Squashed between Mexico and Guatemala in the luxuriantly green heart of Central America, Belize's natural beauty is staggering for a country of such tiny proportions. Whether you plan to hike the rainforest-draped mountains of Cockscomb Basin, scuba dive with sharks and kaleidoscopic fish in the world's second longest barrier reef, or unearth Mayan pyramids in jungly Caracol -- the toughest challenge, as every first-time visitor will tell you, is deciding what to do first.
Things to Do
Belize's cay-dotted barrier reef is a scuba-diving magnet, with the best action around Glover's Reef Atoll and Hol Chan Marine Reserve's famous Shark and Stingray Alley. Active types go caving in the limestone Cayo District, spot storks and kingfishers in Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary's wetlands, and hike Cockscomb Basin Forest Reserve's mountains, home to endangered jaguars. Get in tune with the mysterious Mayan cosmos clambering over Caracol's jungle-draped pyramids to the backbeat of howler monkeys.
Join cruise ship daytrippers in Belize City, browsing for art and Mayan-inspired jewelry at Fort Street or handicrafts like authentic stone and wood carvings at the National Handicraft Center. Laid-back shoppers pick up ceramics and bamboo crafts in San Pedro and Placencia. Buy a bottle of the ubiquitous Marie Sharp's Belizean Heat hot sauce for a lingering taste of Belize.
Nightlife and Entertainment
Belize is more famous for its raucous wildlife than nightlife, with its atolls attracting torch-bearing night divers. San Pedro is the exception with a string of beachfront cocktail bars and pumping clubs. Place your bets on where the chicken will make its next "drop" at crazy Pier Lounge at Wednesday night's Chicken Drop game. There's gambling of a more glamorous kind at Belize City's Princess Hotel Casino. Placencia's barefoot bars are a relaxed place to kick back and try Belize's homegrown seaweed shake.
Restaurants and Dining
Belize's food is a cavalcade of Caribbean, African and Mayan influences. Fort George in Belize City is the place to dine alfresco as the sun sets over the waterfront, peppered with restaurants serving crispy conch fritters and fusion cuisine. Stroll nearby Barracks Road for spicy fare from Jamaican jerk to tandoori specialties. For candlelit romance, cocktails and creative food, there is San Pedro, where much-loved Elvi's Kitchen rustles up a feast of crab claws and freshwater lobster.