With far less of a language barrier to overcome than elsewhere in Central America, Belize, perched on the isthmus’s northeast corner, is the ideal first stop on a tour of the region. And, although it is the most expensive country in Central America, its reliable public transport and numerous hotels and restaurants make it an ideal place to travel independently. Belize offers some of the most breathtaking scenery anywhere in the region. Thick tropical forests envelop much of the country’s southern and western regions, stretching up towards the misty heights of the sparsely populated Maya Mountains, while just offshore, dazzling turquoise shallows and cobalt depths surround the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the longest such reef in the Americas, as well as the jewels in Belize’s natural crown: three of the four coral atolls in the Caribbean.
Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest in the world, after Australia’s, and with more than 100 types of coral and some 500 species of tropical fish, it’s pure paradise for scuba divers and snorkelers. Swimming through translucent seas, snorkelers are treated to a kaleidoscope of coral, fish and turtles, while divers go deeper, investigating underwater caves and walls and the world-renowned Blue Hole. Add to this island living on the sandy cayes, where you can spend your days kayaking, windsurfing, stand-up paddleboarding, swimming, fishing or lazing in a hammock, and you’ve got the recipe for a perfect tropical vacation. Belize is home to one of the world’s most mysterious civilizations – the ancient Maya.
Explore excavated tombs and examine intricate hieroglyphs, or descend deep into natural caves to see where the Maya kings performed rituals and made sacrifices to the gods of their underworld. You can appreciate the culture today by staying in village guesthouses and by learning the art of chocolate-making. Whether you’re scuba diving, zip-lining through the jungle canopy, rappelling down waterfalls or crawling through ancient cave systems, Belize is a genuine adventure. Head to Cayo District where you can tube or canoe through darkened river systems or hard-core spelunk in renowned Actun Tunichil Muknal cave. Zip-lining is virtually an art form in Cayo and Southern Belize where you can sail through the jungle at half a dozen locations. Horseback riding is well organised and hiking is superb in national parks, such as Mayflower Bocawina National Park, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Shipstern Nature Reserve and Río Bravo.