Belize

Places to visit in Belize

Belize is a country of two parts – jungle and beach – with both offering amazing wildlife experiences. Black howler monkeys, peccary (wild pigs) and coatimundi roam the forest floor, parrots, hummingbirds and keel-billed toucan swoop overhead and loggerhead turtles, whale sharks and manatees patrol the sea. With Mayan ruins, fabulous local cuisine and numerous exciting land and water-based activities, Belize really is a superb destination for a family holiday.

Places to visit in Belize - children with tiny crab

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Lamanai

For a wonderful combination of jungle, wildlife and ruins then head to Lamanai. A small boat takes you deep into the jungle to your lodge. From here you can take kayaks out at dawn and watch the rainforest slowly come alive. Or venture out on a night river safari to spot the crocs staring back greedily at you. Unlock the secrets of the jungle on the ‘Maya Medicine Trail’ and explore the wonderful temples of the Lamanai Maya Ruins, one of the most picturesque in Belize. Surrounded by brightly coloured toucans, troupes of howler monkeys and the elusive jaguar, this is a place that will live on in children’s memories.

San Ignacio

This is one of our favourite locations for an active family holiday with something for everyone. Less than two hours from Belize City you can find yourself river tubing, heading off on jungle hikes, swimming in waterfalls, kayaking and horse riding as well as experiencing the incredible journey to the Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave. Here you scramble up stream, over boulders, wade through waist-deep water and squeeze through tiny crevices to reach the cave which contains many examples of ancient Mayan pottery – as well as several human sacrificial remains. This is usually a highlight for many families… children will not forget ‘The Crystal Maiden’ in a hurry!

Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve

South of San Ignacio lies this stunning range of rolling hills, peaks and gorges. The limestone karst terrain makes for superb hiking and also creates a fantastic backdrop for some fun water-based activities. Rio On Pools are a continuous series of pools connected by tiny waterfalls which are natural slides. Suitable for even younger children, this has to be one of the world’s best natural water parks. Older ones will love the thrill of diving beneath the 60 foot waterfall at Big Drop Falls and there are also various caves to explore – check out the giant stalactites!

Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary

Even in the world’s only Jaguar preserve these endangered creatures are extremely hard to spot. But that doesn’t matter too much when there are ocelot, peccary, gibnut and the ubiquitous howler monkey as well as over 300 types of birds – try getting the kids to pronounce ‘Montezuma’s Oropendola’….

Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary

A stunning wetland landscape, the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary is home to huge numbers of brightly coloured tropical birds and a large population of jabiru storks. The best way to experience it is to get out on the water and view the crocodiles, iguanas and river turtles at their own level. The sanctuary is conveniently located just 30 minutes north of Belize City airport and provides a nice contrast to the dense rainforest of the other sanctuaries and parks.

Caracol

Caracal is the best-known ruin in Belize and one of the largest in the Mayan world. Just south of San Ignacio, in the foothills of the Maya Mountains, it covers 30 square miles with much of it yet to be excavated. There are numerous plazas, astronomic observatories, royal tombs, palaces and temples for youngsters to run wild in. Caracol’s main pyramid is called the Sky Palace and children will love clambering to the top for breath-taking views over the surrounding jungle.

Xunantunich

West of San Ignacio lies another impressive Mayan site. Situated on a limestone ridge, Xunantunich is reached by a hand-cranked ferry, which crosses the El Mopan river – great fun for children. The ruin’s most impressive landmark is El Castillo, the second highest in Belize. At 127 feet it is a steep climb to the top but worth it for the views out over into neighbouring Guatemala.

Tikal, Guatemala

OK so not exactly in Belize, however it is well worth popping across the border into Guatemala for a few days to explore these phenomenal ruins – not least due to the excitement of a small plane ride over the jungle, which is an adventure for children in itself. This massive site lies deep in the heart of the Tikal National Reserve and has to be everyone’s idea of a classic jungle ruin with the roots and branches of the dense foliage creeping between the ancient structures.

As well as the incredible temples to explore (and climb) there are numerous walking trails through the forest – spot spider monkey, white-nosed coati and red-lored parrot amongst others. And you don’t need to actually see the howler monkeys to know they are there – their loud grunts, roars and howls will alert you to their hugely entertaining presence.

Top tip – get up very early and explore the site before the crowds – then have a siesta.
You can then travel back to Belize the following day, stopping at several other Mayan sites to break the journey.

Placencia (beach)

Take the family on the Hummingbird Highway to the ultimate beach paradise! Placencia is a stunning peninsula in southern Belize with 25km of white sandy beaches and a variety of accommodation, seaside cafes and activities to choose from. Protected cayes allow even young children to spot the stunning array of tropical fish. Snorkel Turtle Alley, swim amongst the rays, ogle at the whale sharks (April-July), kayak Laughing Bird Caye, cruise the Monkey River in search of manatees, dive the barrier reef and enjoy evenings soaking up the relaxed Caribbean vibe of this beach paradise.

Caye Caulker

Can it get more relaxed than Placencia? Well the pace of the gorgeous island of Caye Caulker is perhaps even more laid-back. The fastest mode of transport is bike (or kayak depending on your prowess) and there is really not too much to do here except (parents take a deep breath), laze on the idyllic sandy beaches, dip your toe in the turquoise sea, perhaps make the effort to venture out on a diving or snorkelling trip and enjoy leisurely meals of freshly caught seafood beneath swaying palm trees. A million miles from the school run!

Ambergris Caye

The largest island in Belize, Ambergris Caye is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world. If you are into diving there is little more you need to know… The reef is only a quarter of a mile from the beach – popular spots are the incredible Blue Hole and the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Or for non-divers, how does a snorkelling trip to Shark-Ray Alley sound? The island is typically Caribbean and with its Mexican influence you can dine out on burritos or lobster, tacos or shark then meander the souvenir shops of San Pedro Town. Parents be warned – the beaches here are prone to seaweed at certain times of year so for younger children this may not be a suitable location.

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