Belize is a nation on the eastern coast of Central America, with Caribbean Sea shorelines to the east and dense jungle to the west. Offshore, the massive Belize Barrier Reef, dotted with hundreds of low-lying islands called cayes, hosts rich marine life. Belize’s jungle areas are home to Mayan ruins like Caracol, renowned for its towering pyramid; lagoon-side Lamanai; and Altun Ha, just outside Belize City.
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Great Blue Hole
Plunge into this deep blue hole and you'll discover imposing ancient stalactites (calcium deposits resembling icicles) and coral fringe. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 — along with six other areas surrounding Belize's barrier reef — the Great Blue Hole remains one of the world's most distinguished scuba sites. Created approximately 10,000 years ago after a cave roof crumbled in, this blue channel contains underwater tunnels, caverns and rock formations.
You'll likely spot marine life lining the coral wall at the surface of the hole. As you descend about 410 feet below sea level, you'll discover the stalactites, but it's unlikely you'll encounter many underwater creatures (except the occasional shark!). Even if you're not a diver, recent visitors recommended snorkeling around the hole and the nearby reefs. Make sure to visit in the dry season, with ideal weather conditions most likely in April and May.
Travel west of Belize City and you'll discover a cluster of ancient Mayan sites, rolling hills, gorgeous sunsets, tranquil butterfly gardens and verdant jungles. In the heart of the Cayo District sits San Ignacio, a small town that boasts traditional culinary dishes and affordable hotels.
Start your tour just 6 miles south of the town at the ancient Mayan ruin Xunantunich. Set along the Mopan River and less than a mile from the Guatemalan border, the temple at Xunantunich was once a civic ceremonial center for the Mayan people.
From there you'll likely want to drive about 60 miles south on the George Price Highway (also known simply as the Western Highway) to expansive Caracol. The largest Mayan ruin site in Belize, Caracol dates back to 1200 B.C. and served as a home to as many as 120,000 people. The grounds cover 30 square miles and include five plazas, an observatory and more than 35,000 identified buildings, although not all are full excavated.
Perched on the New River Lagoon in northern Belize, this sprawling 960-acre Mayan site stands masked in crocodile art. Lamanai means "submerged crocodile" in Yucatec Mayan, which should give you a good idea of what you'll encounter here: artifacts depicting representations of the reptile, plus crocodiles (and iguanas) crawling along the banks of the New River to catch some sunlight.
Inhabited from about 1500 B.C. to A.D. 1700, Lamanai is the longest-occupied known Mayan site in the world. Its dense compound features three Mayan pyramids, the remains of a 16th-centruy Spanish Church and several noteworthy plazas and temples established during Pre-Classic Mayan rule. You won't want to skip climbing the High Temple, and you'll also want to visit the Mask Temple, which includes ancient artifacts linked to Mayan, Aztec and Olmec rulers. Just come prepared with sunscreen, light clothing and plenty of water.
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