Belize is the perfect road-trip country. In fact, renting a car and driving yourself is by far the best way to get around when there is so much to see within such short distances. You can stop when and where you want to admire the scenery and take as much time as you’d like at each destination.
And providing you drive carefully, the roads in Belize are safe. Speed bumps are plentiful, so go slow, and be aware that, in some areas, the rules of the road are seen as suggestions instead. Slowing down gives you more opportunities to spot unusual road signs like tapir crossings too – watch out for animals that may wander into the road.
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Car hire isn’t too expensive in Belize – you can get deals for less than $50 a day for economy cars. The five major highways are paved and a regular economy car is sufficient on those. However, the rest of Belize’s roads are mostly dirt or gravel that can get very muddy in the rainy season from around May to November and may only be accessible by 4WD.
Here are our picks for the five best road trips in Belize.
1. Hire a 4WD to drive from Belmopan to Caracol
Best road trip for a mountain drive
Belmopan to Caracol Natural Monument Reservation via Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve; 64 miles
It’s about 50 miles from Belize City to Belmopan along the George Price Highway, also known as the Western Highway. From Belize’s capital city, head west to Georgeville, where you’ll turn south. A 4WD is recommended for this road trip since road conditions can be rough once you turn off the highway.
This route will take you through Mountain Ridge Pine Forest Reserve where the tropical jungle makes way for a rocky, pine-covered landscape. Attractions along the way include Barton Creek Cave, Big Rock Falls, the Rio On Pools and the Río Frio Cave. If you don’t stop along the way, it will take you about two and a half hours to reach the Mayan site of Caracol. However, make this at least a day trip so you can spend some time dipping your toes in the cool mountain streams.
Detour: If you’d like to see more Mayan sites on this trip, turn west when you’re back in Georgeville and drive to San Ignacio, where you’ll find Cahal Pech. Then continue on towards the Guatemalan border for the Xunantunich site. You can even pop across the border into Guatemala for the big one, Tikal. Just be sure to arrange this beforehand with the car rental agency so that the paperwork can be prepared.
Drive Belize’s scenic Hummingbird Highway © Aquila Flores / Lonely Planet
2. Cruise along the Hummingbird Highway
Best nature road trip in Belize
Belmopan to Dangriga; 54 miles
The Hummingbird Highway is a favorite among visitors and Belizeans alike, and for good reason. This is arguably the most scenic road trip in Belize, meandering through countless little villages and farmland and across the Maya Mountains. You can do it in less than two hours but why would you? After all, this is the gateway to some of the country’s best natural attractions.
In Belmopan, there’s Guanacaste National Park with its hiking trails and birdwatching opportunities. As you head southwest and into the mountains, you’ll get to St Herman’s Blue Hole National Park, home to St Herman’s Cave with its underground river and, just off the highway, the crystalline swimming spot known as the (Inland) Blue Hole. Next up is Billy Barquedier National Park with its tropical forest and a beautiful little waterfall.
Just south of the village of Alta Vista are Davis Falls, the country’s second highest at an estimated 500ft. The rest of the road to Dangriga is mainly citrus country – watch out for those citrus trucks. Also be on the lookout for the bridges crossing streams along the Hummingbird Highway – quite a few of them are just wide enough for one vehicle and guardrails seem to be optional. Just before you hit Dangriga, you can stock up on some heat at Marie Sharp’s hot-sauce factory.
TV Ramos Highway passes many different wildlife parks and sanctuaries © CampPhoto / Getty Images
3. Pass forests and wildlife reserves on the TV Ramos Highway
Best road trip for jungle adventures
Dangriga to Punta Gorda; 98 miles
The Thomas Vincent Ramos Highway, also known as the TV Ramos Highway or the Southern Highway, is the one to take if you want a jungle road trip in Belize. The road itself doesn’t go through the jungle but along the way, you’ll find several forested parks and reserves filled with wildlife.
First up is Mayflower Bocawina National Park, with its hiking trails through dense jungle, waterfalls and swimming holes, and off-the-beaten-track Mayan ruins. Next is the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, which offers more jungle hiking, as well as an above-average chance to spot a jaguar in its natural habitat. The access roads to these parks are dirt roads that may require a 4WD in the rainy season.
Once you’ve crossed into the Toledo District, the highway traverses the Swasey Bladen Forest Reserve and the Deep River Forest Reserve. You’ll also pass Belize Spice Farm and Botanical Gardens and the Mayan ruins of Nim Li Punit. Where the highway kinks southeast towards Punta Gorda at the community of Dump, it passes the Aguacaliente Wildlife Sanctuary with its extensive wetlands.
Detour: Punta Gorda is a great introduction to Garifuna culture. From here, make a pilgrimage south to the coastal village of Barranco, the birthplace of the most famous Garifuna musician, Andy Palacio. You can travel by road or, to cut your travel time in half to about 20 minutes, take a boat.
You can then turn the drive back to Dangriga into the best coastal road trip in Belize. First, take the turnoff to Monkey River Town, a purely Belizean Creole seaside village from where you can take a guided trip upriver. At Santa Cruz, turn right and head back south to Placencia for fancier beach resorts and Garifuna drumming. Get more beach time and Garifuna culture in Hopkins.
4. Visit the Mayan villages of Toledo
Best road trip for living Mayan culture
TV Ramos Highway to Pueblo Viejo; 30 miles
Close to the Guatemalan border in Southern Belize, you can see how the Maya live today. A little past the Nim Li Punit ruins, turn right onto the gravel road for Silver Creek. From here, you’ll find a string of Q’eqchi’ and Mopan villages, some complete with thatched houses. Along the way, you can visit the Lubaantun and Uchben’Kaj Mayan ruins, the Columbia Forest Reserve and the Río Blanco National Park with the lovely Río Blanco Falls. You can also go on jungle hikes and explore caves and sinkholes. The terrain is hilly and you may need a 4WD for this trip, especially during the rainy season.
Detour: On the way back from Pueblo Viejo, turn right just after San Antonio and head to Blue Creek, which, as the name suggests, features a stream of clear blue water. The inhabitants are a mix of Mopan and Q’eqchi’ heritage. Keep an eye out for the otters living in the stream.
Turn off the Old Northern Highway to visit the Maya ruins of Altun Ha © Daineko Natalia / Shutterstock
5. Slow down for potholes on the Old Northern Highway
Best road trip for Mayan ruins
Belize City to Corozal; 95 miles
Sure, you can get from Belize City to Corozal faster via the Philip Goldson Highway – also known as the Northern Highway – but then you’d miss out on one of the country’s most famous Mayan sites. Instead, check your shock absorbers and brace yourself for the bumpy ride along the pothole-filled Old Northern Highway. This highway turns off from the Philip Goldson Highway just past the community of Sand Hill and takes you through a landscape of mostly farmland.
At Lucky Strike, you’ll find the turnoff for Altun Ha, the largest structure that you may recognize from the Belikin beer label. Some of the houses in the nearby village of Rockstone Pond were built using stones from Altun Ha. Just before Orange Walk, the road joins the Philip Goldson Highway again. In Orange Walk Town, the Latin influences become more pronounced due to the proximity to Mexico and you’ll also meet more people of Yucatec Mayan descent. The trip ends in Corozal, with its distinctly Spanish colonial feel.
In town, you’ll find the Mayan ruins of Santa Rita while a 13-mile drive around the bay will take you to the Cerros Mayan ruins. If you’ve arranged this with the car-rental agency, you may be able to drop off your car in Corozal and either take a boat to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, from where you can sail back to Belize City or move on to Chetumal just across the border in Mexico.
Detour: There are two ways to visit the Lamanai Mayan ruins from Orange Walk – you can take a boat down the New River or you can drive down. While a boat ride is fun, the drive down allows you to also explore the nearby Mennonite communities of Shipyard, Indian Creek and Blue Creek.