Top 10 Must See Attractions in Belize
With hundreds of tropical islands, lush rainforests on the mainland, and an incredibly diverse landscape, it's no wonder that Belize is rapidly becoming one of the hottest Caribbean destinations anywhere. Add to the mix ancient Maya ruins only recently reclaimed from the jungle, a diverse population renowned for its friendliness and hospitality, and some of the freshest, most delicious food you'll ever taste, and it's easy to see why so many people are coming to Belize for a fabulous vacation.
Below are the top 10 places you must see during your Belize vacation:
The Belize Blue Hole
Once the exclusive domain of local fishermen, the Belize Blue Hole gained international fame in 1971 when French oceanographer and marine documentarian Jacques Cousteau visited the area and promptly declared the Belize Blue Hole as one of the top 10 best diving spots on the planet. A nearly perfectly circular hole measuring 300 meters (980 feet) across, the Belize Blue Hole is the location of a series of caverns that were swallowed up by rising waters at the end of the last great Ice Age.
This small island is easy to get to thanks to domestic air connections and water taxi from Belize City and Ambergris Caye. Popular for its laidback backpacker vibe, delicious restaurants, and beachfront bars, the island is small enough to walk around in just 20 minutes but features an entire world of colorful marine flora and fauna in its surrounding waters.
A 16-mile-long stretch of golden sands in southeastern Belize, the Placencia Peninsula is rapidly becoming the eco-tourism capital of Belize where golf carts and bicycles are the principal form of travel. The eastern side of the peninsula fronts the gorgeous Caribbean Sea while the western side forms a mangrove-lined lagoon brimming with fish and other species. Whether you're using Placencia as a jumping off point to popular destinations on the Belize Barrier Reef or simply as a great place to relax, the Placencia Peninsula is definitely a must see destination.
The Spanish name for the place (meaning "snail shell") refers to the winding circular approach road as the original Mayan name has been lost to history. Caracol is one of the largest Maya city-states to have ever been built, covering some 65 square miles. The main pyramid in the center of Caracol is known as Canaa or the Sky Palace and is still the tallest building in Belize, measuring in at an astounding 143 feet tall.
San Pedro, Ambergris Caye
Spotlighted in the hit 1986 Madonna song "La Isla Bonita", San Pedro Town is the colorful and eclectic capital of Belize's largest island, Ambergris Caye. Located on the southern tip of the island, San Pedro is a smorgasbord of restaurants, bars, and colorful buildings that regularly pulse to the sound and rhythms of festivals and street parades. Domestic air flights and water taxis from Belize City make it easy to get to, but you'll only need a pair of flip flops or a golf cart to make your way around this lovely town.
The only large Maya city-state that's original Mayan name has been preserved, Lamanai has been continuously occupied for more than 3,000 years. Located in the north of Belize in Orange Walk District, Lamanai holds a historical mix of ancient buildings, pyramids, and game courts alongside Spanish colonial-era churches and sugar mills.
The Belize Zoo
Less a traditional zoo than a rescue and education center, the Belize Zoo began life in the 1980s to house animals abandoned by documentary film crews. Today, the Belize Zoo is the only handicap-accessible public facility in the country where locals and foreign visitors alike can approach more than 100 indigenous species, including jaguars, harpy eagles, tapirs, monkeys, and crocodiles.
Continuously excavated since the late 19th century, Xunantunich continues to reveal its secrets to archaeologists. In 2016, a team discovered the largest royal Maya tomb ever discovered, a ruler buried alongside hieroglyph-inscribed tablets that detail the long history of the mighty Snake Dynasty that once ruled southern Belize and parts of neighboring Guatemala. The name for the site is Mayan for "Stone Woman" as visitors have reported seeing a ghostly woman haunting the site for more than a century.
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
Starting at the foothills of the Maya Mountains and continuing on down to the Caribbean Coast, the Cockscomb Basin Nature Reserve is a vast nature preserve of 150 square miles of trackless wilderness. Most famous for being the first jaguar sanctuary in the world, the Cockscomb Basin Nature Reserve contains pristine forests, wetlands, rivers, and jungle terrain brimming with colorful bird species, exotic plants, and wildlife.
ActunTunichilMuknal (ATM) Cave
Also known as the Cave of the Crystal Maiden, ATM cave was abandoned by the ancient Maya long before the arrival of the Europeans. As part of their religion, the ancient Maya priests performed sacred ceremonies in caves like ATM as they were believed to be gateways to the shadowy world of the gods. Having lain undisturbed for more than 1,000 years, ATM is a sacred time portal to the lost world of the Maya and contains many important relics, artifacts, and ritual items. The most famous attraction in the cave is the series of skeletal remains from bloody human sacrifices, including half a dozen young children whose heads were crushed. The Crystal Maiden is a complete skeleton of a young adult whose bones have taken on a metallic sheen from the crystals inside the cave.