Thanks to Belize’s small size, it’s possible to see the country’s diverse ecosystems in just a few days. With Belize City as your base, a 3-day stay allows time to venture into the jungles of the south, the coastal barrier reef, and ancient Maya ruins for a glimpse into the pre-Columbian past. Here’s how to cover the most ground.
Begin your stay in Belize City by getting out of town and into the region’s ancient history at a Mayan ruin. Hilltop Xunantunich boasts a massive temple with views stretching into Guatemala, while Lamanai rises out of the jungle at the mouth of a tropical lagoon. Located less than an hour’s drive from Belize City, Altun Ha is also a popular pick for day trips. Guided tours make it easy to access the ruins without a car and add context to the remnants of temples, royal palaces, ball courts, and burial chambers. For the ultimate Mayan experience, strap on a headlamp and trek deep inside the Actun Tunichil Muknal (known locally as ATM) cave, where ceremonial pottery and crystallized skeletons provide clues to a lost civilization. Alternatively, stay in the city for a guided tour of its highlights, with a stop at Traveler's Liquor Heritage Center for a rum tour and tasting.
Take advantage of Belize City’s coastal location and cruise into the warm aquamarine Caribbean. The second largest in the world, Belize’s barrier reef beckons snorkelers and scuba divers with colorful coral gardens and clear, shallow water. Swim alongside tropical fish, sea turtles, sting rays, and harmless nurse sharks at popular snorkel sites such as Hol Chan Marine Reserve, a quick boat ride from the urban port of Belize City. Some tours include stops at nearby islands of Caye Caulker or Goff’s Caye—idyllic spots to kick back with a rum cocktail and squeeze in some beach time. If getting wet isn’t your style, appreciate the barrier reef from the air on a helicopter tour with unbeatable views of the reef, coral atolls, and islands such as Ambergris Caye, nicknamed La Isla Bonita.
Today, venture south into Belize’s forested interior to play among pristine jungle landscapes dotted with waterfalls, wildlife sanctuaries, and caves. For a true Belizean-style adventure, float through elaborate cave systems on a cave tubing tour. Often bookended by a jungle hike, this low-impact activity let you relax while floating through caverns filled with glittering rock formations. Alternatively, soar through the rain forest on a zipline tour for a bigger adrenaline kick, or look for howler monkeys, toucans, and other wildlife on a horseback ride. Some tours include stops in modern Maya villages or chocolate farms for a dose of Belizean culture alongside the thrills.