With its ancient Maya ruins, exotic wildlife, one of the largest cave systems in Central America and the planet’s second-biggest barrier reef system (the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, a UNESCO World Heritage Site), this tropical country offers a wide variety of activities for travellers. Here’s where to stay, what to do and where to eat in four of Belize’s diverse regions.
For Water Babies: Caye Caulker
Where to stay: Sunset views, a pool and excellent snorkelling just offshore help make the Iguana Reef Inn on Caye Caulker—a laid-back island about an hour-long ferry ride from Belize City—the embodiment of barefoot informality. The bright rooms come with Wi-Fi, air conditioning and breezy verandas, and include a continental breakfast.
What to do: Set sail with Raggamuffin Tours on a snorkel trip. Marvel at angelfish and moray eels swimming among the coral walls in nearby Hol Chan Marine Reserve, glide above nurse sharks and southern stingrays in Shark Ray Alley, and look for manatees in the crystal-clear waters of the Coral Gardens.
Where to eat: Nab a picnic table with an ocean view, wet your whistle with a rum punch and dig into fruits of the sea including lobster ceviche and coconut shrimp at Maggie’s Sunset Kitchen. She also serves up grilled lobster when it’s in season (mid-June to mid-February).
For Explorers: San Ignacio
Where to stay: A quick walk to Cahal Pech (a Maya site with palaces, temples and ball courts), San Ignacio Resort Hotel is located on a hillside acreage along the Macal River and makes a great base for exploring the country’s Maya culture. The 26-room luxe resort includes a spa, tennis court and on-site restaurant.
What to do: Explore Xunantunich, a Maya ceremonial centre near San Ignacio. The impressive El Castillo pyramid rises 40 metres from the ground and has a well-preserved stucco frieze on its east side. Climb to the top for spectacular views of the entire site, where a new tomb and burial chambers were discovered in 2016.
Where to eat: Guava Limb Restaurant and Cafe is not your typical Belizean eatery. The restaurant operates its own farm and offers a nice break from rice and beans with a selection of delicious (and fresh) salads, appetizers such as crispy shrimp wontons, and burgers, paninis and pizzas.
For Nature-Lovers: Placencia
Where to stay: Travellers will get their fill of beach days from the well-appointed villas that comprise Chabil Mar Resort in Placencia Village, a fishing community on the Placencia Peninsula’s south end. But the resort also provides easy access to the nearby national parks and preserves, and staff can assist in booking various nature tours.
What to do: Journey by boat to Monkey River to look for howler monkeys and crocodiles. Or visit Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary—the first reserve in the world with a jaguar preserve—and float down its main waterway on an inner tube while searching the forest canopy for toucans, scarlet macaws and other feathered friends.
Where to eat: Indulge in spicy plantain chips, pork belly tacos, beer-battered fish and chips or red curry snapper at Rumfish y Vino, a casual restaurant that adds a fresh twist on traditional Belizean fare. Wash it all down with an “infusion” cocktail, made by infusing rum, gin or tequila with fruits or herbs.
For Adventurers: Near Belmopan
Where to stay: Check in to a cozy bungalow—or upgrade to a luxury canopy tree house—at Caves Branch Adventure Co & Jungle Lodge, an all-inclusive jungle lodge along the Caves Branch River in central Belize. This adventure lodge offers a pool, a botanical garden and daily cheese tastings to enjoy after the day’s exploits.
What to do: Sign up for one of the lodge’s daily excursions, from horseback riding to cave tubing (floating on a tube along an underground river). Or drive 10 minutes to St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park, where you can swim in a cenote (a limestone sinkhole filled with water), hike various jungle trails or explore two large caves.
Where to eat: The lodge includes delicious buffet meals, but visit nearby Lamanai Chocolate Company, located just off the Hummingbird Highway, to join a tour that walks you through the harvesting, roasting, grinding and bar-making process. Then sample the goods and buy some fair trade cacao nibs.
Getting there: WestJet flies to Belize three times a week from Toronto and Calgary starting Nov. 1, 2017.