With its abundance of jungles, waterfalls and caves, Belize can easily make you feel like an intrepid explorer.
Abounding with opportunities to experience nature, the Central American country has 17 national parks, three nature reserves, five natural monuments, seven wildlife sanctuaries, 16 forest reserves, eight marine reserves, seven bird sanctuaries and various private reserves – all in an area only a little bigger than New Jersey.
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Naturally, Belize has plenty of great hikes that will help you get a closer look at the natural treasures this country has to offer. Is hiking difficult in Belize? Overall, no – you’ll easily find an excursion suitable for your level of comfort. Yet it helps to come prepared.
Sturdy shoes with a good tread are a must, especially during the rainy season when some trails can get slippery. Since you’ll find many a critter slithering or crawling on the ground, closed shoes usually are the better option. You’ll also need plenty of water and bug repellent, while binoculars are highly recommended if you want to view the wildlife.
So which are the top hikes in Belize? Here’s our pick of the best.
1. Victoria Peak Trail
Best multi-day hike
About 34 miles (55km) round trip, 3–4 days, difficult
At 3675ft (1120m), Victoria Peak is the second-highest mountain in Belize. It’s located in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in the Stann Creek District – and the opportunity to see an abundance of wildlife, including jaguars, makes this climb a Belizean bucket-list item. You need to be experienced and fit, though, and it’s recommended that you space the adventure over at least three or four days.
The hike starts at the park headquarters, following a relatively flat dirt road to an ATV-accessible picnic spot/campground around 8 miles (13km) away on the banks of the Sittee River. Then it’s a little less than 4 miles (6.5km) through the jungle along increasingly steep terrain to KM19, where most people camp for the night. The next leg is the climb to the summit and back; as you climb higher, the trees make way for smaller plants. There’s a section just before the summit where you’ll need to use ropes and harnesses. For the descent, you can camp at KM19 again or push through to the starting point.
You must do the Victoria Peak hike in Belize accompanied by a licensed guide. In addition, you can only set out between February 1 and May 31, during the dry season. You need to book in advance with the Belize Audubon Society.
A very lucky few hikers in Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary might spot an elusive jaguar © miosk50 / Shutterstock
2. Ben’s Bluff Trail
Best hike for views without the exertion
About 2.5 miles (4km) round trip, 1–2 hours, moderate
If you want views of the Stann Creek District without the exertion of the Victoria Peak hike, Ben’s Bluff Trail makes for a great alternative. It’s also located in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and is open year-round.
The easy first part of the hike takes you to a small waterfall where you can swim. After that, a narrow trail leads up to Ben’s Bluff, where good views are your reward. Though most of the trail is covered by tree canopy, the path is cleared, which makes for a comfortable walk. Yet things can get muddy, especially in the rainy season, and you’re unlikely to see much wildlife other than birds and small reptiles.
3. Crystal Cave Trail
Best hike for caves
Up to 1 hour each way, difficult
One of the best hiking tours in Belize is the Crystal Cave Trail in St Herman’s Blue Hole National Park in the Cayo District. You can book this guided tour with one of several reliable local companies.
The hiking part involves a strenuous uphill climb through the forest, which takes between 45 minutes and an hour. At the Crystal Cave entrance, you’ll rappel some 15 feet down into the opening (the tour company will supply the gear you need for this), which is known locally as Mountain Cow Cave. From there, your guide will lead you deeper underground to check out the artifacts and relics left behind by the ancient Maya, including the skeletal remains of sacrificial victims. The stalactites and stalagmites are something to behold, too.
Note that exploring the cave involves lots of scrambling and crawling along narrow passages, so wear shoes with a good tread – and be prepared to get dirty. The duration of the entire excursion depends on the tour company but will take at least 5 hours.
After a hike through the lush jungle of Mayflower Bocawina National Park, you’ll reach the top of Antelope Falls, where you can cool off with a dip © Getty Images / iStockphoto
4. Antelope Falls
Best hike for waterfalls
About 2.25 miles (3.6km) round trip, 1–1.5 hours, difficult
Mayflower Bocawina National Park near Dangriga may very well be the most beautiful place to hike in Belize, with its blue-green streams and waterfalls in a dense jungle. You may spot spider monkeys, howler monkeys, tapirs, ocelots and (if you’re very lucky) a jaguar.
The Antelope Falls trail starts out fairly easy, following a wide path. Near the start of the trail, you’ll pass the Maintzunun ruins, consisting of an unexcavated mound. As you go along, the path gets steadily steeper in between flat stretches. Just when you think it’s not as bad as you expected, you’ll reach the approximate halfway point – and find yourself grabbing onto tree roots and support ropes to help you up.
When you reach the top of the falls, which cascade down about 1000ft (305m), take a few minutes to catch your breath and admire the views. Then continue for another couple of minutes to a beautiful pool for a swim before heading back down.
5. Lamanai Ruins
Best hike for history lovers
A loop of about 1 mile (1.6km), 20–25 minutes, moderate
The Lamanai Archaeological Reserve in the Orange Walk District is a Mayan site dating back to around the 16th century. It’s located on the banks of the New River and can be reached by road or speedboat.
While you can complete the loop around the site in less than half an hour, we recommend taking your time to explore the ruins themselves and do some bird-watching. You may also spot monkeys and other creatures. The terrain is flat, though stone steps by the ruins can be hard on your knees and leg muscles.
Hiking in Belize isn’t all waterfalls and jungles – a beach walk along San Pedro’s shores counts too © Bkamprath / iStockphoto / Getty Images
6. San Pedro Reef and Village Areas Walk
Best beach hike
About 6 miles round trip, 2 hours, easy
Belize jungle treks may be all the rage, but don’t forget that this country also has some seriously excellent beaches. An easy but very satisfying beach walk takes you along the eastern coast of Ambergris Caye, between the Belize Barrier Reef area at the southern tip of the island and the town of San Pedro.
The walk is mainly on compact sand, with some grassy areas in between. Windswept palms and ocean views feature all along the way. If you get thirsty, there’s no shortage of beach bars for refueling.