21 Things to Do in Belize, Central America’s Smallest Country with Big Adventure

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Things to Do in Belize - A young woman with light skin and dark braided hair faces away from the camera. She is paddling in a kayak on the water in Belize.
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Situated south of Mexico in a quiet coastal corner of the Caribbean Sea, Belize is a utopia for warm weather-loving adventurers. The smallest (by population) and arguably safest country in Central America, Belize is delightfully devoid of glitzy commercialism and tourist traps. The country’s laidback, Latin/Caribbean vibe spans from its lush jungles to its turquoise-framed islands. It’s a place that welcomes exploration via every possible means on land or water, a place of profound Mayan history, endless underwater sanctuaries, great food, friendly people and tasty rum drinks. English is the first language (although you’ll hear Creole and Spanish, too), U.S. dollars are accepted nearly everywhere, and the Belizean dollar holds steady at a 2-to-1 exchange rate.

From transportation to eating and exploring, relaxing to soaking up culture, here are 21 can’t-miss things to do Belize.

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Things to Do in Belize - A photograph of a beach in the Belize Cayes at dawn. The sand is white. There are palm trees surrounding the sand. The water is smooth and the sky is pastel in color.
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1. Take a Water Taxi to the Cayes

  • Best for: budget travelers, boat people, families
  • Reservations: Not needed. The Belize Express takes hundreds of passengers several times a day between Belize City, Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker.

After flying to Belize City, there are two ways to reach the two most visited cayes – Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. To be clear, a caye (typically spelled cay and pronounced “key”) differs from an island because it is a flat land mass formed on top of a coral reef while an island is formed from continental plates or volcanic activity. You’ll need to take a taxi from the airport to the harbor (about $25 USD plus at least $5 per extra passenger) and then take the Belize Express to the rural and relaxed Caye Caulker (about 45 minutes and $21 per person each way) or the bustling town of San Pedro (about 1 hour, 30 minutes and $31 per person each way) on Ambergris Caye.

Things to Do in Belize - A photograph of the Maya Island puddle jumper. It's white with yellow and purple accents. It's parked on a runway during the day. There are trees in the background of the photo and the sky behind it is blue.
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2. Or Take a Puddle Jumper to the Cayes

  • Best for: bird’s eye views, couples, travelers with time constraints, fearless flyers
  • Reservations: Recommended. Choose Tropic Air or Maya Island Air.

The fastest and most efficient way to get from the Belize City airport to any coastal or island destination (San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, Placencia, etc) is via small plane. We are talking 12- or even four-seater planes, which bring an instant (and noisy) thrill upon takeoff and especially landing. It’s a cozy ship with only one pilot and a short ride, for example, about 20 minutes from Belize City to San Pedro. The sweeping views of the still sea and land below are a major bonus. One-way flights start around $87 per person.

Things to Do in Belize - A photograph of a green and white gold cart parked on the streets of Belize during the day.
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3. Rent a Golf Cart to Explore Ambergris Caye

  • Best for: families, island exploration beyond San Pedro, lodging outside of town
  • Reservations: Recommended. There are options everywhere, but it’s typically more reliable to book online in advance.

The instant you step into San Pedro, the bustling town that serves as the epicenter of Ambergris Caye, you’ll see, smell and hear golf carts. The gas-fueled vessels (no electric carts here) are certainly not the eco-friendliest form of travel. However, as many lodging options on Ambergris Caye lie outside of town and the island measures about 25 miles from its farthest points, golf carts are the easiest and most economic means of getting around. Most places offer better values for six day-plus rentals and have options of four- or six-seater carts.

Things to Do in Belize - A long stretch of dirt road in Belize bordered by trees and foliage on both sides. It is day time.
Jacobo Zanella/Getty Images

4. Rent an SUV on the Mainland

  • Best for: reaching remote lodging, hiking and jungle exploration
  • Reservations: Recommended. There’s a handful of options at Belize City Airport. Hertz is efficient and seamless.

While a regular sedan is probably adequate for travelers not planning to venture beyond towns and cities, once you turn onto the rugged dirt roads of the jungle outside of San Ignacio, you’ll appreciate all-wheel drive. While the majority of rental cars come with odometers measuring kilometers, incongruously, the speed limit signs mark miles per hour. Be prepared for liberal passing zones (none of which are officially marked) and a semi chaotic (although not terrifying) driving experience, especially in Belize City and more populated areas. The main thoroughfares are two-lane highways, but as you enter towns and other residential areas, there will be random (enormous) speed bumps in the road. 

Things to Do in Belize - A photo of a secret beach in Belize filled with white sand, green and yellow palm trees, and colorful lounge chairs. The sky is bright blue with clouds and the water is a mint green.
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5. Ride an E-Bike from San Pedro to Secret Beach

  • Best for: outdoor enthusiasts, cyclists, eco-minded and fitness-forward travelers
  • Reservations: Not needed, but not a bad idea. Breeze Bike Rentals.

While you’ll see beach cruisers weaving through the dusty “roads” on neighboring Caye Caulker, bikes and bike rentals are mysteriously few and far between on Ambergris Caye. Situated in the middle of downtown San Pedro, Breeze Bike Rentals rents e-bikes and beach cruisers, but the latter are a bit cumbersome on both the town’s busy streets and on the progressively rugged dirt roads as you pedal further afield. Go with renting a burly e-bike, which has fat tires and a full charge that typically lasts the whole day (rentals are $50 USD per day). Each rental includes a helmet, lock and backpack cooler. One thing to know about Ambergris Caye is that there are not many sandy beaches to be found anywhere. Secret Beach, on the bay side of the island, is an exception. A remote area of shallow, crystalline water, a water park and several restaurants with tables in the water, Secret Beach lies about eight miles northwest of San Pedro. The route becomes bumpier and more pot-holed the closer you get. You’ll pass lagoons where it’s not uncommon to see crocodiles (in which case, the option of motor acceleration is comforting).

Things to Do in Belize - A photo of a burgundy colored cocktail with colorful garnishes sitting on a red wooden table.
Sunset Palace Beach Club/Facebook

6. Hang All Day at Sunset Palace Beach Club

  • Best for: sunbathers, water lovers, kids
  • Reservations: Not needed

Situated in the far corner of Secret Beach on Ambergris Caye, Sunset Palace Beach Club is a great place to grab lunch, cool off, sun bathe and breeze around the surrounding water on a SUP. The place’s expansive sandy beach is equipped with shaded lounge chairs as well as picnic tables in the water. As long as you order something (just make it easy and choose a rum drink), use of the SUPs is free. Buoys mark the boundary of the paddle zone. The warm water doesn’t exceed depths of 3 feet and waves are nonexistent.

Things to Do in Belize - A young Black woman with hair braids and adorned in a neon bathing suit snorkels in the ocean and holds a large seashell.
Belize Tourism

7. Jump Off a Sailboat and Snorkel with Sharks

Ragga Sailing Adventures runs a three-part snorkeling excursion from Caye Caulker that is absolutely one of the can’t-miss experiences in Belize. A crew of local guides set sail with the group (ranging from 10 to 16) into the great blue sea, heading for the Belize Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which happens to be the world’s second largest (after the Great Barrier Reef). The first drop-off point is over the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, where you’ll swim around ensconcing yourself in the underwater world of majestic eagle rays, stingrays, a color wheel of fish and if you’re lucky, a sea turtle. Next stop is Shark Ray Alley, where you’re likely to come eye-to-eye with a sinister-looking (but mostly harmless) nurse shark…or 12. The last stop takes you through a massive, ethereal coral garden. On the return sail, you’ll be treated to a ceviche snack, rum punch and a cranking Reggae soundtrack.

Things to Do in Belize - An aerial shot of the Blue Hole in Belize.
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8. Scuba Dive in the Great Blue Hole

Once you fall in love with the Finding Nemo-esque underwater world that exists within this turquoise sea, you may want to go deeper. If you’re visiting for four days or more, you just might go for an open water certification or one of many classes, tours or excursions. In San Pedro, Chuck and Robbie’s Dive Shop leads every type of certification course as well as daily tours to the Barrier Reef and night dives. Scuba School and Family Dive Center also takes extended journeys out to the Great Blue Hole—a perfectly circular marine cavern that measures more than 400 feet deep.

Things to Do in Belize - People adorned in helmets get ready to enter ATM Cave in Belize. It is surrounded by water and trees.
Belize Tourism

9. Take a Tour Through the ATM Cave

  • Best for: thrill seekers, history buffs, Indiana Jones wannabes
  • Reservations: Recommended. Belize Nature Travel

If there was a single highlight, a standout thing to do Belize, this is the one. Lying about 45 minutes outside of San Ignacio, the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave is an archaeological wonderland of ancient Mayan ceramics, stoneware and human sacrifices. That’s right, you’ll see actual, 1,300-year-old skeletons. To get there, you’ll have to swim and slosh through the river that runs throughout the cave. It’s a spectacular adventure that will make you feel like Indiana Jones or one of the kids in The Goonies.

Things to Do in Belize - A photo of cascading waterfalls and pools at Rio On Pools in Belize.
Belize Tourism

10. Take a Hike and Swim at Rio On Pools

  • Best for: picnics, families, splashing, exploring
  • Reservations: Not needed

Situated about 47 miles south of San Ignacio in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest, the Rio On Pools are a number of small pools tucked into granite craters and waterfalls running over boulders along the Rio On River. Reaching them involves hiking down a trail and a long, steep staircase. It’s a magnificent spot for splashing around, boulder hopping, sunbathing and picnics.

Things to Do in Belize - A photo of the quaint beach at Sweet Songs Jungle Lodge. It features a sandy beach surrounded by trees and foliage.
Sweet Songs Jungle Lodge

11. Spend a Couple Nights at the Sweet Songs Jungle Lodge

There aren’t many beaches in the jungle, but Sweet Songs Jungle Lodge has an inviting, sandy spit of land on its property, located on the Macal River. To get there, you must drive up a steep dirt road in the Cayo District jungle about 15 miles from San Ignacio. Visitors of The Jungle Lodge have access to the property’s canoes and tubes. The canoes are tough to paddle upstream, but the tubes can be carried on a trail along the river for a peaceful float downstream. Afterward, grab a bite or a drink at the Lodge’s pool or restaurant, where lemurs and toucans regularly pop in for fresh fruit feedings.

Things to Do in Belize - A photo of an intricate coffee beverage on a green surface in front of a Cool Beans sign.
Cool Beans Café/Facebook

12. Drink Belizean coffee and Eat Fry Jacks

  • Best for: Slow, scenic breakfasts, local coffee, fresh juice
  • Reservations: Not needed

There are several delicious breakfast haunts in San Pedro. D Family Café is a top choice for fast and fresh, but for scenery, a sea breeze and an extended brunch, Cool Beans Café wins. Situated on the pier overlooking the water and the Ambergris coastline, the place serves up tasty and eye-opening coffee drinks and yummy omelets. Go for the Belizean Breakfast with Fry Jacks—a Sopapilla-like pillow of fried dough served with refried beans and eggs.

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Things to Do in Belize - A photograph of the boardwalk that leads to Palapa Bar & Grill which is situated on the water.
Palapa Bar & Grill

13. Enjoy Sunset and Live Music at the Palapa Bar & Grill

  • Best for: beer buckets, sun bathers, friend trips, adults, day drinkers, sunset, live music
  • Reservations: Not needed

If Jimmy Buffet were to take up residency in Belize, this would be his spot. Not nearly as cheesy as it looks (with its neon signs and plastic palm trees), Palapa Bar & Grill is San Pedro’s not-so-hidden gem for sunset drinking, daytime drinking, night-time drinking, live music and surprisingly delicious food (the ceviche and fresh red snapper are some of the island’s best). The best feature of this restaurant, which is situated out on its own pier stretching into the inviting water beyond the seaweed-strewn coastline, is its sun deck and adjoining sea/swim access hole. The contained space is equipped with tubes for soaking (preferably with beer in hand) and is a great for spotting marine life. A neighboring stingray and countless fish pass through regularly.

Things to Do in Belize - Many wooden picnic benches and palm leaf umbrellas are photographed from an aerial view. They are situated in the bright blue water. People sit on the benches eating and drinking.
Blue Bayo Restaurant and Bar

14. Eat Fresh Seafood While Surrounded by Fish

  • Best for: adults, foodies
  • Reservations: Not needed

The tastiest lunch or happy hour stop at Secret Beach is the Blue Bayou. Its tables extend from the wood deck out into the shallow waters of the turquoise bay. Any seafood dish here is a winner, particularly the fried fresh catch, lobster ceviche and shrimp quesadillas. The cocktail menu is long and colorful, the Tiburon Rum Punch a solid choice.

Things to Do in Belize - A photo of the white and brown wooden The Hut Barge & Grill. It's sitting on the water during the day.
The Hut Barge and Grill

15. Hang with Locals (and Crocodiles) at The Hut Barge and Grill

  • Best for: happy hour, tasty bar food, karaoke, reptile sightings
  • Reservations: Not needed

Situated on an actual floating barge on the northern bay side of San Pedro, The Hut Barge and Grill embraces its reptilian neighbors. A steady stream of huge iguanas visit daily for fresh fruit served on an adjoining platform. From the back tables, you might see a crocodile surfacing on the still water or sunbathing right next to the restaurant. Lunch to late evening is the most popular time for humans to come by for a beer. If staying for dinner, don’t miss the fried whole snapper and karaoke on Sundays.

Things to Do in Belize - A photo of the Truck Stop. It's got a bright neon sign and many people are sitting eating and drinking at the establishment. There are many golf carts parked out front.
The Truck Stop

16. Grab a Drink and Soak in the Saltwater Pool at The Truck Stop

  • Best for: big groups, couples, families
  • Reservations: Not needed

The Truck Stop is an outdoor playground and collection of food and drink stalls made from shipping containers. Lying about a mile north of San Pedro, its centerpiece is a beer garden specializing in Belizean craft brews. It is surrounded by individually run stalls serving everything from cocktails, pizza, curry, tacos and ice cream. There are also big screens, cornhole and ping pong. The quietest place to unwind here is on a lounge chair overlooking the bay. On a hot day, take your drink to the saltwater pool, which is open to the public and free for soaking.

Things to Do in Belize - A photo of meat, guacamole, and pico de gallo on a white plate in front of teal and purple baskets filled with tortillas.
Benny’s Kitchen/Facebook

17. Eat Lunch at Benny’s Kitchen

  • Best for: groups, couples, families
  • Reservations: Not needed

Located across the river from the entrance to the Xunantunich Ruins, Succotz is a clean and charming little village and home to one of the area’s most popular lunch spots. Benny’s Kitchen has a vast menu with something to please all ages. Skip the fried fare and fries and go for the Pibil, pork that has been cooked underground for several hours and bursting with flavor. This is also a good place to load up on Belize’s proudest export, Marie Sharp’s hot sauce

Things to Do in Belize - A number of people hold a one legged yoga pose and hold onto each other for support at drop in yoga at Ak’Bol. The yoga is being done at an open air studio.

18. Drop In to Yoga at Ak’Bol

  • Best for: peace seekers, couples, adults, yogis of all levels
  • Reservations: Not needed

About 1.5 miles north of San Pedro lies the jungle-encircled oasis of Ak’Bol. In addition to its farm-to-table restaurant and variety of lodging options (cabanas or hostel), drop-in yoga happens six mornings a week and is the most rejuvenating $20 you’ll spend on your trip. Classes take place under the palapa (straw roof structure) at the end of the pier and each class is followed by a 15-minute meditation. After melting away your stress and working up a sweat, dips in the surrounding shallow sea are welcomed and encouraged.

Massage table in spa set up on deck in the ocean.
Massage by the Reef Day Spa

19. Get a Massage at a Day Spa on the Pier

  • Best for: couples, decompressing, quick stop relaxation
  • Reservations: Not needed

When you’ve got 60 minutes and an urge to transform into Jello, head to one of the pier-side day spas in San Pedro. Massage by the Reef offers a little more privacy than some of the others, with the sea breeze still billowing into the whole experience. Massages are customized by pressure preference and available for couples, 60, 90 or multi-sessions.

Things to Do in Belize - An older man and a young girl, both people of color are leaning over a barrel of something at a market. They are surrounded by many market items like fruit. The street behind them seems to be bustling with life.
Belize Tourism

20. Visit the San Ignacio Market

  • Best for: Local culture, fresh produce, families
  • Reservations: Not needed

Mingle with locals and buy all the jungle fruit your heart desires at this open-air market in the middle of San Ignacio. It puts any farmers market you’ve visited to shame with its mountainous piles of pineapples and papayas. Just make sure you eat it all while you’re there as it won’t make it through customs.

Things to Do in Belize - People climb the stairs to the Xunantunich Ruins. The steps are stone and are surrounded by bright green grass.
Lori Ann Krushefski / EyeEm/Getty Images

21. Visit the Xunantunich Mayan Ruins

  • Best for: history buffs, families, affordable excursions
  • Reservations: Not needed

Situated on a high grassy ridge about 15 miles from San Ignacio and about a half mile from the Guatemalan border, the Xunantunich Ruins are a series of temples and plazas dating back to 780 AD. They were used by the Mayans for rituals, ceremonies and burials. It’s $5 to enter and explore, extra for informational tours. Although trees, earth and grass have grown over some structures, it’s possible to climb up a few of them, including the largest, the Castillo. Its steep, eroded steps take you to a sweeping panorama of the site and surrounding mountains and jungle. There are intricately carved symbols still visible on some buildings and an information center in which to view some of the ancient artifacts (including a skeleton) and learn about the fascinating practices of the ancient civilizations.

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