Welcome to our Belize itinerary. I created Belize itinerary 7 days divided between rainforest interior and Caribbean Cayes (islands). I hope you will find it useful.
Highs & Lows
Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM)
San Pedro was skippable
This Belize itinerary was loaded in the beginning with excursions every day from San Ignacio, giving us time to relax on Caye Caulker for the latter part of the week.
DAY 1: Drive to San Ignacio
We flew into Belize City from the States and were picked up by a driver from our resort who drove us inland to San Ignacio. He was great company and made several stops at food stands along the road for us to get drinks and snacks. It was mango season and several vendors stood on the shoulder holding up bags of fresh-cut mango and other fruits.
DAY 2: Caracol, Big Rock Falls & a Fireside Dinner
The resort shuttled us to the Mayan ruins of Caracol, which were spectacular. Presumably because of the pandemic, there was almost no one else at the site, save for the armed guards protecting the ruins against vandalism. Our guide that day was indispensable, teaching us Mayan words and history, and pointing out various plants for us.
We made a brief stop to look at Rio on Pools, a series of waterfalls cascading over the site of a meteor landing. The last stop was at Big Rock Falls, which we enjoyed all to ourselves. The water was the perfect temperature for swimming.
That evening we celebrated a birthday with a fireside dinner and marimba music at the resort.
DAY 3: ATM
Again, the resort shuttled us with our guide to the excursion of the day: the caves of Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM). To the Mayans it was Xibalba, the underworld, and it was our favorite part of the whole trip.
If you're interested in checking out ATM, there are some important things to know beforehand:
- Guides are required. The cave system runs for miles, and it's easy to get lost within them. At the time of our trip, there were only about 32 guides in Belize who were certified to lead ATM tours.
- There's a dress code. You will be asked to dress for swimming, but with modesty. Us ladies wore shorts and tank tops over our bikinis. You will also need to wear water shoes and bring socks for the dry cave (where no shoes or bare feet are allowed). Photography is not allowed inside the caves without a permit, so expect to leave your phone at the hotel, in the vehicle, or in your guide's dry bag (if there's room).
- The trip is strenuous. It's about an hour hike from the parking lot to the cave entrance, and from there you will be in the caves for three hours more or longer. You will need to scramble over rocks, squeeze through tight passages, and swim short distances. Besides the physical challenges, it can be mentally challenging as well. Some people may not realize their discomfort with water crossings, darkness, or tight spaces until they're in them.
- You will get wet. The hike crosses a river three times, with the first crossing coming up to our chests. Once you get to the caves you will be trudging through water until you reach the "dry" cave where the artifacts and human remains are.
- You will get banged up. You're given headlamps for the trip but it's still dark in the caves and you may bump into rocks that you can't see underwater. Our group was pretty good about pointing out hazards but we passed other people who had bleeding shins and ankles.
- Your safety is not always top priority. Companies will not vet tourists or always ensure they are aware of the dangers. It's up to you to decide if you can handle the trip. We also learned from another guide the following day that the caves can flood a day or two after heavy rains, and tourists have been trapped inside because the companies did not warn them of the danger. If it has been raining and you're concerned, ask your guide's opinion about making the trip--your guide will likely be more honest as they're the one that has to go into the caves with you and won't want to be trapped either. I can't speak to whether or not you'll get refunded, but being out the money is better than risking your life.
That being said...ATM was an incredible experience, and I'd go again in a heartbeat. Just make sure you understand what you're getting into.
DAY 4: Cave Tubing
For our last day on the mainland, we checked out of Cahal Pech Resort and went over to the Cahal Pech ruins across the street. They were much smaller than the impressive Caracol ruins, but still fun to explore.
The resort shuttled us to cave tubing next. Expect a more touristy feel here than ATM (which is an archeological reserve and likely discourages solicitors). Vendors will approach you, selling souvenirs and drinks.
Cave tubing is a very family-friendly and easy activity to do. It was another hike from the parking lot to the river, though not as long as the hike for ATM. Our guide held our tubes together through the caves, and outside of the caves we were able to swim in the warm water if we wanted. The whole experience was beautiful.
After tubing our shuttle drove us into Belize City, where we took a ferry to Caye Caulker.
Caye Caulker is a small island less than a mile wide and about 5 miles long, divided by a manmade strait known as the Split. There aren't cars on the island, so transportation is either by foot, golf cart, or bike. Renting bikes for a few days is inexpensive, and it made traversing the island a breeze.
The island is quiet, but still knows how to cater to tourists. Locals will offer to braid your hair or give you temporary tattoos, and there are plenty of gift shops to find souvenirs. Some chefs set up along the road and barbeque fresh-caught fish.
There are no true beaches for lounging on Caye Caulker, but it's rich in marine life. The day after we got in we took a three-part snorkeling tour. The first part was a five-minute boat ride from the dock outside our Airbnb to the second-largest barrier reef in the world. After 40 minutes of snorkeling, the tour went to Shark Ray Alley, and then our guide circled around to the other side of Caye Caulker where seahorses nested.
At the "beach" in front of the Iguana Reef Inn, stingrays gather in the late afternoon, and we spent nearly every evening watching them. Nurse sharks, seahorses, pelicans, herons, tropical fish, and even an eel also hang around the docks in front of the inn. At night pufferfish sleep in the same shallows the stingrays frequent during the day. Our last night on Caye Caulker, we watched shrimp jumping over the water in the dock lights, trying to escape the hungry fish, and a spotted eagle ray swooped by right underneath our feet.
San Pedro is the island made famous by the Madonna song, "La Isla Bonita," so a friend and I took a 30-minute ferry over to check it out. It's much busier and more crowded than Caye Caulker, and we ended up taking an earlier ferry back to our quiet little island.
There are many shops and street vendors on San Pedro, but pretty much anything being sold there could be found either on Caye Caulker or at the Belize City port.
Q & A
What would you have changed?San Pedro may be famous but I'd skip it if you're island hopping. Another thing we would have changed was to have a little more time on the mainland, and less on the island.
Anything go wrong during the trip?I got seasick on the snorkeling tour and had to end it early. The local pharmacist suggested ginger chews instead of Dramamine, and I made sure to take them before getting on another tiny boat. Didn't get seasick again.
Restaurant recommendations?In San Ignacio, we breakfasted at the Cahal Pech resort every morning (cost not included with our stay). Rice and beans are a staple of Belizean food, and fry jacks are popular for breakfast. I love fried plantains and got them with my meals whenever possible. One evening we walked into town and ate at Ko-Ox Han nah at the recommendation of one of our drivers. The food was delicious. On Caye Caulker, we ate at a different place every day and were never once disappointed. It's an island, so you know the seafood is fresh!
Tips you would give a friend?The US dollar is accepted currency in Belize, and is equal to two Belize dollars. However, rural places may not accept US currency, and it's normal to pay American and receive Belize money in change.
Packing tips?Don't forget a light rain jacket, and throw in that full-sized bug spray if you're checking a bag. You will go through it.
Transportation Tips?We had no troubles getting around without a rental car. The drivers and guides from Cahal Pech were always kind and knowledgeable, and we loved making friends with them. On Caye Caulker, renting bikes is the perfect way to go, and we hailed a golf cart "cab" to bring us and our luggage to the Airbnb when we arrived.
Any surprises?Belize is surrounded by Spanish-speaking countries, but their official language is English.
Booking details?Places came at the recommendation of a friend who had been before.