10 of Belize’s best beaches, islands and chill out spots for unwinding

From butterfly-spotting to swimming in shimmering lagoons, not to mention Caribbean beaches, Belize’s natural wonders provide fantastic options to kick back and relax

Sarah Baxter
06 August 2018

1: Lift a Belikin by the beach

Where? Caye Caulker

Easygoing, inexpensive and no-fuss, Caye Caulker is arguably the best place in Belize for a proper chill out. The beaches are palm-wafted beauties, the water is crystal clear and sublime, making this a top spot for warming up on the sand and cooling down in the sea. Life doesn’t get much more stress-free or simple than that. 

There are plenty of ways to be active, from sailing to world-class snorkelling, right there if you want them. But, if not, simply retire to one of the caye’s shore-side bars, order a fresh-caught lobster and an ice-cold Belize-brewed Belikin beer, and simply watch the world amble by.



2: Set your heart a-flutter

Where? Green Hills Butterfly Ranch

You’ll be wowed and calmed by the beauty of nature at its most delicate at this ranch near San Ignacio. More than 80 species of butterflies in all colours and sizes have been bred here for research and conservation purposes. 

The Blue Morpho is the star of the show, but there are plenty of other bright colours to be seen. You can walk through a gloriously landscaped enclosure with a guide and watch the insects as they float and flutter or sip nectar from the tropical plants. Visit early in the morning for the chance to glimpse the butterflies emerging from their chrysalises.



3: Sail into the sunset

Where? Ambergris Caye

The world has discovered idyllic Ambergris Caye. San Pedro is no longer the sleepy fishing village it once was, but rather a buzzy island hangout with plenty of bars serving rum punch at midnight. 

That’s no problem at all. If you’re looking for a chill out, head to the caye’s northern end for a quieter slice of paradise, and to visit Maya sites and wildlife-filled Bacalar Chico Reserve. 

Alternatively, hire a sailing boat for the day to float on the  deep blue waters. With no schedule or place to be, you can jump in for a swim anytime the mood takes you and watch the sunset from the deck, floating far away from any other people.



4: Zone out to hypnotic beats

Where? Lebeha Garifuna Drumming Center, Hopkins

The Afro-Creole Garifuna people are renowned for their musicality, especially their drumming. Head to the Lebeha Center in the relaxed coastal village of Hopkins, which also happens to have a jaw-dropping beach, to hear Garifuna musicians perform the entrancing hand-beat rhythms. 

It’s especially atmospheric to hear the mahogany and deer-skin drums played at Full Moon Parties. You can also arrange to have a lesson at the centre. The key to success, so they say, is to be able to play fast while keeping the tone strong.



5: Play Robinson Crusoe on a private isle



Where? Coral Caye, off Placencia

At stay on Coral Caye is one of the most decadent ways to chill out in Belize. The private, two-acre island is one of film director Francis Ford Coppola’s Belize retreats. 

Castaways (with a little cash) can stay at the caye’s rustic cottage, with just palm trees, tropical birds and sea turtles for company. Caretaker Alberto is discreetly on hand to make sure the larder stays stocked with fresh fruit and other goods or to help you find your misplaced snorkel, so all you need to ‘worry’ about is relaxing. 



6: Go wild swimming

Where? Río On Pools, Mountain Pine Ridge

Cool down with a stop off at the forest-cloaked Río On Pools. Here, the clear river cascades over granite rocks, puddling into a cluster of lagoons. 

The pounding waterfalls give satisfying massages and little streams connect the pools like mini water slides, while the sun-warmed boulders are a lovely place to laze away an afternoon . It’s Mother Nature’s own spa and fun park.



7: Float down an underground river

Where? Nohoch Che’en Caves

There’s something very calming about drifting into the darkness of the earth’s underbelly. At Nohoch Che’en, a network of limestone caves in Cayo district, you can lay back in an inflatable inner-tube and let the current of the emerald-green river carry you.

You’ll float through various tunnels and caverns, disappearing into the subterranean silence of Xibalba, the Mayan underworld. Train your headtorch on blind fish and Maya rock art as you go.



8: Bob amid abundant birds

Where? Shipstern Conservation Management Area

The wetlands, coastal mangroves, lagoons and forest of this protected area in north Belize are bursting with birdlife, from roseate spoonbills to white ibis. 

There are walking trails across Shipstern, but the best, and most relaxing, way to explore is on a small boat, with a guide and a picnic, so you can drift across the waterways for the closest avian encounters.



9: Hide away in an ecolodge

Where? Mountain Pine Ridge

Belize is brilliant for eco-hideaways. There’s something for every budget nestled into the lush, river-riddled Mountain Pine Ridge region, from five-star, private-butler luxury to affordable-but-atmospheric riverside cabañas with access to great forest trails. 

Seek out the Hidden Valley Inn, set in a private reserve and offering brilliant birding, hiking and mountain-biking trails, as well as trips to a secret waterfall.

Alternatively, try the lovely Lodge at Chaa Creek in San Ignacio, which sits by the Macal River and has exclusive treetop suites, as well as more rustic cabins by the water’s edge. 



10: Island-hop by glass-bottomed kayak

Where? Glover’s Reef

Break up those happy beach hours with a bit of a paddle. The water is so wonderfully clear and amazingly rich in wildlife in Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve that you’ll want a glass-bottomed kayak to make the most of it. 

That means you can gaze down on the underwater world as you paddle around the atoll, a 30km-long string of white-sand, coral-encased islets, speckled with a handful of eco-sensitive resorts. All kinds of colourful fish will pass beneath your novel glass-bottomed vessel, making for a memorable kayak trip. 


This article was supported by the Belize Tourist Board (www.travelbelize.org) but it is independent and impartial, just like all Wanderlust editorial

Main image: Snokellers in the Caribbean ocean off Caye Caulker (Belize tourist board)



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