Belize is known for its jungles and wildlife, its clear water and amazing snorkeling and scuba diving, its Mayan ruins, the Belize Barrier Reef and the Great Blue Hole.
There are many reasons to travel to Belize, and because of the variety it offers, my boyfriend and I decided to stay in three different locations during our stay in August 2019.
We began with four days in the Cayo, a district in western Belize that’s known for Mayan ruins, caves, jungles and wildlife. From there we went to the Cayes or islands (pronounced “keys,” like the Florida Keys). But we couldn’t decide on just one caye, so we spent one night on Caye Caulker and then three nights on Ambergris Caye.
Are you planning a trip to Belize but don’t know where to go? Here’s the 9-day itinerary from our trip to Belize that started in the Cayo and ended in the cayes.
Keep in mind:
We loved the adventures we had in the Cayo, but if you’re looking for a relaxing vacation, this district of Belize might not be for you. We have unforgettable memories from the Cayo, but after going on three of the most popular excursions there, we were exhausted.
As far as the Cayes, if you’re envisioning wide-open sandy beaches where you can lounge on a towel and then wade into the water to cool off, you need to do some research and adjust your expectations. Most of the beaches we saw had only small sections of sand and swimming was only in designated areas.
The Caribbean is also having issues with large amounts of Sargassum seaweed washing up, making the shoreline unattractive and smelly. We saw this in the Dominican Republic two years ago, and we weren’t surprised to see employees at our resort raking the Sargassum into piles and hauling it off in wheelbarrows because we read about it before the trip. But we read reviews by previous guests who were upset because they weren’t expecting it.
If you’re wondering whether or not to rent a car, it depends where you go. We chose not to rent a car. Where we stayed in the Cayo was so remote that we were provided transportation to and from Belize City for the airport (when we arrived) and the water taxi (when we left), as well as all of the excursions. But if you’re staying in a city like San Ignacio, you might want a car. My best advice is to ask at your resort or lodge if they recommend renting a car.
In the Cayes, it’s rare to even see cars. If you rent anything, it will be a golf cart, and that’s not something you have to do until you get there. We never rented one, but if we had stayed another day on Ambergris Caye we probably would have so we could explore some more. Caye Caulker is so small that renting a bike is probably your best mode of transportation other than walking.
Finally, if you plan to spend time in the Cayo, you should pack bug spray, binoculars, head lamps, closed-toe water shoes and good walking shoes or hiking boots. If you plan to go to the Cayes, bring reef-safe sunscreen.
The first day was mostly a travel day, landing at the Belize City airport and then a two-hour drive to our eco-lodge Pook’s Hill Lodge. We swung in hammocks in the lobby area surrounded by hummingbirds, hiked one of the trails at the lodge searching for wildlife and ate a community-style dinner in the dining room with the owner.
Our cabana had no air conditioning, but the breeze from the windows and the sounds of wildlife lulled us to sleep.
Our first excursion was cave tubing and zip-lining at Cave’s Branch Outpost. We were given inner tubes, life jackets, helmets and headlamps before hiking a trail for about an hour to get to the entrance of the cave. Then we hopped on our inner tubes and floated through a cave system, checking out the stalactite formations, fruit bats, a little waterfall and a natural opening in the ceiling.
After lunch we geared up in harnesses, helmets and gloves to zip-line through the jungle. There were six zip-lines, the longest of which was 1,000 feet over the Caves Branch River.
Back at the lodge, we enjoyed our second community dinner with new guests who had checked in, and then we all star-gazed, admiring Jupiter through the lodge’s telescope.
Pook’s Hill Lodge is about as close as you can get to one of the biggest attractions in the Cayo: the Actun Tunichil Muknal, or the ATM, Cave. It is a Mayan burial site that requires clothes and closed-toe shoes that could get wet, head lamps, a reasonable high level of physcial fitness, the ability to swim and rock scrambling skills. We were rewarded for all those tight squeezes, cold water and a skinned knee with fascinating history lessons, a creepy skeleton, various skulls and bones and Mayan pottery.
Unfortunately, thanks to someone years ago who dropped a camera and damaged a skull, nothing is allowed inside the cave, including cameras.
After dinner, we went on a night hike around the lodge with our favorite guide, where we saw a tarantula, a kinkajou, a basilisk lizard, frogs, spiders, crickets mating, other little critters and a wild pineapple.
Day 4 was our longest and most tiring day, but visiting Tikal National Park in Guatemala was my favorite part of our stay in the Cayo.
After an early start, our guide from the lodge drove us to the Belize/Guatemala border, the first time I’ve ever crossed into a different country by foot. We met our Guatemalan guide, who drove us the rest of the way to Tikal, with a stop for coffee (yum!) and a sample of gum made from tree sap (not so yum).
We walked around and climbed to the top of Mayan pyramids, spotting wildlife everywhere, including turkeys, spider monkeys, coatis, a mot mot, various birds and spiders, and just at the very end when I had given up hope of seeing any, we got so close to three toucans we could have touched them.
We ate a late lunch, relaxed during the three-hour trek back to Pook’s Hill and enjoyed our last community dinner with another set of new guests.
Our last day in the Cayo began at 4:30 AM when a howler monkey woke us up. We said goodbye to the jungle, and after a two-hour drive to Belize City and a 50-minute water taxi, we arrived on Caye Caulker to begin the second half of our Belize adventure in the cayes.
We checked into the Island Magic Beach Resort for our only night, did some exploring, had delicious chipotle lobster burgers and spent the rest of the day following the motto of this small island: Go slow.
In the evening we joined the other sunset watchers at The Split at the edge of the island, eating lobster nuggets and blackened shrimp and snapper at the Lazy Lizard.
Caye Caulker is so small that most people get around by foot, bike or golf cart. It’s a beautiful place with a slow pace.
The day started with the sunrise from the roof of Island Magic Beach Resort and breakfast at Namaste Cafe. Then we continued abiding by Caye Caulker’s motto “go slow” until check-out. We continued exploring the island by foot, stopping in shops, jumping off a diving platform at The Split, sipping drinks on water swings at the Sip N’ Dip and dining on street food.
We said farewell to Caye Caulker and caught a 30-minute water taxi to San Pedro/Ambergris Caye, our final destination of the trip.
Matachica resort picked us up on their boat, and in 10 minutes we had a welcome drink in hand.
After breakfast at Matachica’s restaurant, we signed out a resort kayak and snorkel gear, paddled about 15 minutes to the reef, anchored the kayak and snorkeled on our own.
In the afternoon, we left for a 3-hour excursion to Hol Chan Marine Reserve for the best snorkeling experience I’ve ever had. The first stop was longer, and we saw hundreds of fish, as well as our first shark, a moray eel, and my boyfriend spotted a sting ray but I missed it.
Our second stop and the main attraction of the day was Shark Ray Alley. Our boat driver stopped and dozens of nurse sharks surrounded the boat. We quickly jumped, and for the next 15 minutes we snorkeled alongside the sharks and fish. We didn’t see any, but Shark Ray Alley is also known for spotting stingrays and turtles.
We spent most of Day 8 in San Pedro, which required a 10-minute boat transfer from our resort. We explored the city, which was the busiest area we had experienced thus far in Belize.
We ate lunch before heading to Tropic Air for our 75-minute flight over the Great Blue Hole. The Great Blue Hole is an underwater sinkhole that attracts scuba divers and snorkelers from all over the world.
Back in San Pedro we grabbed a beer, ate at a custard shop owned by expats who left the US for a Belizean life 22 years ago and ordered dinner to go. A boat transfer brought us back to the resort, we ate dinner by the pool, and we caught a killer sunset before going back to our room to pack.
Time to head home. Getting to the airport from our resort required a lot of moving parts so our day started early. First we took a 10-minute resort boat transfer to the water taxi in San Pedro. Then we took a 90-minute water taxi to Belize City followed by 30-minute cab ride to the Belize City airport. My boyfriend and I always bring foreign candy home for the kids, so we stocked up on sweets in the airport, ate one last Belizean breakfast and said hasta luego to Belize.