Between its inland jungle and barrier reefs—hailing as the world’s second largest—Belize has a lot to offer travelers looking to be active on holiday. Beyond the adrenaline rush of scuba diving, mountain biking or cave exploring, this Central American paradise also has a tranquilo side. You can slow down with a wildlife-viewing river tour, chocolate-making lesson or Garifuna drumming circle and rest assured that you are getting to know this multi-layered destination.
As of February 15, the Belize Tourism Board is requiring all travelers to apply for Belize Travel Health Insurance. The $18 policy will provide up to $50,000 in coverage for medical expenses, and it will also cover trip cancellations for travelers who test positive for Covid-19. Read more on all travel requirements and the Tourism Gold Standard Recognition Program here.
Mountain Bike Xunantunich
From border to border, Belize keeps active travelers busy. Sure, you can explore places like the ancient Mayan archaeological site Xunantunich on foot, but the more memorable way is via mountain biking a single-track. Several operators, including Project Expedition, offer half-day tours of this archaeological site.
Note that the trail rates as moderate and covers single-track and double-track routes, plus a river crossing. Tours start in the town of San Ignacio in the Cayo District of western Belize.
Learn to Make Chocolate
The Che’il Maya Chocolate half-day tour starts on the farm, located in the Stann Creek District. You’ll pick your own cacao beans, then learn about the growing process and all that goes into the handmade production, starting with grinding the cacao.
Yes, samples are included. Save plenty of time to browse the goods, from the 70% and 80% dark varieties of chocolate, plus truffles and cacao nib tea.
Spelunk in the ATM
Locals call it the ATM: the 3-mile Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave, found in the jungle outside the town of San Ignacio, brings together the opportunity to witness the natural formations and beauty of this underground environment along with artifacts and remains of the Maya civilization, from pottery to skeletons that have been preserved by the cave’s unique conditions.
Note that this guided tour—contingent on water levels—is physically challenging and includes hiking, climbing, navigating natural pools and swimming in darkness.
Experience a Mini-homestay
Two families living in Big Falls Village in the Toledo District own and operate The Living Maya Experience in which they welcome guests to a mini-homestay. Each visit can be tailored to particular interests but tends to include a walk-and-talk through the family’s garden of medicinal plants, followed by a homemade lunch that will likely include corn tortillas, manioc cassava, chimole soup or rice and beans—all of which you can learn to help prepare.
Cruise the Sittee River by Boat
We like the combo river tour offered by The Lodge at Jaguar Reef, a resort in the village of Hopkins. Start in late afternoon with a cruise up the Sittee River where you could lay eyes on crocodiles, a host of local birds, including olive-throated parakeets, bare-throated tiger herons and tropical kingbirds, and even Central American mammals, like the kinkajou—which looks like a cross between a monkey and a tiny bear.
Tack on the bioluminescent tour, and come dusk, the river lights up with the glowing pixie dust of these tiny light-emitting organisms. Guides will also point out the naturally occurring biolume in fungi and other things living in and around the river. Call at least a day in advance to book; keep in mind that resort guests have first priority.
Snorkel Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Departing from Ambergris Cay, this island classic gets you out on the famous Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. In the water, guests can happen upon anything from eagle rays cruising by to green sea turtles grazing on sea grass beds. Most tours will at some point also feed the nurse sharks, with as many as 12 to 20 crowding the boat’s stern. Though relatively harmless, do heed the guides’ warnings to enter the water to the far side of the gathered sharks.
Take a Beach Bar Crawl Tour
The town of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye is one-of-a-kind for many reasons, including its line-up of beach bars, each with its own dock—making it easy for boaters to tie up to tie one on. Local operator BlackSails Beach-Crawl organizes Saturday sailings that stop at a handful of local oceanfront bars, giving guests a mix of sea, sun and sipping on rum and juice.
Anyone can also DIY this bar-hopping tour by renting a private boat or simply taking the water taxi north to a spot like Wayo’s Beachside Beernet and then tour on foot, continuing on to Hurricanes Ceviche Bar and Grill, Ugly Duck, Sandy Toes Beach Bar and Grill, Gill E’s Pour House and wherever else the afternoon takes you.
Learn to Drum Garifuna Style
Warasa Garifuna Drumming School in the Toledo District town of Punta Gorda is the dream of Belize local Ronald Raymond McDonald, master drummer and teacher. Garifuna is the culture created by the merging of Carib and Arawak Amerindians in the 1700s. Today, the word ‘Garifuna’ refers not only to the language, a mix of Arawak, English, Spanish, French and west African languages, but also to the food, dancing and music of these peoples.
McDonald’s half- or whole-day packages include lessons in drumming as well as making the style of drum he uses, plus a group drum performance and Garifuna dancing lesson.
Scuba Dive the Great Blue Hole
For many divers, this natural wonder 60 miles off the Belize Coast is a must-do for the bragging rights. Jacques-Yves Cousteau hailed Belize’s Great Blue Hole as one of the world’s great dives thanks to its unusual composition. Some 150,000 years back, this spot was a cave until glaciers raking across the landscape caused its collapse, leading it to become what it is now: a nearly perfect circle stretching to 394 feet deep.
Because of its depth, underwater visitors need to be able to stay above at least 130 feet, if not shallower, which is why this is not a site for first-time scuba divers. Those holding a C-card can see the massive stalactites, as tall and big around as the visiting divers.
Fly over the Great Blue Hole
The Great Blue Hole tends to be a bucket-list item for scuba divers, but you don’t need to be certified—or even get wet—to enjoy it. Rather, you can book a plane ride through local operator Tropic Air to see the oddity from the sky. Private tours can be made longer to include more time over the reefs where it could be possible to spy eagle rays, manatees and other big marine life thanks to the impressive clarity of the water.