What are the five best things to see and do in Belize?

Whether you’re on your honeymoon or traveling with the entire family, Belize’s beaches, jungles and deep waters are natural wonders that are relatively unspoiled by development. You’ll find an incredible array of activities to keep you busy in this laid back, friendly Caribbean-influenced nation. Here are our Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ five favorite:

1. Wander through the Maya ruins. With more than 6,000 significant Maya sites, it is practically impossible to go to Belize without roaming through a ruin or two. For some easy-to-access history, head to Altun Ha in northern Belize and gape in awe at the pyramids, plazas and jade artifacts.

2. Escape to the Cayes. If you have more than a few days in Belize, hop a short flight or take a ferry to Ambergris Caye, where the waters are crystal clear, the sand is smooth and the go-to mode of transportation is a golf cart. Though Belize is home to more than 200 islands sprinkled off the coastline, Ambergris is the largest, stretching 25 miles along the Barrier Reef. It’s the perfect hub for snorkeling, scuba diving (especially in June, when massive whale sharks migrate through the area) or simply soaking up the sun.

3. Go on a Rainforest hike. Whether you are up for a two-hour tour or want to blaze your own trail, a trek through the jungle is a must-do in Belize. To get the most authentic experience, stay in a rainforest lodge overnight in the Cayo, Stann Creek or Toledo districts. In the evening, eavesdrop on howler monkeys and singing tree frogs, and then watch the sun rise over the canopy in the morning.

4. Kayak on the Mopan. Slip into your swimsuit and grab a paddle. One of the best ways to see the Mayan villages is from the many rivers that snake through Belize. Maybe you prefer a leisurely paddle, or perhaps whipping through white-water waves is more your speed. No matter your ability level, most hotels offer guided tours and rent out equipment.

5. Dive into the Blue Hole. The most famous diving spot in Belize, the Blue Hole is not only a national treasure, but also a World Heritage Site. Located 50 miles east of Belize City, the hole-in-the-ocean is part of the Lighthouse Reef Atoll. Formed 10,000 years ago and visible from outer space, this 412-ft.-deep underwater crater is filled with stingrays, butterfly fish and barracudas. And what’s that overhead? Above the clusters of coral gardens and swimming sea life hang 100-ft.-long stalactites.

  • On July 6, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the best outdoor activities in Belize?

    Aquamarine waters. Emerald forests. Whether you’re a creature of land or sea, Belize has the best of both worlds. Here are Forbes Travel Guide editors’ top suggestions for outdoor activities in Belize (lounging on the beach goes without saying).

    1. Take a dive. The Western and Northern hemispheres’ longest reef, the Belize Barrier Reef extends for miles along the coastline. It’s home to more than 400 species of fish as well as 65 types of coral and a few shipwrecks. If you aren’t already certified, most dive shops offer reasonably priced courses, or you can snorkel Shark-Ray alley, home to nurse sharks, stingrays and tortoises.

    2. Saddle up. While hiking on foot is also a great option, you’ll see more and save energy on horseback. Jump in the saddle with a local guide who can point out birds, wildlife and exotic plants while steering you across jungle streams in the Cayo District or through the Maya remnants of El Pilar.  

    3. Explore history. Home to thousands of caves, Belize offers a wide range of cave expeditions for first-time spelunkers to expert explorers. Don a headlamp and hike, wade through water, climb ladders and rappel to find ancient stalactite and stalagmite formations, as well as ancient pottery and even some subterranean waterfalls. For a tried and true experience, try Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave, often touted as a favorite excursion in Belize, if not all of Central America.
  • On July 6, 2012
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    What is the best thing to bring home from Belize?

    Belize is not famous for its shopping, but if you must come home with more than a great tan, skip the touristy t-shirts and instead shop for hand-carved wooden pieces. Made from wood sourced from the surrounding forests, the whittled sculptures, bowls and statues are not only beautiful, but also support the local talents.

    If you’re not as interested in art, look for Belize’s most trusted name in condiments: Marie Sharp’s habanero pepper sauce. For the faint-hearted, stick with the mild version of this signature flavor. Feeling brave? You’re welcome to take on “Not for Wimps,” or, gasp, “Belizean heat”—don’t say we didn’t warn you.
  • On July 6, 2012
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    What are the five best food experiences in Belize?

    The country’s casual, anything goes attitude is equally applicable to its cuisine. The flavors vary widely, from Caribbean to Asian, African to British. Stick to seafood, or try it all. Here is Forbes Travel Guide’s short list of the best food experiences in Belize.

    1. Lobster. Belize’s buttery, lightly grilled fresh lobsters are a local delicacy, available during lobster season, which runs from June 15 to March 15. If you time it right, you can enjoy one of the country’s many lobsterfests held in areas such as Caye Caulker, San Pedro and Placencia.

    2. Rice and Beans. It may sound boring, but there is nothing monotonous about this dish in Belize. With its Creole twist, and influences ranging from Mexico to Africa, rice and beans in Belize contains everything from coconut milk to pieces of bacon to flavor the kidney or black beans. And if you see a bottle of Marie Sharp’s habanero pepper sauce on the table, don’t hesitate to reach for it.

    3. Food stalls. While walking through the streets of Belize, stop at the stands to try a range of local specialties. From escabeche, or onion soup, to cassava dumplings, it’s the best way to taste the Chinese and Garifuna influences found in the food here.

    4. Conch. Unlike lobster, conch is in season for most of the year except for July, August and September. Especially fresh on the coasts and on the cayes, you’ll find conch everywhere—fritters, on burgers or served alone as a steak. Squeeze a little lemon juice on top, and enjoy.

    5. Ceviche. Popular throughout Latin America, ceviche is also a staple in Belize. With the variety of fresh seafood, you can find ceviche of all kinds — snapper, shrimp, even squid. Served with hot peppers, lime and cilantro, this is one of the most refreshing dishes in the country.
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  • On July 6, 2012
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    Where is the best nightlife in Belize?

    You won’t find a raging club scene in sleepy Belize, but the country is home to countless breezy oceanside bars and restaurants, which often feature live music. If you're in Belize City, the Riverside Tavern is a local favorite known for its steaks. On Ambergris Caye, the Barefoot Iguana has become one of the hippest spots in town. While San Pedro is home to many quiet, casual outdoor spots for drinks, this is one of the only places where you can find local DJs spinning music. But the best way to spend your nights in Belize may not be at a bar: Stargazing and night diving are not to be missed.
  • On July 6, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What is the best way to see Belize in one day?

    As the capital city has little to offer in the way of attractions, spend your day at the nearby Maya ruins for a more memorable experience. Located about 45 minutes away from the airport, the Altun Ha ruins are home to at least 500 visible structures and several grassy plazas,.

    Head out in the early morning while it’s still quiet, then explore the mystical temples and pyramids. If you’re feeling athletic, trek to the top of the site’s highest peak, the Temple of Masonry, which towers 54 feet above the plaza and delivers a sweeping panorama of blue skies and jungle canopy. To get the most out of your day, book a guided tour, which will include transportation and lunch.

    When you’re worn out from the sun, head back to Belize City and duck in for a quick bite at the Wet Lizard. Enjoy a Planter’s Punch and some conch fritters as you unwind with the afternoon. Head back to your room to freshen up before an elegant Caribbean meal at the Harbour View.
  • On July 6, 2012
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    What are the five best places to eat in Belize?

    Dining in Belize is a dream. Fresh seafood, ocean breezes, sunsets—it doesn’t get more romantic or relaxing. These requirements are practically the common denominator. Beyond the basics, Belize has a number of top-notch restaurants as well as welcoming, simple-but-satisfying eateries. It’s tough to choose, but these are a few of Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ picks for the best places to eat in Belize.

    1. Harbour View. One of Belize City’s finest dining experiences, the Harbour View grazes the water’s edge, offering unparalleled Caribbean views and fresh, Asian-fused seafood staples.

    2. Elvi’s Kitchen,. For unparalleled island charm, head to Elvi’s Kitchen in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, where you’ll find picnic tables, a thatched roof, a sandy floor and the best conch fritters in town.

    3. Palmilla. Belize’s most refined dining can be found on Ambergris Caye, where chefs whip up imaginative meals from market-fresh ingredients. The unique blends of spices, internationally inspired cuisine and candlelit ambiance create an unforgettable, alfresco dining experience under the stars.

    4. Dit’s Saloon,. If you’re craving a laid-back, simple lunch, Dit’s Saloon in Belize City is a must-try staple. With its floral placemats and home-style cooking, the café’s character almost rivals its famous fried chicken, conch soup and heavenly baked goods.

    5. Habaneros. One of Caye Caulker’s most touted restaurants, Habaneros boasts an eclectic menu with far-flung Asian inspiration, open-air seating and funky jazz music.
  • On July 6, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the five best places to stay in Belize?

    A charming, sleepy Caribbean-fronting nation, Belize is refreshingly devoid of massive resorts and big name chains (for the most part). Instead, you’ll find plenty of inns and private villas tucked away from civilization where you can swing in a hammock while looking out at the sea. Take the kids, or leave them at home. Finding the perfect place to stay is rarely this easy. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s picks for the best places to stay in Belize.

    1. Turtle Inn. Film director Francis Ford Coppola acquired this quaint collection of 26 Balinese-inspired huts lining the beach in southern Belize’s Placencia just months before it was destroyed by Hurricane Iris in 2001. It reopened two years later, with the cottages recreated to capture the same bohemian charm they always had (while there are no TVs or air conditioning, the charming rooms are streamlined and chic, with fully stocked complimentary mini-bars and locally sourced organic bath products), and the addition of two restaurants and a spa.
     
    2. Cayo Espanto. Three miles off the coast of Ambergris Caye lies the luxurious, romantic Cayo Espanto. On a practically deserted island, the hotel offers private villas, swimming pools and personal butlers, making this one of the most intimate — and expensive — accommodations in Belize.

    3. Belcampo Belize. If you find yourself in southern Belize’s Toledo District, don’t miss an opportunity to stay in one of Belcampo’s 12 suites with terracotta flooring and a private veranda. One of the country’s most luxurious eco-hotels, the lodge lines the back a hill, built in the heart of a 15,000-acre rainforest reserve.

    4. Azul Resort. Spread out in a private villa at the all-inclusive Azul Resort in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. The 20-ft.-high ceilings, rooftop space, infinity pool, loungey dining areas and 400-ft.-wide stretch of sandy coastline at your doorstep are worth the price tag.

    5. Victoria Lodge. With just 42 rooms, this exclusive retreat on Ambergris Caye is a place to retreat to and check out (some rooms are TV free). The thatched-roof casitas are romantic and secluded, with four-poster beds and streamlined local hardwood furnishings.
  • On July 6, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    Where is the best shopping in Belize?

    Belize is not exactly a commerce capital of the world, but the many open-air markets and island street vendors are enough to quell the appetite of even the most zealous shopaholics.

    Though you can find a range of souvenirs and trinkets in Belize City, the best shopping is in the Cayes, especially in San Pedro, the capital of Caye Ambergris. In the heart of this sandy town where golf carts rule the roads, local artisans sell their wares on Front Street, also known as Barrier Reef Drive. It may be void of a mall, but if you poke around, you’ll discover all kinds of worthwhile finds.

    From handcrafted jewelry to ceramics to unique artwork, the colorful stores offer products inspired by Mexico, Guatemala and the surrounding islands. On weekends, when the street becomes pedestrian only, the crisp evening air and a Cuban cigar make for a pleasant stroll among the makeshift trading posts. Pick up some spices and hot sauces to take home, or find a wood carving to freshen up your living room.
  • On July 6, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the best things to do with kids in Belize?

    Practically a giant sandbox, Belize is a great place to bring your kids. Whether you take them to see Mayan ruins, to the beach or the zoo, Belize’s surf and turf won’t disappoint. Here are our Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ picks for the five best things to do with kids in Belize.

    1. Snorkeling. Though most upscale Belize hotels have a pool, why linger there when you could slip into the clear blue waters off Belize’s coast? With a little help, kids as young as five years old can don a pair of water wings and take in colorful schools of fish, turtles and even some nurse sharks.

    2. Maya ruins. While the history may whoosh above their heads, children will love to run around the temples, hang on vines and climb the staircases that make Belize’s Mayan landmarks a great family destination.
     
    3. Canoeing. Perfect for teens, canoeing along the tributaries of Belize offers an ideal mixture of enchanting jungle and peaceful village scenery. Tour companies tend to offer canoe adventures on the Mopan and Macal Rivers, both of which are perfect for a family paddle.

    4. Rainforest Trek. Kids of all ages will love the natural wonders hiding behind every corner of Belize jungles. From tarantulas to howler monkeys, the country is home to a wide variety of exotic animals. Assuming monkeys are the overwhelming favorite, check out the Community Baboon Sanctuary in Cayo for a wild outing with a knowledgeable guide. Otherwise, the Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve is also a popular pick.

    5. Belize Zoo. Jaguars. Eagles. Cobras. The 29-acre Belize Zoo is home to more than 150 animals spanning 45 native species. Take your kids to meet April the Tapir, Junior Buddy the Jaguar or Panama the Harpy Eagle for an excursion they’ll never forget.
  • On July 6, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the five best things to see and do in Belize?

    Whether you’re on your honeymoon or traveling with the entire family, Belize’s beaches, jungles and deep waters are natural wonders that are relatively unspoiled by development. You’ll find an incredible array of activities to keep you busy in this laid back, friendly Caribbean-influenced nation. Here are our Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ five favorite:

    1. Wander through the Maya ruins. With more than 6,000 significant Maya sites, it is practically impossible to go to Belize without roaming through a ruin or two. For some easy-to-access history, head to Altun Ha in northern Belize and gape in awe at the pyramids, plazas and jade artifacts.

    2. Escape to the Cayes. If you have more than a few days in Belize, hop a short flight or take a ferry to Ambergris Caye, where the waters are crystal clear, the sand is smooth and the go-to mode of transportation is a golf cart. Though Belize is home to more than 200 islands sprinkled off the coastline, Ambergris is the largest, stretching 25 miles along the Barrier Reef. It’s the perfect hub for snorkeling, scuba diving (especially in June, when massive whale sharks migrate through the area) or simply soaking up the sun.

    3. Go on a Rainforest hike. Whether you are up for a two-hour tour or want to blaze your own trail, a trek through the jungle is a must-do in Belize. To get the most authentic experience, stay in a rainforest lodge overnight in the Cayo, Stann Creek or Toledo districts. In the evening, eavesdrop on howler monkeys and singing tree frogs, and then watch the sun rise over the canopy in the morning.

    4. Kayak on the Mopan. Slip into your swimsuit and grab a paddle. One of the best ways to see the Mayan villages is from the many rivers that snake through Belize. Maybe you prefer a leisurely paddle, or perhaps whipping through white-water waves is more your speed. No matter your ability level, most hotels offer guided tours and rent out equipment.

    5. Dive into the Blue Hole. The most famous diving spot in Belize, the Blue Hole is not only a national treasure, but also a World Heritage Site. Located 50 miles east of Belize City, the hole-in-the-ocean is part of the Lighthouse Reef Atoll. Formed 10,000 years ago and visible from outer space, this 412-ft.-deep underwater crater is filled with stingrays, butterfly fish and barracudas. And what’s that overhead? Above the clusters of coral gardens and swimming sea life hang 100-ft.-long stalactites.