Belize is one of my favorite countries in Central America. It’s small enough that you can easily see the best of Belize in one week, whereas other countries like Guatemala you’ll need at least two at a bare minimum and still just barely scratch the surface.
Belize is also a bit of a microcosm of all the different things you can get from Central America. You can get Caribbean sunsets and beachside coconuts and dive one of the world’s biggest reefs one day and then be in the middle of the jungle just a few hours later.
This Belize itinerary has you visiting two different islands: Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, though certainly you could pick one or the other if you prefer to move around less (here’s my guide to choosing between the two, if you have to).
Afterward, it brings you to Belize’s interior, where you can see Mayan ruins, go caving, and stay in an eco-lodge in the jungle. You’ll get a good sampling of a bit of everything, while still having an appetite to revisit this beautiful country.
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Day 1: Arriving in Belize and heading to San Pedro / Ambergris Caye
You’ll likely start your trip at Belize City International Airport, and it’s pretty easy to get to San Pedro from there. There are two choices, by air or by land and sea. If you are traveling alone, the difference between the plane and the ferry option is not that great, due to the fact that you’ll need to take a taxi from the airport to the ferry terminal. If you are traveling in a group, the ferry option is cheaper per person for sure.
However, flying to San Pedro is pretty freaking amazing, so I recommend flying one way if you can make room for it in your budget — and at around $65 USD for a “Maya Bargain Hopper” fare, it’s not that insane of a splurge, especially considering that a taxi costs $25 USD and a one-way ticket to San Pedro is another $18 USD. Consider it sightseeing as well as transport.
The flight is in a tiny, super informal-feeling plane, going over water in the most beautiful shades of green and blue that you can imagine. It came quite close to my amazing Maldives seaplane ride — but the price of a flight in Belize is a small fraction of what a seaplane will cost you there.
Alternately, if you’re coming from Mexico overland, there are water taxis from Chetumal or you can go to Belize City by bus first and then take the ferry (much cheaper).
Depending on when you arrive in San Pedro, you might not have a lot of time to get oriented and take advantage of all there is to do there on your first day in Belize. Check into your hotel (see the bottom of my post for recommendations on where to stay in each part of your Belize itinerary)
For your first day, I recommend getting acquainted with the town of San Pedro, which has a lot to offer. Stop off for local chocolate turned into delicious milkshakes at the Belize Chocolate Company, or if you’re hungrier, I highly recommend the local papuseria for delicious Salvadorean treats.
You could rent a bike from Joe’s and bike around the island, stopping to take photos of the colorful houses and gorgeous water as you go.
Or, if you just want to float in an inner tube while drinking a bunch of beer…. check out Palapa Bar, just a short walk from the pier.
Day 2: Spend the day enjoying the Caribbean – on land or sea
Now that you’ve settled into San Pedro, take the next day to explore the beautiful Caribbean sea laying just a stone’s throw from your accommodations. If you are PADI-certified, you will likely want to spend the day diving in the amazing Hol Chan Marine Reserve, or if you are an advanced diver you may want to check out the Blue Hole. There are several dive shops, and Belize Pro Dive Center has the best reputation of them all. When I visited Ambergris Caye the first time, I didn’t have my PADI certification; on my second trip, I was traveling with a non-diver, so unfortunately, I haven’t tried it for myself just yet.
I did, however, enjoy an amazing full day out snorkeling in the Belize Barrier Reef, and this would be my top recommendation for what to do on day 2 of your Belize itinerary if you aren’t already dive-certified. The most popular choice is snorkeling in Shark Ray Alley, where you can swim with friendly nurse sharks and sting rays.
Don’t let flashes of Steve Irwin or Jaws scare you away from this – both creatures are incredibly docile and only attack when provoked, and the sharks and rays in this area are quite used to seeing tourists in their calm waters.
Finally, if you’re not interested in snorkeling, then I recommend spending the day at Secret Beach. You’ll need to rent a golf cart for the day or take an expensive cab there. Not really a secret in much but name only, Secret Beach has a taco truck, a restaurant, bars, kayak and paddleboard rentals, people offering massages, lounge chairs, etc.
Day 3: Take the boat over to Caye Caulker
Just a short distance away from San Pedro is its smaller sister island, Caye Caulker. Caye Caulker is more budget-friendly than Ambergris Caye and has a quieter, more low-key vibe. Whereas San Pedro is a proper city (albeit a small one), Caye Caulker is a true sandy, no-shoes-no-news island.
On your first day in Caye Caulker, I recommend walking around and getting your bearings with the island, perhaps renting a kayak to paddle your way around the island if you’re up to it. Or, if you’re up for a more relaxing day, head on over to The Split, where you can alternate between lounging in perfectly blue water and drinking mojitos and margaritas at the nearby Lazy Lizard.
I’m also partial to Sip N’ Dip Beach Bar, where I admittedly spent about 70% of my waking hours on Caye Caulker, hanging out on the swings, inner tubes, and water hammocks while alternating between buckets of Belikin and layers of sunscreen.
Animal lovers will want to stop by the Caye Caulker Animal Sanctuary, where a local man takes care of the island’s stray population and works tirelessly to find them homes, keep them fed, and get them medical treatment when needed. It’s entirely self-run and funded, so donate some time or some money if you can.
Be sure to catch the sunset on the west side of the island – Caye Caulker is way better than San Pedro for sunsets due to the geography of the islands.
Day 4: Swim with manatees off Caye Caulker
One of the best things to do in Caye Caulker is meet the resident manatees who live just off the island!
Anda di Wata offers full-day tours where you can go snorkeling with these giant, gentle sea creatures by morning then explore some of the other reefs by Caye Caulker in the afternoon (check prices and availability here).
Just look at those guys!
If you don’t want to snorkel, you can take a walk around the island, kayak or paddleboard through the crystal clear waters, laze around at one of the many beach bars, sample delicious jerk chicken and coconut curries at one of the local eateries… there’s plenty to do on Caye Caulker (but doing nothing is also acceptable).
Day 5: Head over to San Ignacio for a taste of the Belizean jungle
After you’ve had a solid four days to enjoy the beach and work on your tan, I highly recommend heading to Belize’s beautiful interior. This will be a bit of a long travel day, but ending up at an eco lodge in the middle of the Belizean jungle is a pretty good reward at the end of the day.
To get to San Ignacio, take the water taxi back to Belize City, where you’ll disembark at the ferry terminal. I recommend taking a taxi from the ferry terminal to the bus terminal as Belize City is a bit rough around the edges. However, if you are alert and keep ahold of your belongings, it is also possible to walk between the ferry and the bus. Once at the bus station, you’ll want to board a chicken bus bound towards Benque, which should cost around 8 BZD ($4 USD). It’ll take about 3 hours to get there as the bus will stop every few minutes to let people off. It is possible to arrange private transport but it is insanely expensive so I definitely recommend taking the chicken bus instead – it’s fun, it’s safe, it’s local– and it’s one hell of an experience!
When you arrive in San Ignacio, if you’re hungry I highly recommend eating at Ko-Ox Han Nah, which is the best restaurant in town! It has delicious Belizean food (as well as some really good Western food if you’re craving a burger like I was… I’m a horrible traveler, I know!)
Following that, check into your accommodations for the next 3 nights in Belize. I’ve written a complete guide to the best eco lodges in San Ignacio for every budget to help you pick the best eco resort in this part of Belize.
Day 6: Wake up in the Belizean jungle and go adventuring
There’s something so incredible about waking up to the sound of tropical birds and howler monkeys stirring before the sun has finished rising. Enjoy an early breakfast and then get ready for one of the most exciting parts of your week-long Belize itinerary: a trip to ATM Cave.
The ATM Cave (which is short for Actun Tunichil Muknal… do you see why it’s abbreviated, now?) has been named the #1 most sacred cave in the world by National Geographic – a publication that knows a thing or two about travel superlatives.
So, what is the ATM Cave and why is it so special? The ATM Cave is a combination between natural wonder and archaeological site: a cave that stretches at least a kilometer into the earth, winding through a series of narrow slips in the rock until you reach a massive, glittering atrium of crystallized stalagmites and stalactites. But that’s not the most interesting part: ATM Cave is the resting place of the remains of several human sacrifices — 14 to be precise, including the “Crystal Maiden” – a crystal-covered skeleton in near perfect condition in the heart of the cave. In addition to the human remains, there is also countless pieces of pottery which was ceremonially broken into pieces as part of the sacrificing ritual.
The ATM Cave is highly protected due to its historical significance and fragility. Entering without a tour is strictly prohibited, and tour spots are limited to 125 places per day, meaning that it’s strongly recommended to reserve your spot in advance – once those 125 slots are filled, there’s nothing you can do. Book in advance here!
If you don’t want to or can’t do the ATM Cave due to claustrophobia or mobility issues, then I recommend finding another outdoor activity that takes advantage of your prime position in Belize’s jungle. Go birding, horseback riding, etc.
Day 7: Enjoy your last day in San Ignacio
Save something epic for the last day of your Belize itinerary by reserving today to visit some of the least crowded Mayan ruins in the Americas.
I highly recommend visiting Caracol, the largest ancient Mayan city in Belize, complete with pyramids that you can climb and have sweeping views of the jungle canopies around you. On a clear day, you can ever see well into neighboring Guatemala.
Unfortunately, Caracol is not well-served by public transportation, so if you don’t have your own car rented the only way to see it is by going with a guided tour. The good news is that these guided tours will also include a stop at the lovely Rio-On Pools, a series of mini-waterfalls and natural pools that you can enjoy while baking in the Belizean sun.
If you want to visit Caracol, you can book a guided tour here.
If Caracol is a bit far afield for you, you could also visit the ruins of Xunantunich which are just a short cab ride from town, or the even closer Cahal Pech ruins which are walking distance from San Ignacio town. This is definitely the cheaper option if you are on a budget, too!
Where to Stay in Belize
Belize is one of the more expensive countries in Central America – closer to Costa Rica and Panama in terms of prices than neighboring Mexico and Guatemala. However, that said, you can still find quite good deals on accommodations (tours, on the other hand, are typically the most expensive part of visiting Belize).
I recognize that everyone’s budget is different, so I have broken my recommendations into three tiers for each destination on this Belize itinerary. As a rough guide, budget accommodations are typically hostels and a dorm should cost you less than $15 per night. Mid-range hotels are typically around $50-100 per night. Luxury here is defined as $150+. However, these prices are just a rough estimate, and it will depend on a variety of factors — time of year being a big one — so use these as estimates and check prices for your actual dates.
Budget: The excellent and affordable Sandbar Hostel is my personal favorite and where I stayed the first time I was in Belize. It’s walking distance from the pier and has an excellent in-house restaurant that you can enjoy whether or not you’re a guest. The hostel is literally steps from the beach and my favorite bar on San Pedro, Palapa Bar, as well as a nearby snorkeling and dive center. The dorm is ultra-clean, as the staff comes in seemingly every hour to sweep up sand, and it has nice amenities like privacy curtains and outlets next to each bed. Check prices, ratings, and availability here. Private rooms are also available but book up early.
Mid-range: San Pedro has plenty of good mid-range options for travelers on a budget who want a little more privacy and comfort than a hostel will give. Ocean Tide Beach Resort is one of the highest-rated middle-of-the-road hotel options on the island. Ocean Tide is located right on the beachfront with gorgeous Caribbean views – but is only a 5-minute walk from central San Pedro with its shops, bars, and restaurants. Rooms are comfortable and clean and include air conditioning, and some come with balconies for an incredible sea view. Check prices, ratings, and availability here.
Luxury: I had the opportunity to stay at the magnificent Victoria House when I was in San Pedro and it’s hard to think of a more luxurious place worthy of a special occasion, if that’s what you’re celebrating while planning your Belize itinerary. We enjoyed a two-story villa with four outdoor areas, an outdoor shower, a massive kitchen, a luxe master bedroom with Caribbean Sea views, and we overlooked what felt like our very own infinity pool. Victoria House also gives free bike rentals which is perfect for exploring Ambergris Caye at your own pace. Check prices, ratings, and availability here.
Budget: Caye Caulker is one of the most budget-friendly places in Belize! People on a tight budget will want to pick one of the island’s hostels. I recommend the excellently-rated Go Slow Guesthouse, which is a colorful, friendly hostel located in the heart of Caye Caulker not far from the main road. There are fan rooms for a cheap price or AC rooms for a slightly higher cost. Solo travelers enjoy the friendly vibe. Check prices, ratings, and availability here.
Another choice for people who want a little more privacy is Sea N Sun Guest House, where I stayed in Caye Caulker and can’t rave about it enough. The WiFi was excellent, the shared bathroom was clean, and the rooms were well-ventilated and spacious. We appreciated the free bike and kayak rental (even if we were usually too sloshed from our time at Sip N Dip to actually take the kayak out for a spin… whoops). I’d definitely stay here again. Check prices, ratings, and availability here.
Mid-range: If you want the privacy of your own cabana without paying an insane price, Colinda Cabanas is an excellent mid-range choice. Stay in a joyful yellow and turquoise cabana just a minute walk from the sea. Free bike and kayak rental, free coffee in the mornings, and other perks will help you feel welcomed and at ease here in Caye Caulker. Check prices, ratings, and availability here!
Luxury: While San Pedro definitely has more luxury options than Caye Caulker, you can still enjoy a bit of luxury on this more budget-conscious island. The nicest hotel in town is Weezie’s Oceanfront Hotel. With spacious studios and one-bedroom cottages, a lovely pool, friendly staff, and balconies with amazing sweeping Caribbean views, you’ll never want to check out of paradise. And with relatively affordable prices, it’d be easy to overstay! Check prices, ratings, and availability here.
I’ve written a comprehensive guide to the best eco-lodges in Belize here, so I refer you to read that if you are interested in staying in a jungle lodge during your time in Belize (which I highly recommend). For budget travelers, I stayed at Bellas Backpackers and while it wasn’t anything special, it offered good value for money.
7 Things You Must Pack for Belize
I’ve written an entire Belize packing list but if you just want the essentials, here’s what I think you shouldn’t miss.
- Mosquito repellent & after-care: Belize has a tropical climate with mosquitos year-round, particularly in the rainy season. Zika, dengue fever, malaria, and chikungunya have all been reported there. While there’s no reason to cancel your trip on account of it, protect yourself with [easyazon_link identifier=”B010AFV0LM” locale=”US” tag=”eternarriv-20″]mosquito repellent[/easyazon_link] (as a back-up, I carry around a few [easyazon_link identifier=”B004NRPD7G” locale=”US” tag=”eternarriv-20″]mosquito repellent wipes[/easyazon_link] with me in my purse in case I forget to apply spray before leaving or that I can apply after swimming). It’s also inevitable that you won’t leave without a few bites, so bring some after-bite relief too (this is hard to find in Belize).
- Full-size travel towel: This travel towel is full-size so it’s big enough to use as a beach towel, thin enough to pack up super small for your luggage, and it dries super quickly in Belize’s humid climate. If you’re not convinced, check out my friend Stephanie’s love letter to her travel towel.
- A guidebook: I use travel blogs a lot when I’m on the road but I also love having a guidebook to give me more specific, thoroughly researched information. Lonely Planet is my go-to guidebook and Lonely Planet Belize is no exception. I usually buy the Kindle version, but paper versions are also great fun to peruse.
- Reef-safe sunscreen: If you are planning to do any water activities, such as diving or snorkeling or even swimming, please use a reef-safe sunscreen like this one. The active ingredients in sunscreen are killing off coral in huge numbers. The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest in the world and is under threat. So please don’t use normal, chemical-laden sunscreen in Belize’s fragile ocean ecosystem!
- Filter water bottle or Steripen: Belize’s tap water is not drinkable anywhere in the country. I recommend traveling with a water bottle with a built-in filter that filters out nasty bacteria and viruses like this awesome [easyazon_link identifier=”B01G7SQCCS” locale=”US” tag=”eternarriv-20″]LifeStraw bottle[/easyazon_link] so you can reduce your plastic waste. Alternately, you can use a [easyazon_link identifier=”B00M3SOJIG” locale=”US” tag=”eternarriv-20″]Steripen[/easyazon_link] which sterilizes water using UV light. A great investment if you travel frequently and want to reduce your plastic bottle consumption!
- GoPro: If you go snorkeling or cave tubing or ziplining, you’re going to want a way to capture all of that action! A [easyazon_link identifier=”B074X5WPC5″ locale=”US” tag=”eternarriv-20″]GoPro Hero 6[/easyazon_link] is currently the highest-quality option, but if you’re on a budget, the GoPro Session is also an excellent choice. Be aware that you need to buy protective casing if you want to take either of these cameras diving. They are only waterproof to 10 meters, and you’ll exceed that if you dive (most dives are at least 15 meters or so).
- Finally, don’t forget travel insurance! Whether you’re scuba diving, caving, ziplining through the jungle or just relaxing on the beach, don’t forget to purchase travel insurance! It’ll protect you in case of accident, injury, lost luggage, theft, or any other disaster that could befall your trip. I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for two years and recommend them highly. I’ve included a way to get a free quote below.