The Arena Media Brands, LLC and respective content providers to this website may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.
Every year the SI Swimsuit team travels to a selection of beautiful locations around the world for its annual issue. This year Belize hosted the third photo shoot of the cycle.
More from SwimLife
Belize is a magical country. Bordered to the north by Mexico, to the south and west by Guatemala and the Caribbean Sea along the east, Belize is known for diverse cultural influence and distinctive biodiversity. Belize is the only English-speaking country in Central America, yet its rich cultural flair is felt in the customs and traditions that represent the more than eight diverse cultures in its midst.
Belize is adorned with undisturbed flora and fauna and defined by sustainability – a sprawling green oasis that is proudly preserved by locals and visitors alike through no-take marine zones, protected natural and wildlife reserves and eco-minded accommodations. This natural playground offers world-class snorkeling and diving in the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Belize Barrier Reef and the Great Blue Hole, home to more than 500 species of fish and 300 kilometers of coral reef. The country’s interior boasts unspoiled jungles and the largest cave system in Central America, and its history can be retraced through the impressive Maya sites, like Lamanai and Xunatunich, dating back to 1500 B.C.E. Belize has cultivated an environment of warmth and happiness and cultural infusion that makes every adventure and experience distinctively unique.
Read on for a list of 18 must-see locations to visit on your trip to Belize!
Lamanai is one of Belize’s largest Maya sites, located in the Orange Walk District. It is the community with the longest history of human habitation in the country and was settled around 900 B.C.E. and still occupied 2,500 years later, when Spanish missionaries arrived in 1544.
Belize Barrier Reef
Stretching a glorious, azure 180 miles, the Belize Barrier Reef is the pride and joy of the tiny country. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Belize Barrier Reef system is more than just the famous Great Blue Hole. Encompassing three of the four atolls on this side of the world, it is an entity that the region is adamant on preserving.
Great Blue Hole, North Islands
The Great Blue Hole is undeniably Belize’s biggest tourist seduction. The cobalt-colored sinkhole is part of the Lighthouse Reef Atoll and lies just 43 miles from the mainland. It can be explored underwater through diving excursions or overhead with fly-over tours.
Hol Chan Marine Reserves, North Islands
The Hol Chan Marine Reserve refers to the deep cut or “quebrada” in the barrier reef off Ambergris Caye. This protected zone encompasses a total of 13,632 acres of marine waters, which includes four zones. This top snorkeling zone is Belize’s first marine reserve and its popularity has been primarily centered on the schools of friendly docile nurse sharks, silver and colorful fishes. This snorkeler haven is also home to a few endangered species of marine life, such as: Loggerhead Turtle, Green Turtle, Nassau Grouper, Star Coral, Staghorn Coral and Elkhorn Coral.
Shark Ray Alley, Ambergris Caye
Shark Ray Alley is located just one mile south of the Hol Chan cut. Shark Ray Alley offers you the rare opportunity to snorkel beside stingrays, nurse sharks and turtles.
San Pedro, Ambergris Caye
Caye Caulker, North Islands
Caye Caulker is a smaller island in Ambergris Caye that boasts the motto “Go slow.” Caye Caulker offers a laid-back atmosphere, where golf carts are the primary mode of transportation.
San Ignacio Resort Hotel, San Ignacio
Located in Western Belize in the Cayo District, San Ignacio sits along the majestic Macal River and is a lively cultural hub and jumping-off point for archeological and jungle exploration. Caving, zip-lining, bird watching and visiting ancient Maya sites are a few of the key activities in this town.
Mountain Pine Ridge, Big Rock Falls
Tucked into the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, Big Rock Falls is a magnificent, monumental and massive natural attraction that stands tall with a small pool at the bottom, flowing into a bigger cenote that rushes over large rocks – i.e. Big Rock Falls. For years Big Rock Falls was one of Belize’s best kept secrets, but now the 150-foot waterfall is quickly becoming a visitor favourite spot.
ATM Cave, Cayo
ATM, an acronym for Actun Tunichil Muknal in Maya, translates to “Cave of the Stone Sepulcher,” and is considered one of the most sacred sites in Belize. In exploring this cave, visitors will encounter skeletal human remains and walk the footsteps of the country’s rich Maya history. Located specifically in the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve in Western Belize, this tour takes about a total of four hours to complete and is one of the most enriching experiences the land has to offer.
Turneffe Atoll, Central Coast
Close to Belize City, Lighthouse and Glover’s Reef, Turneffe Atoll is a great base for exploring all of the atolls. With its steep drop-offs, Turneffe is one of the best spots for diving in the area and, because of its wall, is perfect for all diving skill levels. On the western side of the atoll rests the Sayonara, a small passenger and cargo boat that sank here in 1985.
Xunantunich sits atop a hill overlooking the Mopan River and the Cayo District. The area was a major ceremonial site built on a natural limestone ridge during the Classic Period. It is composed of six major plazas, with more than 25 Maya temples and palaces. “El Castillo” (the Castle), the largest pyramid at 130 feet above the plaza, has carved friezes on the east and west sides. The frieze on the east has been preserved and covered with a fiberglass replica of the central mask that represents the sun god. It’s flanked by the moon and Venus. On a clear day, you can see across into nearby Guatemala and near Caracol in the Pine Ridge Mountain Reserve.
Mountain Pine Ridge, Thousand Foot Falls
With 1,290 acres designated as a monument within the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, Thousand Foot Falls is located only an hour and a half from San Ignacio Town. The picturesque waterfall is the highest in the country. It is also thought to be the highest in the entire Central American region. Visitors can hike down the trail and enjoy a refreshing dip into the freshwater stream.
Mountain Pine Ridge, Frio Rio Cave
The Rio Frio Cave is considered one of the best caving systems throughout Belize. With a length of around a quarter mile, there is no shortage of natural wonders along the way. Explore the many natural fresh-water pools, waterfalls and stalactite formations. The view of the entry of the cave is in itself amazing, standing 65 feet tall.
Mountain Pine Ridge, Rio On Pools
Located within the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, the Rio On Pools is scenic, with its granite rocks and ledges that form the most aesthetic waterfalls and fresh-water pools. The riverbanks feature the perfect picnic locations with excellent views of the area.
Half Moon Caye, Central Coast
Half Moon Caye Natural Monument sports sandy-white beaches, pristine blue waters and lush vegetation. It preserves several important ecosystems and is home to endangered species such as the Hawksbill Turtle and Nassau Grouper, as well as colonies of Red-Footed Booby Birds and endemic Leaf Toed Geckos. Half Moon Caye has a dramatic reef wall that drops to over 3,000 feet. Often overshadowed by its more famous sister site, the Blue Hole, the Half Moon Caye wall is considered by many to be the best dive site in Belize, full of pristine coral and abundant sea life.
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Reserve, Central Belize –
A haven for the endangered jaguar, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary covers 128,000 acres of rainforest in the Cockscomb Range of the Maya Mountains. With the neighboring Bladen Nature reserve to the south, jaguars have a combined 250,000 acres to roam free of worry from poachers. This haven makes Belize the most jaguar-populated country in the world. You’ll also spot pumas, margays, ocelots, kajous, deer, peccaries and tapirs in this reserve.