The best of Belize from the rainforest to the beach

by Beth Graham

You all know I’m a sucker for a beautiful beach destination. So when Belize came up as a trip opportunity, I was intrigued. I’d mainly heard about the country as a diver’s paradise, and being a non-diver, I knew that just meant there must be beautiful white sand beaches and crystal clear blue waters. What I didn’t expect was to fall in love with the inland rainforest and some really cool resorts in Belize. If you’re planning a trip to Belize, I highly recommend splitting your time between the rainforest and the beach.

Where is Belize?
Belize is a small country in Central America, bordering Mexico, Guatemala, and the Caribbean with a population of about 400,000 people. It’s known for its diverse culture, rich history, and stunning natural beauty. The country features tropical rainforests, mountains, rivers, and a long coastline with many small islands and the world’s second-largest barrier reef. You’ll see why Belize ecotourism is a favorite among travelers interested in sustainability and why resorts in Belize are focused on the natural environment.

What are the top tourist sites in Belize?

Belize was a significant part of the Mayan civilization and has well-preserved archaeological sites such as Caracol, Xunantunich, and Altun Ha. The country has a mix of cultures, including Creole, Mestizo, Garifuna, and Maya, reflected in its festivals, music, dance, and cuisine. 

Belize is probably best known for diving, thanks to the Belize Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Great Blue Hole is an underwater sinkhole famous among divers for its deep blue waters and unique geological formations.

Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye offer beautiful beaches, water sports, and a laid-back Caribbean vibe, with pleasant weather and clear waters for diving and snorkeling. You can find resorts in Belize near all of these attractions.

Kayaking in Belize
Kayaking in Belize

Belize is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, including over 500 species of birds, making it a haven for nature enthusiasts and ecotourists. Many rural communities in Belize offer eco-friendly tourism experiences, allowing visitors to engage with local cultures and contribute to sustainable development. The best hikes in Belize can be found in this inland region.

Exploring the Belizean Rainforest

The Cayo District is located in the western part of Belize, bordering Guatemala to the west. It is one of the six districts in the country and is known for its rich natural beauty, including a vast area of tropical rainforest, rugged hills, rivers, and limestone caves. The climate is typically tropical with a wet season from June to November and a dry season from February to May. 

The rainforests of Cayo District are characterized by tall mahogany and ceiba trees, dense undergrowth, various species of orchids, bromeliads, and ferns. Wildlife includes howler monkeys, jaguars, tapirs, kinkajous, toucans, parrots, and many other bird species. The rivers and streams are habitats for otters, fish, and various amphibians. If you fancy some backpacking in Belize, this is the place to do it!

Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave is a famous archaeological site where visitors can explore the cave’s chambers filled with ancient Mayan artifacts and skeletal remains. Caracol Archaeological Reserve is one of the largest Mayan ruins in Belize, located deep within the rainforest. Barton Creek Cave is a scenic cave that can be explored by canoe, with ancient Mayan artifacts and impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations. Numerous trails for hiking and nature walks lead through the rainforest, offering opportunities for wildlife spotting and exploring diverse ecosystems.

Cave tubing in Belize
Cave tubing in Belize

The Best Rainforest Resorts in Belize

This is by far my favorite Belize wellness retreat. The San Ignacio Resort Hotel is a luxury resort in San Ignacio, Belize. The hotel is situated in the Belizean rainforest set on 17 acres of lush greenery, combining modern luxury with authentic Belizean charm. The accommodations feature exquisite furnishings crafted by local artisans, offering an air of refined elegance while preserving the essence of Belizean heritage. Guests can enjoy personalized butler services, which add a delightful touch to every moment from personalized breakfast in bed to impromptu balcony happy hours with tempting margaritas and delectable guacamole.  Each morning, we sat on the restaurant’s verandah set among a lush tree canopy, where dozens of toucans call home. It’s pretty cool to see them in the wild like that! The resort’s private jungle boasts 119 species of exotic birds, so if you’re a birdwatcher, this is your spot!

Exploring the resort’s medicine trail with a knowledgeable herbalist provides insight into centuries-old Mayan wisdom and the healing properties of indigenous plants. The resort’s Green Iguana Conservation Project offers an enchanting experience as visitors learn about the remarkable reptilian residents. This is one of the most unique features of the resorts in Belize.

The culinary journey at The Running W restaurant is a gastronomic delight, featuring a menu that expertly balances hearty Belizean flavors with Mediterranean influences. Each dish showcases the bountiful flavors of Belize from succulent local seafood to sizzling beef sourced from the family’s own ranch. 

San Ignacio Resort Hotel in Belize
San Ignacio Resort Hotel

The San Ignacio Resort Hotel’s convenient location provides easy access to several notable attractions, including the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich and Cahal Pech, the Belize Botanic Gardens showcasing the region’s flora, and the adventurous and historical Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave tour site.

The Best Beach in Belize

Placencia is a picturesque and popular destination located in southern Belize, known for its stunning beaches, vibrant community, access to both marine and inland attractions, and a welcome escape from conventional tourist traps. The name Placencia is derived from the Spanish word “placencia,” meaning pleasantness, which aptly describes the area’s ambiance. Placencia boasts some of the best beaches in Belize, with soft white sand and clear turquoise waters. These beaches are ideal for sunbathing, swimming, and beachcombing. 

This slender, 24-mile-long stretch of land boasts a mere handful of hotels and resorts, catering to a population of just 5,000, including charming expat neighborhoods. Driving along the peninsula’s narrow main road, one is greeted by breathtaking views of the Caribbean beaches fringed with swaying palm trees on the East, and the tranquil mangroves overlooking the mainland on the West. 

Placencia Belize
The beach at Sirenian Bay Villas in Placencia

The heart of Placencia is a quaint, time-honored fishing village adorned with vibrant shops, delectable seafood shacks, and an acclaimed gelato stand that has garnered fame across the country. The Placencia Sidewalk, often claimed to be the narrowest main street in the world, is a notable landmark. The nearby Belize Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage site, offers world-class diving and snorkeling opportunities. Popular spots include the Silk Cayes and Laughing Bird Caye. Kayaking, paddleboarding, and sailing are also popular activities in the calm waters around Placencia. Visitors can explore inland attractions like the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, known for its jaguar population, and the Maya ruins of Nim Li Punit and Lubaantun. This is an area known as the best place to live in Belize for expats.

Where to Stay in Placencia Belize

Nestled on the pristine Placencia beach, Sirenian Bay Resort and Villas stands as a beacon of luxury and tranquility – and the resort was recently nominated for a Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards 2024. The resort sits on a private beach with breathtaking vistas of the Caribbean Sea making it one of the best Belize snorkeling resorts. The accommodation options at this exquisite resort are nothing short of extraordinary: Beachfront Villas are spaciously designed, exuding luxury with private pools, fully equipped kitchens, multiple bedrooms, and expansive living areas, catering to families and groups seeking an unforgettable escape. Bungalows are intimate and charming, tailored for couples and small families, with modern amenities and stylish decor for a cozy and delightful stay. The suites are elegantly appointed, offering comfort and convenience, with enchanting ocean or garden views. 

Sirenian Bay Villas in Placencia
Sirenian Bay Villas in Placencia

Sirenian Bay offers a plethora of opulent amenities to enrich the guest experience including a grand infinity pool overlooking the beach, complete with a swim-up bar. There’s on-site dining at Inky’s 19th Hole Bar & Grill with a diverse menu showcasing local and international cuisine, spotlighting the freshest, locally sourced ingredients. The resort’s spa beckons guests to indulge in an array of treatments, from soothing massages to rejuvenating facials and body treatments, ensuring a blissful and pampering experience. An 18-hole mini-golf course is designed to provide enjoyable entertainment for families and friends. Guests also have access to kayaks, paddleboards, and snorkeling gear, ensuring endless aquatic adventures. It is definitely one of the best resorts in Belize, especially in the Placencia area.

Plug in your dates here and check out the best resorts in Belize!

When is the best time to visit Belize?
The country has a tropical climate with a wet season from June to November and a dry season from December to May. The best time to visit is the dry season, from late November to mid-April. Coastal areas are usually humid, while inland regions have more temperature variations. 

How to get to Belize

Don’t let the fact that Belize is in Central America scare you off! It’s easy to get there with many affordable, direct flights from the U.S. Check here for some discounted rates!

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