Home to vibrant jungles, ancient Maya ruins, breathtaking Caribbean Sea coastline, 200+ islands, and the world’s second-largest barrier reef, Belize is a vacationer’s paradise. Indeed, whether you’re looking for a relaxing holiday in the sun or an action-packed getaway, this Central American country will deliver. And, since WestJet flies direct from Calgary and Toronto to Belize City weekly, it’s truly a breeze to escape the chill of a Canadian winter and revel in the joys of a tropical climate for a spell.
But with so much on offer in Belize, it might be hard to choose what to do when you get there. Here are 10 things we think can’t be missed:
The Blue Hole
At 948 feet across and 410 ft. deep, the Blue Hole is the world’s largest sinkhole—and it’s easy to explore thanks to local outfitters who offer diving and snorkelling trips from Caye Caulker. Sail to the clear blue waters, about 50 miles offshore in the Belize Barrier Reef System, and take in the underwater limestone caves, colourful coral and maybe even a reef shark or two.
Dating back to as early as 1200 BC, Caracol is the largest Maya site in Belize. Local guides bring visitors from San Ignacio to the site to see its five plazas, three temples, hieroglyphics, tombs and the towering Sky Palace, which you can climb for views of the surrounding jungle.
Take a local bus from San Ignacio to the Mopan River, where a hand-cranked ferry will carry you across the water to reach Xunantunich, a Maya ruin in the Cayo district. Xunantunich’s 130-foot pyramid temple El Castillo is known for its stucco friezes depicting gods and other celestial features, and the archeological site is also home to a large burial chamber.
Silk Cayes Marine Reserve
The 25,980-acre protected marine reserve of Silk Cayes is located right in the central part of Belize’s barrier reef. Boat rides from Placencia take about 1.5 hours to reach the reserve’s three tiny white-sand islands, which are popular spots for swimming with whale sharks and snorkelling among tropical fish and queen conch. Don’t miss the underwater sculpture of a sea goddess.
Big Rock Falls
Tucked away in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, these 150-foot falls are secluded, so guides in San Ignacio are available to lead the way. The falls cascade into a small pool—where you can cliff dive or hang out right under the gushing waters—before spilling out into a larger cenote popular for swimming.
Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave
Licensed guides will take you on a short jungle trek in the Mountain Tapir Reserve, near San Ignacio, to enter this cave, which the Maya believed was the entrance to the underworld. The cave hosts millennia-old skeletons of those sacrificed to the gods, including the Crystal Maiden, an 18-year-old girl’s skeleton that appears to sparkle.
Accessible by boat from Orange Walk in northern Belize, Lamanai is one of the longest-occupied Maya sites in the country. It has more than 100 structures, including the Mask Temple—named for the two visible masks carved into its limestone facade—and the remains of two Spanish churches burned down by the Maya in the 16th century.
Nohoch Che’en Caves
The Caves Branch River runs through these nine adjacent caves, located northwest of Belmopan. Tour companies in Belize City, Belmopan and San Ignacio offer tubing trips through the last three caves, where you’ll float through dark caverns, your headlamp providing just enough light to see stalactites and Maya paintings on the walls. There are even a few small rapids along the way!
Community Baboon Sanctuary
This protected area was founded in 1985 to safeguard black howler monkeys, which Belizeans call baboons. Located northwest of Belize City and reachable by public transportation, the sanctuary consists of a museum, a visitor centre, 3,500 monkeys and over 250 species of birds. Your admission will include a one-hour guided nature walk to spot the largest (and loudest) monkey in Latin America.
The Split, Caye Caulker
A hurricane in the 1960s created this narrow channel, which “splits” the small Caye Caulker into two north and south pieces. Take a water taxi from Belize City and enjoy what has now become a must-visit beach for swimming, sunbathing and hanging out at the happening Lazy Lizard bar.