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Belize by Land: Discovering the Ruins, Wildlife, and Culture

Actun Tunichil Muknal

Entrance to Actun Tunichil Muknal cave (photo: Antti T. Nissinen)

“Oh! You’re going to Belize! You must be so excited to go diving.”

Anyone who has ever booked a trip to Belize has probably heard something like this. And it makes sense: Belize is one of the top diving destinations in the world. With clear waters, abundant coral reefs, and of course, the “Big Blue Hole,” it’s easy to see why.

Unfortunately, because the water gets so much attention, people who don’t dive, or just aren’t all that interested in being in the water, often don’t consider Belize travel because they are afraid there won’t be much for them to do.

The truth is, though, that even if you never set foot in the water, you can easily fill your time in Belize with unique and exciting experiences.

So, before you cross Belize off your list of potential vacation destinations, consider these alternatives to diving and snorkeling.

Explore Maya Ruins

Belize was a center of the Maya civilization, and multiple archaeological sites throughout the country offer a fascinating glimpse into this ancient culture.

In northern Belize, the Lamanai Archaeological Reserve is the largest and most famous of the Maya sites.

The site itself is in the jungle on the banks of the New River, and you’ll need to take an hour-long boat trip up the river to reach the site.

The trip is worthwhile, though, as there are still more than 900 structures standing, including several temples, as well as a museum. Climb to the top of High Temple for panoramic jungle views.

You can find Maya ruins in other areas of Belize as well. If you are staying closer to the touristy Cayo District, you aren’t far from San Ignacio, home to several ruins and archaeological sites.

Among them is El Pilar, one of the country’s largest sites that was only discovered in 1993 and is still being explored.

In San Ignacio, you can also explore caves featuring remnants of Maya civilization — including skeletal remains.

Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve

Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve (photo: Larnie & Bodil Fox)

Wildlife Encounters

Sea life aren’t the only creatures you'll encounter in Belize. With its lush forests and diverse landscape, Belize is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna — and plenty of ways to see them.

If you are interested in birds, Belize is a birdwatcher’s paradise, with more than 300 species to spot.

While the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary near Belize City and the jungle areas in the north of the country offer the greatest diversity of avian life, with a pair of binoculars and some patients, you can spot exotic birds just about anywhere.

If you prefer your animal encounters on the ground, visit the Belize Zoo, just outside of Belize City.

Formerly a refuge for wildlife that had been used in documentaries, the zoo now features more than 150 species.

All of the animals have either been orphaned, were former pets, or were born at the zoo.

The zoo isn’t the only place to see Belize’s native wildlife.

Hiking in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, also known as the Jaguar Preserve, offers plenty of chances to see wildlife in its usual habitat.

The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve is another favorite hiking spot – and its higher elevation offers a nice refreshing respite from the tropical heat in the jungle.

This reserve is well-known for rivers, pools, and waterfalls, including Hidden Falls (also known as Thousand Foot Falls) a popular spot for hikers.

Soak Up Some Culture

The unique mix of cultures that comprise Belize makes it one of the most diverse countries in the world — and creates a unique culture that is well worth learning about and exploring.

Belize City offers insight into the history and culture of the country and its people.

Visit the Museum of Belize, housed in an old prison, to learn about Maya, colonial, and pirate histories, or check out the Old Belize Cultural and Historical Centre, which has its own private beach.

Just walking through the streets of Belize City, you’ll encounter architecture that hints at various stages of the nation’s history, as well as find shops, galleries, and restaurants.

Of course, even if you don’t dip your toes in the warm Caribbean waters of Belize, you can still relax on the white sandy beaches in the shade of palm trees. But if you want to see more of this country than what is underwater, try some of these activities instead.

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Marta Kulesza

Wednesday 27th of December 2017

Belize looks fantastic and before I read this post I too only really considered predominately as a diving destination. I bet there's so much to do off the beaten path there. Crazy to think that one of the biggest sites in the country was only discovered in 1993. Thanks for your insights.

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