With the heart of a Central American country and the soul of a Caribbean isle, Belize is ripe for exploration. Ancient Mayan ruins are invisible amid lush, jungle-covered mountaintops, where toucans, iguanas, and howler monkeys roam. While visiting, hike rainforest trails, take a zip-line course through the treetops, or hop on an inner tube and float through spectacular limestone caves. The country’s network of rivers and tumbling waterfalls flows out to the Caribbean Sea, where the barrier reef beckons with some of the world’s best diving. Hundreds of minuscule desert isles are oases for those guests who prefer to do nothing more than sink their toes in the sand, where the land meets the sea.
There’s plenty to do within Belize 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 to Bannister Island, where 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. Mayan civilization thrived here 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 trek. More than 25 ancient structures are still intact. Climb to the top of the 130-foot-tall 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, and crocodiles.