The adventurous Belize 7 day itinerary: road trip & island hopping edition
Though small in comparison to other Central America countries, Belize does not lack adventure. In fact, Belize boasts great jungle trekking, exploring Mayan ruins and cave tubing. Belize is the ideal Latin America country to embark on an adventurous vacation or a solo adventure.
In January, I embarked on a week-long, solo road trip throughout Belize. I ventured to the Belize-Guatemala border and then down the Southern Coast to Punta Gorda. I ended my week-long vacation with a quick trip to Belize’s most famous Cayes (islands located off the mainland) — Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker.
After numerous flight delays and forced to spend the night in the airport, I finally landed in Belize. Unfortunately, my 9-day Belize adventure was now slimmed down to a week. I quickly headed North without wasting another moment. I had planned to spend the entire day up north touring Orange Walk and making my way to Sarteneja.
As karma would have it, I only made it to Altun Ha and had a quick tour of the Community Baboon Sanctuary. If you have time, schedule a night hike at the Community Baboon Sanctuary to see the Howler Monkeys in rowdy spirits.
Driving through Belize’s northern country was eye-opening for me. Much of the road was riddled with potholes. I drove through communities plagued by poverty. Cruising in my newer rental car made me feel guilty and realize how privileged I am to be able to travel the world. I spent the night in Teakettle at Leslie’s Private Paradise.
I slept in and decided to explore the Mayan ruins for the rest of the day. Due to my many flight delays, I had to throw out my original itinerary and start over. My first stop was to Xunantunich, near the Guatemala-Belize border. Xunantunich is the only Belizean Mayan ruin site that overlooks the rivaled border. Its located in the depths of the jungle and visitors must use a hand-crank bridge to cross the river. After crossing the river, travelers drive less than a mile up the road and the ruins appear over the treetops.
I explored the ruin site for a majority of the afternoon. The Xunantunich Mayan Ruins are some of the most well-preserved ruins in Belize and are also the second tallest. Thought the ruin site itself is comparatively smaller than others, with only three large ruin structures for visitors to climb, this is a definite must-see.
The view of the Guatemala-Belize jungle-foliage border is unlike anything else I saw during my trip to Belize. I sat in a literal daze for hours admiring the beautiful scenery from the top of Mayan ruins and paying that I wouldn’t become lightheaded by the altitude.
Visitors are truly immersed in the jungle while touring the ruins. I also spotted a troop of Howler Monkeys in the tree canopy while I was viewing the ball court of this ruin site.
For the hottest portion of the afternoon, I took refuge traipsing through Santa Elena’s outdoor market. The market vendors sold handmade crafts, souvenirs, second-hand clothes, spices and fresh fruits and vegetables. Many locals sat together gossiping under the colorful tarps to escape the hot afternoon sun.
I ended my day by exploring another Mayan ruin site. (This will be a common theme in this itinerary, lots of ruin exploration!) Cahal Pech is a ruin site overlooking Santa Elena. This ruin site was nestled in among the jungle brush and was less excavated than Xunantunich. Trekking through the half-excavated ruin site made me feel like a modern-day Indiana Jones.
I ended my adventure-filled day by staying at the Pilgrim Paradise cabins on the outskirts of Santa Elena.
I beat the sun and its morning salutations this day. With a granola bar in hand, I navigated the bumpy terrain to the Douglas Silva Ranger Station when the sun peeked over the horizon. I decided to be extra adventurous this day and venture to the Caracol Mayan ruin site solo. In order to travel to Caracol, visitors need to sign in at checkpoints and accompanied by a convoy led by the Belize Defence Force.
Caracol is a two-hour drive one-way into the dense jungle brush over a road ravaged by crater-sized potholes. The rust-colored road has hairpin turns hugged by the dense jungle brush. Doing this trip solo without a passenger for the company or to help you keep your sanity was difficult.
Visiting the Caracol ruins is non-negotiable though. You definitely need to either book a tour or make the drive because they are spectacular. Caracol is the largest Mayan ruin site in Belize and it’s mind-boggling how large and expansive it is. Unlike the other Mayan ruin sites I visited, Caracol excavated not only the temples of the Mayan ruin sites but also other integral parts of the Mayan metropolis like ball courts, altars, burial grounds, monuments (called Stelas by archaeologists), tombs, etc.
I would recommend hiring a tour guide to take you around the site because there are no plaques or signs that say what each architectural structure is and its importance to the city. A Defence Force officer guided me around the plaza he was patrolling and explained some of the structures to me.
After touring the ruins for six hours, I weaved my way out of the Mayan foothills and towards the eastern side of the country. I got to the resort I would be spending the night as the sun was setting. The Jaguar Creek Resort in Belmopan was so relaxing that I didn’t venture out anymore that evening.
Note: If you go with a tour company to view Caracol they might also take you to Rio Frio Caves and 1,000 Foot Falls. Both are down windy, gravel roads again. Since it had rained that afternoon, I decided that I didn’t want to chance getting stuck with my rental and felt safer driving solo on the highway.
My evening before at the resort was wonderful. I was pampered like a queen and anxious to explore what people consider the most beautiful stretch of highway in Belize — The Hummingbird Highway.
The Hummingbird Highway takes about two hours to drive one way. Along the highway are stops for the Blue Hole National Park, not to be confused with the Great Blue Hole off the coast of Belize.
I explored the Blue Hole National Park, which is one of Belize’s hidden gems. No one talks about this national park, but it’s fantastic! Two gems in the park at St Herman’s Cave and the Blue Hole, not to be confused with the Great Blue Hole off the coast of Belize.
I drove the rest of the way to Placencia, a growing beachside, tourist area in Belize with many resorts and casinos. Roughly 20 minutes outside of the town at Mayan Centre there’s a women’s cooperative that sells handmade crafts. At the local craft shop, you can inquire about a tour guide for the Cockscomb Basin, the jaguar preserve in Belize. The best time to go is at night when the Jaguars are active.
This is the evening where I faced my first Airbnb scam, so I scrambled to find a room in the bustling resort town of Palencia. Sadly, I missed my jaguar trek because of this scam. I finally found a room and slept for a few hours before hitting the road for my next day’s adventure.
If you’re looking for some hidden gems in Southern Belize head to Rio Blanco National Park or Lubaantun Mayan ruins.
My last two days in Belize I spent exploring the Cayes. This came highly recommended, so my hopes were high. Sadly, the Cayes were not the highlight of my trip.
The first Caye I visited was Ambergris Caye, the home of San Pedro. San Pedro is a bustling beach town known for its vibrant culture and delicious food. What’s interesting about this Caye is that there are no cars on the island. Visitors need to rent bikes or golf carts to get around. I opted for a golf cart and had a blast zipping down the cobblestoned lanes of San Pedro.
What people don’t mention about the Cayes is that you’re not able to swim off the shore due to the reeds that line the shoreline. Visitors need a boat to enjoy swimming or snorkeling with no reeds nearby. I was content to sit on the shore and just look at the Caribbean Sea.
I checked into accommodation early — the Daydreamin’ Bed & Breakfast — and relaxed like royalty for the remainder of the afternoon. They had a pool at the adult-only resort so I was able to tan a little as I enjoyed the tropical heat.
In the evening I headed back to downtown San Pedro to feast on some traditional Belizean food and enjoy some much-needed drinks.
I took the water taxi over to Caye Caulker for my last full day in Belize. Caye Caulker is party central. Nearly all the businesses are beach bars offering happy hour discounts all day long on Caribbean rum punch.
I opted to lounge on the beach and just enjoy the tropical heat of the day. Similar to Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker’s beaches didn’t have optimal swimming conditions.
Caye Caulker is a lot smaller than Ambergris Caye, so visitors are able to walk around and explore the island. The different beach shacks and surf shops were fun to explore.
I then spent the rest of my evening lying in a hammock relaxing as droves of parties filled the streets. I woke up at 4 a.m. and there were still partiers in the streets.
Early in the morning, I left my beachfront hotel and boarded the water taxi to go back to the mainland. On the way to Belize City, I watched the sun peek over the several green Cayes scattered throughout the Caribbean Sea. The waters no longer blue but pink and yellow.
Before flying home, I grabbed some authentic Belizean grub for the last time at Le Petit Cafe. It was close to the shoreline so I sat and watched the cruise ships dock for a few hours.