Belize is a small country in Central America with a big heart, staggering natural wonders, and a rich history and culture that dates back to ancient times. Belize is home to some of the most impressive landmarks in the world.
With so much to see and do, travellers are guaranteed to have an unforgettable trip exploring monumental Maya ruins, beautiful beaches, and natural reserves. So, let’s explore the best landmarks in Belize and discover the beauty of this amazing country.
Archaeological Landmarks in Belize
Altun Ha ruins
If you’re looking for a more affordable and less-crowded landmark in Belize, the Altun Ha ruins are a perfect choice.
Just 31 miles north of Belize City, Altun Ha is an ancient Mayan city that covers three square miles on the west shore of the Caribbean Sea. Known as one of the most popular historical sites in Belize, the ruins are remnants of the Classic Period of 200 – 900 A.D.
In addition to the site’s stunning temple pyramids, perhaps its most mysterious attraction is the 10-pound Jade head of the Mayan sun god K’nich Ahau. A discovery of Canadian Archaeologist David Pendergast, the real artefact (worth nearly $10 million) sits inside the vault of Belize’s largest bank. An exact replica greets visitors at the Altun Ha Museum. Visitors can also climb the Temple of Masonry Altars for amazing panoramic views of the ruins and surrounding jungle.
// Experienced by Alex of East Coast Contessa
How to get to Altun Ha
Travellers can visit Altun Ha with or without a tour guide. However, given the immense history of the location, it’s best to hire a professional company to book a tour of Altun Ha.
Most tour guides offer pick-up and drop-off from local Belize City hotels, which makes getting there less stressful.
Many tour guides will also include a stop for lunch at Roadhouse Restaurant, the Jungle Lab Cafe, or Mayan Sunrise (hint: all are delicious!)
When visiting San Ignacio, one must visit the famous Belizean landmark, Cahal Pech Archaeological Reserve. This spot is for anyone interested in history, culture, and ancient civilizations.
This site was once a thriving Mayan city and is now an important archaeological reserve that showcases the fascinating history of the Mayan people. The monument of Cahal Pech is significant because it offers a glimpse into the sophisticated architecture and cultural practices of the Mayans, and it’s one of the oldest known Mayan sites in the country.
The site features impressive stone structures, plazas, and ball courts, all of which were carefully constructed by the Mayans around 500 AD! You can explore the ruins and learn about the Mayan way of life.
After roaming through ruins all day, you’ll surely be hungry. We recommend heading to Cenaida’s Belizean Food for some of the best Belizean food in town! Everything is truly fresh and tastes like it was made with love. You should definitely order something in their coconut sauce.
// Experienced by Nina of Where In The World Is Nina
How to get to Cahal Pech
These ruins are one of the best things to do in Belize, and they are the most accessible too! Most other ruins require a tour to get there or at the least for you to have your own rental car. But for Cahal Pech, you can easily stroll on over since these ruins are just south of the city or grab a taxi for a couple of bucks.
To gain expert knowledge from a local guide, you could book a tour of Cahal Pech.
Caracol Archaeological Area
Caracol Archaeological Area is a hidden gem of Belize and of the most impressive Mayan ruins in Central America located deep in the jungle.
With only 10 per cent of Caracol unearthed, researchers estimate that much of the city is yet to be discovered and archaeological works take place at the site every year.
When you get here, you will be treated to incredible views of the stunning Mayan pyramids and the lush jungle. Here you can spot many animals like spider monkeys, toucans and even ocelots.
While Caracol requires time and effort to visit, you will love your time at this place.
// Experienced by Daria of The Discovery Nut
How to get to Caracol
Caracol is one of the least visited ruins in Belize due to its remote location, but the trip is well worth it. It takes almost 2 hours to reach Caracol from San Ignacio, the largest town in Western Belize.
The best way to reach the ruins is by booking a guided tour of Caracol with one of the local tour operators who will pick you up from your hotel and provide round-trip transportation as well as a detailed tour of the area followed by a quick lunch stop.
Some tours of Caracol also include a stop at Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, that’s home to waterfalls, Belizean pine forests and gorgeous water pools.
If you have a rental car, you can also visit San Ignacio on your own, but be prepared for a long and bumpy road. Make sure to fill up your tank and have plenty of food and snacks, as there are no amenities along the way.
Lamanai Archaeological Reserve
Lamanai Archaeological Reserve is an ancient Maya site in the Orange Walk District and one of the must-see landmarks in Belize.
The name Lamanai means “submerged crocodile” in Yucatec Maya, and the site is believed to have been inhabited from around 1500 BC to the 17th century AD. The city was strategically located near the New River Lagoon, which allowed for easy transportation of goods by canoe.
The reserve covers over 900 acres and includes more than 100 impressive ruins, including temples, palaces, pyramids, and ball courts. One of the most impressive structures is the Mask Temple, which features a giant stone mask of a Maya ruler.
For wildlife lovers, the boat trip along the New River to Lamanai is a great opportunity to see Jacana birds hop across the water lillies, iguanas hanging from trees and crocodiles basking in the sun. The walk from the jetty to the ruins through the jungle is a joy as the sound of the toucans and howler monkeys echo through the trees.
How to reach Lamanai Archaeological Reserve
It is possible by car, but it is an indirect route driving down a lot of dirt roads through the Mennonite community, and you would miss out on the river tour which is a must in my eyes.
The best way to explore the ruins and learn about Maya history and culture is by booking a guided tour of Lamanai Archaeological Reserve and boat safari.
Xunantunich is an ancient Mayan archaeological site located in western Belize, near the Guatemalan border. The name Xunantunich translates to “Stone Woman” in Yucatec Maya, named after the ghost of a woman who allegedly appears near the site’s main pyramid.
The site was inhabited around 700 AD and probably abandoned around 1000 AD. It served as an important administrative and religious centre for the Mayan civilization. The most prominent structure at Xunantunich is El Castillo, a towering pyramid that rises 130 feet above the jungle floor. This is the second-largest carved stone monument in Belize. Visitors can climb to the top of El Castillo for stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
Another popular site in Xunantunich is the Ball Court. Located in the southern plaza, this was where the Mayans engaged in the Mesoamerican ball game. This archaeological site is widely regarded as one of the best-preserved Mayan ruins in Belize.
For those looking to grab a bite to eat, there are great restaurants in the nearby town of San Jose Succotz. A popular one is the appropriately named Xunantunich Restaurant & Café.
// Experienced by Andy of Explore With Finesse
To reach Xunantunich
Visitors can take a bus or taxi from the town of San Ignacio, which is about 8 miles away.
Alternatively, you can book a 2-hour tour of Xunantunich with a local guide, hotel pick-up and options for horseback riding, cave or river tubing afterwards.
Natural Landmarks in Belize
Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM Caves)
Actun Tunichil Muknal is the most famous cave system in Belize. Here you can discover ancient Mayan ruins on an adrenaline-pumping adventure. Inside, you are completely surrounded by authentic Mayan artefacts. To this day, many areas of the ATM caves have yet to be uncovered.
When you reach the dark abyss-like entrance to the ATM Caves, you venture into the unknown. Bats and the sound of dripping water add to the feeling of being on a National Geographic expedition. The network of caves is full of archaeological finds such as pottery, tools, and human skeletal remains. One of the highlights of the cave is “the Crystal Maiden”, a mummified skeleton encrusted with crystal-like minerals.
What to wear to the ATM Caves Belize: This is a sacred religious site, so modest attire is recommended. Water shoes and dark athletic clothing are helpful for this strenuous tour. Also, bring a dry change of clothing for the conclusion of the tour.
How to get to the ATM Caves Belize:
To reach the ATM Caves from San Ignacio, drive 45 minutes to the Tapir Mountain Reserve. Then, trek 45 minutes into the jungle, and wade through small streams with your guide to reach the ATM Caves.
ATM is a specialist tour that requires qualified guides. To visit, it is best to book a tour of ATM Caves in advance which includes transportation, a guide, and lunch. Photography is prohibited.
Barton Creek Cave
The Barton Creek Cave is a famous landmark in Belize and one of the best things to do in San Ignacio. It’s a great alternative to the ATM Cave – it’s an easier tour with archaeological artefacts and beautiful geological formations (stalactites, stalagmites and crystal formations).
Entrance to the Barton Creek Cave costs $10 BZD. Guided tours cost around $85 USD (including the entrance and transport) and last 3-4 hours. The site is open from 8 am to 5 pm, but guided tours run from 9 am to 4 pm.
You’ll visit a mile of the cave where most artefacts were found. This informative tour will leave you in awe as the Cave was used as a ceremonial place for Mayan rituals. You can see remnants of human sacrifices, bones, tools and pottery.
Make sure to wear comfortable shoes and clothes, and bring a camera that works well in low light. The cave is very dark and all you have are flashlights to see in the dark.
It was a fascinating tour of one of the most famous Belize landmarks and it’s one of the best things to do in San Ignacio!
// Experienced by Carine of We Did It Our Way
How to get to Barton Creek Cave
The best way to visit the Barton Creek Cave is to go on a tour. You can also visit independently from San Ignacio. It’s a 30-45 minutes’ drive on a bumpy dirt road that crosses two small creeks. Keep that in mind if you have a rental car.
Great Blue Hole
The Great Blue Hole is the icon of Belize. Situated on the outer edges of the Belize Barrier Reef in the Caribbean Sea, this mysterious hole is a marine sinkhole.
Measuring over 300 metres / 900 feet wide and 120 metres / 400 feet deep, the contrast between the deep, dark blue waters of the hole and the turquoise shallow waters of the reef is mind-blowing.
In the past, the Great Blue Hole was a limestone cave, before ocean levels rose and the cave collapsed. Now the hole is filled with unique limestone stalactites and stalagmites. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Listed site and is considered by many to be one of the natural wonders of the world.
How to get to the Great Blue Hole
There are two ways to visit the Great Blue Hole – via a scenic flight, or via boat. Local airlines Tropic Air and Maya Island Air offer 60-minute scenic flyovers departing from Belize City, San Pedro and Caye Caulker. You get fantastic views over the Belize Barrier Reef, before circling around the Great Blue Hole 4-5 times each side of the plane. Seeing the Great Blue Hole from above allows you to appreciate the sheer size and scale of this enormous sinkhole, and the impressive contrast in colour and depth.
If you’re a scuba diver, you can dive inside the Great Blue Hole. Dive shops run trips from Caye Caulker or San Pedro, and it takes at least two hours to reach the hole. Advanced divers will dive to at least 40 metres / 130 feet, admiring the stalactites and stalagmites inside the hole. Note that it is possible for snorkellers to join these trips, but without being able to descend inside the hole, you won’t really be able to appreciate it.
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is the only Jaguar Preserve in the world and a great addition to your Belize itinerary. While it is unlikely to spot one of these magnificent felines, visitors can explore a range of hiking trails amidst the sanctuary’s stunning natural beauty. One of the most picturesque trails is the tiger fern trail, which leads to a spectacular waterfall with a secluded second pool. The trail covers approximately 6 km (3.7 mi), and it is mainly uphill on the way to the waterfall and downhill on the way back.
Tubing is another popular activity that visitors can enjoy at the sanctuary. For a fee of 15 BZD, visitors can rent a tube from the visitor centre and follow a well-marked path that leads to the river entrance. After a leisurely 30-minute ride, a path returns to the centre. You can buy drinks at the centre but there is no food available.
For those seeking a unique experience, the plane crash trail is a hidden gem within the sanctuary. Follow the 300 m (1000 ft) path from the roadside sign to discover a small plane wreck – the perfect end for a day of adventure.
// Experience by Carina of Bucketlist2Life
How to get to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
A tour costs about 200 BZD. Public transport is cheaper but unreliable. Take the 7:00 a.m. bus to Dangriga, get off at Hopkins section, and wait for a southbound bus to Maya Centre. From there, walk 8 km (5 mi) on to the entrance – maybe you can hitchhike this part of the way.
If you’re brave enough to drive a motorbike or car, you can rent one in Hopkins.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Hol Chan Marine Reserve is a protected area of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, located off the coast of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. The reef is protected by the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, which is comprised of seven protected areas. The Hol Chan Marine Reserve is one of the seven protected areas.
Hol Chan, which means “little channel” in Mayan, was named after a natural cut in the reef that was used by fishermen for centuries. Shark Ray Alley in Hol Chan is a testament to this as the nurse sharks have swarmed around the boats for the scraps that fishermen cleaned their nets before heading back to port.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve covers approximately 18 km² of coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove forests, and is home to a diverse range of marine life including angelfish, groupers, blue tangs, grunts, snappers, seahorses, rays and turtles, hence why it is the go-to spot for snorkelling and diving in Belize. It has four zones, each with different regulations to protect the ecosystem, and the most popular zones to explore are the Coral Reef and Shark Ray Alley.
How to visit Hol Chan Marine Reserve
To visit Hol Chan Marine Reserve, travellers need to take a tour from either San Pedro or Caye Caulker, which includes snorkelling gear and refreshments.
Check out the different tours for Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
Laughing Bird Caye
One of the most famous landmarks in Belize that were created naturally is Laughing Bird Caye National Park. This gem off the coast of southern Belize, near Placencia, is a lesser-known island, and completely worth visiting! It’s one of the best things to do in Placencia, as it’s just 12 miles offshore.
Established in 1991, Laughing Bird Caye National Park got its name from the Laughing Gulls that once inhabited the island. The island is also part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Because it’s situated right on the reef, it has amazing snorkelling opportunities! Expect to see a variety of fish, squid, lobster, conch and so much more.
There are extremely limited amenities on the island, so be sure to pack snacks, food and drink if your tour operator doesn’t provide them for you. Also, bring a beach towel to lounge on the chairs when you’re finished snorkelling.
This gem in southern Belize is perfect for a day trip, with picturesque views on a tiny island on the Caribbean Sea!
// Experienced by Nikki of She Saves She Travels
How to get to Laughing Bird Caye
By boat, it takes about a 45-minutes to get to Laughing Bird Caye from Placencia.
The best way to visit is to take a day trip to Laughing Bird Caye which will include snorkelling or diving gear, depending on which excursion you book.
When visiting San Ignacio, experience and explore the wildlife corridor and natural beauty of the nearly 200-mile-long Macal River. To experience it best, consider staying at one of several jungle lodges or resorts along the river just outside and south of town.
At the lodges, join skilled staff on early morning bird walks to catch sight of tropical species that love to congregate along the river. Or go on a guided night jungle walk to see nocturnal animals such as ocelots, howler monkeys, and jaguarundis, who make this lush river valley habitat their home.
// Experienced by Janice of Gather and Go Travel
How to reach Macal River
For visitors staying in San Ignacio or visiting the area on a day trip, get a river fix at the Belize Botanic Garden, a 20-minute ride from San Ignacio and on the banks of the Macal River, to explore its 45 acres of riverside rainforest and medicinal trails.
Or—and depending on water levels, get out on the river via canoe on an organized tour or by renting one to explore the river at your leisure. Find rentals in San Elena, the town immediately next to San Ignacio, across the low-lying bridge spanning the Macal River that connects both towns.
Monkey River is the oldest settlement that was originally discovered by pirates when they needed to make repairs to their ships. Today, it is one of Belize’s major rivers and hosts a village of around 200 hundred residents. There is no technology or electricity so when stepping foot on the land you can feel how social the community is and receive a friendly welcome. They rely heavily on tourists visiting to stop for lunch.
You will be served some delicious Creole food usually consisting of chicken, rice, beans and plantain. The boat trip to the village is an incredible experience and would recommend it to anyone who really wants to explore a different side of Belizean culture.
// Experienced by Amy of Plain2Plane
How to get to Monkey River
You can arrange a boat trip in Placencia which will take you on a 15-mile boat ride along the mangroves. If you’re lucky, you may get to see howler monkeys, crocodiles and other wildlife along the way. Make sure that you wear hiking boots, long trousers and a long-sleeved top and bring plenty of bug spray!
The New River was a major Mayan trade route that connected several ancient cities like Lamanai to the rest of the Mayan world. To this day, the river is still the best way to reach Lamanai, a significant Mayan site that was occupied for over 2500 years.
Although most tourists first hear about the river as a way to get to the Mayan ruins, a boat ride down the New River is one of the best things to do in Belize. Most New River boat trips begin a few hours away from Belize City in Orange Walk and include a tour at the Lamanai archaeological site before a scenic ride back down the river.
Bright green foliage lines the river banks as you peacefully cruise down the ancient route. You’ll spot exotic birds, turtles, and tropical plants as you journey deep into the Belizean jungle toward the ancient site of Lamanai. If you’re lucky, you’ll pass sunbathing crocodiles and hear the mystical cries of howler monkeys.
// Experienced by Annie of Your Friend the Nomad
How to get to the New River
The best way to enjoy the New River is to book a Lamanai tour that includes a two-hour cruise on the river (one hour each way). Tour companies can pick you up in Belize City, or you can drive to Orange Walk, where the boat tours depart.
Rio On Pools
One of the most beautiful natural landmarks in Belize is the Rio On Pools, located in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve — the most scenic part of Western Belize, where many of the best Belize eco lodges are found.
Located about 45 kilometres away from San Ignacio, the Rio On Pools is a fantastic place to cool off in the tropical Belizean humidity after doing some sightseeing in the Cayo District. These natural pools cascade through the rocks, creating a handful of scattered pools you can dip in with rushing water creating a beautiful, peaceful sound.
You can stick and soak in one pool or hop between them, or stand beneath the waterfall for a free hydro-massage!
Note that these pools are very slippery to walk around, so you’ll want to have a good pair of water shoes that also has some traction. The stairs down to the pools are also a little worse for wear, so walk cautiously!
The Belizean sun is hot, hot, hot, so be sure to also pack some (chemical-free) sunscreen.
// Experienced by Allison of Eternal Arrival
How to get to Rio On Pools
From San Ignacio, it takes about an hour to get there, especially because a large swath of the road is fairly rough-and-tumble (if you’re renting a car, drive with caution!).
There are also many tours that combine the Rio On Pools with other nearby sites, like the Mayan Ruins of Caracol as well as Rio Frio Cave.
Secret Beach is a ‘not-so-secret’ gem located on Ambergris Caye. It’s a beautiful stretch of white sand and clear turquoise water, perfect for swimming, sunbathing, paddleboarding and snorkelling.
Visitors will not be under any illusion that they have arrived when they spot the huge SECRET BEACH signage, and then the friendly staff at the beach bar tempt you in with the deals of the day. The tables with umbrellas submerged in the shallow waters are a great chance to keep cool whilst you sip away and enjoy the stunning views of the Caribbean Sea.
Secret Beach is on the west side of the island whereas San Pedro is located on the east side parallel to the Belize Barrier Reef. With less coral and marine life, it was considered less attractive for tourists until the development of a road through the mangroves over 10 years ago made it more accessible.
Now, the Secret Beach is a thriving coastal paradise that gets pretty packed out, especially on the weekends. It is best to head there in the low season (not the rainy season) or midweek to avoid the crowds and spread out the spending for the local businesses.
How to visit the Secret Beach
To get there, you’ll need to take a golf cart or taxi about 40 minutes north of San Pedro town. The rocky road can be a bumpy ride in parts so drive carefully.
St. Herman’s Blue Hole
St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park is an iconic landmark in Belize, located in the western Cayo District between San Ignacio and Placencia. It is a 500-acre site of natural beauty, with a 120-foot-deep sinkhole surrounded by lush tropical rainforest.
This picturesque park has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique geological and ecological features, making it one of the most important protected areas in Central America.
The Blue Hole itself is a stunning natural pool that is part of an underground river system, surrounded by moss and lush vegetation. It was once a ceremonial centre for Mayan people but it has been used for swimming and other recreational activities since the 19th century.
The area also contains numerous caves, including St. Herman’s Cave, which is home to many species of bats and other wildlife. A tour guide is required to explore more than 200 yards into it.
How to get to St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park
Visitors can access St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park via the Hummingbird Highway, which runs through the park from Belmopan in western Belize to Dangriga on the Caribbean coast. Swimming in St. Herman’s Blue Hole is easily accessible from this entrance, too.
Alternatively, to make it stress-free and full of adventure, join a tour to explore the Crystal Cave and St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park.
“The Split” in Caye Caulker divides the north and south sides of the island. Most agree that in the 1960s Hurricane Hattie caused a stream of water to flow between the north and south sides of Caye Caulker. Later, a channel was dredged out expanding that area into what is now known as “The Split.”
When visiting Caye Caulker, The Split is the liveliest spot on the South Island. A great place to eat at The Split is The Lazy Lizard. The restaurant offers sand volleyball, a fire pit, tables and lounge chairs with a view of the beautiful blue water. A fan favourite is the diving board and it does not disappoint! If you prefer watersports, there are rentals nearby. Many people just lay out and read a book at The Split. It is a great spot to relax.
// Experienced by Minnie from Journey with Minnie
How to get to The Split
Caye Caulker is a small island. From most hotels, it is less than a 15-minute walk to The Split. There are signs with maps to help navigate the few streets. Head north on Avenida Hicaco until you reach The Split at the end of the South Island.
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