Because many travelers have limited time and resources, organized ecotourism or adventure-travel packages are a popular and efficient way of combining several activities. Bird-watching, cave-exploring, and hiking can be teamed with, say, visits to classical Mayan ruins and a few days on an outlying caye for snorkeling and diving, sea kayaking, and more bird-watching.
Traveling with a group on an organized trip has several advantages over traveling independently. Your accommodations and transportation are arranged, and most (if not all) of your meals are included in the cost of a package. If your tour operator has a reasonable amount of experience and a decent track record, you should proceed to each of your destinations quickly without the snags and long delays that those traveling on their own can occasionally face. You'll also have the opportunity to meet like-minded souls who are interested in nature and active sports. Of course, you'll pay more for the convenience of having all your arrangements handled in advance.
In the best cases, group size is kept small (10-20 people), and the tours are conducted by knowledgeable guides who are either naturalists or biologists. Be sure to ask about difficulty levels when you're choosing a tour. While most companies offer "soft adventure" packages that those in moderately good (but not phenomenal) shape can handle, others focus on more hard-core activities geared toward only seasoned athletes or adventure travelers.
North America-Based Tour Operators
These agencies and operators specialize in well-organized and coordinated tours that cover your entire stay. Many travelers prefer to have everything arranged and confirmed before arriving in Belize, and this is a good idea for first-timers and during the high season. Note: Most of these operators are not cheap, with 10-day tours generally costing in the neighborhood of US$2,000 to US$3,500 (£1,060-£1,855) per person, not including airfare to Belize.
Bike Hike Adventures (tel. 888/805-0061 or 604/731-2442; www.bikehike.com) is a Canada-based company specializing in multiday, multiadventure tours for small groups. They have several different offerings in Belize. Their 9-day tour will have you horseback riding, mountain biking, cave tubing, and either snorkeling or diving. The cost is around US$2,500 (£1,325) per person, not including airfare to Belize.
International Expeditions (tel. 800/633-4734 or 205/428-1700; www.ietravel.com) specializes in independent programs and natural history group tours. They run a regular 9-day tour to Belize and Tikal that takes in several of the major Mayan sites and tropical ecosystems, while staying in top-end lodges. The cost is US$3,900 (£2,067) per person, not including airfare to Belize.
Island Expeditions (tel. 800/667-1630 or 604/452-3212; www.islandexpeditions.com) runs various adventurous multiday land and sea tours around Belize. Kayaking the atolls is one of their strong suits, but they also combine this with inland adventures. These trips usually involve some island camping. Prices run around US$1,800 (£954) for a 7-day trip, not including airfare to Belize.
Journeys International (tel. 800/255-8735 or 734/665-4407; www.journeys-intl.com) offers small-group natural history and adventure packages around Belize, including trips especially geared towards families. Their 9-day family trip costs US$3,250 (£1,723) per adult and US$2,295 to US$2,895 (£1,216-£1,534) per child. Airfare to Belize is extra.
Slickrock Adventures (tel. 800/390-5715 or 435/259-4225; www.slickrock.com) offers a variety of multiday land and sea tours around Belize. They specialize in a sea-kayak and dive extravaganza based out of their camp and lodge on the private Long Caye in Glover's Reef atoll. A full week with these folks, not including international airfare, costs around US$1,975 (£1,047).
U.K.-Based Tour Operators
Imaginative Traveller (tel. 0845/077-8802; www.imaginative-traveller.com) is a good-value operator specializing in budget student, group, and family travel. Their offerings in Belize focus on the entire Mundo Maya, and usually also take in parts of southern Mexico and Guatemala. These trips range in duration from 9 to 31 days.
Journey Latin America (tel. 020/8747-8315; www.journeylatinamerica.co.uk) is a large British operator specializing in Latin American travel. They offer a range of escorted tours around Latin America, including a few that touch down in Belize. They also design custom itineraries, and often have excellent deals on airfare.
Belize-Based Tour Operators
Because many U.S.-based companies subcontract portions of their tours to established Belizean companies, some travelers like to set up their tours directly with these companies, thereby cutting out the middleman. While that means these packages are often less expensive than those offered by U.S. companies, it doesn't mean they are cheap. You're still paying for the convenience of having all your arrangements handled for you.
There are scores of tour agencies in Belize City and at all of the major tourist destinations around the country that offer a plethora of adventure options. These agencies, and the tour desks at most hotels, can arrange everything from cave tubing to Mayan ruins tours to scuba diving and snorkeling. While it's generally quite easy to arrange most of these popular tours and adventures at the spur of the moment during your vacation, some are offered only when there are enough interested people or on set dates. If you have a very specialized tour or activity in mind, it pays to contact the hotel you will be staying at or a few of the companies listed here before you leave home to find out what they might be doing when you arrive.
Belize Trips (tel. 610-1923 or 223-0376; www.belize-trips.com) is the place to come to set up a custom tour. Owner and longtime resident Katie Valk is extremely knowledgeable, friendly, and responsive.
Destination Belize (tel. 523-4018; www.destinationsbelize.com) is an excellent Belize-based company specializing in creating custom itineraries and tours.
Discovery Expeditions (tel. 223-0748; www.discoverybelize.com) is a long-standing and well-respected Belizean company with a broad offering of soft adventure and natural history tours.
S & L Travel & Tours (tel. 227-7593; www.sltravelbelize.com) is one of the original tour operators in Belize, with nearly 30 years of experience in both adventure and regular tours. It's still one of the best, with excellent on-staff guides and a good working relationship with all the hotels.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.