Belize has everything a traveler could want from a trip to Central America.
You’ll find great culture and food, incredible nature and wildlife, and vibrant villages each with its own personality. And because of the country’s small size and ease of traversing it, there’s no need to decide between the beach and the rainforests, the reefs or the caves, the parties or the peace. In Belize, you can have it all.
Plan your visit to Belize with this list of the top places to go.
1. Ambergris Caye
Best place to be among the action
Ambergris Caye is the top destination for visitors to Belize, with the vibrant town of San Pedro the beating heart of this unique island. This colorful caye has hotels ranging from budget to luxe, and classic Caribbean activities like snorkeling and sailing. Many of Belize’s best restaurants can be found here, as well as shopping and nightlife. Just about every kind of traveler comes to Ambergris Caye, including families, honeymooners, friends, and nature lovers. It’s a great hub from which to experience Belize’s water activities, and while you can make day trips to Maya ruins and the jungle, it’s more advisable to switch to an inland destination for those – otherwise, you will spend a lot of time traveling.
Must-see spots include driving a golf cart up to Secret Beach, eating fry jacks for breakfast at The Fry Jack House, and grabbing a glass of rum at Havana Cigars. As for things to do, snorkeling Hol Chan is one of the most popular activities in the country, but heading up north to Mexico Rocks can provide an equally fish-filled experience with fewer crowds.
Planning tip: There is a small airport that’s only a 15-minute flight from Belize’s international airport, and it’s easy to rent the island’s quintessential golf cart for transportation from there.
2. San Ignacio
Best hub to begin outdoor adventures
Adventure abounds in San Ignacio, a large town on Belize’s western border. The vibe here embodies Belize’s Central American side, trading beaches for waterfalls and snorkeling for cave exploration. Much of Belize’s jungles and land-based wildlife can be found around here, part of the attraction for many. There are also many Maya ruins nearby, like Xunantunich or Cahal Pech, as well as the famous ATM cave. San Ignacio makes for an excellent starting point for excursions, including to other spots down the coast.
While San Ignacio’s bar and restaurant scene is on the rise, there is still plenty to enjoy in the area. Head to Guava Limb Cafe for wood-fired pizza, and don’t miss the breakfast fry jacks at Pop’s Restaurant. The overall vibe of the town feels very local, with hotels the only spot where tourists stand out among the crowd, making the bars fun for anyone craving connection with Belizeans. Check out Soul Project at Old House Hostel on Wednesday and Friday nights to see local musicians and artists in action.
For those craving jungle immersion, book a stay at Chaa Creek to experience the luxurious side of nature, or go further into the wilderness at Black Rock Lodge, where birders feel right at home.
Planning tip: There’s no better starting point than San Ignacio for travelers looking to cross the border into Guatemala to explore Tikal or simply continue their travels.
3. Punta Gorda
Best place for off-the-beaten-path travelers
Punta Gorda is the largest village near Belize’s southern border, a spot largely off the typical tourist track. It’s where the country’s densest jungles are found, as well as a concentrated Maya community. This is a popular spot for adventure travelers, those who have already been to other parts of Belize, and people who like to be away from crowds. Though it’s on the water, it’s not too beachy, so keep yourself busy with excursions out to nearby cayes or seeing some of the lesser-visited Maya ruins nearby.
The town of Punta Gorda has a few restaurants and bars – mostly local – as well as places to stay. A luxury property called Copal Tree Lodge is a favorite among adventurous luxury travelers, with large rooms built into the hillside and an open restaurant area that’s often visited by howler monkeys in the morning. There’s also a rum distillery onsite – don’t miss a chance to see how Copalli Rum gets made.
Best village for a beach vacation
The coast of Southern Belize feels like what Ambergris Caye was like before Belize became a major tourism destination, but today Placencia gets the honor of being one of the country’s top beach destinations. This former fishing village has transformed into an upscale retreat with beach bars, top restaurants, and high-end resorts. Francis Ford Coppola’s Turtle Inn is one of the most desirable spots to stay, with design, decor, and a wine selection straight from the filmmaker’s mind. Three Iguanas is an excellent affordable accommodation option that’s right in town.
Popular excursions include taking a boat ride out to the Silk Cayes, or booking an inland trip with DTOURZ to explore the nearby Cockscomb Wildlife Basin – it even offers overnight trips to maximize chances of seeing the nocturnal jaguar. In town, visitors enjoy shopping along the boardwalk, relaxing on the sandy beach, and cooling down with a scoop of gelato from the Italian-owned Tutti Frutti.
5. Ray Caye
Best place for private island enthusiasts
There are hundreds of islands off Belize’s coasts to choose from, and Ray Caye is one of the best. The resort on the island is developed, has modern, clean lodging on shore, and an incredible restaurant. Visitors can either choose to stay overnight or visit for the day, though overnight guests will have access to the entire island while day guests are restricted to certain areas. It’s worth booking a few days at Ray Caye for travelers who want to get a sense of what it’s like to live on a Caribbean island, plus it ensures being closer to the reef than staying on shore.
The vibe here is very relaxed and you can happily hang around the island all day taking soothing soaks in the warm water. For travelers looking for an adventure though, there are excursions and activities to choose from, including sailing trips and snorkeling on the island’s reef.
Planning tip: Look out for yoga weekend getaways, when local yoga teacher Brice Dial takes over Ray Caye with a group for a few days of relaxation and mindfulness.
6. Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve
Best spot for nature lovers
The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve is an area in Cayo near San Ignacio with lots of options for those seeking experiences in nature. Though it doesn’t have the towering canopies of a rainforest, this unique ecosystem is still home to plenty of species of wildlife, including cougars, jaguars, acorn woodpeckers, eastern bluebirds and small critters of all kinds.
One of the best hotels in the area is Francis Ford Coppola’s other Belize property, Blancaneaux Lodge. This regal resort is perched above a river, though the onsite pool is a great place to cool off, too. The restaurant is highly-regarded, including by the British soldiers who do their jungle training nearby and stop by the hotel for a beer and a pizza.
Within the reserve, visitors can soak at Rio on Pools, cool off at Big Rock Falls, or book birdwatching trips and horseback riding tours. If you continue on to the edge of the border, you’ll find Caracol, a Maya ruin that remains the tallest artificial structure in Belize.
Planning tip: Though the main road has been recently paved to improve accessibility into the area, the volatile weather for which the tropics are known can still make renting a 4WD the ideal way to reach this spot.
7. Hummingbird Highway
Best route for road trippers
Belize’s most scenic road is the Hummingbird Highway, connecting the capital city of Belmopan with the southern villages. The drive takes you through the forested mountains, between orchards and Mennonite farms, with stops like scenic cenotes and the best tamales you’ve ever had along the way. Make sure to stop at St Herman’s Blue Hole National Park to cool off, and pull over for Ms. Bertha’s Tamales for lunch – the red-and-white structure is located on the side of the highway in Middlesex. You can’t miss it and every local knows where it is – the multiple cars surrounding it at any time are a giveaway to its popularity.
Because the Hummingbird Highway is situated between some of Belize’s other top destinations, it can be an ideal spot for choosing a hotel – and the options are excellent. Sleeping Giant Rainforest Lodge immerses you in the rainforest, with an incredible view of the canopy and beyond. Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Jungle Lodge is a family-friendly option that helped create Belize as an eco-friendly adventure travel destination and remains one of the best hotels for helping guests plan excursions of a lifetime.
Planning tip: It’s not necessary to stay on the Hummingbird Highway to enjoy what it has to offer – just be sure to drive slowly and carefully to take in everything as you pass through. It’s a unique part of the country that makes any road trip worthwhile.
Best village for culture
Belize is known for being diverse when it comes to culture, and one of the most unique groups in the country is the Garifuna people, who live predominantly in Hopkins, Dangriga, Placencia and areas nearby those villages.
Hopkins is a small, upbeat village with a long sandy beach that, while lacking in many modern trappings of life, is a unique spot to explore Garifuna culture. One of the most popular ways to get in touch with the culture is through attending a drumming lesson, which inevitably turns into a dance party. The Lodge at Jaguar Reef is a great place to stay in Hopkins, but there are budget options as well.
9. Caye Caulker
Best place for laid-back travelers
Caye Caulker is an island near Ambergris Caye, but with a very different personality. This is a laid-back place for backpackers, younger travelers, and those who like to go slow. One of the most popular spots on the island is The Split, a hurricane-created channel at the northern end. This is the perfect place to grab a drink, go for a swim, and enjoy Caye Caulker’s relaxed party atmosphere.
Planning tip: Head to Pasta per Caso, an Italian-owned restaurant with handmade pasta dishes, for a delicious meal.