The first time I traveled to Belize in 2015, I fell in love. When I returned in 2016, Belize became one of those places for me. A place that feels special. A place I can rediscover again and again because there’s so much to be seen. A place that means something to me and likely always will.
may or may not have definitely has something to do with these strong feelings.
While I’ve enjoyed telling friends and family about both trips, I’m a planner at heart and love putting trips together. So rather than retell my experiences one by one, I created this guide to hopefully convince anyone who reads this to get to Belize immediately. I’ve included many pictures for those of you who are visually persuaded (yep, I’m determined).
Belize is a blend of many cultures – Maya, Creole, Mennonite, Guatemalan, Chinese, and more. Each region has a distinct personality, especially when it comes to food. Whether it’s the Belizean staple of stew chicken, rice & beans, fresh lobster and conch on the islands and coastal regions, or the sweet satisfaction of gelato made by Italian expats, the food is universally good.
There’s also a rich Mayan history here. Maya ruin sites are scattered all throughout the country, most all of them containing human remains and/or pottery. The country’s small size means you can be scrambling about in a cave, checking out original Maya pottery in the afternoon and arriving at the beach a few hours later.
The people are incredibly kind. Everyone speaks English and the US$ is accepted, making it convenient for American travelers. And the country itself is stunning, from the rolling Maya Mountains to the clear turquoise waters of the Cayes, to the sugary yellow sand of Placencia, and back to the dense jungle in Cayo. In short: Belize has something for everyone. Whether you crave adventure, want to read under a palm tree, or just want to eat eat eat, Belize will likely be your new happy place.
When to Go
There’s lot of conflicting information out there in regards to the best time to visit Belize. Both times I’ve visited, I’ve gone during the rainy season – late June in 2015, and early May this year. While it rained for about half of the 2015 trip, it didn’t interfere with any travel plans.
This year, I visited during the tail end of the dry season. As a result, there was hardly any rain but it did get HOT inland, with temps over 100 in the jungle. It all boils down to how much risk you’re willing to take on: lower prices and less tourists with more potential for rain, or higher prices and larger crowds with little to no rain?
Where to Visit: Jungle, Beaches, and Endless Adventure
10 Days is ideal for the classic “surf and turf” vacation in Belize. Spend half of your days inland in San Ignacio, and the other half at the beaches or islands. I recommend starting your trip with adventure in San Ignacio (a minimum of 3-4 full days) and ending with plenty of relaxing beach time in Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, or Placencia.
Jungle: San Ignacio – Cayo District
San Ignacio is situated in the jungle, close to the Guatemalan border in Western Belize. It offers easy access to countless adventure tours including the infamous ATM Cave tour, Maya ruin sites such as Xunantunich, Cahal Pech, and Caracol, and other activities such as cave tubing, horseback riding, and nature tours. Day trips to Tikal in Guatemala are also popular, although I still haven’t been. Next time!
There’s nothing quite like being lulled to sleep at night by the sound of howler monkeys, birds, frogs, and other various jungle wildlife. If you happen to visit on the weekend, there is a huge farmer’s market in the center of town that takes place every Saturday morning – the largest market in the country. Check out the next section of this post for specific activities I recommend in the area, along with accommodation and restaurants.
Beaches: Ambergris Caye vs. Caye Caulker
This is the great debate when it comes to choosing a beach destination in Belize. Although Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker are situated close to one another, the vibe of each island is completely different.
Ambergris Caye is more touristy, but it’s also much larger and has more to explore. Expect slightly higher prices but similar activities available on Caye Caulker. I spent 5 days in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye with a group of 7 women and it was perfect for our large group. We wandered on foot, swam off the docks, snorkeled, and drank plenty of beach cocktails.
The motto of the tiny island of Caye Caulker is “go slow.” Everyone rides bikes, walks, or drives golf carts to get around. It’s really easy to spend your time here doing nothing. While still busy, the pace is much slower and the vibe more chill. One nice thing about Caye Caulker is there seems to be more beach space – you can actually lay in the sand and swim off the beach unlike Ambergris where the “beach” is really narrow and treated more like a sidewalk.
I prefer Ambergris – there’s so much to explore and it has Palapa Bar and Estel’s Dine by the Sea, some favorites from my 2015 trip. I think it’s great for any type of vacation, and Caye Caulker is an easy day trip via water taxi.
Placencia is my favorite beach spot in Belize so far. The village is small and easily explored on foot, the food scene is amazing, and it’s not as crowded as the islands. The snorkeling is just as wonderful as on the islands–the day John and I spent at Laughing Bird Caye snorkeling around a protected island in the Caribbean sea is still a frequent subject of my daydreams.
More than that, Placencia is a town heavily supported by tourism that still manages to keep its charm. There’s a lot of residential development happening in the upper section of the peninsula, but the village itself still feels unique and reminiscent of the vibe of smaller beach towns in Florida I love so much.
Placencia is NOT a hub for nightlife and the pace is pretty slow. Bars aren’t crazy busy and close up by midnight, but that’s more my style anyway. If you are content to spend your days lazing on the beach and in the ocean, having ice cream for lunch, taking afternoon naps, and wrapping up the day with some island cocktails then Placencia is worth a visit.
Recommended Hotels, Activities, and Restaurants
This gets its own section because it’s an easy stop on the way inland to San Ignacio. This zoo is tiny but FULL of personality and wildlife native to Belize. The mission of this zoo is to educate all visitors on the amazing wildlife in the country, and the importance of protecting each species. There are cute hand painted signs containing animal facts and quotes throughout the grounds. I really enjoyed seeing the jaguar get fed, along with talking to the parrots and watching the toucans pose for pictures.
Vanilla Hills Lodge:
A small B & B 5 minutes from San Ignacio town (by car) with a lush jungle setting and incredible hosts. Claudia cooks gourmet and breakfast and dinner are available daily upon request. Try to book the Villa Vista or Tree House (complete with jungle shower). Claudia will help you plan out activities, taking so much of the stress out of travel planning, and after two visits I trust her recommendations 100%.
ATM Cave Tour with Carlos the Caveman:
The ATM Cave Tour is not to be missed. You’ll spend hours in a cave swimming and climbing rocks until you reach a large cavern inside full of original Maya pottery and artifacts, in addition to a fully intact crystalized human skeleton. One of the most amazing experiences of my life.
Caracol Maya Ruins with K’in Winik Tours: I loved this experience so much I wrote an entire blog post about it.
Other Maya Ruins:
If you want to try a half day tour, check out Xunantunich and go by horseback. Horseback riding in Belize is a bit different from the states (no helpful platforms to get up on that horse, and you get to cross a river on a hand cranked ferry) and it’s really fun to take an alternate mode of transportation to this site of historical significance. Plus, you’ll get a guide who can give you background on everything you’re seeing.
Cahal Pech is another favorite – it’s a more residential ruin with a lush jungle setting. It’s located right outside of San Ignacio and you only need a few hours to see everything and explore at your leisure.
Iguana Conservation Project:
This pairs perfectly with a trip to Cahal Pech because it’s also in town. Essentially, you walk into an open air enclosure full of iguanas and then the guides put the iguanas all over you. Really fun and it makes for great pictures!
Ko Ox Han Ah has some delicious (and cheap) stew chicken with rice and beans but I have to admit I haven’t been to any other restaurants because Claudia’s cooking at Vanilla Hills is SO good! If you take any of the full day tours mentioned above (ATM, Caracol) lunch will be provided. If you’re in town on a Saturday, grab some fresh fruit and goodies at the huge Saturday farmer’s market in town.
Blue Tang Inn:
This is an adorable small hotel with free breakfast and nice rooms. They also have a rooftop deck which is great for sunset watching, reading, and relaxing. The staff are all super nice and the hotel even has it’s own sailboat for snorkel tours and more. Plus, Palapa Bar is right out front.
Snorkel Hol Chan Marine Reserve & Shark Ray Alley:
If you can, find a tour company that does a full day trip with a stop on Caye Caulker. You’ll anchor up in a marine reserve and see all sorts of coral formations, tropical fish, sharks, sea turtles, eels, and more. However, you’ll be snorkeling in open sea and there will likely be a lot of other tour groups in the area. I consider myself a good swimmer but actually wish I would have worn a life jacket…I freaked out a bit mid snorkel. After the marine reserve, you’ll head to Shark and Ray Alley. The guides will chum the water and then you hop in amidst large nurse sharks and sting rays.
A staple beach bar of Ambergris Caye that is now located in San Pedro town on the Wet Willy’s dock, right outside Blue Tang. Sit in an inner tube and drink, jump and swim off of the dock, and be lazy.
Estel’s Dine by the Sea:
Estel’s has delicious fry jacks and breakfast food along with fresh squeezed juices. It was my favorite restaurant from my 2015 visit. The view is also incredible – as you dine in the sand you’ll be looking out at the Caribbean sea.
Ceviche, dessert, more ceviche, panty ripper cocktails, more dessert. Can’t go wrong here! The Belize Chocolate Company is on the way for anyone like me who enjoys doubling up on dessert.
This happens every June at the start of lobster season in Belize and if you can line up your visit with Lobsterfest in San Pedro or Caye Caulker, do it! Lobsterfest is exactly what it sounds like: a festival celebrating lobster. You can get a whole lobster, grilled, for under $10.
Colinda Cabanas: Colinda’s is located about 5 minutes from the airport (you can walk from there if your bags aren’t heavy) and is away from the main hustle and bustle. Night time security and 2 free bikes with each cabana are major perks. It’s really easy to get to the other end of the island via bike and it was nice not having to pay to rent them. Juan is really helpful in providing restaurant recs as well!
Bike around the island:
This really is such a fun way to explore Caye Caulker while burning calories from all the rum punch you’ll be drinking and food you’ll be eating. John and I spent all of our time on Caye Caulker riding bikes, eating, drinking, and swimming.
Grab drinks at the Lazy Lizard:
Drinks are generally pretty cheap around the island (especially if you find a spot with 2-for-1 rum punch) but Lazy Lizard (located at “The Split”) is the happening spot with the inflated prices to match. Regardless, it’s fun to hang for a bit and a visit to Caye Caulker isn’t complete without an afternoon here.
Fry chicken at Syd’s on Middle St. is great for lunch, the bubble waffle at Ice n Beans is the epitome of breakfast dessert food, Maggie’s Sunset kitchen wins the award for best rum punch (2 for 1 happy hour AND it’s got papaya in it), and Wish Willy is a one of a kind backyard BBQ dining experience. More details in my food post here.
Joy, Rhodesia & Dawn are all SO friendly and helpful and the grounds are really well kept. The “lodge” is actually a small cluster of cute cottages (some have AC, some don’t) right in between the famous sidewalk and the beach itself. We stayed a few cabins back from the beach and could still see the water. The staff rakes the beach everyday and they have tons of beach chairs.
Laughing Bird Caye Snorkel with Splash Dive Center:
This company is super professional. They picked us up at Ranguana, drove us to the dive center, and made sure our masks and fins fit perfectly before leaving. I forgot my contacts but they provided a prescription mask at no extra charge. The Silk Cayes seem to be more popular, but I had a blast at Laughing Bird. You walk off the island and into the water, snorkel around half the island, break for lunch, then snorkel the other half. We saw barracuda, a shark, lobster, parrot fish and more.
Walk the Sidewalk:
The sidewalk in the village is an actual sidewalk, and only foot traffic is allowed. Walk along the sidewalk to check out restaurants, shop, and beach views and then circle back on the main road to check out the other restaurants and shops.
The grilled Hog Snapper at Omar’s is a meal I will remember forever (cue mouth watering), and gelato has been ruined for me forever because of Tutti Frutti gelateria, owned by two Italian expats. The Barefoot Bar is an ideal spot to drink the day away and prices are reasonable for food and drinks alike. Cozy Corner has a great atmosphere for night time dining and good dinner specials. There are two coffee shops in the village but Brewed Awakenings was my pick – their seaweed shakes are delicious!
How to Get Around
Traveling to and within Belize is simple and many major airlines offer service to Belize. Once you’re there, you’ve got several options: fly, hire a driver, take a taxi (water AND land taxis available), rent a car, or ride the bus. Tropic Air is a great option for flying and an experience in and of itself. Get 10% off your flights here. The airplanes are tiny and you may get to sit next to the pilot – super fun. If you’ve got a large group, consider hiring a shuttle driver so you can all travel together. I recommend William’s Belize Shuttle.
I don’t have experience with car rentals or riding the bus, but found this amazing guide to the bus and how to navigate.
If you’re traveling to Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker, you can either fly directly from the international airport or take a water taxi. You can buy water taxi tickets in advance online.
I hope this SUPER long guide is helpful to you. If you have any other questions or things you’d like to know, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy traveling! <3