Located just below the Yucatan Peninsula, this small country is a diverse blend of Latin American and Caribbean culture. Belize is more than just the birthplace of chewing gum. Formerly known as British Honduras, it’s quickly becoming a Central American hot spot. It often gets overlooked, standing in the shadow of other popular Caribbean destinations like Cancun, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. With its sandy beaches, sprawling reefs, and lush jungles, I’m here to tell you that it’s not going to stay a secret for long.
For our honeymoon, my wife and I took our most recent trip abroad in order to experience what the country has to offer. It’s a rather small nation so regardless of where you stay, you are able to experience it all and still find time to relax. The Mayan ruins alone are reason enough to visit, but you would be mistaken to leave it at that. Our trip included a horseback riding trip through the jungle, a bioluminescent river boat tour, jungle zip lining, waterfall rappelling, snorkeling in the barrier reef, Mayan Ruins, a Mayan chocolate farm, and caving in a historical goldmine of Mayan artifacts.
There are several options for day trips to the Mayan ruins. Our resort package took us within a mile of Guatemala to Xunantunich in the Cayo District. Translated, it means “Stone Woman.” El Castillo, the largest formation, stands roughly 130 feet tall and gives a spectacular view of both Belize and Guatemala. This particular ruin is easily experienced in a couple of hours. I will suggest that you do yourself a favor and do some reading on the history before you go and opt out of a tour guide. Our guide was a genuinely nice man, but didn’t offer much information that we couldn’t read on the signs in the learning center.
Horseback riding through the jungle was better than we anticipated. My wife and I were lucky to be in the country on the edge of the off season and which meant we had exclusive tours for the majority of our trip. Our guide was not shy about letting us control the horses and we were able to take them on sprints through the jungle. We caught glimpses of wildlife including the national bird, the toucan.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to see a bioluminescent body of water, you are missing out on a beautiful work of nature. Every movement causes the water to light up like fireworks. You can see fish darting in the water, and we witnessed a swarm of jellyfish create pulsing rings of light all around our ship. Our captain was not the best at explaining it, but it’s an effect on the algae caused by the ocean water mixing with the fresh water from the river. If you have the option of skipping the river tour and getting straight to the lagoon, you will want to spend as much time as you can playing with in water.
We stayed in Hopkins, which is a short drive from the Bocawina National Forest. Home to beautiful waterfalls and some ruins of its own, this park has something for everyone. The Antelope Falls hiking trail is a scenic uphill climb to beautiful views. Atop the falls, there is a series of cold, refreshing pools to swim in. The top of the waterfall itself offers you the option of rappelling straight down the front of it which was our preferred method of descent. Another popular activity in Bocawina, is zip lining through the tree tops. Their longest run stretches roughly a half mile, allowing plenty of time to enjoy the view.
One of my personal favorite adventures was snorkeling in the barrier reef. A half hour boat ride off the coast took us through some islands into a vast spread of coral. Again, it was the two of us and a guide swimming freely amongst the fish. It’s one thing to see exotic fish in an aquarium, but it’s a completely different experience to swim next to them, within arm's reach of sharks and sting rays. Sadly, we didn’t get to meet any sea turtles.
If you can only experience one thing on your next trip, go to the Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave. With a swim-in or rappel entrance, this cave is home to an impressive array of Mayan artifacts and human remains. During the rainy season, the journey requires a bit of swimming, but isn’t as tiresome or challenging as a lot of TripAdvisor reviews would have you believe. I’ve done quite a bit of caving and this place has everything you could hope to see and doesn’t require any army crawling through the mud. Massive natural formations give way to impressive rooms and tunnels. At the end of the tour you are led to what has become the resting place for literally hundreds of artifacts and bones, most of which remains untouched by archaeologists with nothing but a piece of tape on the ground separating you. The main attraction of the A.T.M. Cave is the full skeleton resting peacefully in a small room. The entire skeleton is present, though you can clearly see the cracked spine that likely caused their death. The reason I urge you to see this is because there is a lot of talk of shutting the cave off to the public in order to preserve the remains as best as possible.
One of the main attractions in Belize is the Blue Hole, where many scuba experts enjoy a trip into the depths of the ocean. We are not divers, and therefore were unable to arrange a trip for that, but I would have loved to see it for myself. Of course, while we weren’t on an adventure, we were drinking cashew wine on the beach, touring a cacao farm, or birdwatching with the locals.
The country is quickly becoming home to people looking for summer homes, and resorts are popping up as fast as people can book them. It’s currently the least densely populated county in Central America and I hope you get to experience it before that changes. For a taste of what it was like, check out the video below or head to OuiTravel.net to read what my wife has to say about it!
(All photos by the Wickershams)