Explore the Belize Barrier Reef and Rainforest

Belize blue hole

Belize's Blue Hole on the world's second-longest barrier reef

Few countries in the world offer so much in such a tiny country as the Central American nation of Belize. Traveling from the Belize barrier reef to the rainforest takes only an hour (if you hurry!).

The coral reef system of Belize is the second largest in the world, surpassed only by the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. An extensive network of Caribbean coral reefs and atolls provide some of the best and diving in this hemisphere. Belize has created several marine reserves to protect species from overexploitation by commercial fishing. One such reserve is Glover Atoll, about 28 miles off the town of Dangriga (see video below). Glovers Atoll is also a United Nations World Heritage site. Isla Marisol Resort, a full service family resort on the atoll, provides excellent accommodations for divers, snorkelers and kayakers.

In the spring, the world’s largest fish, the whale shark, migrates into the southern Belize barrier reef and divers flock to see them. Despite its size and reputation of the family (they’re sharks, remember?), whale sharks are harmless filter feeders attracted to the spawning of Culebra snapper around the full moon of March through April.

But wait, there’s more inland! Heading from the western Caribbean, the flat coastal plain gives way to more rugged, mountainous terrain. Dense tropical forest with huge trees covering the mountains and rivers and streams invite canoeists and kayakers. The forest of Belize is also famous for bird watchers for its variety of exotic tropical birds and jaguars, ocelots and howler monkeys are on the must-see list of mammals.

Under Belize lies one of the largest cave systems in Central America. Most of the underlying rock is limestone, perfect for the formation of caves. Guided trips are available to them, which still contains the ancient Mayan artifacts. You can even float in inner tubes among the stalactites.

The vast Mayan empire flourished from about 1500 BC, and once supported up to 400 000 within today’s Belize borders, almost double the current population of Belize. Large Mayan cities around the country had an extended period of pyramid-building has left Belize with a large number of well-preserved Mayan ruins. Lamanai is an example of one of the largest Mayan cities, and today visitors wishing to explore the ruins of Lamanai can stay at an excellent resort nearby Lamanai Outpost Lodge. Many of the guides are local Mayans who live in the village near the ruins.

In the neighboring district of Cayo (everywhere is “close” in Belize!) are other major ruins like Caracol and Xunantunich. Good bases to stay when exploring these ruins, are duPlooys’s Jungle Lodge and Cave Branch Jungle Lodge. These lodges are both located in the Belize rainforest and offer excellent guided forest treks, bird and wildlife watching, canoeing, kayaking and cave tubing.

For a great sampling of the best Belize has to offer from the Belize Barrier Reef to the rainforest, see International Wildlife Adventures’ Belize Reef & Rainforest Adventurer Tour, of for their complete listing of Belize trips, see their Central America section.

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