Unearth the wildlife, Maya culture and local heart of Belize

Belize might be small, but its abundant nature, culture and adventure pack an almighty punch – and the experts at Latin Routes are ready to help you tap into its treasures…

From emerald rainforests, studded with crashing waterfalls to tumbling mountains, talcum-white beaches and UNESCO-listed reefs, Belize’s diversity is impressive – and its compact size means you can see a decent chunk of it in one go.

 Striking coral formations, colourful wildlife and millennia-old Maya architecture are among the unique attractions here, and if you’re looking to truly get under the skin, Latin Routes can tailor-make an itinerary to show you the real flavour of the country, connecting you with the people that call its spectacular landscapes home.

Wondering where to start? We’ve picked out some of the best things to do from across the country to help build your bucket-list trip.

Come to Belize and...

...Head out on an adventure

With around half the entire country carpeted in rainforest, Belize is something of a hotspot for adventure-lovers. From kayaking, hiking and caving to diving, zip-lining and tubing, there’s no shortage of things to do against the tumbling mountain backdrop.

At the heart of its adventure scene is the Belize Barrier Reef – a pristine stretch of blue that sprawls more than 180 miles along the Caribbean coast and forms part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef – the second-largest reef system in the world. Home to more than 500 species of marine life, this UNESCO-listed site is something of a paradise for divers and snorkellers, with nurse sharks, hammerheads, manta rays, parrotfish and turtles among the creatures to spot darting between its rainbow-coloured corals and kaleidoscopic sponges.

The tiny, quintessentially Caribbean island of Caye Caulker is one of the best spots to explore the reef from, while the Placencia Peninsula offers a quieter alternative with canyons, atolls, and cayes offering shallow waters ideal for beginner divers. But for the real pièce de résistance, head to the Great Blue Hole. Formed from a limestone cave which collapsed and flooded following the last ice age, this giant, cobalt sinkhole stretches 300m wide and 125m deep and is nothing short of spectacular. Oceanographer Jacques Cousteau named it one of the world’s top-10 dive spots in 1971 and it continues to live up to the name, with a purple, yellow and burgundy-red reef dropping into a huge, sapphire abyss; dive deep enough and you can still see the cave’s multi-coloured stalactites dangling down like giant cathedral spires. Alternatively, if you're not a diver, admire the Great Blue Hole from above with a scenic flyover as part of the Latin Routes luxury Belize itinerary.

Above the water there’s plenty more in the way of adventure. The Cayo District is home to some of Belize’s most elaborate cave systems – including Barton Creek Cave, where you can admire otherworldly rock formations carved like giant, melting candles and learn more about the ancient Maya rituals that once took place here.

Jungle activities abound too; head to Nohoch Che’en or Mayflower Bocawina National Park to soar over the canopies on a zip-line, or venture to the Maya Mountains in Cayo for some of the country’s best hiking and rappelling, set against a landscape of towering rock formations and tree-carpeted slopes. A myriad of national parks offer walking trails for all levels, and for the ultimate hiking adventure, there’s Victoria Peak – Belize’s highest mountain, offering an impressive panoramic view of forest and mountains for intrepid climbers up for an overnight challenge.

Indulge in some luxury alongside your adventures on this Luxury Belize itinerary with Latin Routes. Enjoy farm-to-table dining at elegant lodges, uncover ancient Maya history and wind down on pristine beaches.

...Stroll among Maya magic

Belize isn’t just about the adventure, of course; it’s filled with history and culture, with more than 600 ancient Maya sites – many still unexplored. Historically, its caves were considered portals to the Maya underworld, and today you can see their millennia-old relics, from ceramics, stoneware and jewellery to sacrificial skeletal remains; a particular highlight is Barton Creek Cave, a former Maya ceremonial site.

On land, you’ll find plenty more archaeological sites – especially around Cayo, Belize’s ‘Wild West’. Of particular interest is Caracol, an impressive cluster of stone temple pyramids which sits in the remote Chicibul Rainforest Reserve in the foothills of the Maya Mountains, and is easily accessible from the town of San Ignacio. Sprawling 77 square miles, this imposing site was once a flourishing city with a population of 150,000, making it bigger than modern-day Belize City. Today it’s home to 100 excavated tombs, alongside its central ‘Sky Palace’, which towers over 40m above the jungle floor.

Elsewhere in Cayo sits the site of El Pilar, Xunantunich – the home of El Castillo, the country’s second-largest pyramid – and Cahal Pech, one of the country’s oldest known Maya sites, dating back as early as 1,000 BC. Closer to Belize City lies Altun Ha, where the ‘Jade Head’ was discovered in 1968, marking the biggest piece of jade ever found in the Maya world (it’s now protected in a bank vault in Belize City).

But perhaps Belize’s most unique site is Lamanai – one of the longest occupied cities in Maya history, inhabited for more than 2,000 years and set on the banks of the New River Lagoon. Take a boat along the river to admire exotic birds, crocodiles and iguanas lounging on the banks, before reaching the site. Here you’ll find more than 700 mapped structures spanning the Maya Classic Period to the 19th century, offering a glimpse into the long-standing influence of this once all-powerful civilisation.  

Experience Belize's rich biodiversity and the mesmerising archaeological sites of Lamanai and Xunantunich on this Wildlife & Wonders itinerary with Latin Routes.

...Witness the epic wildlife

It’s not just millennia-old architecture that Belize’s vast swathes of rainforest conceal, of course; they’re also home to a whole universe of wildlife, with more than 500 species of birds residing in the country, alongside a myriad of land creatures, from jaguars, ocelots (or ‘dwarf leopards’), pumas and other wild cats to howler monkeys, deer and tapir (Belize’s national animal, often referred to as a ‘mountain cow’).

For some of the best birdwatching, head to the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary – an extensive network of protected wetlands, lagoons and creeks home to more than 300 species of resident and migratory birds, from jabiru storks to boat-billed herons, great black hawks to neotropic cormorants. Visit in the dry season (from February to May) to see hordes of wading birds who flock here to feed.

In the Cayo District, Mountain Pine Ridge is another birding hotspot home to warblers, crossbills, falcons and more, while the towering, 30m-tall trees of Guanacaste National Park in central Belize are something of a paradise too. If you fancy getting off the beaten track, head to the Toledo region in the south of Belize, where the award-winning and sustainable Copal Tree Lodge offers the chance to stay on a farm amid 16,000 acres of preserved rainforest.

Beyond birdwatching, Belize offers plenty more in the way of wildlife – and nowhere is it better seen than at Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, a 150 square-mile biological corridor that lays claim to being the world’s only jaguar preserve. Today the reserve is estimated to be home to around 40 to 60 jaguars, alongside howler monkeys, tapirs, anteaters, armadillos, kinkajous, otters and the country’s four other wild cats. It’s best accessed from the towns of Dangria, Placencia or Hopkins, with buses available to take you to the village of Maya Centre; from there it’s around six miles to the entrance (easiest by taxi).

Elsewhere, the Tapir Mountain Reserve is a haven for the country’s national animal, while the Community Baboon Sanctuary in the country’s northern coastal plain is known for its day-long soundtrack of howler monkeys. Embark on a night tour to see the forest’s wildlife at its most active, or cast off on a river tour to seek out monkeys, crocodiles and other creatures basking in the shade.

Explore the beauty of Belizean biodiversity, including Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary to spot crocodiles and iguanas, and the underwater wonders of the Barrier Reef on this Wildlife & Wonders itinerary with Latin Routes.

...Make a difference to the local communities

Belize Tourism Board

Belize Tourism Board

Belize is more than just its landscapes, of course. Visiting Belize is also about immersing yourself in local culture, supporting the country’s communities and learning about its people – a diverse mix of mestizo, creole and indigenous Maya influences.

Home to three main Maya groups – Yucatec, Mopan and Q’eqchi’ – you’ll find the biggest indigenous communities in the Corozal, Cayo, Toledo and Orange Walk Districts. The Caribbean coast is home to a vibrant Garifuna population; Dangriga town in the country’s south is considered the Garifuna spiritual capital, with dance, food and musical influences also found in Hopkins, Barranco, Punta Gorda, Livingston and beyond.

Latin Routes gives travellers a chance to connect with local communities by featuring a visit to the San Antonio Women’s Co-Operative – a Planeterra-backed project founded to support Maya women by offering them a chance to share their artisanal skills, while sponsoring girls’ education and training young people. A number of other projects have also been created to support and empower communities, enabling travellers to get beneath the skin of this proudly diverse country.

If you’re looking to truly immerse yourself in the culture, though, put one of the country’s many festivals on your list. Garifuna Settlement Day on November 19 brings live music, Garifuna food (think hudut, or fish coconut stew, and cassava bread) and historical re-enactments, while the Costa Maya Festival in August sees Maya from across Central America gather for traditional ceremonies, dance and song, alongside a hotly contested beauty pageant. But the most vibrant of them all is Carnival in September, when more than 20,000 visitors flock to Belize City to witness elaborate street parades featuring colourful costumes and high-energy music – marking a testament to the vibrant, energetic and welcoming spirit of this colourful country year-round.

Discover the highlights of Belize from cave and river adventures in San Ignacio to Garifuna drumming lessons and snorkelling in beloved, coastal Placencia on this Highlights of Belize itinerary with Latin Routes.

Why Latin Routes?

As an award-winning Latin America specialist, Latin Routes tailor-makes trips to suit, drawing on first-hand expertise from its team of travel experts. Experiences, excursions and accommodation have been handpicked from across the region to help you dive deeper into each place, providing everything from local guesthouses to five-star luxury resorts to create the right holiday for you. Guests are given a dedicated, knowledgeable Travel Specialist to take the hassle of planning, with help on hand 24-hours a day throughout your trip, and an English-speaking guide to meet you on arrival in the destination. Latin Routes is also a member of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO), and all holidays are ATOL-protected, so you’ll have added peace of mind.