The Best Things To Do On Your First Vacation To Belize

A playground for adventure-seeking nature lovers, this Central American paradise offers everything we want for a tropical getaway.

Scuba divers, fly fishermen, hikers, birders, and all other manner of outdoor enthusiasts flock to Belize for its wild spaces, from the rainforests and waterfalls of the interior to the cream-colored beaches and bright coral reefs of the coast. Unless you're solely set on one specific location, it's worth considering dividing your time between two or more spots to make the most of this adventure-packed destination.

In a place where there's so much to do, it's hard to start planning an itinerary, but here are some of our favorite activities to get the ball rolling.

Scuba Diving

Second only to Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Belize's living coral system is the largest in the world, drawing in 130,000 tourists every year to swim alongside its eagle rays, green sea turtles, and occasional West Indian manatee. Companies like Amigos del Mar offer day trips that take certified divers to outlying atolls, such as Turneffe or Lighthouse, to drop in on walls swarmed by horse-eye jacks, and cruise over patch reefs where endemic species such as the whitespotted toadfish nestle under rocks.

Serious divers can also make it the focus of their entire vacation by staying somewhere like Blue Marlin Beach Resort, which offers a variety of thrilling experiences, as well as an equally alluring "relaxation" package.

Swim with Whale Sharks 

Belize's Gladden Spit Marine Reserve, 30 miles from the town of Placencia, is one of just a handful of destinations worldwide where you can reliably snorkel with whale sharks—the biggest fish on the planet at up to 40 feet. The first full moon of March kicks off a bloom of Cubera snapper spawn, which the whale sharks come to feed on till mid June. 

Unique to Belize is the fact that travelers here can also scuba dive with this animal, which is not allowed most other places that this filter-feeder gathers. SeaHorse Dive Shop runs day tours that include gear and lunch.

Cave Tubing

It's like a water park lazy river, but instead of looping it's a one-way ride through light-dappled rainforest. Some tours include stops for rock scrambling and jumping off big boulders, as well as the chance to explore inside caves. A handful of concessioners, the popular Butts Up among them, offer this activity, each with their own twist. Regardless of which company you book, be sure to bring a drybag for your phone if you plan on documenting the adventure. 

Deep Sea Fishing

The same 200 miles of coral that is the Belize Barrier Reef also anchors a rich marine landscape that supports flyfishing, reef fishing, and deep-sea fishing. Thanks to the grassy flats off Turneffe Atoll and Ambergris Caye, fly fishermen can reel in bonefish and tarpon, among many others. 

Just inside the reef system, anglers can stay busy with snapper, barracuda, grouper, and jacks. Those looking to go deep-sea fishing can wrestle sailfish, tuna, and blue marlin on the line. Wahoo, dorado, and king mackerel are also in the mix. 

Go Fish Belize turns the experience into the ultimate day trip, combining Barrier Reef fishing with free diving for lobster and an afternoon snorkeling session. In between, a delicious BBQ lunch on a beautiful beach.

Ziplining

We love how ziplining in Belize mixes the thrills and adrenaline of speeding through the air with the calming scenery of rainforests. The interior has several companies and courses to choose from; our favorite is offered through Bocawina Rainforest Resort and Adventures near the town of Dangriga, a two-hour drive south of Belize City. The 9-run course spans 2.5 miles, with the longest flight stretching 2,300 feet.

Golf

Belize is not known for golf, but it's also not without a handful of courses. Caye Chapel Golf Resort and Marina, a Four Seasons private-island property, is home to the 18-hole White Shark Golf Course designed by Greg Norman. The course has limited availability to the public, with a green fee of $200. 

A second, more affordable option is the 18-hole Roaring River Golf Course just outside the city of Belmopan.

Yoga

This largely undeveloped landscape appeals to all manner of spiritual seekers—many of whom have launched yoga studios and resorts. On Ambergris Caye, six miles from the town of San Pedro, Ak'bol Yoga Retreat and Eco-Resort offers drop-in yoga sessions. Stay an hour for a watermelon juice and whatever vegan fare the kitchen has whipped up that day—or stay a week and work on simply getting yourself centered. 

Snorkeling

You don't have to be scuba certified to appreciate the beauty of the reefs—just don a snorkel mask and fins to gain access to a handful of shallow sites, such as Shark Ray Alley, Hol Chan Cut, Tres Cocos, and Mexico Rocks, where you'll likely encounter nurse sharks, stingrays, butterfly fish, and a whole host of colorful, tropical fish. 

For those who can handle a two-hour boat ride, the trek to offshore atolls, including Glover's Reef, is well worth it for endless exploration of shallow, easy-access reefs.

Explore Mayan Ruins

A trip to Belize isn't complete without touring Mayan ruins. Unlike the archeological sites in Mexico, those in Belize don't receive massive crowds—each one is a quieter experience, allowing you to more easily imagine what life was like centuries ago. 

Caracol, abandoned by the Mayans around 900 A.D., covers 25,000 acres and includes the 143-foot Sky Palace and a handful of other temples. The site is impressive by itself, but a visit is more memorable if you shell out for a tour, like a Pacz Tours day trip, that can fill in the colorful history—including the fact that warriors played soccer with the heads of their slain opponents. 

Beyond Caracol, there are seven more sites to consider: Lamanai, Altun Ha, Xunantunich, Cahal Pech, El Pilar, Lubaantun, Cerros, and Uxmal.

Food Tour

Wander the streets of Belize City or any town and you'll get to try local treats like the arepa—a maize dough snack typically stuffed with a cheese filling. However, if you want to experience a full smorgasbord of Central American flavor while staying on Ambergris Caye, book a lunch or dinner outing with Belize Food Tours

The dinner tour's 11 stops provide samples of dishes that show off the flare and flavor of Mayan, Mestizo and Garifuna.