Cruise Through Paradise: The 5 Most Scenic Road Trips in Belize
Cruise Through Paradise: The 5 Most Scenic Road Trips in Belize - The Hummingbird Highway - A Jungle Journey
The aptly named Hummingbird Highway is a must for any road trip through Belize. This scenic stretch of road winds its way through thick rainforest, with opportunities to spot wildlife around every bend. Running about 55 miles along the coast from Belmopan to Dangriga, the Hummingbird Highway is dotted with small villages, ancient Mayan ruins, and exotic flora and fauna.
One of the best ways to experience the Hummingbird Highway is to go slow and make plenty of stops. Keep your eyes peeled for toucans, parrots, monkeys, and the rainbow-hued bird that gives the road its name. Pull over at roadside fruit stands to sample fresh coconut water and exotic tropical produce. Make a pit stop at the blue hole near Mile Marker 31 for a refreshing swim in crystalline waters.
Just past Mile Marker 25, you'll find the Mayan site of Cahal Pech perched on a hill overlooking the town of San Ignacio. Take a guided tour of the ancient temples and ball courts before continuing down to the twin towns of San Ignacio and Santa Elena, nestled along the banks of the Macal River. This is a great spot to overnight, with cozy B&Bs, riverside restaurants, and evening street markets.
Continuing south, the next stretch of the highway passes through acres of citrus and banana groves. Stop at the small town of Pomona to see where fruits are collected and juiced at a local processing plant. A bit further down the road, you'll cross the Raspaculo River over a hand-cranked ferry, a fun throwback to simpler times.
As you approach Dangriga near the highway's end, the landscape shifts to mangrove swamps and sweeping ocean views. Pull over to walk along deserted beaches, wade into turquoise waters, and watch pelicans dive for their dinner. End your Hummingbird Highway journey with a hand-crafted rum drink and fresh seafood meal as the sun sets over the Caribbean.
What else is in this post?
- Cruise Through Paradise: The 5 Most Scenic Road Trips in Belize - The Hummingbird Highway - A Jungle Journey
- Cruise Through Paradise: The 5 Most Scenic Road Trips in Belize - Along the Coast on the Manatee Highway
- Cruise Through Paradise: The 5 Most Scenic Road Trips in Belize - Ruins and Rivers on the George Price Highway
- Cruise Through Paradise: The 5 Most Scenic Road Trips in Belize - Off the Beaten Path on the San Ignacio Road
- Cruise Through Paradise: The 5 Most Scenic Road Trips in Belize - Breathtaking Vistas on the Southern Highway
- Cruise Through Paradise: The 5 Most Scenic Road Trips in Belize - Pit Stops for Local Cuisine and Culture
- Cruise Through Paradise: The 5 Most Scenic Road Trips in Belize - Top Spots for Outdoor Adventures
- Cruise Through Paradise: The 5 Most Scenic Road Trips in Belize - Luxury Accommodations in Paradise
Cruise Through Paradise: The 5 Most Scenic Road Trips in Belize - Along the Coast on the Manatee Highway
For a scenic coastal road trip, the Manatee Highway in southern Belize cannot be beat. Running along the shoreline between Dangriga and Punta Gorda, this route offers uninterrupted Caribbean views dotted with tiny fishing villages, secluded beaches, and opportunities for world-class snorkeling and diving along the barrier reef.
The turquoise waters of the Caribbean are a constant companion on the Manatee Highway. Pull over at any deserted stretch of beach for an impromptu swim, or head out on a guided snorkel trip to immerse yourself in the colorful coral and abundant marine life. The reef here harbors moray eels, sea turtles, nurse sharks, and endangered manatees that gave the highway its name. Local guides can take you to prime underwater spots and identify the exotic species you’ll encounter.
Wandering the quaint seaside villages along the Manatee Highway provides a window into traditional Garifuna culture. In Hopkins and Sittee Point, sample hudutu, a coconut milk stew loaded with fresh seafood, or try cassava bread baked by local women. Take in the rhythm of Garifuna drums at an impromptu settlement jam session. South of Sittee River, check out Abalone Caye and Lime Caye for a true getaway-from-it-all experience.
Nature lovers will delight in the diversity of birds, insects, and plants along the Manatee Highway. Pause at roadside stands selling jars of honey made from the nectar of wild jungle flowers. Pull over when you spot a keel-billed toucan in the branches of a roadside tree. Trek into the jungle with a guide to see rare black howler monkeys or exotic butterflies emerge from their chrysalises.
On the outskirts of Punta Gorda, the highway winds past ancient Mayan ruins and chocolate farms. Drop into a family-run cacao plantation for a tasting and glimpse of traditional chocolate-making methods. Or wander through the jungle-shrouded remains of Uxbenka, an archaeological site dating back more than 3,000 years. Marvel at intricate carvings preserved in weathered limestone temples and plazas.
For the perfect roadside pit stop, pull into the seaside town of Placencia. Here you'll find sidewalk cafes, gift shops, and restaurants dishing up the freshest seafood in Belize. Rent a colorful clapboard cottage right on the beach through Airbnb, or check into an adults-only luxury resort offering private plunge pools and rum cocktails. Spend sun-drenched days kayaking, sailing, or simply relaxing in a swaying hammock before getting back on the open road.
Cruise Through Paradise: The 5 Most Scenic Road Trips in Belize - Ruins and Rivers on the George Price Highway
Winding its way west from Belize City towards the Guatemalan border, the George Price Highway provides a gateway to ancient Mayan ruins tucked away in dense jungle as well as opportunities for river adventures. This route takes you along the eastern edge of the expansive Vaca Plateau, with a chance to explore both history and natural wonders.
One of the most impressive Mayan sites along the highway is Altun Ha, just outside Rockstone Pond village about 30 miles north of Belize City. Altun Ha dates back to 600 BCE and includes several plazas with temples and residences built of limestone. Climb steep steps to the top of the main temple for panoramic jungle views and examine remnants of painted murals inside. Marvel at the largest carved jade artifact ever discovered from the Mayan era on display in the site's museum. Guides are on hand to share legends and provide context to what you see.
Further west along the highway, you'll find the ruins of Xunantunich immersed in the jungle just across the Mopan River from San Ignacio. Reach the site by taking a hand-cranked ferry, then climbing over 130 stairs. Pause to catch your breath and take in the vista of the Guatemalan countryside from atop the grand El Castillo pyramid. Xunantunich provides an ideal vantage point to watch the sun sink below the horizon at day's end, bathing the structures in a golden glow.
The rivers that parallel the George Price Highway offer opportunities for adventure and relaxation. One popular excursion is tubing along the Mopan River, where you can float lazily downstream on an inner tube, taking in spectacular scenery. Outfitters provide tubes, life jackets and transportation so all you need to do is sit back and soak it up. Feel free to take a dip and swim through gentle rapids in the jade green waters.
The Macal and Raspaculo rivers are also prime spots for kayaking and canoeing. Paddle through tree-lined channels and take your time wildlife spotting. Watch for emerald basilik lizards doing push-ups on shoreline boulders. Ospreys and kingfishers dive for fish while hummingbirds flit through the branches overhead. Your guide can pull over to stop at natural swimming holes along the way so you can take a refreshing dip before continuing your journey downstream.
Cruise Through Paradise: The 5 Most Scenic Road Trips in Belize - Off the Beaten Path on the San Ignacio Road
Looking to escape the crowds and paved highways to experience Belize's natural splendor? Venture off the beaten path on the San Ignacio Road, a rugged dirt track running northwest from Georgeville near San Ignacio through untamed jungle wilderness. Don't expect road signs or gas stations here - this is pure backcountry. But for intrepid travelers craving pristine rainforest, breathtaking vistas, and exotic wildlife, it's an unforgettable journey.
One of the first highlights along the San Ignacio Road is Vaca Falls, a lesser-known relative of the country's more famous waterfalls. Park your vehicle and hike down to the base of the falls to experience the full force of the water cascading into an aquamarine pool, providing a natural Jacuzzi you can swim in. Look up in awe at the surrounding cliffs cloaked in jungle vines.
Further up the road, you'll traverse miles of untamed wilderness where jaguars still roam free. Your best chance of spotting one is heading out at dawn with a knowledgeable local guide. Patient birders can catch glimpses of trogons, motmots, toucans, and even the elusive harpy eagle soaring above the dense canopy.
One stunning lookout along the route provides views clear to neighboring Guatemala and the mighty Maya Mountains. On a clear day, you can see for nearly 100 miles in all directions across unspoiled jungle. It's the perfect spot for a picnic before continuing on your way.
Off-roaders can bounce along rugged side tracks through the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve just north of San Ignacio. Here you'll wind between stands of Caribbean pine and traverse steep hillsides with panoramic vistas. Pause to explore hidden waterfalls and swim in remote plunge pools known only to locals and the most daring travelers.
Wherever you roam off the beaten path, be sure to spend the night at one of Belize's distinctive jungle lodges, many only accessible via rugged dirt roads. You can drift off to sleep in a thatched-roof cottage to the sounds of howler monkeys and cacophonous bird chatter. Wake at dawn surrounded only by lush wilderness before heading out to explore more hidden gems accessible only to those with a spirit of adventure.
Cruise Through Paradise: The 5 Most Scenic Road Trips in Belize - Breathtaking Vistas on the Southern Highway
Running from Dangriga down to Punta Gorda near the southern tip of Belize, the aptly named Southern Highway offers opportunities around every bend to soak in the country's spectacular scenery. Prepare to have your breath taken away by vistas ranging from azure Caribbean seascapes to misty mountain peaks.
Leaving Dangriga, the highway heads due south through banana and sugarcane fields dotted with Mennonite communities recognizable by their traditional dress and horse-drawn buggies. Stop to browse locally grown produce and handmade cheeses at roadside stands tended by bonnet-clad women. Just south of the village of Pomona, pull over at a scenic lookout for your first glimpse of the Caribbean Sea shimmering in the distance.
The next stretch of the Southern Highway traverses the foothills of the Maya Mountains, providing tantalizing peaks at the national park's rainforested slopes. Look for hand-painted signs announcing zip-line and cave tubing adventures where you can experience the mountains up close. You'll drive over emerald rivers flowing down from the heights wreathed in morning mist.
Near the village of Jacinto Ville, you'll spot a turnoff for Mayflower Bocawina National Park. Take the 5-mile spur road into the jungle wilderness of this under-the-radar park. Well-maintained walking trails bring you to panoramic lookouts across a valley undulating with verdant rainforest. Challenge yourself to climb the park's namesake waterfall, or simply relax poolside at the jungle lodge and watch hummingbirds dart through exotic blossoms.
Continuing south on the highway into the Toledo District, you'll feel like you've ventured into a different country altogether. Roadside villages reflect the Caribbean and Mayan soul of "The Deep South." Vibrantly clad Garifuna women sell tamales and empanadas stuffed with seasoned shrimp and chicken. In the town of Big Falls, stop at Eva's Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor for delicious local cuisine and homemade tropical flavors like soursop and dukunu ice cream.
Just south of Big Falls, you'll spot the turnoff for Blue Creek, one of the most remote and pristine villages in the Toledo District. Bump along 11 miles on an unpaved road through untamed jungle and tiny riverside settlements to reach this spot deep in heart of Belizean rainforest. Arrange a tour with a local guide to float down the crystalline Blue Creek in an inner tube, gazing up at toucans in the branches overhead. Spend the night in a rustic thatched cabaña listening to a soundtrack of howler monkeys and parrots.
Cruise Through Paradise: The 5 Most Scenic Road Trips in Belize - Pit Stops for Local Cuisine and Culture
No road trip through Belize would be complete without frequent pit stops to sample the diversity of local cuisine and culture. Around every bend you'll find opportunities to connect with communities and savor mouthwatering flavors from Creole to Maya to Garifuna influences. Don't just zip through - take time to linger and chat with the characters you encounter along the way.
In the tiny village of Isabella Bank along the Hummingbird Highway, pull up a plastic chair at Miss Ellie's roadside stand for a true local's lunch. Her stewed chicken with recado rojo spice paste served over rice and beans is the perfect fuel for your drive. Wash it down with a fresh juice blended from whatever tropical fruits are in season - tamarind, soursop, mango and pineapple are often on offer. Miss Ellie has been serving hungry travelers here for over 40 years, and loves to share colorful stories about life in her little village.
Continuing south near Dangriga, keep an eye out for the Gumbo Limbo restaurant, named after the native tree. This open-air eatery is known for its coconutty conch soup loaded with fresh seafood, traditionally served on Sundays. Try stewed 'gibnut' - a rodent similar to guinea pig that's considered a local delicacy. The restaurant overlooks a quiet stretch of coast, where you can take a refreshing dip after your meal.
In the southern town of Punta Gorda, be sure to visit the family-run Coleen's Cafe for a true taste of Maya tradition. Sample caldo, a hearty chicken stew accented with annatto and roasted chili peppers. Also try hudut, made from grated green plantains. The cafe's tropical fruit smoothies hit the spot on a hot day. While you wait for your order, browse Coleen's collection of handmade jewelry and textiles woven by Maya villagers nearby.
Cruise Through Paradise: The 5 Most Scenic Road Trips in Belize - Top Spots for Outdoor Adventures
Belize is a paradise for adventure-seekers looking to explore the outdoors. From trekking through ancient Mayan ruins to swimming in jungle waterfalls, Belize offers limitless opportunities to immerse yourself in lush wilderness. Taking the time to pull over and experience these top spots for outdoor adventures will create lifelong memories.
Actun Tunichil Muknal, often called the "cave of the stone sepulcher," provides the opportunity to venture deep into natural caverns used by the ancient Maya for rituals. After donning a helmet and headlamp, you'll hike, wade and swim through the cave system to a rock-strewn chamber where calcified skeletons of human sacrifices remain intact. An intrepid guide will lead you safely through tight crawl spaces while pointing out relics along the route. The adventure ends with rappelling down into the jungle - a thrilling way to exit the underground realm.
On the shoreline south of Hopkins Village, wildlife enthusiasts shouldn't miss the chance to glide through Jones Lagoon on a stand-up paddleboard. This hidden oasis within a 3,000-acre nature reserve provides critical habitat for endangered West Indian manatees. Paddling slowly and silently through these still waters allows the chance to spot a manatee surfacing for air. Keep your eyes peeled for other creatures too, like iguanas sunning on low-hanging mangrove branches and crocodiles camouflaged in the murky shallows.
For a cool reprieve from the tropical heat, venture into the depths of St. Herman's Cave in the Cayo District. After passing through an entrance curtained in vines, you'll hike 500 feet into the hillside, illuminated by sunlight filtering down through crevices. Wooden steps and handrails allow exploration of side passages filled with stalagmites and stalactites. The cave tour ends at a natural pool where you can take a refreshing swim surrounded by lush ferns and orchids.
The sheer granite walls of Barton Creek Cave provide challenges for experienced rock climbers. Located in the Mountain Pine Ridge area, this cave system features routes up to 150 feet high overlooking a crystal blue pool fed by a small waterfall. Beginners can start on routes rated 5.8 then work their way up, communicating with belay partners at the top. Those who summit are rewarded with expansive jungle vistas before rappelling back down in an adrenaline rush.
Cruise Through Paradise: The 5 Most Scenic Road Trips in Belize - Luxury Accommodations in Paradise
After a day spent cruising along winding jungle roads, you'll be ready to indulge in a bit of luxury once the sun sets. Thankfully, Belize offers opulent accommodations tucked away in paradise where you can unwind in serious style. We're talking private plunge pools, four-poster mahogany beds, and lobster bisque delivered via room service.
One ultra-luxe favorite is the Belcampo Lodge in Punta Gorda. This 12-room lodge sprawls over 12,000 acres of jungle at the foothills of the Maya Mountains. Sip a rum punch by the gorgeous infinity pool while watching toucans flit overhead. Later, indulge in locally-sourced cuisine like grilled snook and fried plantains at the onsite restaurant, then retire to your gorgeous suite with handcrafted furnishings and a deep soaking tub. Rise at dawn to trek through the rainforest or cast for bonefish on the flats with expert guides. Pure bliss.
If money is truly no object, book one of the three villas at the exclusive Cayo Espanto resort, tucked away on a private island three miles offshore. This is where Hollywood celebrities come to hide away, with every detail attended to by a personal butler. Spend lazy days lounging on the dock of your overwater villa, then take a dip right from your front stairs into aquamarine waters. Your private chef will craft customized meals, or dine at the award-winning onsite restaurant. Arrange an offshore fishing trip, zip line through the jungle canopy, or charter a sailboat - the staff will handle it all seamlessly.
For a peaceful oasis immersed in nature, look no further than The Lodge at Chaa Creek. This sustainable eco-lodge offers tasteful thatched-roof casitas dotted along the banks of the Macal River. Drift off to sleep amidst a symphony of jungle sounds. Rise with the morning chorus and meet your personal butler, who will deliver locally-roasted coffee as you soak up the views from your porch. Later, indulge in a Maya-inspired spa treatment before feasting on filet mignon with chili-lime butter from the lodge's organic ranch. From here, you can easily access ancient ruins, rainforest trails, butterfly gardens and more.
If you're looking to base yourself by the sea, Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort delivers laid-back luxury on the beaches of Hopkins. Spend mornings paddling crystal clear waters in search of manatees, then relax in a private beachfront cabana while the staff brings you ice-cold Belikin beers. Later, recharge with a coconut-lemongrass massage and seafood ceviche at the beach bar. Nightly rates include guided excursions like night snorkeling with giant nurse sharks. For the ultimate indulgence, book the honeymoon treehouse with an outdoor rain shower and ocean views from your hammock.