THE BEST OF BELIZE | Above the Surface
Although the sea and the coast are the main reasons holidaymakers visit Belize – and, in fact, more of Belize’s ‘territory’ is sea than land – there are some sights not to be missed topside. From incredible wildlife to ancient civilisations, there’s plenty to be discovered, especially if you’re an adventurous type. Try a three-day mountain hike in jaguar territory or explore caves while chest-deep in water. If this is all a bit like hard work, there are simply miles of excellent beaches to lounge on too…
Climb Ancient Temples in LAMANAI
There are many Mayan ruins across Belize. Few have been as extensively restored as those in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula so in their forest surroundings, you’ll see more wildlife and there are fewer visitors. One of the most impressive is Lamanai. More than 2,000 years ago, this was the largest Mayan city. Its name comes from a Mayan word meaning ‘submerged crocodile’ and there are many representations of reptiles around the site. There are also more than 700 structures that have been mapped by archaeologists – many of them still underground. It’s a daunting climb to the top of the 35m High Temple, built around 100BC, but there’s a great view of the surrounding jungle.
Explore Mayan Tombs in CARACOL
Caracol is the largest complex of Mayan ruins in Belize. Covered by rainforest, the city was lost for 1,000 years and only rediscovered in 1937. More than 100 tombs have been found here. The best preserved – and so most impressive – is under the largest temple. It belonged to Lady Batz Ek, or Black Monkey, a woman who married into the ruling dynasty – and possibly ruled herself as well – in 584AD.
Trek With Jaguars at COCKSCOMB BASIN WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
Established in the 1980s, this sanctuary was created to protect jaguar, but there are many species to be seen here: tapirs, otters, anteater and armadillos; 300 species of birds including the endangered scarlet macaw, keel-billed toucan and raptors such as the harpy eagle and solitary eagle; reptiles including tree frogs, boa constrictor and the deadly fer-de-lance snake. Hiking is the best way to appreciate the scenery and the flora and fauna. Tours can be pre-booked in resorts and hotels or local guides arranged at the visitor’s centre at the entrance. You can hike up Victoria Peak – the highest mountain in the Cockscomb range, and the second highest in Belize at 1,120m. It’s a three-day hike, and there are (very basic) campsites along the route.
Caving in ACTUN TUNICHIL MUKNAL
One of the most spectacular caves in the country… but you need to be fit enough to hike uneven terrain and wade through chest-deep water to access it. Discovered by archaeologist Thomas Miller in the 1980s it contains well-preserved skeletons of Mayan human sacrifices and ceramic vessels that probably contained food offerings. Although some items have been looted, the main chamber has been untouched. Artefacts here include a large obsidian blade and stingray spines… and skeletons of course. Not one for the fainthearted.
Half Moon Caye National Monument LIGHTHOUSE REEF
The first national park, formed in 1981, Half Moon Caye is home to the red-footed booby bird – and 97 other species. The red-footed boobies nest on the island, and magnificent frigate birds can be seen here too. Regular winter migrants include ospreys, mangrove warblers, and white-crowned pigeons. Iguanas and lizards are permanent residents on the island and loggerhead and hawksbill turtles nest here too.
Paddle Around CAYE CAULKER
A great way to explore the coast topside is by boat. Whether you take to a kayak, embark on a sailing trip (evening sunset cruisers are particularly good) or hop on a paddle board, Caye Caulker in the north of the barrier reef is perfect for messing about in boats. The 8 mile-long caye was hit hard by Hurricane Hattie in 1961, and the northern half has been abandoned ever since. Here thick vegetation and mangroves reach right to the sea and are a haven for wildlife.
Bask on the Beaches of PLACENCIA
The village of Placencia has the best beaches on the mainland of Belize and is a great place to relax – perhaps after you’ve swum with those whale sharks just off the coast… Anyway, on land kick back on the beach, or sail or kayak on the sea. If you’re here in June, check out Lobsterfest, a fun-filled food festival to celebrate the start of the lobster fishing season.
Monkey Around on MONKEY RIVER
A day trip from Placencia, Monkey River is the perfect place to see howler monkeys. But it’s not the only place. Look out for them and also spider monkeys all over mainland Belize. Monkey River is also home to many species of bird, crocodiles and turtles too.