When I had the opportunity to visit Belize, a small nation nestled on the eastern coast of Central America, I’ll be honest: I wasn’t sure what to expect. Unlike its better-known neighbors, Mexico and Costa Rica, I hadn’t heard much about this small nation that sidles up to the Caribbean Sea. Still, I decided to take the trip — despite having just suffered a serious ski injury. However, I felt like the warm waters of the Caribbean, lush jungles and ever-present sunshine that awaited me in Belize could be just what the “doctor” ordered. Plus, with snow piling up in my hometown, I knew it was just the right time to escape late February’s winter doldrums.
Turns out, it was well worth venturing off the beaten path to Belize — for my mental and physical health. If you’re anything like me and you, too, are craving a warm-weather vacation that’s a little healthier and more relaxing than the traditional booze-fueled beach trip, Belize might just be the perfect place. Here are a few reasons why.
Reason #1: Belize provides incredibly diverse experiences for visitors, despite its size.
Belize is the most sparsely populated country in Central America with just 387,000 residents. However, it still offers a wide range of diverse environments, from the dense forests on the western side of the country to the stunning beaches on the east coast. Just offshore, divers and snorkelers will love exploring the massive Belize Barrier Reef, which hosts a variety of marine life and picturesque islands.
Reason #2: Belize’s western region offers adventure, history and natural beauty.
Travel to the western part of the country to hike through lush jungles and visit world-renowned historical sites. One option is to take a day tour into the Chiquibul Forest Reserve via the Mountain Pine Ridge to visit one of the largest Maya cities in Belize: Caracol. This ancient city served as the political center of the Maya population. As you explore Caracol, keep an eye out for howler monkey, keel-billed toucans, and other wildlife.
More adventurous travelers can explore historic cave systems, including the famous Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave in the Cayo District. You’ll hike for about 45 minutes through a wonderful nature reserve with numerous crystal-clear stream crossings. After a short swim, you’ll take a guided hike into the cave system, which still contains evidence of the Maya civilization, including ceramics, stoneware and skeletal remains.
Another daring option would be to travel to Nohoch Che’en Park. Here, you can hike through lush rainforests, explore ancient limestone caves, and even zipline between the treetops.
Reason #3: The southeast coast of Belize provides a relaxing place to recharge.
After I spent a couple days hiking through the rainforest and discovering hidden waterfalls, we drove the picturesque Hummingbird Highway from San Ignacio to Placencia. This beautiful peninsula in southern Belize is home to a charming fishing village, as well as high-end luxury resorts.
I loved that the most popular activities in this tended to be active, yet low-impact — perfect for my injured knee. We kayaked through mangroves, paddle-boarded in the ocean, snorkeled among the barrier reefs, rode horses through hilly countryside and enjoyed long walks on the beach as the sun rose. Of course, we also indulged in a luxurious spa day on our last day at our hotel’s stunning spa (more on that below). It was the perfect place for me to restore my sense of well-being.
If you’re hoping to spot more wildlife, definitely take a boat trip to nearby Monkey River. This Creole village sits on the bank of a river with the same name, where you’ll see (and hear!) a variety of wildlife, including howler monkeys.
Reason #4: You’ll feel welcome and comfortable thanks to the friendly locals and luxe accommodations.
Here’s another good excuse to book a Belizean escape: Most of the gorgeous high-end resorts in the country are surprisingly affordable. In the western region, we stayed at Ka’ana, a five-star boutique resort right outside San Ignacio in Belize’s Mayan jungle. Ka’ana offers luxury accommodations, adventure tours and a close-up look at the luscious jungles. The restaurant’s cuisine and bespoke cocktails are also top-notch.
I’d also highly recommend the Naia Resort and Spa in Placencia. Here, the hotel “rooms” range from stand-alone studios to two-bedroom houses that all have beach-front access. When you walk in, you’re greeted by hibiscus blooms covering every surface, a stunning outdoor shower and indulgent bed and bath linens. Some have their own private plunge pools. The spa is next-level luxe, with private treatment rooms overlooking a peaceful lily pond.
Plus, at every hotel and restaurant we went to, the staff was highly accommodating, which gave the country a familiar and exotic feel simultaneously.
Reason #5: Traditional Belizean food is not only delicious, but it’s also healthy.
My first meal on my Belize vacation was about as traditional as you can get: stewed chicken with rice and beans. While it may sound plain, it was anything but. This might have been the juiciest, most flavorful chicken I’ve ever had — and I’m not just saying that because I was starving after my flight!
All the other food I had over the course of my trip was also extremely tasty. I especially enjoyed the seafood-centric dishes along the coast, such as the fresh lobster, grilled fish tacos and special seafood stews.
Reason #6: Belize is accessible via direct flights from most major airports.
Belize is actually very easy to travel to from many cities. For example, you can find direct flights from Atlanta (just over 3 hours), Charlotte (3.5 hours), Miami (2 hours), Houston (2.5 hours) and Dallas (about 3 hours). All flights land at the Philip Goldson International Airport (PGIA) in Ladyville, just minutes from Belize City.
SB Note: Yes, even Southwest now flies nonstop to Belize from Houston and Fort Lauderdale.
Reason #7: Belize is easier to navigate, for most Americans, than other Central American countries because English is the official language.
Notably, Belize is the only Central American country whose official language is English. While you’ll find people speaking other languages, such as Spanish and Kriol, a unique, Caribbean-influenced language spoken in Belize, visitors can rest assured they’ll be able to communicate confidently with their Belizean hosts. What’s more: The exchange rate stays steady at $1 USD to $2 BZD. Most vendors accept both types of bills as well as credit cards.
If you want to learn more about this Central American paradise, and enjoy a relaxing Belize vacation for yourself, check out travelbelize.org as well as the links included.
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