Belize—roughly the same size as New Hampshire—is Central America’s second-smallest country but contains the world’s largest number of Mayan ruins as well as some of the world’s best diving spots. Indeed, the country is a tropical treasure trove filled with lush rainforests, impressive limestone caves, jungle-covered mountaintops where toucans, iguanas and howler monkeys roam, and a vast network of rivers and tumbling waterfalls that flow out into the Caribbean Sea.
Here, our sample itinerary of what to see and do when faced with eight hours in Belize.
9 a.m.—Most ships drop anchor in the harbor of Belize City, the country’s largest city, which you should take some time to explore on foot. Founded by shipwrecked British sailors in 1638, Belize City still features many of the colonial-era buildings built during this time, giving it a quaint island town feel. Be sure to check out St. John’s Cathedral, the oldest standing Anglican church in Central America. If there’s time, stop by the Tourism Village shopping complex to pick up some kitsch souvenirs (the Belize dollar is the official currency, but U.S. dollars are gladly accepted at most places). For a more guided experience, try the trolley tour, which cruiser trose937 says is perfect for those who “don’t want an excursion that takes up the entire day but still affords you an opportunity to see some of the local scenery.”
10:30 a.m.—Belize has the world’s highest concentration of Mayan ruins, with over 600 sites identified so far. Mayan civilization thrived in Belize for more than 3,000 years before the British arrived. Hundreds of ruins are still hidden within the depths of the rainforest, but three sites are ripe for exploration: Altun Ha, Lamanai (both to the north of Belize City), and Xunantunich, which offers incredible views from the 130-foot-high summit of El Castillo, the second-tallest structure in Belize, where you’ll be able to see the lush rainforest of Peten, the Mayan Mountains and even across the border into Guatemala. Keep your eyes open for flocks of toucans and parrots in the trees below you.
1 p.m.—After a full morning of walking and hiking, head back into the main city for a bite to eat. One noteworthy restaurant is the Riverside Tavern in Belize City, which has the best burgers in town. Our partners at Travel + Leisure recommend that you “take a seat at one of the picnic tables in the yard or inside at the brass-railed bar, and order seafood taquitos in fresh flour tortillas and mugs of crisp, local Beliken beer.”
2 p.m.—For younger children, finish off the day with a trip to the Belize Zoo. The zoo was created for animals that were injured or donated to the facility and could not be returned to the wild. Today, it’s home to a remarkable array of endemic species, who are being cared for in their natural environment. Walkways and trails provide access to different areas where animals can be spotted, including five species of cats: jaguars, ocelots, pumas, jaguarundis and margays.
Celebrity offers a number of excursions that allow you to see Belize’s wildlife up close and personal, such as the Airboat adventure, which offers ample opportunities to see crocodiles, turtles, wading birds, and more. Meanwhile, a visit to Shark & Ray Alley puts you in the water with said marine animals. Both are several hours long, so you’ll have just enough time to explore Mother Nature’s best before heading back to shore.