While Belize backpackers will find prices higher than those of neighboring Central America countries, Belize's attractions more than make the extra budgeting worth it. Islands, jungles, Mayan ruins and Caribbean waters brimming with life are just a few of the reasons backpackers flock to Belize, and the country's decent infrastructure and official language (English!) make Belize backpacking easy. Here are some of our favorite backpacker destinations in Belize.
Located on the Placencia peninsula in southern Belize, Placencia village is funky, scenic and extremely laid-back. Though a number of condo developments and luxury hotels have been developed further up the peninsula, the village's budget guesthouses are the kind with sandy floors and salty breezes through the windows, perfect for Belize backpackers seeking relaxation. Placencia is home to some of Belize's best mainland beaches, and is one of the best places to dive or snorkel with whale sharks when they spawn seasonally at Gladden Spit offshore.
Ambergris Caye is Belize's largest island, and San Pedro Town is the name of the island's largest settlement. By far the most lively destination in Belize, San Pedro is packed with restaurants, nightlife, hostels and hotels – you'll never tire of things to do, from fishing to sunbathing, windsurfing to dancing in the streets. Many of the country's most celebrated dive and snorkel spots are accessible from Ambergris Caye, including the Great Blue Hole. Accommodations are some of Belize's priciest; though budget places can be found, travelers who've spent time in other Central America countries will probably experience sticker shock. View photos of Ambergris Caye.
3. Caye Caulker
With a population hovering around 1000, Caye Caulker is like Ambergris Caye's little sister island. No cars, only bikes and golf carts. No hurrying – "Go Slow" signs are posted all over the island. While offering many of the same attractions as Ambergris Caye (just on a smaller scale), Caye Caulker is most celebrated as a place to wind down and relax. The island has been experiencing more development in recent years, though nothing like Placencia or Ambergris Caye. It also has a special place in my heart: I held my destination wedding there in 2008.
4. The Southern Cayes
Does your idea of a perfect backpacker destination include palm trees, clear waters and as few other travelers as possible? Belize's southern cayes fit the bill perfectly. Like Tobacco Caye: a tiny island in southern Belize, with a population of about 25. Several tiny budget hotels – really, just collections of ultra-basic cabins – make the bulk of the island, which you can walk around in just a few minutes. Or South Water Caye, with a couple small resorts and a research station. If lounging around for hours and hours gets old, the snorkeling and diving right offshore is fantastic. You can reach Belize's southern cayes by taking a boat from Dangriga.
5. Punta Gorda
Punta Gorda is the very definition of a sleepy Belizean town. Located in Belize's far south, it's the first destination for many travelers heading from Puerto Barrios or Livingston in Guatemala via boat (or the last destination, for those heading south). Although the town itself doesn't have tons to offer backpackers – other than icy Belikins and an utterly chill vibe – several great Belize attractions are nearby, like the Nim Li Punit and Lubaantun Mayan ruins, and the Port of Honduras Marine Reserve.
6. San Ignacio (Cayo)
Located in Belize's western Cayo District, San Ignacio is Belize's ecotourism epicenter. Backpackers will find tons to do, from kayaking, canoeing and white water rafting, to hiking, birding and cave tubing. The nearby Mayan ruins of Xunantunich are well-preserved and boast arresting views; farther south, Caracol is the largest Mayan site in Belize (and possibly the hardest to get to). Another reason San Ignacio is popular with Central America backpackers: the Guatemala border is just a short bus or taxi ride away, with Flores and the Mayan ruins of Tikal a couple hours farther.
7. Orange Walk and Corozal
In northern Belize, Orange Walk and Corozal are two destinations for the backpacker seeking the slowest of low-key Belize culture. Orange Walk is a great place for bird watchers, especially in the nearby Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. The Mayan ruins of Lamanai, accessible by river ride, are superb. Corozal boasts several ultra-tranquil, underdeveloped beaches. It's also right on the border of Mexico, perfect for travelers crossing over via Chetumal.
8. Belize City
Belize City represents a travel hub for most backpackers, flying in or travling through on their way to other Belize destinations like the northern cayes. Many tourists are the day-trip type, dropped off by cruise ships. However, as Belize's largest city -- and "city" is really pushing it -- it's worth a bit of exploration. There remains a substantial level of crime, though, so take care, especially when walking around at night.