These days, we could all use a particular kind of vacation more than ever—more than some place where we can relax, a trip that’s truly revitalizing by still letting us be plenty active. Enter Belize. With its gorgeous beaches, wide-open spaces, and endless outdoor recreation, the Caribbean country is not only the perfect destination for kicking back while social distancing, it’s also ideal for the adventurous traveler anytime.
Whether you’re into water activities like snorkeling, scuba diving, and sport fishing or would rather stick to dry land and explore caves and Maya ruins, Belize offers tons of perspective-shifting ways to rejuvenate outside. The country also has stringent new health requirements in place to keep visitors as safe as possible from arrival to departure, so you’re guaranteed a stress-free trip.
In addition to usual measures like wearing masks at all times, washing hands often, and practicing social distancing, travelers to Belize must book accommodations from a pre-approved list of Gold Standard hotels, which are all following enhanced cleanliness protocols. Everyone must also download the new Belize Health App and fill in the required health info, take a COVID-19 PCR test within 96 hours of traveling to Belize or Rapid Antigen, Sophia, SD Bisensor, ABBOT (Panbio) test within 48 hours of traveling to Belize, and use an approved provider as ground transportation to the hotels.
As long as guests are COVID-free, all can look forward to fresh-air exploration at every turn. And after a long day of exploits, you can experience the dreamy contentment of unwinding with a barbecue or candlelit dinner on the beach, or even a sunset cruise. Read on for several other exciting ways to breathe deep outside in Belize.
Let loose on an epic dive...
With more than 400 islands to explore, Belize has a dive site for every ability. The country is also home to the largest barrier reef in the Northern Hemisphere and three of the four coral atolls in the Western Hemisphere, plus some of the most crystal-clear water in the world. Visibility routinely extends hundreds of feet, ensuring you’ll always get the best view of fascinating marine life like corals, sharks, turtles, and stingrays.
For the ultimate experience, take a day trip to the Great Blue Hole in the Belize Barrier Reef. One of the globe’s great geological wonders, the site sits just 43 miles off the mainland but is a full 406 feet deep, with rare fish and stalactites not found at other diving locations. More great sites include Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Ambergris Caye, both of which are considered among the top dive destinations in the world.
Be soothed by some snorkeling...
There are more than 500 species of marine life to be found in Belize, including brightly colored schools of fish, turtles, and even the occasional barracuda. See them for yourself at one of the hundreds of snorkeling sites of varying depths along the Belize Barrier Reef. To get more out of your time in the water, you can even hire a knowledgeable local guide, who will help you safely explore the kaleidoscope of colors found in the hard and soft corals and sponges.
Sit back and sport fish...
Belize’s abundance of game fish makes it a fantastic sport fishing destination all year long. In fact, the country is one of the few places in the world where you can fish a Grand Slam (catching a bonefish, permit, and tarpon all in the same day). Several rivers empty into the Caribbean Sea, so you’re practically guaranteed a daily catch, but for even more assurance, hire a local guide to show you their secret fishing spots.
Another surefire place to try is Turneffe Atoll, which is considered among the world’s most desirable locations for fly fishing. Just make sure you have a valid sport-fishing license ahead of time, even if you’re just fishing for leisure or practicing catch-and-release. You can easily get one by visiting the website for Belize’s Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute.
Unwind on a cave walk...
There are thousands of caves in Belize, offering everything from easy walks to challenging hikes that can quickly turn into squeezes, crawls, climbs, rappels, and even swims. No matter which you visit, you’ll typically find extensive stalactite and stalagmite formations as well as pottery shards, but some caves feature even more desirable attractions. Head to Che Chem Ha to discover pottery that dates back some two thousand years ago, Actun Tunichi Muknal Cave to see ancient human remains like intact skeletons, or Blue Creek and Caves Branch to witness natural formations like underground waterfalls. At the Nohoch Che’en Caves Branch Archeological Reserve, you can even explore the sacred caves of the ancient Maya civilization.
Find calm at ancient Maya sites…
In Belize, you can look forward to learning the mysteries of the Maya without the usual crowds. All sites are managed by Belize’s Institute of Archeology and have interpretive centers and trained guides to show you around, ensuring you get the most out of your visit.
Start your exploration at Cerros, reachable by a short boat ride across Corozal Bay. The only Maya site in Belize situated on the coast, it was built in 50 B.C.E. as a Maya trading center, with three large buildings and several plazas lined with pyramids. The tallest building rises 72 feet above a prominent plaza and offers panoramic views of the Bay of Chetumal, Corozal Town, and the mouth of the New River.
Also worth checking out is the extensive canal system, raised-field agriculture, and Str. 5C2nd temple, which features a central stairway flanked by two large, painted stucco masks representing the rising and setting sun.
If you’re up for a slightly longer excursion, take a boat ride from Orange Walk up the New River to Lamanai, one of Belize’s largest Maya sites. Set in a tropical forest, it provides a unique glimpse into the biodiversity of the area, with wildlife like snail kites, jacana, crocodiles, and iguanas visible along the water.
Settled around 900 B.C.E., the site was occupied for more than 3,000 years, up until the Spanish missionaries arrived in 1544. Today, you can tour the onsite museum to view ancient Maya artifacts, then walk around outdoors to see temples and palaces dating from the Classic and Pre-Classic periods; the well-preserved mask of a Maya ruler emerging from a crocodile headdress; remnants of two 16th-century Spanish churches; and a colonial sugar mill established in 1860.
Yet another mesmerizing site is Xunantunich, submerged in the jungle and reached via a hand-cranked ferry ride across the Mapan River. Situated atop a hill overlooking the Cayo District, the major ceremonial site was built on a natural limestone ridge during the Classic period and consists of six major plazas, plus more than 25 temples and palaces.
Towering 130 feet above a plaza, El Castillo (the Castle) is the largest pyramid on site and features carved friezes on its east and west sides—the one of the east side, which has been covered with fiberglass to help preserve it, includes a replica of the central mask representing the sun god, the moon, and Venus. Nearly as impressive are the views, which on a clear day can reach across to nearby Guatemala and Caracol in the Pine Ridge.