Things to Do in Belize City
Often the first stop for visitors to beautiful Belize, Belize City is a buzzing metropolitan, and acts as the central hub for business and travel around the country. But before taking off to explore, take time to appreciate all that Belize City has to offer.
Explore the natural beauty of Belize by heading the to the caves in the Belize rainforest. Take a tubing expedition with one of many qualified touring groups, most of which organize free hotel pickup and transportation. If you're looking for an adrenaline rush, look into zip-lining in the rainforest - a truly unforgettable experience.
If you're in the mood for something a little more calming, the Belize Zoo is considered to be one of the finest small zoos in the world, and for good reason. What makes it truly unique is that is only features animals that are native to Belize, such as ocelots, black jaguars, spotted jaguars, pumas, scarlet macaws, crocodiles, dozens of different snakes, and the famous tapir, April.
Just next to the zoo is the wonderful Tropical Education Center. Sitting on 84 acres, experience animals in their natural habitats while hiking or canoeing through the center. Knowledgeable and friendly guides will take you through your visit as you encounter true Belizean wildlife.
For a historic look at Belize, visit the Belize Museum, and discover the plentiful Mayan artifacts that make the country so rich with history. Housed in a former colonial prison, the museum is walk back through time. Be sure to visit the one cell that is still maintained in its original form.
For another encounter with both beauty and history, visit St. John's Cathedral, the oldest Anglican church in all of Central America. Built in 1812, the church is dedicated to its history and legacy.
Altun Ha is the site of the ruins of an ancient Mayan city, and covers about 5mi (8km) squared. The central area of the site has over 500 historic structures to visit, mostly built during Maya Classic era (200-900 AD). Take a step into history at this extraordinary site, and examine the way the 10,000 inhabitants lived in the area.
The site is divided into two main clusters, Plaza A and Plaza B, each with its own special attractions.
Plaza A features the mysterious Temple of the Green Tomb, wherein jade, jewelry, flints, and other historic items were found. Plaza B is home to the biggest structure on the site, the Temple of Masonry Altar, which rises over 60ft above the plaza. Thought to be the main religious center of the civilization, the temple houses the famous head of Kinich Ahau: a 10lb (5kg) piece of jade carved into the head of the Mayan sun god. This is believed to be a national treasure of Belize, and is depicted on the local currency.
St. John’s Cathedral dates back to the early 1800s and is the oldest Anglican church in Central America. The cathedral, located in Belize City, is not only a place where the congregation still celebrates their faith, but it also has a big historical influence due to its colonial past. When the colonial empires fought over control of what was back then known as British Honduras, the cathedral was built by slave labor over eight years. Painstakingly, with bricks brought on ships all the way from Europe. The façade looks humble, but it just so happens that this little Anglican church is the only place outside of England, where real kings were crowned.
Four kings of the Indian Miskito tribe, which inhabited the Mosquito coast, were coronated with full British ceremonial pomp that rivaled the kingly ceremonies back in London.
Government House, also known as the House of Culture, is often called the most beautiful colonial building in Belize City. The stately mansion was built in 1812 for the purpose of housing the colonial government of British Honduras, but was later turned into a residence for the Queen’s representative in independent Belize, the Governor General. Today, it is a creative community center to show off one of the country’s most important historical and political landmarks and provide space for a variety of events. It hosts colorful art exhibitions, music festivals, concerts, galleries, an open air theatre and is often used as a backdrop for weddings and other social functions. It was here where lavish celebrations for dignitaries and the Mosquito Kings were held and where the Union Jack was lowered and the Belize flag was raised in 1981 upon independence. Of course, the building has since undergone several renovations, but the colonial charm has never been lost.
With more than its fair share of natural delights, Belize is paradise for outdoor-adventure enthusiasts, and Belize City is the gateway to its spoils. Shore excursions include river kayaking, horseback riding, Mayan temples, ziplining and cave tubing, or if you’d rather be under the water, the country’s coral reef is one of the best in the world.
Because of this ecological abundance, Belize City is often overlooked, but as the cultural capital of the country, it’s worth a look around. If you do want to get out, some of the cayes are accessible for a day trip by boat or tiny plane.
Cruise ships anchor in the harbor; you’ll be tendered to shore and dropped off at the Tourism Village, from where you can walk to Belize City’s top attractions, or find cabs and water taxis to explore outside the city.
Overlooking the beautiful Mopan River from a stunning hilltop, the ruins at Xunantunich are some of the most visited Mayan sites in the world. Located in the Cayo region, Xunantunich, which means "stone woman" in Mayan, dates back to the Classic Era, about 200-900 AD.
The complex is made up of 6 groups and about 25 different temples and palaces, and is dominated by the astonishing El Castillo, which stands 40m (130ft) tall, and from the top, provides an amazing view of the jungle canopy, the other ruins, and even past the Guatemalan border.
Learn about the incredible history of the Mayan inhabitants, the excavations, and the environment on the site, and stop into the visitors' center for more information.
Meaning "submerged crocodile" in Yucatan Mayan, Lamanai is perhaps the most fascinating of all of Mayan sites in Belize if only because it is not yet completely uncovered. See history in the making as you visiting the excavation site, and prepare yourself for amazement when you realize that the hill you're looking at is actually a temple, still buried underground.
The temples you do get see, however, are equally incredible. Rising all the way from the jungle floor to above the canopy, study the amazing carvings and other examples of Mayan architecture in these astounding structures.
If you're feeling daring, venture to the top of El Castillo, one of the larger temples, by way of a narrow set of steps and a rope. The view of the jungle from the top is one-of-a-kind, and after climbing the 100ft (30m) to the top, it will be well worth it.
Caracol is the single largest archeological site in Belize, and one of the biggest Mayan structures in the world. Discovered in 1938 by loggers, the Classic Period complex covers over 30mi (48km) squared of land, including over 35,000 structures, five plazas, and some of the most beautiful jungle in Central America.
Occupied as early as 1200 BC, dozens of hieroglyphic texts have been discovered in the ancient city, carved into altars, walls, facades, capstones, and ball-court-markers. Rich in tropical wildlife, learn about the Mayan civilization in one of the most astonishing cities known to modern man.
Visiting Caracol is an exercise in discovery: as you walk through the amazing Caana pyramid, the largest in the complex, rising 140ft (420m) above ground, experience the magnificence of the Mayan architectural prowess and ability. From the central acropolis to the ball courts to the astronomic observatory, you are sure to be amazed.
Lighthouse Reef is an incredible atoll, a coral island encircling a lagoon, in the Caribbean Sea, and was made famous by legendary sea explorer Jacques Cousteau, who rightfully declared it one of the top ten diving locations in the world.
Follow in Cousteau's footsteps by diving in the Great Blue Hole, the underwater sinkhole in the center of the lagoon. Interact with the fauna of the coral reef, including amazing Caribbean reef sharks, Blacktip sharks, barracudas, stingrays, turtles, and hundreds of different fish on a guided or independent dive. Visit Long Caye, where you can snorkel in the protected lagoons and see the bountiful wildlife, including rare birds, iguanas, and other tropical species. The experience will only be matched by visiting Half Moon Caye, the idyllic island that includes a national park and a bird sanctuary.
More Things to Do in Belize City
In 1983 Richard Foster came to Belize to film a wildlife documentary. Over a dozen animals used in filming became partly tame by the time shooting wrapped, so Sharon Matola, the American biologist in charge of their care, decided to found the Belize Zoo to give them somewhere to call home.
Today, the Belize Zoo covers 29 acres (11.7 hectares) and is home to more than 150 animals representing 45 species native to the country. Many of the zoo’s residents are rescue animals who have been injured, orphaned or donated from other zoos, and the spacious enclosures make it feel more like a wildlife refuge than a typical zoo. Among the Belize Zoo’s star tenants are the five species of wild cats native to Belize: jaguar, puma, margay, ocelot and jaguarundi. Other animals in residence include spider monkeys, manatees, scarlet macaws, toucans, tree frogs and boa constrictors.
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