When Alaska Airlines launched a direct flight from Seattle to Belize City’s Goldson International Airport in November, I jumped at the opportunity to be on the inaugural flight. The direct flight from Seattle is seasonal, mirroring high season in the Central American nation of Belize, generally considered November through April — the perfect time to trade Seattle’s clouds and rain for some warm weather and sunshine.
But there are advantages to visiting Belize in the summer, even if it means changing planes in Los Angeles. Hotels are more affordable and there are fewer crowds, and daytime temperatures average in the mid-80s. (Don’t forget to pack sunscreen!)
Beyond its beautiful Caribbean beaches and water activities, Belize has a rich culture and history. Belize’s official language is English, so it’s easy for tourists to communicate and get around, and restaurants and shops are very affordable even during high season.
If you’re looking for a sunny Caribbean getaway that blends snorkeling with sharks and exploring ancient Mayan ruins, look no further than Belize. Here’s what you should know.
Until direct flights from Seattle and Los Angeles launched last November, getting to Belize from Seattle was an ordeal that often involved multiple connections. Although the direct flight from Seattle to Belize City is seasonal, Alaska, United Airlines and American Airlines still offer direct, year-round flights from Los Angeles, so it’s an easy layover.
Cayo: Where to stay
After landing in Belize City, start by heading to Cayo, a district in western Belize known for its parks, ecological reserves and archaeological sites. The drive is approximately 90 minutes. You can either arrange a car rental or use a car service. I’m not a fan of driving, so I opted to use Yute Expeditions for transport from the airport to the Cayo District. A benefit of Yute Expeditions: You can use their services throughout your stay in Cayo.
The drivers are prompt, friendly and eager to share their knowledge and insider tips so you can make the most of your time in the area.
For a day of relaxation, stay on-site and book a spa appointment, take a yoga class or relax in the pool overlooking the jungle. Be sure to check out Ka’ana’s Organic Garden, too. Chefs at the resort’s on-site restaurant, La Ceiba, use fresh ingredients to prepare delicious Belizean fare.
What to do
A day lounging poolside and enjoying a spa appointment is definitely appealing, and it’s the perfect way to recharge after a day of travel.
But by Day 2, you’ll want to explore Cayo, which has so much to offer. A must-see spot is Xunantunich Maya Site; I’d recommend a tour because the guides have so much knowledge.
Xunantunich is located in the Belizean rainforest, where a guide leads you on a journey through plazas, palaces and temples around the 1,400-year-old settlement. A highlight is the ancient ball court, where warriors battled it out in a high-stakes environment — both victors and losers were at risk of losing their heads (literally). As you take in the beauty of the ancient ruins, your guide will tell you all about the culture and beliefs of the Mayan people. Upon reaching the top, you’ll be rewarded with a 360-degree panoramic view of the ruins against the backdrop of the surrounding mountains.
If you’re staying at Ka’ana, your transportation and expert guide can be booked directly through the resort. I opted to get to Xunantunich by car for the three-hour tour, but there is another guided tour option that brings you to the site on horseback. This can also be booked through Ka’ana.
After a morning of exploring Xunantunich, you’ll work up quite an appetite. Our driver shared his favorite local spot for lunch: Benny’s Kitchen. This casual, open-air restaurant serves up cheap, authentic Mayan dishes — and it’s one of the best meals you’ll have in Belize.
Another excellent activity is a horseback riding tour at San Lorenzo Farms. A guide leads the way at a leisurely pace so you can admire the agriculture, plants and gardens, as well as the tropical birds and monkeys that call the farm home.
San Pedro: Where to stay
Exploring the history and rainforests of Belize is not to be missed, but when you’re in a coastal country, you’ll undoubtedly be eager to enjoy some seaside time and water activities. San Pedro on Ambergris Caye is the perfect place.
From Cayo, head back to Goldson International Airport for a puddle jumper flight on Tropic Air to San Pedro.
Check-in is just 30 minutes before departure and the flight time is a grand total of 15 minutes. Conveniently, the plane lands just 20 minutes from many seaside hotels and resorts. Renting a car is an option, but check with your hotel, because many offer transportation from the airport. A driver from Victoria House Resort & Spa was waiting for us when we landed, and this resort is a real treat.
Victoria House is right on the Caribbean Sea. Because we’d be staying there for the remainder of our trip, one of the first things we did was schedule our coronavirus tests for the day before departure. (See notes on COVID-19 precautions below.) Make testing arrangements in advance to avoid disrupting your vacation.
What to do
Like Ka’ana, activities can be booked directly through Victoria House. Thanks to its proximity to the sea, you don’t have to travel far for most of these expeditions.
A great way to end your first day in San Pedro is by taking a sunset cruise on a catamaran that departs from the hotel’s dock. The two-hour tour is a relaxing and beautiful way to kick off your time in San Pedro. The guides are prepared with appetizers like ceviche and chips with guacamole, as well as alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks.
Victoria House’s restaurant, Palmilla, is perfect for a late dinner after you return from the cruise. Although you can’t go wrong, the seafood dishes are especially amazing; the cashew-crusted fillet and the stone crab were highly recommended by restaurant staff.
Another don’t-miss activity is a snorkeling tour, which also conveniently leaves from the hotel dock. Belize is renowned for its diving waters. The boat brings you to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, where you’re treated to beautiful coral reefs. Next up was Shark Ray Alley, where you can knock “swimming with sharks” off your bucket list. (They’re friendly nurse sharks.)
You’ll definitely want to explore downtown San Pedro, too. Although walking is an option, golf carts are the most common method of transportation. Victoria House lets guests borrow golf carts to head downtown. There are a number of small art galleries downtown to browse, and you’ll find fun souvenirs at plenty of stores like Sea Turtle Gift Shop, The Belize Chocolate Company, Belizean Breezes Soap Co., and D & G Fine Jewelry and Arts.
When it’s time to bid goodbye to Belize, take another quick Tropic Air flight back to the Belize City, where you’ll board your flight back to America.
Lingering COVID measures
As of March 1, fully vaccinated travelers are no longer required to present a negative coronavirus test in order to enter Belize. Instead, you’ll present your proof of vaccination when you arrive in Belize. If unable to provide proof of vaccination, you must present either a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival or a negative rapid test taken within 48 hours of arrival.
The country has also lifted its mask mandate but, private establishments are entitled to require masks, so have a mask on hand.
COVID-19 guidelines are always subject to change, so be sure to check travelbelize.org for the most up-to-date information as you plan your trip.
It’s important to remember that, as of publication, you will need a negative test to reenter the United States, regardless of vaccination status. Ask your hotel if testing is offered, or find a list of testing sites approved by Belize’s Ministry of Health & Wellness at travelbelize.org.