What To Do
Soak up the view from the top of a Mayan ruin. Though larger, better-known ancient Mayan sites exist—including Tikal in Guatemala and Caracol in southwestern Belize—the accessible and intriguing site of Xunantunich ("Maiden of the Rock") is well worth visiting. After taking a hand-cranked bridge over the Mopan River to get to the site, you can climb to the top of the 130-foot pyramid El Castillo (right) and see sweeping views of nearby Guatemala.
Cayo Adventure Tours, www.cayoadventure.com.
Swim with stingrays and sharks. Local snorkel guides lead you through Hol Chan Marine Reserve, a region off Ambergris Caye where regulations guard against uncontrolled and often destructive diving and fishing. In and around the reef—second in size only to Australia's Great Barrier Reef—not only can you find huge parrot fish, schools of big-eyed jacks, and occasional green moray eels and barracuda, but you can also swim with docile stingrays and small nurse sharks. Definitely not for the fainthearted. See a butterfly take flight. At Tropical Wings Nature Center and the Green Hills Butterfly Ranch, both in the Cayo District, you can watch and learn about beautiful native Belizean butterflies, including the Blue Morpho and the Mechanitis polymnia. Hike to Butterfly Falls. Don't miss the breathtakingly beautiful Butterfly Falls, an 80-foot cascade in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. Enjoy an exhilarating swim in the crystal-clear pool below without another person in sight. www.hiddenvalleyinn.com. Shop for local Mayan crafts. On your way into Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, stop at Maya Centre, a crafts village where you can purchase beautiful handmade pottery, jewelry, art, and textiles, all sold by local Mayan Indians.
Where to stay
Hill Bank Field Station and La Milpa Field Station. Programme for Belize, a nonprofit organization established in 1988 to promote the conservation of Belize's natural resources, offers two lodgings for the true ecotourist. Both sites feature solar-powered energy, composting toilets, rainwater collection systems, and recycling programs. The lodges also serve as research centers, allowing guests to participate in conservation efforts while also learning about the region's fragile environment firsthand. All tourism profits are redirected into conserving the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area, the second-largest protected area in Belize. www.pfbelize.org.
Hidden Valley Inn, Caya District. Guests stay in one of 12 cabanas and start the day with a breakfast of locally grown guava, pineapple, and banana served by the Mayan staff. The inn also has its own arabica coffee trees, so be sure to try the delicious coffee, roasted right on the premises. Spend the day on the inn's property exploring its 90 miles of trails, or opt for guided tours of the surrounding Cayo District. Generator-powered electricity goes off at 10 p.m., with battery-charged bedside lights available for those who need more than moonlight. Meals are included. www.hiddenvalleyinn.com.
Kanantik Reef and Jungle Resort, Stann Creed District. The five years it took to build this resort have definitely paid off. Kanantik (right) is gorgeous. Almost everything in the resort comes from the jungle and surrounding area: rich sofa fabric from Guatemala, stone wall art carved by local artists, furniture made from trees that once stood on the shore. Now that's recycling. The resort also composts and uses low-flow water systems. Meals, local rums and beer, and daily tours are included. www.kanantik.com.