Belize is our top pick for 2017 family holidays, the country that is creating a real buzz in the office. Dwarfed by Mexico, it’s vast Northern neighbour, Belize might just be a small speck on the Central American map but it packs a huge punch. Seldom have we come across a country that combines so much into such a small area. Beautiful Caribbean beaches, adrenalin-fuelled adventure activities, sensational food, spectacular Mayan ruins, a thriving contemporary Mayan culture and superb wildlife combine to make this the next must-see country on the bucket list.
What’s more, as a British colony until the 1960s, Belize is an English-speaking country so it is wonderfully easy to navigate around. Driving distances are short – never more than about three hours on any particular day – and you can cover all of the highlights in a two week trip
Here are some of our highlights but see our sample itinerary Belize Adventure Highlights for further inspiration.
More than half of Belize is covered in rainforest and within an hour of touching down in Belize City, you can be on a boat heading through the jungle, keeping your eyes peeled for wildlife and listening to the call of troupes of howler monkeys.
Howler Monkeys can be difficult to spot in the wild but at the ‘Howler Monkey Encounter’ near Lamanai, there is a tiny nature reserve dedicated to the species. Here you can follow easy trails through the forest and are almost guaranteed to get up close to a troupe.
Belize also has a treasure trove of Mayan ruins.
Xunantunich is a firm favourite, an incredible hilltop temple with stunning carvings around the top. (You can read more about the Mayan ruins in Belize in our Places to visit in Belize section).
Lamanai is also incredibly impressive, located deep in the heart of the rainforest and accessed by boat. Here you can still see large mounds that have not yet been excavated and the mind boggles at what may still be buried under the ground.
For a bit of adventure, head inland to San Ignacio district where you can take a wonderful boat trip deep into Barton Cave.
Perhaps the most exciting of Belize’s many adventure activities is the ATM cave where you follow a river deep into an underground cave system, squeezing through narrow crevices in the rock, clambering over boulders and swimming across underground rivers. Deep in the innermost chamber are a number of Mayan skeletons and ritual objects. Were they sacrificed? No-one really knows but the imagination runs riot… (You can read more about Actun Tunichil Mucknal on the Lonely Planet website)
For a bit of R and R it’s time to head to the beach. Choose between the little sliver of land that is the Placencia Peninsula or the small Caribbean cayes just off the coast. Both are graced with superb beaches, swaying palm trees, hammocks and a laid-back vibe. Older children will enjoy lazy bike rides at sunset whilst younger children will be happy with a bucket, a spade and a wide swathe of sand.
There’s only so long that you can swing in hammock on the beach (or is there?) but if you need a little excitement to liven up those lazy Caribbean days, how about swimming with sharks? Head to Shark Alley where dozens of nurse sharks will congregate around the boat, and the brave amongst you can dive in. Also on view are turtles, barracuda and giant rays, all swimming around just beneath you. Beats an aquarium any day!
If you are a diver, head further into the ocean to the Blue Hole, a giant sinkhole with incredible underwater stalactites and stalagmites.
For a dose of culture then Toledo District is the place to go. Nestled in the south of the country, this area is home to Belize’s indigenous Mayan people. Spend a couple of days on a friendly village homestay and learn how to make chocolate from cacao beans and grind your own corn to make tortillas for lunch. As English is the national language you have a unique opportunity to chat to the villagers and learn about their life in a way that is more difficult in the rest of Spanish-speaking Central America.
And finally, whilst we are on the subject of corn tortillas and making your own chocolate, Belize has the most incredible food. Central America is not renowned for its culinary marvels, but Belizian cuisine deserves a place on the international stage. More intrepid children will love cerviche made from fresh prawns flavoured with lime juice whilst more fussy eaters will devour the local corn tortilla chips in vast quantities. Parents, make sure you try Marie Sharp’s hot pepper sauce. It’s not to be trifled with but the taste is divine.
Interested? Get in touch to talk to me about my trip or any of our 2017 family holidays. You can also browse through our Belize family holiday pages and read our customer reviews. For details on the best times to visit, check out our When to go to Belize section.
Liddy Pleasants, MD Stubborn Mule Travel
I’d love to hear about your travel experiences in Central America so do email me at email@example.com.