Jessica Padykula is a freelance writer and editor in Toronto, Canada covering a wide range of topics for several online lifestyle publications. She is a regular contributor for SheKnows, covering travel, style, relationships, health and...
Ready for takeoff? This week SheKnows heads to Belize, where we fall head over heels for this captivating country. With a population of slightly more than 300,000, it's truly amazing how much this tiny Central American hot spot has to offer. Our grand tour covers sun and sand, water sports and eco-adventure.
Belize may not be home to some of the more well-known sites you'll find in Mexico or Guatemala, but don't discount the fascinating ruins here. Three of note include Caracol, the largest known archeological site in Belize, Lamanai, set in tropical rainforest and the third largest site, and coming it at around 100 acres, El Pilar, a vast Mayan site that few tourists go to, making a visit that much more enticing.
Great Blue Hole
There are blue holes all over the world, but one of the best known (and most impressive) is in Belize. These underwater sinkholes offer a fascinating diving experience and the one in Belize is no exception. The hole is approximately one-quarter of a mile across and inside the hole the water is 480 feet deep. Book a diving or snorkeling tour to see this awe-inspiring watery wonder for yourself.
Belize is a nature-lovers paradise. The conservation of a large portion of its forests and reefs means more chances to catch a glimpse of some facinating birds, plant life and unique animals. The country may be small, but it's home to a wide variety of wildlife. Head to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary & Jaguar Preserve where more than 128,000 acres of vibrant green jungle are surrounded by the Cockscomb Mountains. Not to mention, it's the world's only jaguar preserve.
If you have time, day or overnight (recommended) trips can be scheduled to Tikal in Guatemala from Belize. Housed in the jungle, the awe-inspiring site full of towering structures is an absolute must if you can swing it.
Ease of travel
Due to its small size, getting around Belize is relatively easy (we managed to see most of the country in about two weeks). English is the main language spoken and currency conversion is simple — it's about $2 BZ to $1 US. Not to mention the people are friendly and always willing to help out with travel tips, directions or restaurant recommendations.
San Ignacio in particular is a great base for a few days of adventure in the jungle (if you're the hiking, caving, canoeing and swimming-in-waterfalls type). For a real rush, Mayawalk Tours offers several great tours, including the Actun Tunichil Muknal caving tour ($85). The trip had us hiking through the rainforest, twisting, turning and swimming through an ancient cave and getting up close and personal with Mayan artifacts. Don't miss out on a canoe trip down the Macal River or a hike through the Mountain Pine Ridge area.
Diving & snorkeling
Belize boasts the longest barrier reef in the western hemisphere and second longest in the world. So if underwater exploring is a must on your vacation to-do list, this is the place to do it. Caye Caulker is only a 45-minute ferry ride from Belize City and offers many options for water-based fun. Diving and snorkeling trips are easy to organize with several dive shops on the island offering similar prices. Frenchie's Diving is owned by a local, keeps the group sizes small and has a reputation for good service.
If you like seafood and fresh fish, you'll love settling into a meal in Belize. Enjoy lobster, shrimp, red snapper, sea bass, halibut, conch, and many more prepared in a variety of ways. Lobster season, in particular, is from mid-February to mid-July. Fresh fruit — from papayas to mangoes to pineapples — abounds and you're also bound to find something unique to try in the eclectic mix of Caribbean, Spanish and Mexican cuisines.
While not known for its beaches in the same way as say, the Caribbean, there are a few prime stretches of sand worth seeking out in Belize. Placencia, which lies on the Caribbean coast, boasts the best beaches in Belize. Soft sand and clear, turquoise water? Yes please. Or, if you prefer things quieter, Hopkins is where you can enjoy all the benefits of a beach getaway without the crowds (just the way we like it). A sleepy fishing village on three miles of gorgeous beach, Hopkins makes it easy to forget all about reality.
Tobacco Caye, a small five-acre coral island seems no bigger than a postage stamp, but worth a night or two for the phenomenal snorkeling (it sits perched on the reef) and the quiet, deserted island vibe. Have a drink overlooking the ocean (you might spot a few stingrays) or relax in one of the many hammocks. A handful of "resorts" (about $45-80 per person for a night) offer simple accommodations and all your meals (there are, literally, no restaurants). Eating is family-style at most hotels, a great way to get to know your fellow travelers.
One of the best things about Belize is how much there is to see and do. From hiking and bird watching to beach-hopping, shopping, snorkeling and diving, there's something for every type of traveler (and every budget) in Belize. Whether you're a solo adventurer, on a girlfriend getaway or a family of four, you're bound to find exactly what you're looking for here. We know we didn't want to leave.