal Pech.
Where to stay:
There are plenty of accommodation options to suit all price points and needs, but the most important thing to keep in mind is how you plan to spend your days. For example, if you’re simply looking to relax or explore the surrounding jungle by taking part in activities like birding, then staying in a unique jungle lodge is a good choice. Properties like the Caves Branch lodge has treehouses that soar 75 feet above a river and tree canopy, while the Gaia River Lodge has charming thatch-roof cabanas boasting views of tropical gardens and waterfalls.
However, if you plan on filling your days with activities like the ATM Cave Tour and heading to Tikal, basing yourself in San Ignacio is your best bet to cut down on driving time and get more of a local flavour. A fabulous option is the San Ignacio Resort Hotel which is just steps away from the centre, yet feels like an oasis as soon as you step inside thanks to the gorgeous pool area surrounded by towering palm trees, which are frequented by the resident iguanas. The service is great, with staff being extremely responsive leading up to and during your stay no matter what your request is (rose petals and champagne in your room? Arranging a tour? No problem!). Best of all, the well-appointed, spacious rooms are gorgeous—seriously, you’ve probably never had a bathroom so big in your life, and the private outdoor patios are the perfect place to watch the sunrise.
Day 4-7: Ambergris Caye
Once you’ve had your fill of the jungle, pack up and head across the country to Ambergris Caye. The group of islands is found off Belize’s east coast in the Caribbean Sea, with the main tourist hub being San Pedro. The bustling town doesn’t have paved roads (like pretty much everywhere else in the country), so everyone gets around on golf carts which adds to the charm of this seaside spot. San Pedro is accessed via a 90-minute ferry from Belize City, and also has a domestic airport connecting it with spots like Belize City, San Ignacio, Caye Caulker and Belmopan.
Where to stay:
While Caye Caulker is also a good spot to overnight (more on that later), for convenience sake some might find it easier to stay put in San Pedro for the rest of the trip. From high-end resorts to beach bungalows and hostels, the island has an option for everyone. A top pick is the luxurious Phoenix Resort, an all-suite hotel with an envious waterfront location right in the centre of the island.
Modern units range from one to three bedrooms, making them ideal for groups of all sizes, and each one boasts beach views, a full kitchen, laundry and huge private balcony complete with a dining set and loungers. Amenities include Aveda bath products, complimentary SUP, kayaking, bike rentals and yoga classes, and even a nightly cocktail hour.
What to do:
Great Blue Hole:
Belize’s most breathtaking and famous landmark is without question the Great Blue Hole. Found in Lighthouse Reef in the Belize Barrier Reef, the massive underwater sinkhole is more than 300 metres across and 125 metres deep, making it one of the world’s top dive sites. Tour operators in San Pedro and Caye Caulker offer full-day snorkel and dive trips, but snorkelling in the Great Blue Hole isn’t the best way to experience it since it’s a long boat ride out and hard to see much from the water’s surface.
The ultimate way to see the Great Blue Hole is from the air, and companies like Tropic Air offer scenic flight tours from both Belize City and San Pedro. Taking off in a tiny plane from San Pedro, the hour-long flyover heads east over the Belize Barrier Reef, passes over Turneffe Atoll, then gets to Lighthouse Reef which is home to the Great Blue Hole. There, the pilot does about a dozen circles around it, ensuring passengers on both sides of the plane get an incredible birds-eye view. Heading back to San Pedro, you’ll fly over tiny islands and a shipwreck, and the water is so clear that it’s possible to spot manatees, rays, sharks and dolphins. If there’s one experience in Belize worth adding to your bucket list, it’s this!
Despite its perch on the Caribbean Sea, Belize isn’t known for its beaches which is why most activities involve hopping on a boat. One of the best excursions when it comes to seeing the highlights of Ambergris Caye is the full day catamaran tour offered by Tuff E Nuff Tours. The first stop is the Hol Chan Marine Reserve which is like swimming in an aquarium, thanks to its incredible visibility, brightly coloured coral and underwater life including turtles, dolphins and more than 100 types of fish.
Shark Ray Alley is up next, which is exactly what it sounds like: the chance to snorkel with schools of nurse sharks. They’re practically harmless and prefer to stay closer to the ocean floor, so you can put your fears aside and simply enjoy watching the beautiful creatures effortlessly glide below. There are also mantarays and plenty of tropical fish, which make for a captivating underwater scene.
The last stop of the day is a two-hour visit to Caye Caulker to have lunch and explore the island, before setting sail back to San Pedro with rum punches in hand.
You don’t need an organized tour to visit Caye Caulker, as it’s easily accessible from San Pedro via plane or a 45-minute ferry. This sleepy spot is the true definition of “island vibe,” the kind of place where days are spent lazily relaxing in the sun, paddling around the shoreline or saddling up to the counter at a beach bar surrounded by groves of palm trees. There’s not a lot to do here, which is exactly why people come, and the tranquil island is so tiny you can walk around the whole thing in about an hour.
If you go, wander through the village to admire the colourful streetscape, then head to “The Split” which is the most happening spot on the island. Grab a drink at the Lazy Lizard and sip it under a palm-thatched umbrella propped up right in the water, surrounded by sun-seekers tanning on the neighbouring dock. How’s that for an un-Belize-able vacation?
Globe Guide explored Belize as a guest of some of the aforementioned resorts and tour operators. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.
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