"Loggerhead Turtle Rising while Snorkeling Hol Chan Marine Reserve in Belize" by Snorkelingdives.com via Flickr Creative Commons

For such a tiny nation, Belize packs a big punch when it comes to exotic activities. This country makes nearly all of its revenue off tourism so it is very well-equipped to cater to the needs of its international visitors. From climbing over Mayan pyramids in the jungle of Caracol to hiking in the company of jaguars in one of Belize’s outstanding national parks, the list of things to do is impressive.

Not everything has to be an adventure, however. Belize has superb scuba diving among the cayes off its Caribbean coast, which also boasts some outstanding beaches and calm seas ideal for kayaking, swimming and general lounging around. Nearly half of Belize is protected as national parkland and the official language here is English.

Belize is home to some of Central America’s finest Mayan sites. Most visitors include a day or two clambering around Caracol, the country’s largest ruins with the perfect balance between restoration and decay. Altun Ha is an easy outing from Belize City, while the vast El Pilar site is still being uncovered and dishes out genuine adventure. Most excursions to the Mayan sites are arranged through tour companies in Belize City or Belmopan. But you can actually stay right at one of the smaller Mayan ruins at the posh Chan Chich Lodge for a truly memorable experience.

The perfect complement to Belize’s adventure is the many Caribbean islets known as cayes. Few spots on earth are more relaxed than Caulker Caye or Ambergris Caye for SUPing. The former doesn’t even allow cars, so grab a kayak to cruise around or dip underwater for some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in the Caribbean. The Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley are just off Ambergris. Even more mind-blowing stuff awaits in the outer atolls like the legendary Blue Hole, Lighthouse Reef Atoll and Glover’s Reef. Dive resorts like Hamanasi are situated right on the beach near Hopkins Village and immerse you in the adventure of scuba diving. Or you can literally watch from the water with a live-aboard dive boat such as Peter Hughes Diving or the Agressor Fleet.

With 618 known species of bird found in Belize (at least part of the year), this little country is one of the world’s top spots for exotic bird watching. You don’t need to be an avid birder to enjoy the sight of toucans and scarlet macaws milling around in a pristine rainforest. Very comfortable resorts like Chan Chich Lodge put you right among them, or you can let a respected tour company such as US-based Victor Emanuel Nature Tours handle the details. There are several amazing parks to choose from including Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary and Cockscomb Basin Forest Reserve.

It’s hard to avoid the amazing birdlife of Belize; so many visitors simply plan a few hikes to get sense of the magical scope of the country’s jungles. National parks like Cockscomb Basin Forest Reserve are not only home to the highest peak in Belize (Victoria peak), but also a dedicated reserve to protect the endangered jaguar. Hikes in the park’s well-maintained trail network offer plenty of potential for a once-in-a-lifetime encounter. Guanacaste National Park is an ideal choice for an easy introduction to the jungle biosphere of Belize as its trails are well-marked and easy to reach from the city of Belmopan. Blue Hole National Park is another gem, with the beautiful swimming hole (cenote) waiting after a pleasant two-mile trek through dense primary forest. Hike deeper into the park and you can explore the well-named Crystalline Cave. Any of the local Belize tour companies such as Belize Trips or Discovery Expeditions can arrange custom outings based on your interests.

The rivers of Belize provide another fantastic environment for outdoor adventure, ranging from a lazy tube ride to crashing Class III rapids in a kayak. One of the most popular excursions is a float trip through the Caves Branch River Cave System in the western part of the country. With only your headlamp for lighting, your guide will take you through this amazing cave network with its stalactites and impossibly dark quiet atmosphere. Above ground, the Mopan and Macal Rivers are popular destinations for a day on the water. From the town of San Ignacio, there are miles of river that offer gentle floats and more exciting white water. The Caribbean Sea is another perfect environment for boating thanks to the calm protected waters around its atolls and the reasonable distance between them. Sea kayaking is a fantastic experience for one or two people and can be arranged from any of the island resorts. For a real adventure, book a multiday trip that involves camping on the empty cayes of Glover’s Reef through outfits like Slickrock Adventures or Island Expeditions.

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