Belize City as a base never fails the first-time traveler. The former capital is rich with history, exquisite food, and is a convenient jumping-off point to other regions. When it comes to the latter, Belize City is particularly close to many wonderful attractions ideal for day trips. After all, Belize’s miniature size already makes for an action-packed-friendly itinerary. When you’re due for a city break, here are the best spots that are only an hour’s drive – or less – from Belize City.
Starting the list off strong with the ancient Maya ruin of Altun Ha. Located near the rural village of Maskall, Altun Ha’s cutoff can be found on the Philip Goldson Highway on the way to Orange Walk. It lies about an hour away from the international airport in Belize City; this is the most popular excursion for cruise-goers and it’s easy to see why.
The large Maya site was once a major ceremonial center and features a man-made lagoon. In fact, its Maya name translates to “Rockstone Pond.”
Altun Ha is most famous for the massive 10-pound jade head that was discovered on-site (and which now lives under tight lock-and-key at Belize’s Central Bank.) You can spend the morning here and have a picnic lunch on the expansive lawn. We suggest visiting any other day besides Tuesdays and Thursdays to avoid the cruise crowds.
Those looking for under-the-radar wildlife experiences can make the mini-road trip to the tiny village of Bermudian Landing. When exiting the airport, turn left and drive north toward Orange Walk. You’ll keep driving for a bit before arriving at the Burrell Boom cut-off. Turn in and continue driving for another 20 minutes until you see signs for the sanctuary. Follow the signs until you arrive at the reserve.
The sanctuary has a visitor center that you can stroll through to learn more about the history of the conservation area. Here you’ll learn the sanctuary was established to protect Belize’s black howler monkeys (locally known as baboons.) You’ll also be able to get up close and personal with the wild inhabitants. Some even come down from the safety of their trees to say hello!
Another wildlife encounter is a rite of passage for first-time Belize visitors and is on the way to the City of Belmopan on Mile 29. The world’s best little zoo holds some of Belize’s wildest (and cutest) residents about half an hour drive from the City. Expect to see jaguars napping, tapirs grazing, and crocs sunbathing during your visit. Admission fees are $15USD per visitor, but if you wish to contribute more, The Belize Zoo (TBZ) has a great adoption program. By “adopting” an animal, you provide direct care to that specific animal like food, special nutrition, and anything else it might need. Especially since the zoo mostly houses rehabilitated or rescued animals that cannot survive in the wild.
Ok, so this may technically not count as a “drive,” but Caye Caulker is still less than an hour away by boat ride from Belize City. And the $38 roundtrip ticket is worth every penny. Hop on an early 8 a.m. boat from the swing bridge dock to spend the day at this charming island. Caye Caulker is ideal for folks looking to relax and take on a slower pace in life. You can walk around the island – it’s only 5 miles long – and admire the colorful rustic houses lining the few streets.
Spend the afternoon nursing a Lizard Juice cocktail at the Split bar at the north end of the island before taking a dip in the cerulean water. For lunch, take the free ferry on the leeward side of the island to KoKo King, a beautiful strip of beach with a great-service restaurant offering delicious food. Once you’re ready, take a boat back to Belize City at any time, since there are boats almost every hour.