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(Or The Seven Wonders Of The World, Part 3)

It’s been a while since we delved into our mini-series on some of Lonely Planet’s top places to visit this year, but - as the saying goes - good things come to those who wait, and when it comes to Belize, this is an understatement! You’ll soon see why.

Cayes

Islands/keys/atolls - no matter what you call them, you can probably imagine just how spectacular a coastal stretch harboring hundreds of them is. Boasting an abundance of gorgeous coral reefs and rich marine life, it is - quite simply - heaven on earth. Some particular highlights include:

  • Ambergris Caye. The biggest (and most popular) of all the cayes is also a hot spot for tourists, thanks - in part - to the colorful clapboard houses, quirky cafés and chocolate (!) that make up the fishing village of San Pedro, which is also the island’s main town. If the idea of soaking up the sun on white sandy beaches, embarking on limitless water sports in the bright blue sea and hopping around on a golf cart gets your juices flowing, you certainly will not be disappointed vacationing here!
  • Caye Caulker. Affordable, low-key and filled with character, this tiny, ‘off the beaten track’ slice of land has your name written all over it if you’re after some adventure and/or place to chill. Despite paling in comparison to the picture-perfect beaches offered by Ambergris Caye, what it lacks in beauty it more than makes up for in bars, nature trails and water-based activities (more on this soon!).
  • Silk Cayes Marine Reserve. Featuring the popular, charming, sleepy fishing village of Placencia Peninsula. Tourists are drawn to some of the best white sandy stretches and clearest emerald waters in the Caribbean, fresh seafood, ‘The Sidewalk’ (a shop, restaurant and bar-filled strip) and water-based activities, such as swimming, kayaking, canoeing, wildlife spotting, diving and snorkeling.
  • Tobacco Caye. This is another sought-after spot for snorkel and diving enthusiasts, thanks to its location in a protected marine reserve. Which finally brings us on to …

Snorkeling/ diving

This one comes courtesy of the Belize Barrier Reef - the second largest coral reef system in the world after Australia’s, thanks to a whopping 300-kilometer stretch. It’s no wonder, therefore, that almost 50% of tourists coming to Belize do so for the snorkeling and/or diving opportunities - especially in the Great Blue Hole. A sparkling blue sinkhole synonymous with Belize and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it showcases fascinating geological wonders, such as limestone formations and a school of sharks! It’s so impressively distinctive it can even be seen from space!

The reef - which includes Turneffe Island, Gladden Spit, Glover’s Reef Atoll, Half Moon Caye and Lighthouse Reef Atoll (a haven for divers) - boasts an abundance of exotic marine life and over 100 varieties of colorful kaleidoscopic coral. This - in conjunction with other notable spots along the way, such as Caye Caulker and Hol Chan Marine Reserve - means Belize is - quite rightly - considered one of the top snorkeling destinations in the world. Come for the incredibly clear and sparkling turquoise waters; stay for the fascinating life beneath.

Inland wonders

There’s plenty to see and do here that’s not directly related to the sparkling blue waters, too. Here are just a couple of stand-out mentions:

  • Hopkins. The cultural epicenter of the Garifuna people, this sleepy village - which still manages to retain its seaside charm - has an authentically rich heritage that it’s desperate to share with you! Come here for Hopkins Day and Garifuna Independence Day, celebrated with drum ceremonies that last until the early hours of the morning!
  • Belize City. Acting as the capital until 1970, this once-fishing village is today Belize’s biggest city and commercial hub that still serves as the country’s cultural center today. Made up of Victorian buildings, a busy port, museums, a beach and the world’s only manually-operated bridge, it’s nice to get swept up in the hustle and bustle for a couple of hours!  
  • San Ignacio. This laid-back, friendly town offers affordable accommodation, easy transport and great food. It’s also an ideal base to explore the region’s forested nature reserves and ancient Mayan ruins. Which brings us on to …

Ancient Mayan ruins

After some rich culture, history and archaeology, all wrapped up into one? According to archeologists ' estimates, Belize was once home to more than one million Mayans and - as such - is packed with some of the most majestic legacy remains. Highlights include:

  • Lamani Archaeological Reserve. Surrounded by dense greenery, this ‘submerged crocodile’  - one of the largest archaeological sites in Belize - is also its most famous. The one hour New River boat ride - where you’re sure to spot all kinds of wildlife - is exciting in itself, and that’s before you even get to the actual ruins! True to its name, the site features more than 900 structures, temples, pottery, figurines and jewelery - many with images of crocodiles on - serving as a nod to the reptiles who live among its banks.
  • Xunantunich. This ‘Sculpture of Lady’/ ‘Stone Woman’ - which refers to the ghost of a woman believed to inhabit the site - was first explored in the 1800s. It’s made up of six plazas surrounded by more than 26 palaces, temples and pyramids, and once you’ve seen the ruins, you can then hop into the rapids of the Mopan River below, either by swimming, canoeing, kayaking or tubing. Best of all? It’s easily accessible by car, too! The perfect day out.
  • El Pilar. One of the biggest archaeological sites in Belize, but also one of the ‘newest,’ as excavation here only started in 1993. That means there’s lots here still to discover!
  • Altun Ha Archaeological Site. ‘Rockstone Pond’/ ‘Water of the Rock’ was a trading post, ceremonial site and agricultural center and is one of Belize’s most famous ruins. Today, you can explore two plazas, 13 temples and pyramids - one of which (the Canaa) you can climb to the top of for the most incredible 360-degree views - along with an impressive array of intact remains, such as pottery and pearls. A stand-out feature is the Jade Head - a sculpted mask of the Mayan Sun God.
  • Caracol. The largest Mayan city - and, indeed, archaeological site - ever excavated in Belize is not the easiest to get to, but the enthralling temples and breathtaking views will certainly not disappoint. The ruins also teem with wildlife, so you may well share your exploration with cats, monkeys and birds, too!
  • Caves. Intricately bound to Belize history, caves were used extensively by the ancient Mayans to conduct sacred rituals and ceremonies, and you can still access much of this treasure trove today. Actun Tunichil Muknal - the ‘Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre’ lies near San Ignacio and holds ceramics, stoneware and skeletons - including the best known ‘Crystal Maiden,’ an adolescent girl/possible sacrificial victim whose sparkling, crystallized bones are the result of calcification. Meanwhile, the Chiquibul Cave System is - at almost 540,000 square feet - one of the longest in Central America.  

Nature

Cool down from the tropical climes of the coast by heading to the lush rainforest, where you can while away some time among the incredible flora and fauna. Heavily populated with thousands of plant, tree and flower species, as well as birds, wildcats and monkeys - to name but a few - you’ll soon see why Belize is such a flourishing environment for wildlife. An impressive 40% of the land here is classified as protected, meaning if you want to be at one with nature, you could do a lot worse than Belize for your next vacation!

Food

Just like the varying cultures making up Belize, the food here is a melting pot of different cuisine, too. Rich, unique, spicy, colorful and intriguing tastes are on offer everywhere you go - the only difficulty is in what to choose!

Ease of travel

It might sound disingenuous - given we’ve just spent a fair amount of time harping on about all the incredible things to see and do - but, believe it or not, Belize is actually really small! This means that not only is it effortless to get around, but you will definitely be able to tick everything off your bucket list while you’re here, which is always a bonus when traveling!

Weather

With almost year-round sub-tropical climes, Belize is a worthy contender for a top vacation spot - even without all the other awesome things to do here! With temperatures barely dropping below 18℃, it’s pretty-darn perfect no matter when you come.

Seriously … what else do you need from a 2022 destination?

Book Belize

Read about the other best destinations for 2022 here and here