Belize Is Home to One of the World's Largest Reefs — Here's How to Plan an Unforgettable Trip

Consider this your ultimate Belize guide, including when to go, where to stay, and what to do.

Aerial view of the coastline on Caye Caulker Island in Belize.
Photo: Getty Images

From mangrove swamps to mountains, jungles, beaches, rainforests, and wildlife, Belize is known for its biodiversity. Ancient Mayan ruins, remote islands, waterfalls, and the world's second largest barrier reef attract visitors to the country's natural beauty.

English is the official language of Belize, and visitors will also hear the local Kriol language spoken. Once called British Honduras, the country's name was changed in 1973, and it became fully independent in 1981. U.S. dollars are widely accepted, and currently, two Belizean dollars is equivalent to one U.S. dollar. Flights arrive in the main airport near Belize City, and from there, visitors reach their destinations by local flights, boat, or vehicle.

A view of a wooden pier with a bungalow at sunset in the Caribbean.
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Where Is Belize?

Located on Central America's northeastern coast just south of Mexico, Belize borders the Caribbean Sea and consists of a diverse mainland area and about 450 islands called "cays" or "cayes" (pronounced "keys"). Belize is home to the largest cave system in Central America and the Belize Barrier Reef, the second largest coral reef in the world.

Best Times to Go to Belize

While the climate is comfortable year-round, weather varies by region with heaviest rain in the south and jungle areas. Rain is lightest in the north and on the cays. In general, the best time to visit in terms of weather is from late November through April/May. The driest months are February through May. The rainiest months are August through October, but those who don't mind the weather will find lower prices, abundant wildlife, and flowers in bloom.

Things to Do in Belize

Visitors from around the world flock to Belize to snorkel or dive in the crystal-clear water and explore the coral formations, marine life, and astounding beauty of the Belize Barrier reef and the Great Blue Hole. Book a day trip to experience the Great Blue Hole, about 45 miles from the mainland. If snorkeling is more your style, or if you just want to spend part of a day at sea, a trip to Hol Chan Marine Reserve also offers snorkeling and diving among an array of tropical fish, sharks, rays, and sea turtles. Belize Pro Dive Center on Ambergris Caye is one of several companies that provide equipment rentals, guides, instruction, and boat trips for visitors.

Fans of history and archaeology will want to visit ancient Mayan ruins and temples, where trained guides provide tours at many of the sites. You can explore on your own to see what you can discover, but an organized group tour will make transportation easier, especially for first timers. Belize Tours Unlimited offers a guided tour to Xunantunich departing from Belize City hotels.

Feeling adventurous? Dig a bit deeper into Mayan history on a tour of Actun Tunichil Muknal that includes hiking and wading into tunnels, passageways, and caves with an experienced guide from MayaWalk Tours. They also offer an excursion to Caracol, once a major Mayan city, south of San Ignacio near the border of Guatemala.

The sea around the cayes is teeming with all kinds of fish — a dream for fans of fishing — and it's easy to find a fishing excursion or boat captain with all the necessary equipment and local knowledge. Sun, Sea, and Family Tours in San Pedro Town on Ambergris Caye will take visitors on full or half-day fishing or sightseeing trips.

You can explore the mainland jungle on the Macal River passing wildlife, villages, and lush gardens as you paddle a canoe on a guided trip with Unlocking Belize. For another jungle adventure, soar over the rainforest canopy on a zip line tour.

If you're one of the millions of birdwatchers or if, like many, you took up the hobby during the pandemic shutdown, you'll love "birding" in Belize where nearly 600 species make their home. Paradise Expeditions offers expert guides for exploring birds in Belize with a variety of tours on the mainland and cayes.

With more than 200 miles of coastline on the Caribbean in addition to the shores of the cayes, beaches are plentiful in Belize, and you won't want to miss a chance to splash and swim in the warm Caribbean Sea. Hang with the locals for all-day music, food, and drinks at the Secret Beach on Ambergris Caye, where everyone seems to know the secret. On the way, drop in to The Truck Stop, a food park set in colorful shipping containers with outdoor games, a pool, beer garden, music, and nighttime movies.

What Is Belize's Great Blue Hole?

The Great Blue Hole off the coast of Belize is seen from a helicopter on a lovely spring day.
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Known to divers around the world, the Great Blue Hole is part of the Belize Barrier Reef System located about 45 miles off the mainland of Belize. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the circular-shaped Blue Hole gets its rich color from its depth which reaches more than 400 feet at its deepest point.Geological formations and a variety of coral, tropical fish, sharks, shrimp, and unique marine life are the attractions. French explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau called it one of the top 10 dive sites in the world.

Where to Stay in Belize

Alaia Belize

This luxury property features spacious guest rooms, suites, and three-bedroom beachfront villas. Amenities include a spa, three restaurants, and three pools, including a rooftop pool and lounge. The Dive Shop is conveniently located on the property's beach, and San Pedro's shops and restaurants are a short walk or golf cart ride away.

Turneffe Island Resort

Turneffe Island Resort near Belize
Courtesy of Turneffe Island Resort

This luxury resort, a favorite with travelers who love fishing, diving, and snorkeling, is set on a 14-acre private island about 30 miles southeast of Belize City. Guests arrive by boat or helicopter from the international airport where they're met by a resort representative. A variety of guest rooms and beachfront villas are available.

Matachica Resort & Spa

Located five miles north of San Pedro Town, adults-only (16 and older) Matachica offers 32 individual casitas, villas, bungalows, and suites with sea and garden views, thatched roofs, patios, and hammocks. On-site activities include spa treatments, kayaking, snorkeling, and biking, and the resort will arrange excursions and tours.

Turneffe Flats

This eco-tourism resort is known for some of the best saltwater fishing, diving, and snorkeling in Belize's largest marine reserve in the Caribbean. Family-owned for more than 35 years, the resort offers air-conditioned accommodations, naturalist guides, eco-tours, and educational activities.

Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort

This secluded boutique resort is located on the beach along the Caribbean on the Belize mainland. Accommodations include beachfront suites and spacious tree house rooms set in the coastal forest. Relax by the pool, explore the sea, or arrange inland tours through the Adventure Center.

Cayo Espanto

Set on its own private four-acre island off San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, Cayo Espanto offers luxury beachfront one and two-bedroom villas as well as an overwater bungalow with a private dock. Gourmet dining with world-class wines, spa, fishing, diving, water sports, birdwatching, jungle adventures, and Belize tours are part of the experience.

Blancaneaux Lodge

Interior of Blancaneaux Lodge
Courtesy of Blancaneaux Lodge

This luxury boutique hideaway hotel is set in western Belize in the 107,000-acre Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve among tropical trees, shrubs, waterfalls, and jungle. Twenty elegant accommodations include cabanas, villas, and the ultra-luxe two-bedroom Coppola Villa with dramatic views and full-time attendant. Montagna features Italian cuisine, and poolside and garden dining are also available.

Manta Island Resort

Set on a 12-acre private island about 36 miles off the southern coast of Belize, the resort offers nine oceanfront cabanas and three two-bedroom villas. The all-inclusive package includes meals, beverages, airport and boat transfers, water sport gear, and snorkeling tours. The resort is a "sister property" of Belizean Dreams Resort as well as adults-only Coco Plum Island Resort and Laru Beya Resort.

Royal Palm Island

This private island resort is less than nine miles from Belize City, accessible by boat. Accommodations are luxurious one and two-bedroom air-conditioned cottages with private palapas and kitchenettes. Three meals, beverages, snorkeling equipment, and use of jacuzzi are included, and spa treatments, excursions, and Belize tours are available.

Bocawina Rainforest Resort

Located in the heart of the Maya Mountains in a tropical rainforest, this eco-lodge is the only resort inside a national park in Belize. Your stay includes meals, snacks, and cultural experiences like chocolate making. Guests have access to adventures like Belize's longest canopy zip line, waterfall rappelling and ropes courses, guided birding, and more.

The Lodge at Chaa Creek

This eco-lodge is located along the Macal River in the foothills of the Maya Mountains about two hours southwest of Belize City. Accommodations include budget-friendly eco-pods, cottages, garden or tree-top suites, and villas with private plunge pools. There's a spa, horse stables, organic farm, and Natural History Center.

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