Cruise ships drop anchor in the harbor of Belize City and guests are tendered to shore, where a new Tourism Village awaits.
While Belize City is the country’s largest city, it resembles a quaint Caribbean town rather than a Central American metropolis. Shipwrecked British sailors founded the city, and colonial-era buildings still line the streets. St. John’s Cathedral, a remnant of the early period, is the oldest standing Anglican church in Central America. The city is divided in two by a bridge at the mouth of Hanover Creek; the world’s only functioning manually operated swing bridge connects the two sides.
There’s plenty to do within the city itself, but the most captivating wonders are just an excursion away. Take advantage of Belize’s unspoiled nature at the Baboon Sanctuary, or take the zip-line tour through the rainforest.
For fun in the sun, look no further than Bannister Island; swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and volleyball await. Sink into the sand and take pleasure in a lazy day on the beach while sipping a frozen cocktail from one of the island’s three bars. A trip to the Nohoch Che’en Reserve will quench any thirst for adventure.
Don’t miss the chance to explore Belize’s Mayan ruins. Mayan civilization thrived in Belize for more than 3,000 years before the British arrived. Between the years AD 250 and 900, the region was the heart of the Mayan civilization. Hundreds of undiscovered ruins are still hidden within the depths of the rainforest, but three sites are ready for exploration: Altun Ha, Lamanai, and Xunantunich.
Altun Ha, the most extensively excavated of the sites, was once a major Mayan trading center. The famous jade carving of the Mayan sun god, Kinich Ahau, was discovered at Altun Ha in 1968. Weighing nearly 10 pounds, it remains the single largest carved jade object discovered in the Mayan ruins.
Unlike Altun Ha, Lamanai was still inhabited when the Europeans arrived in the 16th century. The ruins are surrounded by a dense jungle where giant masks depicting Mayan gods seem to emerge from the foliage.
Xunantunich (pronounced shoo-nahn-too-neech), the most impressive of the three sites, is about 80 miles west of Belize City, but well worth the trip. More than 25 ancient structures are still intact. Climb to the top of the 130-foot-high El Castillo pyramid for breathtaking views of Guatemala, and witness flocks of toucans and parrots in the canopies below. Also keep an eye out for the rare, exotic creatures that roam the jungle and lurk in the nearby river—jaguars, pumas, crocodiles, and others.
Some of Belize’s most popular shore excursions include cave-tubing adventures through the ancient Mayan underworld of Xibalba. Guests board an inner tube and float down a calm river through the largest cave system in Central America, where intricate crystalline formations appear out of the darkness.