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12 Best Belize Tourist Attractions

Altun Ha Mayan ruins
Altun Ha Mayan ruin;  ©

The best Belize tourist attractions include a large number of Mayan ruins in addition to its famous cave tubing.

Belize is both an ecotourism destination as well as a popular cruise destination at Belize City on the Caribbean coast. It also is one of the few Caribbean destinations to promote caving as a major tourist attraction.

Another famous thing to do is the barrier reef, which is 185 miles long. Islands lie between the reef and the mainland, creating many opportunities for watersports, especially diving and snorkeling.

1) Cave Tubing

Cave tubing is a unique tourist attraction in Belize and one of the top excursions in the Caribbean. Cruise and resort visitors will take a somewhat lengthy ride into the countryside, followed by a hike through the rainforest to reach the Sibun River Cave Branch.

Once there, they jump into uniquely beautiful lime green water, pop through a tube and float down the river and through dark caves for about 1.5 hours. The caves include the location of Mayan rituals and cave drawings. Excursion prices range from $50 to $100 or more depending on amenities.

We found it was one of our favorite attractions in the Caribbean and a great family experience.

2) Belize Zoo

The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center sits on 29 acres of tropical savanna and displays more than 170 animals. The animals represent 45 species that are native to Belize. The zoo acquires animals that are rescued, orphaned, rehabilitated, born there or sent there. The zoo is 31 miles from Belize City and attracts nearly 70,000 visitors a year.

3) Altun Ha

Belize Blue Hole
The Blue Hole is a major Belize attraction for scuba divers. Credit: Depositphotos

The Maya site is near Rockstone Pond Village in the Belize District. It is about 55 minutes north of the Belize City cruise port.

Altun Ha is the most excavated Mayan site in Belize. It was a major ceremonial center and a trade center that connected the Caribbean coastline with other Maya centers in the interior of the country. The site has two main plazas with some thirteen temple and residential structures. Excursion prices start at $95.

4) Lamanai

The Mayan ruins of Lamanai, more than two hours northwest of Belize City, are among the most famous and easily visited archeological sites in Belize. Most tourists experience the “place of the crocodile” by taking a guided boat trip up the New River to where Lamanai is located on the New River lagoon.

Its situation near an abundant and stable water source may explain why this city was inhabited longer than any other Mayan site (up until the 18th century).

Crocodiles are a prominent subject of sculptures and carvings from Lamanai and were considered sacred by the city’s inhabitants. Although they were undoubtedly more common during Mayan times, they are still occasionally seen on New River boat trips.

Excursion prices of $130 are common.

5) Actun Tunichil Muknal

Actun Tunichil Muknal is one of the most popular Mayan burial sites in western Belize.

It is a cave system several kilometers long that consists of several large chambers. It contains four skeletons, stoneware and ceramics left by the Maya. One famous skeleton of a young girl has a sparkling appearance as a result of the cave’s natural processes.

Visitors will hike about 45 minutes to reach the cave and spend several hours exploring and wading through waters inside and outside of the cave. The site is an hour and 45 minutes southwest of Belize City.

Xunantunich is a major ceremonial center with six large plazas. Credit: Denis Barthel, Wikimedia Creative Commons license

6) Crooked Tree Lagoon

A pleasant, tropical lake with prominent birdlife, the Crooked Tree Lagoon is an excellent site in Belize for folks interested in birding and wildlife viewing during a pleasant boat ride. Over 300 species of birds have been recorded in the area of the lagoon and animals such as caimans and iguanas are also frequently seen.

It’s close enough to Belize City (a 40 minute drive from the airport) to visit as a day trip but far enough from the city to experience friendly, relaxed and rural Belize. Most tour operators can arrange boat tours of the lagoon or visitors can simply show up in the village of Crooked Tree and arrange one on their own.

7) The Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary or Jaguar Preserve

Jaguars are the largest wild cat in the Americas and have become rare in many parts of their range. Belize has always been fortunate to have a dense population of these shy, big cats but during the 1970s and 1980s hunting was reducing their numbers.

After field studies by Alan Rabinowitz showed that jaguars did not present a threat to people or livestock in Belize and that their numbers were declining, the Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary was established in the jungles of the Maya Mountains to help protect these beautiful cats. Although jaguars occur in the preserve, visitors will be lucky to see one because of their timid nature.

They will certainly come across a wide variety of other rainforest animals, however, especially so if visiting with a local guide. The preserve can be a bit hard to get to but will be well worth it for people interested in experiencing one of the most remote and wildest rainforests in Belize.

8) Canoeing, rafting, and kayaking the Mopan River

The Mopan River flows out of the northern part of the Maya Mountains in Belize and eventually runs into the Belize River. As it rushes out of the mountains, this scenic, tropical waterway becomes dotted with class two and three rapids.

Various tour operators run guided rafting and kayaking trips to experience these quick and exciting stretches of the Mopan, but canoes are also available for folks looking for a more relaxing time on the river.

They can be rented in the nearby town of San Ignacio to float and paddle easily accessible and calmer sections of the Mopan. Although this river doesn’t pass through pristine jungle, the scenery includes quaint, riverside farms, big Green Iguanas in the trees, and screeching flocks of parakeets.

9) Belize City

Museum of Belize, built as a colonial prison in the mid-1800s, has a permanent exhibit of ancient Maya pottery as well as displays on the history of Belize City and Belize’s Maya history.

Baron Bliss Lighthouse Monument at Fort George Point, standing over the harbor entrance, was built from money donated to the country by the 5th baron of Portugal. Baron Bliss was entombed in front of the lighthouse, which he designed himself before his death.

St John’s Cathedral is the oldest building in Belize as well as the oldest Anglican Church in Central America. Slaves built the cathedral in the 1800s from bricks brought to Belize as ballast in the hulls of ships sailing from Europe. After the church was the site for coronation of several Indian Kings of the Mosquito Coast.

10) The Blue Hole

The most famous dive site in Belize is The Blue Hole in the center of Lighthouse Reef Atoll, about fifty miles east of Belize City. The hole is a nearly perfect circle 1,000 feet wide and 412 feet deep that was formed when the roof of a cave fell in about 10,000 years ago. The Blue Hole is so large it is visible from outer space.

11) Caracol

Caracol is the largest-known Maya center in Belize. The largest pyramid in Caracol is 143 feet high and the tallest man-made structure in the entire country. The site is located in the Chiquibul Rainforest.

12) Xunantunich

This major ceremonial center has six large plazas and is surrounded by more than 25 temples and palaces. The most prominent structure located at the south end of the site is a pyramid 130 feet tall. “El Castillo” was the tallest man-made structure in Belize until the discovery of “Caana” at Caracol. “El Castillo” also is noteworthy for the reconstructed frieze on the temple. The site is more than two hours west of Belize City.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He is the author of four books about cruising in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera.
October 14, 2023

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