Because Belize uses English as its official language, the country makes an ideal first foray into Central America. It is a microcosm of the entire region, with Mayan ruins, unspoiled tropical forests containing a wealth of birdlife and white-sand beaches protected by the second-longest coral reef in the world.
It would certainly be possible to have a delightful vacation focusing on just one of these attractions, but since Belize is so compact and travel within the country is simple and relatively inexpensive, I recommend staying in three or four contrasting resorts.
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Arrive in Belize City. Either fly from there to San Ignacio or meet a driver and travel overland two hours to reach your hotel, The Lodge at Chaa Creek. You might have time for an excursion this afternoon, but I recommend taking time to settle in and enjoy the property.
In the morning, tour nearby Xunantunich, an ancient Mayan city with six plazas surrounded by 26 temples and palaces.
After lunch, have a relaxing treatment in the hotel’s spa or take a short horseback ride to the property’s Maya Organic Farm, which provides much of the produce for The Lodge at Chaa Creek’s restaurant. You could also visit the resort’s Blue Morpho Butterfly Farm.
Explore more of the region’s Mayan heritage today. You can cross into nearby Guatemala (border formalities are simple) to visit Tikal, the grandest Mayan archaeological site, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Chaa Creek. Lesser-known Yaxha, also in Guatemala, is closer. It has two tall pyramids available to climb, numerous other excavated palaces and temples, and hundreds of enigmatic buildings still shrouded in jungle. On the Belize side of the border, Caracol (two hours from Chaa Creek) rivaled Tikal in importance, and its remote location ensures that the site will be crowd-free.
Alternatively, head underground. Adventurous sorts can visit Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave, which requires fording three rivers, swimming into the cave’s mouth and a little light rock-climbing. The reward is an astonishing collection of intact Mayan artifacts close enough to touch, including skeletons of sacrificial victims. Barton Creek Cave offers a more relaxed experience. Your guide paddles your canoe into the cave, which served as the site of Mayan religious rituals and sacrifices. The cave contains fewer visible artifacts, but several pots and a human skull are plain to see. The experience is extraordinarily atmospheric, especially if you have the cave to yourself.
After breakfast, head to the tiny San Ignacio Cayo Airport and fly to Belize City, where you change planes and fly south to Punta Gorda. The planes fly direct, but they will likely make brief stops at other airports en route to your destination. The flight down the coast is especially beautiful; sit on the right side of the plane if possible.
It takes about two hours to reach Punta Gorda, where a driver from Belcampo Belize will meet you. Check in and have lunch. Perhaps tour the extensive organic farm on the property, or do a tasting in the newly opened rum distillery. The spa is small, but the treatments are highly professional. A sugar scrub would be just the thing to refresh yourself after traveling from San Ignacio.
Before dinner, try a Spicy Mayan cocktail, a refreshingly herbaceous concoction of muddled allspice leaves shaken with white rum, lime, simple syrup and a wild cilantro liqueur.
Belcampo Belize offers myriad enticing activities from its hilltop perch above a river near the coast. Head to the sea for some snorkeling, kayak up the river, do some freshwater fly-fishing for tarpon or cast for bonefish near the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve.
Inland, you can visit Mayan ruins such as Lubaantun and Nim Li Punit, hike to the Rio Blanco waterfalls or explore Belize’s culinary heritage, touring a spice farm and learning to make chocolate from the bean.
Those with more time can spend two or three nights at Turtle Inn, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Punta Gorda (or a 15-minute flight). This Balinese-style resort on the coast has access to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary & Jaguar Preserve, as well as fine snorkeling, diving and fishing.
Fly from Punta Gorda (or Turtle Inn) back up the coast to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. Fronting the beach, Victoria House is a five-minute drive from the airport on the southern outskirts of town.
Use the Victoria House as a base for superlative snorkeling, diving and fishing excursions along the barrier reef. It can also be great fun to rent a golf cart to explore Ambergris Caye on your own.
Alternatively, those seeking pure relaxation (or a luxurious base for bonefishing) at the end of the itinerary might opt to stay at Cayo Espanto, a seven-cottage resort on a small private island 10 minutes from Ambergris Caye by speedboat.
Fly 10 minutes from San Pedro back to Belize City and connect to your flight home.
Contact a travel advisor to book your custom itinerary. Fill out the form or call (630) 734-4610.