Explore Belize: a pristine paradise in Central America

Step into a world of dazzling atolls, centuries-old stories and a laid-back lifestyle. This is the ultimate guide to visiting Belize.

What Belize lacks in size it makes up for in personality. Myriad rainbow fish, pulsating rhythms and outstanding archaeological ruins are waiting to be discovered in this tiny Central American nation. Belize demands attention from all angles, whether it be the exquisite coastlines and jungles or its rich histories that blend Maya, Mestizo and Garifuna cultures.

Comprising a jungle-clad mainland and more than 400 islands, Belize is a nature-lover’s playground. The country boasts hundreds of offshore atolls, sand cays, lagoons, estuaries, mountains and mangrove forests. From exploring ancient caves and remarkable reefs to dancing to the drum of Garifuna music, find out the best things to do in Belize, along with where to stay, what to eat and how to plan a safe trip in this comprehensive guide to Belize.

Belize blue hole aerial view
Belize’s Great Blue Hole © Adobe Stock

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Where is Belize located?
What is special about Belize?
What language is spoken in Belize?
Things to do in Belize
Things to see in Belize
Things to eat in Belize
Best restaurants in Belize
Where to stay in Belize
Best hotels in Belize
Belize map
How to get to Belize
Transport in Belize
Weather in Belize
When to visit Belize
How long to spend in Belize
Essential Belize travel facts
Belize safe traveller Q+A

where

Where is Belize located?

Belize is located along the eastern coast of Central America, south of Mexico and east and north of Guatemala. The country provides direct access to the Caribbean Sea and offers 280 kilometres of coastline.

special

What is special about Belize?

Belize is best known for its lively communities, wildlife-filled waters and expansive rainforests. It is home to the magnificent Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, which was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1996, making Belize a bucket-list destination for keen divers around the world. In addition to these drawcards, Belize is famed for its abundant Maya ruins that stand as testament to the architectural glory of centuries-old cities. 

language

What language is spoken in Belize?

The three main languages spoken in Belize are English, Spanish and Belizean Kriol. English-speaking travellers rarely face communication barriers while in public places as English is widely spoken. Kriol is a common language for Belizeans to speak at home.

Caye Caulker colourful houses
Caye Caulker © Adobe Stock
do

Things to do in Belize

Plunge into picturesque reefscapes 

Ready to encounter nurse sharks, giant jackfish, eagle rays and blue tangs (the real-life Dory)? Diving and snorkelling are by far some of the best things to do in Belize. The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest reef system in the world, extending 300 kilometres along the nation’s coastline. It provides an important sanctuary for threatened species such as sea turtles and manatees. Shark Ray Alley near Caye Caulker and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve east of Placencia are also popular snorkel sites in Belize. 

Your best option for witnessing Belize’s incredible marine life and limestone atolls is to hop on a boat tour that will take you beyond the coastline. Spend the day discovering the famous Hol Chan reserve, Shark Ray Alley and Coral Gardens on a full-day snorkel tour with Wanderlust, or set sail at sunset with rum punch and ceviche in hand with Liberty Sailing Tours. Most catamarans sail for around two hours.

Traveller tip: Make sure to use reef-safe sunscreen to avoid contributing to coral bleaching.

Shark Ray Alley
Nurse sharks at Shark Ray Alley © Adobe Stock

Travel back in time to ancient Mayan citadels

Tucked away in the verdant Belizean jungle is a constellation of captivating Maya ruins. Made up of temples, plazas and ceremonial grounds, these impressive archaeological sites represent the legacy and architectural genius of the Maya civilizations. 

Located in the Cayo District, Xunantunich is one of the most famous Maya ruins. Consisting of six plazas and numerous temples, including a 40-metre high pyramid from which you can view Guatemala, this site is believed to have been a ceremonial location during the Classic Period of Maya civilisation. Take note, you’ll need to cross the Mopan River by hand-cranked ferry to get there. 

More expansive but trickier to access than Xunantunich is Caracol, also in the Cayo District. Best explored by car due to its size, Xunantunich is one of the best things to do in Belize due to offering historical plazas, an astronomical observatory and the tallest man-made structure in Belize. Just ten minutes by foot from the centre of San Ignacio is Cahal Pech, the ruins of a royal palace, and an hour from Belize City is the ceremonial grounds of Altun Ha, where archaeologists uncovered one of largest carved jades of the Mayan world. To see what was once a major city of the Maya civilisation occupied from 1500 BC to 1675 AD, visit Lamanai in the Orange Walk District of Belize.

Traveller tip: Tourists typically spend one to two hours at each site. Join a Maya ruins guided tour to discover the historical background of these fascinating sites. 

Ancient stairwell at Xunantunich
Ancient stairwell at Xunantunich © Adobe Stock

Discover portals to the underworld

Belize is home to hundreds of caves that were once believed to serve as entrances to Xibalba (literally ‘place of fear’), the home of Mayan death gods. Visiting the mysterious Actun Tunichil Muknal (The Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre) near San Ignacio is one of the best things to do in Belize for witnessing remarkable relics from the past. Swim through a system of cave springs and stalactites before witnessing the skeletal remains of 13 men, women and children, as well as the sacrificial ‘Crystal Maiden’, whose skeleton takes on a gem-like quality due to decades of calcification. 

Other caves in Belize include the Rio Frio Cave and those along the Caves Branch River, all of which can be explored by hiking, canoeing or tubing. 

Traveller tip: Photography and video are banned in the Actun Tunichil Muknal.

Rio frio cave belize
Rio Frio Cave © Adobe Stock

Tick the Great Blue Hole off your bucket list

Perfectly cylindrical sites of sapphire glory (quite literally) only come by once in a millennium. Forged by geological forces more than 10,000 years ago, Belize’s Blue Hole is the result of ancient caves being submerged by rising waters at the end of the last Ice Age. The enormous underwater sinkhole is the largest in the world with a diameter of 300 metres and lies approximately 100 kilometres off the coast of Belize City. Taking a Tropic Air scenic flight from Caye Caulker or San Pedro for spectacular aerial views or diving its depths on a Pro Dive scuba diving tour are undeniably two of the best things to do in Belize.

Traveller tip: Only experienced divers with an advanced open water diving certification can dive the Great Blue Hole in Belize.

Adventure through dense jungles

The ocean isn’t the only natural wonder Belize has to offer. Hundreds of square kilometres of prolific forests teem with wildlife on the mainland of Belize. Zipline or birdwatch at Bocawina Rainforest, where the scent of fresh rain is ever-present. Spot jaguars and chase waterfalls at the world’s first jaguar reserve, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, in the Stann Creek District. Or, if you’re brave-hearted, cliff jump, rope swing and climb up a 39-metre waterfall before floating in river pools at Jungle Pontoon Waterfall Adventure in the Cayo District.

Monkey River Wildlife Encounters and Manatee Watch is a tour that allows you to explore a remote jungle near Monkey River Village, a unique ecosystem where the river and sea merge. The area is known for its black howler monkeys, manatees, crocodiles and turtles, all of which can be spotted while boating through mangrove forests and hiking the lush terrain. 

Traveller tip: Bring along a good insect repellent to help ward off biting critters.

Belize adventure white water rafting waterfall
Adventure sports in Belize’s rivers © Adobe Stock

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Indulge in Belize’s rich chocolate heritage  

Thousands of years ago, ancient Maya royalty and elites consumed and used cacao as currency. Known as the ‘Cradle of Chocolate’, Belize is believed to be one of the earliest meccas for cacao production with archeological evidence of consumption dating as far back as 600 BCE. The Chocolate Festival of Belize is an annual event that takes place in May in the southern Toledo District and celebrates the history, legacy and importance of cacao in the country’s culture – making it one of the best things to do in Belize.

If you aren’t travelling to Belize in May, there’s an abundance of artisan chocolate shops in Belize you can visit. Learn traditional Maya chocolate-making methods at AJAW in San Ignacio, visit the Belize Chocolate Company in San Ignacio or try traditional treats at Cheil Mayan Chocolate in the Stann Creek District.

Traveller tip: Some hotels offer cacao-themed spa treatments, such as warm chocolate massages at The Lodge at Chaa Creek

Belize cacao
Cacao is an important part of Belizean culture © Adobe Stock

Take part in Garifuna drumming celebrations

Feel the spirited rhythm of the Garifuna drum, an instrument that emblemises the resilience of the Garifuna people throughout history. The Garifuna in Belize are descendants of West African slaves who survived the wrecks of human cargo ships in the 17th century and eventually found a home in the nation of Belize. Garifuna Settlement Day, which takes place on 19 November each year, marks the arrival of these ancestors on Belizean shores. The festival is one of the best things to do in Belize, celebrated with lively drumming and dancing during the week leading up to the day, as well as vivid re-enactments of the arrival. Look out for the Battle of the Drums in Punta Gorda.

For travellers who aren’t able to attend Garifuna Settlement Day, Tours By Locals offers year-round Garifuna culture tours that provide insight into their lives and history of displacement over the past 200 years. 

Traveller tip: The towns of Dangriga, Punta Gorda and Hopkins are some of the best places for experiencing the Garifuna Settlement Day festivities. 

Explore Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve

Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve is an expansive nature reserve situated in the Cayo District of Belize. An abundance of meandering streams, natural pools and large waterfalls await, including Thousand Foot Falls (the highest waterfall in Central America), Five Sister Falls, Rio on Pools and the jaw-dropping Big Rock Falls. Pine trees replace palms in this mountainous reserve, which offers a cooler alternative to Belize’s many subtropical forests.

Traveller tip: The archaeological site of Caracol is located within the nature reserve, so it’s possible to check off both attractions on the same day if you plan accordingly.

Spider monkey in Belize jungle
Spot monkeys in Belize © Adobe Stock
see

Things to see in Belize

From beautiful lagoons and mangroves to historical sites, don’t miss these popular attractions in Belize. 

Best attractions Belize

  • Xunantunich ruins
  • Caracol ruins
  • Cahal Pech ruins
  • Lamanai ruins
  • Hol Chan Marine Reserve
  • The Great Blue Hole
  • Belize Barrier Reef
  • Actun Tunichil Muknal caves
  • Green Iguana Conservation Project
  • Thousand Foot Falls
  • Chaa Creek Natural History Center & Butterfly Farm
  • Barton Creek Cave
  • Río Frio Cave
  • Big Rock Falls
  • Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve
  • House of Culture
  • Museum of Belize
Lamanai in Belize
Lamanai ruins © Adobe Stock
eat

Things to eat in Belize

Treat your taste buds to an array of sweet and savoury Belizean fare found across the country. The best things to eat in Belize are often made with local ingredients and are tied to the nation’s complex history.

Belizean street food

Visiting the street markets is a terrific (and budget-friendly) way to experience Belizean cuisine. Try the succulent meat pies and pibil pork tacos or the delectable Johnny Cakes, which are coconut biscuits that originate from colonial settlements.

Salbutes

One of the most delicious things to eat in Belize is salbute, a circle-shaped, savoury dish made with corn dough. The fried, tortilla-like dough is usually topped with cabbage, tomato, meat and hot sauce.

Salbutes Belize
Salbutes © Adobe Stock

Panades

Made with a staple corn dough called masa, panades are fried, finger-friendly parcels filled with meat, beans or fish. If you like panades, you’ll probably also be partial to pupusas – masa pancakes stuffed with meat or beans and cheese.

Hudut

Hudut is a fragrant fish stew made with coconut milk and served with fu-fu (mashed plantains). With roots in Garifuna culture, hudut is one of the best things to eat in Belize.

Belizean fudge

Sweet-tooths should look out for Belizean fudge, which is different from regular fudge in that it isn’t chocolate-based. Instead, the fudge is made from condensed milk, sugar, peanuts and often shredded coconut or raisins.

Cassava pudding

Sticky, sweet and soft? Say no more. Made from ground cassava, a root vegetable, this pudding is one of the best desserts to try in Belize. 

Cassava root
Cassava root is a staple ingredient in many cultures © Adobe Stock
restaurants

Best restaurants in Belize

Discover Caribbean tapas at Shado Beni, Garifuna dining at Tina’s Kitchen and conch ceviche at Nahil Mayab. Here are a few of the best restaurants in Belize. 

Best restaurants in Caye Caulker

  • Shado Beni
  • Ice N Beans
  • Steve’s Grill

Best restaurants in the Stann Creek District

Best restaurants in San Ignacio

Best restaurants in the Orange Walk District

stay

Where to stay in Belize

Unsure of where to stay in Belize? For easy access to underwater marvels, staying on the limestone coral island of Caye Caulker is a great option. Visitors also often stay in Hopkins, a lively fishing village in the Stann Creek District known as the cultural capital of Belize, and the beach-lined town of San Pedro famed for its vibrant restaurants and nightlife. For lush forests and proximity to Maya ruins, choose a town in the Cayo District in Western Belize, such as San Igancio. 

hotels

Best hotels in Belize 

From beachfront villas to jungle-bordered cabins, these are some of the best hotels in Belize. 

Hotels in San Ignacio, Belize

Tree top villa © The Lodge at Chaa Creek

Hotels in Caye Caulker, Belize

Hotels in San Pedro, Belize

Lobby at Mahogany Bay Resort & Beach Club © Curio Collection by Hilton

Hotels in Placencia, Belize

Resort pool at Belizean Dreams Resort
Resort pool © Belizean Dreams Resort

Hotels in Stann Creek District, Belize

map

Belize map

how

How to get to Belize

Travellers arriving by plane will most likely touch down at Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport, located in Belize City. Flights departing from many cities across North America land here daily.

transport

Transport in Belize

From the airport, taxis, buses, ferries, water taxis and commuter planes can help you get to your accommodation. Travelling by local airlines such as Tropic Air is the fastest means of transport in Belize, and the schedules usually line up with the departure and arrival times of international flights.

Renting a car is not necessary for Belize travel, but may be a good option if you are staying on the mainland and want some added freedom when exploring the national parks and more inaccessible ruins. However, renting a car can be costly, so a more affordable option is to use the public bus system. Buses run between Belize City and the South of Belize and their timetables can be viewed on the Floriala website.

weather

Weather in Belize

With the yearly average temperature in Belize hovering around a pleasant 27°C, visitors can expect warm and humid weather year-round. 

The weather in Belize is strongly influenced by the wet and dry seasons. The wet season lasts from mid-May to November in the southern part of Belize and from mid-June to November further up north. Visitors can expect brief but intense rainfall and stronger winds as this period coincides with the Atlantic hurricane season. The dry season experiences less rain and humidity and lasts from February to April. It’s worth noting that the south of Belize tends to see considerably more rainfall than the north. 

Placencia beach with palm trees
Sun in Placencia, Belize © Adobe Stock
when

When to visit Belize

Weather-wise, the best time to visit Belize is in the dry season, with December to April usually supplying the most pleasant conditions. For this reason, this period is also the high season, meaning the attractions are busiest and the prices are highest. For cheaper hotel rates, visit Belize during the wet season. Belize’s major attractions, including hiking trails, waterfall treks and archaeological sites remain open during this time. However, it is best to plan ahead as some hotels and restaurants in Belize may close in very slow months such as October. 

long

How long to spend in Belize

Tourists normally stay in Belize for four to seven days. That being said, you won’t be sorry if you decide to stay there multiple weeks, with the country offering so much diversity. It’s worth noting that it can take multiple hours to travel between tourist hotspots like Caye Caulker, San Ignacio and Placencia.

facts

Essential Belize travel facts

Do Australians need a visa for Belize?

Australians don’t need a visa to visit Belize for thirty days or less. For stays of more than thirty days, you will need to pay a fee to get your passport restamped from a local immigration office. 

What is the currency of Belize?

The official currency used in Belize is the Belize Dollar (BZD). Payments in USD are accepted in many hotels and shops in Belize, however, you can expect to receive change in the local currency.

What is the Belize Dollar exchange rate?

1 BZD is equal to approximately 0.75 AUD and 0.50 USD. 

Is tipping expected in Belize?

Tipping is customary in Belize and is usually expected by most workers in tourism such as resort workers, restaurant staff, porters and tour guides. Typically, guests tip an average of 10-15 per cent of the service. 

Should I bring cash to Belize?

Most businesses in Belize accept card payments and this is generally the safest way to pay while travelling here. However, it is a good idea to keep a small amount of cash on hand for emergencies, market vendors and tipping.

ATMS in Belize

ATMS in Belize only dispense Belize dollars and are available in most major towns. They usually accept Visa, MasterCard, Plus and Cirrus cards. All four banks in Belize (The Belize Bank, Atlantic Bank, Heritage Bank and National Bank of Belize) have ATMS.

Do I need a plug adapter for Belize?

Belize uses 110-volt Type A and Type B electrical plugs. The two-prong Type A plugs (same as North America) are the most common. Tourists travelling from Australia will need an adaptor.

Opening and closing hours in Belize

Shops in major towns are typically open from 8am to around 6pm from Monday to Saturday. Some shops will close on Sundays, but most venues, including grocery stores, restaurants and tourist stores, will be open. 

Eagle ray in Belize
Eagle ray in Belize © Adobe Stock
safe

Belize safe traveller Q+A

Is it safe to travel to Belize?

Yes, in general Belize is safe to travel to. Locals tend to be friendly (especially if you’re polite back!), although some vendors may be persistent in tourist areas. It’s recommended to exercise caution in public areas due to the risk of petty crime. Don’t make yourself a target by flashing expensive clothing, bags or jewellery and be wary of your surroundings. 

Traveller tip: Make sure that you organise travel insurance before departing, especially one that covers adventure activities like snorkelling and scuba diving if you’re planning to take part in such experiences.

Is Belize safe for solo female travellers?

The short answer is yes. Most parts of Belize are safe to visit for female and solo travellers. Potential harassment may include cat-calling, but saying “no” firmly is usually respected in Belizean communities. 

Is it safe to drink tap water in Belize?

Drinking tap water is safe in Belize, although people generally drink filtered water. Using a reusable water bottle is recommended given that Belize announced a single-use plastic ban in 2019.

What are the emergency numbers in Belize?

For emergencies in Belize, call 911 nationwide or 90 in Belize City only. Police stations are found in Belize City and Belmopan City, along with some smaller towns including San Ignacio, San Pedro, Placencia Village and Dangriga. 

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