Ruins, Rain Forests, and Reef
Sample the best of all that Belize offers—ruins, rain forests, and reef—in only seven or eight days. If you have only five days, shave off some time in the Cayo and head to Actun Tunichil Muknal on Day 2 instead of Day 3.
Day 1: Arrival
Fly into the international airport near Belize City and immediately head out to the Cayo in Western Belize, about two hours by road from the airport. Stay at one of the superb jungle lodges, such as the Lodge at Chaa Creek or duPlooy's, or, for less money, Black Rock, Table Rock, or Crystal Paradise.
Logistics: The best way to see the mainland is by rental car. Pick up a car at one of seven car rental agencies in kiosks just across the main parking lot at the international airport. If you'd rather not drive, you can arrange a shuttle van, take a bus, or ask your hotel in the Cayo to pick you up. Buses don't come to the international airport—if you're taking one, you have to take a taxi into town (BZ$50). There's currently no scheduled air service to the Cayo.
Day 2: Exploring the Cayo
On your first full day in Belize, get out and explore San Ignacio and the beautiful hill country around the Cayo. Among the top attractions are the small but interesting Mayan ruins at Xunantunich, Green Hills Butterfly Farm, the Rainforest Medicine Trail at Chaa Creek, and the Belize Botanical Gardens at duPlooy's. Save a little time for walking around and shopping in San Ignacio. After a full day of exploring, have cocktails and a good dinner at your lodge.
Logistics: You can do all four attractions and San Ignacio in one day, if you have a rental car and if you don't dawdle. Sans car, you can hire a taxi for the day, or opt for your hotel's tours.
Day 3: Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM)
Prepare to be wowed by the ultimate cave experience. Go into the mysterious and beautiful Mayan underworld and see untouched artifacts dating back thousands of years.
Logistics: You must have a guide for ATM, so book your trip the day before with an authorized tour guide. It's an all-day event, and you'll get wet—bring a change of clothes and wear walking or tennis shoes, not sandals. If you're badly out of shape or have mobility issues, this isn't a tour for you.
Day 4: Tikal
Tikal, very simply, is the most awe-inspiring Mayan site in all of Central America, rivaling the pyramids of Egypt and the ruins of Angor Wat in Cambodia. It's well worth at least two days and nights, preferably staying in one of the three lodges at the park, but even on a day tour, you'll get a sense of the majesty of this Classic-period city.
Logistics: Although you can go on your own, the easiest and most stress-free way to see Tikal is on a tour from San Ignacio—you'll leave around 6:30 am and return in the late afternoon; lunch is usually included.
Day 5: Caracol and the Mountain Pine Ridge
You can't pass up a trip to Caracol, the most important Mayan site in Belize. The trip there is part of the fun—you bump along winding roads through the Mountain Pine Ridge, past the Macal River, and through broadleaf jungle. If you've seen enough Mayan ruins, skip Caracol and spend the day exploring the Mountain Pine Ridge—there's the Rio Frio cave and numerous waterfalls. A bonus: the higher elevation here means it's cooler and less humid than other parts of Belize. If you don't mind packing and unpacking again, for your last night in Cayo consider switching to one of the four lodges in the Pine Ridge. Our favorites are Blancaneaux and Hidden Valley Inn.
Logistics: From Blancaneaux or Hidden Valley, it's around a two-hour drive to Caracol, and about an hour longer from most lodges around San Ignacio. The road can be near-impassable after heavy rains, and there have been some incidents with bandits from Guatemala, so check locally for the latest conditions and cautions.
Alternative: If you tire of rain forest and ruins, and long for the sea, head a day early to San Pedro.
Day 6: San Pedro
Return to Belize City by car, bus, or shuttle van. Then fly or take a water taxi to San Pedro (Ambergris Caye) for fabulous eating (our favorites include Rojo Lounge and Market at Azul Resort, Blue Water Grill, Pinocchio's, and Hidden Treasure) and water activities (like snorkeling Shark-Ray Alley). Try to arrive early enough to take in a snorkel trip to Hol Chan and Shark-Ray Alley—Lil' Alphonse is our favorite snorkeling guide.
Alternative: San Pedro's a bustling town, so if you want a more laid-back experience on the coast, stay on Caye Caulker instead. You still have access to the same snorkel and dive sites.
Day 7: Blue Hole
Take a day trip to dive or snorkel the Blue Hole at Lighthouse Reef atoll. Dive boats also stop at Half Moon Caye for other dives (or snorkeling) besides the Blue Hole.
Logistics: A trip to the Blue Hole involves a full day on the water, so bring seasick medicine and plenty of sunscreen. Dive boats to Lighthouse leave early, usually before 7 am.
Day 8: Departure
Return to Belize City by plane or water taxi for your international flight.
Logistics: Plan on arriving at least two hours ahead of your international flight. There's often a long line at check-in.
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