Belize is well known by scuba divers and snorkeling fanatics for its thriving reefs off shore. Inland attractions are lesser known and offer immersion of a different sort: tropical rainforests, Mayan ruins, and a mix of Creole, Latino, and Mayan cultures. As a former British colony, the primary language is English but driving is on the right side of the road. US dollars are widely accepted and you can expect change given in a combination of US and Belizean currency at a 1:2 exchange rate.
- Mayan Ruins You can climb all over four impressive ruin sites near San Ignacio which is a 2 ½ hour drive from Belize City: Xunantunich and Cahal Pech are close to San Ignacio; Caracol is a three-hour drive from San Ignacio on rough roads; El Pilar, discovered in 1983, is seven miles up a four-wheel drive road and rests under a rainforest canopy that is stirring with howler and spider monkeys. Crowds are non-existent. Fees at ruin sites are $5-$10 US.
- Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. Native Belizean pine forest with waterfalls, swimming holes, and caves. Four-wheel drive is recommended or you can hire a guide (required for exploring the caves) out of San Ignacio. The staff at the Cayo Welcome Center in San Ignacio shares directions to the local’s favorite falls and swimming holes in this park. You can enjoy the scenery and a refreshing plunge with few other people around. No fee.
- Herman’s Cave. Hike 10 minutes through a lush tropical forest to enter the outer 200 meters of St. Herman’s Cave with flashlights; you can go deeper, if you wish, with a guide. Your entrance fee includes access to Inland Blue Hole a mile down the Hummingbird Highway – a great place to swim and cool off after your hike. Fee $4 US
- Hopkins. This Garifuna village on the Caribbean coast was named “Friendliest village in Belize” by Belize First Magazine. The residents welcome you as part of the community. Ask the locals where to find live Garifuna drumming for your evening entertainment.
- Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve. Hike trails to waterfalls, tube the river, and peer into the lush green forest of giant palms and ferns for jaguars, peccaries, macaws, toucans, ocelots, and other tropical wildlife. If you don’t have a rental car, you can take the bus from Hopkins to the Maya Center and hire a taxi or hike the six-mile access road to the park. The cats are elusive but mosquitoes are bold – bring insect repellent. Fee $5 US.
(For tips on driving in Belize, check out my guest blog post at One World 365 )