Photo Credit: TN
Our 10 Favorite Excursions To Do In Belize
Recently, my boyfriend Joe and I were able to spend five days in the tropical Central American country of Belize. This was my first time traveling outside of the United States, and I was full of excitement as the plane landed at Phillip S.W. International Airport and we walked down the steps and off the runway.
I had no idea what Belize would have in store for me when I arrived. A novice to international travel, I expected to lounge beachside and drink piña coladas under the sunset. I had no clue that I would experience an immersion into Belizean culture that would reshape the way I viewed travel, adventure, and the true mean of living.
My adventures in Belize would take me to the ancient Mayan underworld filled with bats and human remains and to the winding manatee-filled rivers of Hopkins. Hours spent trekking through lush jungle foliage and frolicking in citrus fields are at the top of my list when it comes to finding things to do in Belize. However, there were so many things to do throughout the country that it was impossible to experience everything in only five days.
I split my time between the Sleeping Giant Rainforest Lodge in Belize’s capital of Belmopan and the Jaguar Reef beach resort in Hopkins. If you visit Belize, I highly recommend seeing both sides of the country to get the full experience. Even if you don’t get to sleep in the jungle, there are plenty of activities to do that’ll give you the Belizean experience your heart desires. Here’s a list of my 10 favorite excursions to do in Belize to get the most out of your vacation and tap into your inner explorer.
1. Go on a hike through the jungle
Before visiting Belize, I had never gone hiking before. To be honest, I’d never been a big fan of exercising. But I was open to trying new things, so I was excited when I saw one of the excursions included a hike through the jungle at Sleeping Giant Mountain.
The hike was the beginning of a three-hour spelunking adventure, but before we made it to the cave, we had to walk 30 minutes uphill through the foliage. An excursion exclusive to guests staying at the Sleeping Giant Rainforest Lodge, one of a few exotic resorts owned by The Belize Collection, the hike to the Mayan Ceremonial Cave is an extraordinary moment that tests your strength and perseverance. Full of beautiful, vibrant leafy green trees, tropical flowers, and massive above-ground roots, the jungle provided an amazing backdrop for our hiking exploration.
Considering that we were walking uphill, the 30-minute trek in the mountains was extreme on my body. If you decide to hike in the jungle in Belize, be sure to bring hiking boots. Tennis shoes aren’t the most comfortable fit for walking through such dense terrain. Also, be sure to bring water, a backpack to carry your things, and a towel if you tend to sweat a lot. Most importantly, make sure you use insect repellant to keep from being a tasty treat for the mosquitoes dwelling among the trees.
Keep in mind that although it was an excursion, we were still walking through the jungle, so it’s important to be aware of your surroundings at all times. There are a ton of poisonous plants and dangerous animals living there, so never go hiking without a guide who is familiar with the area and the creatures dwelling there. Our guide described a poisonous, black bark tree that would instantly harm us if we touched it, and there are many trees and plants with pointy spikes you need to avoid, so it may be best to wear long sleeves and pants. We also ran into a fer-de-lance viper, Belize’s most dangerous snake, on our way back down, so keep your eyes open for anything that could bite or attack you when jungle hiking.
2. Enjoy a cliffside dinner
If you’re staying at Sleeping Giant, you must take advantage of their cliffside dinner experience. Catered by their on-site restaurant, the Grove House, this dining experience is like none other as you enjoy a candlelit dinner overlooking the valleys of Belmopan below. Mountains eclipse the valley on either side casting a long shadow along the cliff as the sun goes down.
The food at Sleeping Giant is amazing and a perfect introduction to the Mestizo-Mayan cuisine. With traditional bases like corn, rice, and beans, I fell in love with dishes like their oregano pork ribs, cocoa-red wine braised lamb shank, and Creole oxtail stew. The soursop cheesecake was the perfect dessert to top off our dining experience. Every spice and herb blended excellently to create a divine, mouth-watering flavor that was memorable and filling.
When the sun went down, the clouds cascaded across the valley as the stars illuminated the night sky. It was a romantic and intimate dining session with laughter, new friends, and incredible food.
3. Visit Sleeping Giant Mountain
Even if you aren’t staying at the rainforest lodge, a visit to Sleeping Giant Mountain should definitely be on your list of things to do when visiting Belize. A part of the Maya mountains, Sleeping Giant Mountain overlooks the resort which sits nestled in the foothill of the mountain along the winding Sibun River.
Although close up it may appear to be a normal mountainside, a distant view provides a glimpse of the silhouette of a giant laying on his back carved into the hills. You can clearly see the outline of his face and body as he rests along the skyline.
We didn’t have the gumption to actually climb Sleep Giant Mountain, but we caught an impeccable view of him from the road on the way to the resort. Our driver warned us to be quiet so we wouldn’t wake him from his slumber, giving us a bit of Belizean folklore to go along with the mystical mountain.
4. Pick fresh oranges in a citrus field
Remember the 30-minute jungle hike we discussed earlier in the list? Well, in order to get to the hiking trail, we had to walk through a mile of citrus trees. The orange and grapefruit trees growing at the foot of Sleeping Giant are an organic dream. The groves go on for miles bearing delicious fruit used in dishes and beverages in the resort’s restaurant.
After we completed the hike and cave excursion, the guide stopped in the middle of the grove and I was able to pick a fresh orange straight from the tree branch. Oranges growing in Belize look a tad bit different from oranges in the US and maintain an orangish-green hue as it ripens. Sure enough, the orange was bursting with citrus aromatics and flavor; one of the tastiest oranges I’ve ever encountered. The orange juice at the resort was squeezed from this ripe fruit and was just another example of the fresh ingredients used at Sleeping Giant, going straight from the farm to the table.
5. Explore ancient caves
Once we conquered our 30-minute hike through the jungle, the mountain cracked apart to reveal a massive hole with bats soaring across the opening. It led into a Mayan ceremonial cave where thousands of years ago the indigenous people of Belize would sacrifice high-ranking officials to their gods. If you are looking for an extreme challenge to tackle while visiting the country, I highly suggest signing up for the ceremonial cave tour.
The entire excursion, including the hike there and back, took about four hours, so hiking boots, protective clothing, and water are a must. This cave was public and was completely untouched and in its natural state, so there weren’t any pathways or lights to guide us through. We relied on the tour guide and the lights on our hats to keep us heading in the right direction. Most of the cave was filled with mud so we slipped and slid through the cave; climbing over fallen walls and taking in the huge stalactites and stalagmites that hugged the cave from floor to ceiling. Many of the formations in the cave had taken thousands of years to form.
After about an hour of walking, we reached a space that had been washed away by flooding. Along the flood path, human remains from the Mayan rituals could be seen embedded into the muddy floor. There were jaw pieces, rib cages, and even the deformed skull of a high-ranking child strewn throughout the cave. When we reached the sacred altar, we killed our lights and sat in the darkness imagining the Mayans who once believed the cave to be their underworld. There were even pieces of ancient Mayan pottery left behind by looters that were used during their rituals.
The cave excursion was like nothing I’d ever experienced in my life. It pushed my body to limits I didn’t realize it could reach and after completing the feat, I felt a deep sense of accomplishment. One thing to remember about natural caves is that you will get very dirty so be sure to wear clothes you’re comfortable getting wet and muddy.
6. Eat ceviche on the beach
If the Belizean jungle isn’t your cup of tea, you can find a plethora of things to do on the many beaches throughout Belize. One of my favorite beaches was in Hopkins at the Jaguar Reef resort. With sun-drenched sand leading into the aqua blue Caribbean Sea, the beach at Jaguar Reef had a little bit of everything to offer guests. From beach swings and hammocks to lounge in under the sky to netted day beds hanging over the ocean, this beach was the real deal experience we were looking for.
When we weren’t lounging around or walking along the shore, we spent our time enjoying the cuisine from the resort’s Paddle House Restaurant. A cultural infusion of flavor, the food at Jaguar Reef was inspired by the culinary creativity of the Garifuna people. The descendants of Afro-Indigenous, Caribbean islanders who were exiled to Honduras in the 18th century and eventually settled in Belize, the Garifuna have a rich culture and heritage. Garifuna cuisine incorporates an array of herbs, spices, seafood, and rice to create a unique, signature style of cooking.
We sat on the beach as the sun set enjoying fresh shrimp and coconut ceviche, smoked fish wontons, and craboo beef tenderloin curated by restaurant head Chef Rahim. The food experience was unmatched and there was no better place to enjoy it than the beach at Jaguar Reef.
7. Take a Garifuna cooking class
While some may be satisfied with simply tasting the Garifuna cuisine, you can take your Belizean immersion to another level by taking a cooking class. My boyfriend and I joined Chef Rahim and Chef Elle, a local Garifuna woman, during a class teaching us to make the traditional Caribbean dish called hudut. A broth-based dish made with fish and served over coconut rice, preparing hudut was the perfect opportunity to showcase our culinary skills and learn some new tips for cooking exotic dishes.
We watched as Chef Rahim and Chef Elle marinated the snapper and chopped up onions and peppers to season the fish. They taught us how to traditionally pound plantain and we each took turns plunging the heavy, wooden tool into the pot turning it quickly as we mashed them to perfection. A coconut milk blend was mixed in with the fish, creating a subtly sweet yet savory taste bud experience.
Although hands-on cooking isn’t for everyone, the cooking class on the beach was an introduction to Garifuna food in a way that was fun and creative.
8. Search for crocodiles on a river cruise
You read that right, crocodiles! Belize is full of wildlife and crocodiles are just one of the creatures that call the tropical country home. During one of our last nights at Jaguar Reef, we opted for a late dinner in exchange for a chance to cruise down Hopkin’s City River. The two-hour cruise took us deep into the Riverlands where cranes soared above as the water rushed behind our boat.
Our guide and captain, Alex told us to keep our eyes peeled for crocodile and manatee sightings as the sun set and the moon rose high above the mango trees. They gave us flashlights to use to spot the creatures as the boat drifted along and, while we didn’t see any manatees, we did spot one baby crocodile with its head poking out of the water. My inner Steve Irwin was activated as we searched for more animals lurking in the Belizean waters.
This river cruise was truly for the adventurer at heart and was a special moment as the trip came to an end. Before leaving Belize, be sure to explore some of its beautiful riverbanks. Even if you don’t see any wildlife, the scenery alone is worth the ride.
9. Grab a golf cart and explore the village
Now, before I went on my trip, my mother specifically told me not to go off the resort. However, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t get a taste of the local life in Belize. So of course, I ventured away from the resort for a short while to get some souvenirs to bring back home and try the local cuisine.
Near most Belizean resorts you’ll find small shops where you can rent golf carts to drive and check out the area. The golf cart rental was only $35 for two hours and we spent the time eating at a local restaurant, visiting a gift shop down the road, and exploring a small village near Hopkins. Even though we weren’t driving around for very long, we were still able to get a taste of the local Belizean experience.
Anytime you visit a new destination, make sure you are always aware of your surroundings. If you’re traveling internationally, ensure your cell phone has service without Wi-Fi so you can navigate back to your hotel safely.
10. Try homemade ice cream at a local farm
The ride in the shuttle from Hopkins back to the airport in Belize City was bittersweet. I watched the lush, green mountains roll into my background as we got further and further away from Belize and headed toward home. But the adventure wasn’t over yet.
On the way, we made a rest stop at a local dairy farm. They had homemade ice cream and I indulged in a single scoop of soursop ice cream. The soursop fruit made a wonderful first impression with the cheesecake at Sleeping Giant and I was dying to try it one last time before I headed back to St. Louis. It did not disappoint, and the sweet, bitter flavor seeped through me leaving a blissful feeling I’d never forget.
If you find yourself in Belize headed towards the airport and see the dairy farm, don’t pass it up. This hidden gem off the Hummingbird Highway solidified my experience with one scoop of goodness and was the perfect nightcap to end our Belizean excursion.