Belize City is a modest-size coastal port city located at the mouth of the Belize River. Although it's no longer the official governmental seat, Belize City remains the most important city -- culturally, economically, and historically -- in the country. It is also Belize's transportation hub, with the only international airport, an active municipal airport, a cruise-ship dock, and all the major bus-line and water-taxi terminals. Still, Belize City is of limited interest to most visitors, who quickly seek the more provincial and pastoral charms of the country's various tourist destinations and resorts. Belize City has a reputation as a rough and violent urban center, and visitors should exercise caution and stick to the most popular tourist areas of this small city.
The Northern Cayes & Atolls
This is Belize's primary tourist zone and attraction. Hundreds of palm-swept offshore islands lie between the coast of the mainland and the protection of the 298km (185-mile) Belize Barrier Reef. The reef, easily visible from many of the cayes, offers some of the world's most exciting snorkeling, scuba diving, and fishing. The most developed cayes here, Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, have numerous hotels and small resorts, while some of the less developed cayes maintain the feel of fairy-tale desert isles. In addition to the many cayes, there are two open-ocean atolls here, Turneffe Island Atoll and Lighthouse Reef Atoll. Each of these unique rings of coral, limestone, and mangrove cayes surrounds a central, protected saltwater lagoon.
For those whose main sport is catching rays, not fish, it should be mentioned that the cayes, and Belize in general, lack wide, sandy beaches. Although the water is as warm and clear blue as it's touted to be, most of your sunbathing will be on docks, deck chairs, or imported patches of sand fronting a sea wall or sea-grass patch of shallow ocean. Also, note that there are still no large-scale all-inclusive resorts like those found throughout much of the rest of the Caribbean.
Southern Belize encompasses two major districts, Stann Creek and Toledo. The former includes the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and the coastal towns of Dangriga, Hopkins Village, and Placencia. Dangriga is the country's major center of Garífuna culture, and Placencia boasts what is arguably the country's best beach. Farther south, the Toledo District is Belize's final frontier. The inland hills and jungles are home to numerous Kekchi and Mopan Mayan villages. Hidden in these hills are some lesser known and less visited Mayan ruins, including Lubaantun and Nim Li Punit. The Toledo District is also emerging as an ecotourism destination, with the country's richest, wettest, and most undisturbed rainforests. Off the shores of southern Belize lie more cayes and yet another mid-ocean atoll, Glover's Reef Atoll. The cayes down here get far less traffic and attention than those to the north, and they are perfect for anyone looking for all of the same attractions, but fewer crowds.
Anchored on the south by Belize City, this is the country's business and agricultural heartland. Towards the north lie Orange Walk Town and Corozal Town. Both of these small cities have a strong Spanish feel and influence, having been settled largely by refugees from Mexico's Caste War. The Maya also lived here, and their memories live on at the ruins of Altun Ha, Lamanai, Cerros, and Santa Rita, all in this zone. This is a land that was once submerged and is still primarily swamp and mangrove. Where the land is cleared and settled, sugar cane is the main cash crop, although bananas, citrus fruits, and pineapples are also grown. Towards the western section of this region lies the Río Bravo Conservation Area, a massive tract of virgin forest, sustainable-yield managed forest, and recovering reforestation areas. Northern Belize has some of the country's premier isolated nature lodges, as well as some of the prime destinations for bird-watchers, including the Shipstern Nature Reserve and Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary.
The Cayo District & Western Belize
This mountainous district near the Guatemalan border has become Belize's second most popular destination. Here you'll find some of Belize's most beautiful countryside and most fascinating natural and man-made sights. The limestone mountains of this region are dotted with numerous caves, sinkholes, jagged peaks, underground rivers, and waterfalls. There are clear-flowing aboveground rivers that are excellent for swimming and canoeing, as well as mile after mile of unexplored forest full of wild animals and hundreds of bird species. Adventurers, nature lovers, and bird-watchers will definitely want to spend some time in the Cayo District. This is also where you'll find Belize's largest and most impressive Mayan ruins. In the remote Mountain Pine Ridge section of the Cayo District lies Caracol, one of the largest known Classic Maya cities ever uncovered. Closer to the main town of San Ignacio, you'll find Xunantunich, Pilar, and the smaller Cahal Pech.
Tikal & Guatemala's Peten
Just over Belize's western border lies Guatemala's Petén province, a massive and remote area of primary forest and perhaps Mesoamerica's most spectacular Maya ruin, Tikal. The level of preservation, restoration, and rich rainforest setting make Tikal one of the true wonders of the world, and an enchanting stop for anyone even remotely interested in the ancient Maya or archaeology. The surrounding jungles and small Guatemalan villages are easily accessible from Belize and allow travelers the chance to add yet another unique adventure to any itinerary.
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.