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By Belize specialist Nik

Leisurely floating down winding rivers that cut through emerald-green jungle. Swimming in the turquoise-tinged sea with an aquarium’s worth of fish darting by. Exploring Maya cities while howler monkeys swing from the tree tops high above. Belize packs in a surprisingly large number of things to do in its petite footprint.

Combining a subtropical rainforest inland with a string of low-lying barrier islands that line the coast, Belize is home to an array of diverse habitats and landscapes. I think this makes Belize perfect for families as it offers a little bit of everything, from historical sites to wildlife and beach time to adventurous pursuits for slightly older kids.

Additionally, its small size means it’s easy to get around with short drives or flights, allowing families to cover a lot of ground without having to travel long distances with children in tow. As a final bonus, the official language in Belize is English, making travel even easier.

The best time to visit Belize is December to May, when the weather is dry and the days are still suitably warm but not unbearable. This timing makes Belize an ideal choice when booking for the Christmas, Easter, or May half-term school holidays.

Adventures in the Cayo District

Xunantunich. Cayo District
Xunantunich. Cayo District

The western edge of Belize is defined by nature-rich ecological reserves, towering stone pyramids built by the Maya, deep caves to explore, and jungle lodges for immersive stays. The Cayo District is Belize’s adventure region, and it would be easy to spend a week here experiencing it all.

Bring history to life for the children by walking among well-preserved archaeological sites, like Xunantunich. This once-bustling Maya city has more than two-dozen temples, including a 43 m (141 ft) pyramid known as El Castillo that rises up above the main plaza. A highlight is the largely intact, detailed frieze that’s carved into El Castillo’s stone walls.

I recommend Xunantunich for families instead of the larger Maya site of Caracol only because the roads are smoother to get to the former. The towering pyramids of Tikal in Guatemala can also be easily accessed on a day trip from the Cayo District, should you wish to explore the expansive ruins that served as a backdrop for films like Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.

Cave exploration is a family-friendly outing in Belize (depending on the age of the children, of course). You might go climbing through the narrow Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave system that leads to a former site for Maya rituals or paddle a kayak into the Barton Creek Caves. While ATM is open for kids as young as five years old, I think waiting until they are closer to ten is better suited — there’s a good deal of climbing and swimming involved to access these twisty caverns.

For a less physically demanding option, consider Barton Creek Caves where guides lead you by kayak into the water-filled chambers. It’s also close to the Green Iguana Conservation Project research outpost, which I recommend combining with a visit to the caves so the kids can get up close and personal with these large, spiky tailed lizards.

Best family stay in Belize’s Cayo District

Black Rock Lodge, Cayo District
Black Rock Lodge, Cayo District

I suggest families stay at Black Rock Lodge — there’s so much you can do on site, for young children and teens alike. I love its location along the Macal River, set within a valley of the rainforest with trees traipsing up the hillside. Children can grab an inflatable tube and float down the river or fling themselves off a rope swing and splash into the water. Additionally, teens can participate in a lot of activities safely on site, giving them a sense of autonomy, while younger kids will appreciate the lodge’s swimming pool.

Active families will thrive here. You can opt to canoe, kayak, go fishing, or rent a mountain bike and pedal along the dirt trails that surround the property. Or head a short ways off property to fly over the forest floor on a zip-line or visit the nearby caves.

Another draw here is the wildlife, and you can go on family-friendly early night walks (starting at 7:30pm so little explorers can join before bedtime) to see tarantulas, snakes, frogs, and beetles. By day, they can also spot monkeys and toucans in the trees above.

Splash down in the Belize Cayes

Lionfish, Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Belize Cayes
Lionfish, Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Belize Cayes

A smattering of islands made of limestone and coral known as the the Cayes adorn Belize’s coastline. Of these, Ambergris Caye is my recommendation for fun with the family, and it can be easily reached via a quick boat road from the mainland. You’ll easily slip into the laidback vibe of the Cayes, where sandy streets are lined with brightly painted beachfront restaurants serving up Caribbean lobster and the main mode of transportation is a bike or golf cart.

This is great option for ocean lovers and water sport adventurers. Families can take boat tours to look for birdlife in mangrove forests, head out on a fishing expedition, snorkel with manatees, set sail on a sunset cruise, or snorkel and scuba dive on the Belize Barrier Reef.

Just offshore of the Ambergris Caye, the Belize Barrier Reef is the largest barrier reef in the Northern Hemisphere (globally, second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia). Among its charms are the vibrant coral reef and swaying seagrass beds found in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, as well as the famed 124 m (407 ft) Great Blue Hole, one of the best-known examples of these vertical marine caverns. If you’re not a scuba diver, take to the skies in a flight experience to appreciate this blue hole’s perfectly spherical form from above.

If you do dive the Great Blue Hole, you can also visit a nearby dive site named The Aquarium for the sheer volume of fish you’ll see. While many visitors come to the Belize Cayes to scuba dive, or to get their dive certification, you don’t have to be a diver to enjoy the array of sea life found here. A short boat ride from Ambergris will take you to the reef, where you can snorkel among an array of tropical fish. With older children, you can also paddle out on a paddleboard or kayak to the closest stretch of reef and dive in from there.

Best family stay on Ambergris Caye

Xanadu Island Resort, Ambergris Caye
Xanadu Island Resort, Ambergris Caye

The family-owned Xanadu Island Resort is my top pick for where to stay on the island of Ambergris Caye. Five large dome-shaped buildings house 20 apartment-style suites, ideal for families who like to have a kitchen and not dine out for every meal. Children enjoy the sandy beach area and freshwater swimming pool shaded by palm trees, and the complimentary bicycle, paddleboard, and kayak rental is useful as well. I also like that Xanadu is quiet, yet only a short walk to the main strip of San Pedro town.

If you’re looking for more of a resort experience, then check in at Ramon’s Village Resort. The palm-thatched wooden cabanas nestle inside a tropical garden awash in bright bougainvillea and fragrant hibiscus flowers. You can opt to dine in the onsite restaurant or sidle up to the coffee and smoothie bar. Divers will appreciate having a dedicated dive shop right on site, and there’s also a beachside spa where you can unwind while listening to the sounds of waves gently lapping the beach.

Exploring the Belize jungle in Lamanai

Keel-billed toucan, Lamanai
Keel-billed toucan, Lamanai

Step onto an airboat, and you’ll be whisked down the wide river that cuts through the jungle in northern Belize to reach the Lamanai area. Sandwiched in between the protected wilds of the Rio Bravo Conservation Area and the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, spending time in the Lamanai feels like getting back to nature.

I also suggest opting to include a visit to the Lamanai Archaeological Reserve, once a major Maya city set on the banks of the New River. Giant Maya masks taller than a human are carved in stone into the stepped pyramids that peek over the dense treetops.

The jungle brims with wildlife, from slow-moving manatees to elusive jaguars and a variety of bird species. Padding along jungle trails, you can look out for white-whiskered puff birds, green-backed sparrows, bat falcons, and keel-billed toucans.

When the sun begins to set, the jungle comes alive with a cacophony of insects humming in the trees and yellow crocodile eyes staring up at you from the water, all of which is best discovered on a river safari. When the day ends, kids can take part in a night-time nature walk, going on the hunt for nocturnal creatures, including arboreal porcupines, wide-eyed kinkajous, frogs, tarantulas, and armadillos.

Best family stay in Lamanai Belize

Lamanai Outpost Lodge, Lamanai
Lamanai Outpost Lodge, Lamanai

On the shores of a calm lagoon, the Lamanai Outpost Lodge is the place to stay in this stretch of Belize jungle. To reach this truly middle-of-nowhere spot, you drive out from Belize City and board an airboat that skims over the water for two hours. Because it’s so remote, Lamanai is probably best for slightly older children, from ten years old and up.

The air-conditioned wooden cabanas at the lodge are simple but comfortable. I recommend booking a multi-night family adventure package, which includes all of your meals and activities. You don’t need to plan anything when you’re here — instead all of your activities are staged mere minutes from your cabana, whether it’s a sunset cruise, nature walk, or exploring the Lamanai Maya site, which are found three minutes from the lodge.

Use of the canoes is complimentary, and paddling out at sunrise was one of my most memorable experiences in Belize. The water was smooth as glass, the birds were just starting to sing their wake-up trills, parrots and kingfishers swooped overheard, and howler monkeys swung from the treetops lining the lagoon.

Slowing down in Southern Belize

Turtle Inn Resort, Placencia
Turtle Inn Resort, Placencia

My honourable mention for Belize family holidays goes to: Placencia. In southern Belize, the Placencia peninsula offers sandy beaches, quirky art galleries, and palm-fringed islands off its shore. Formerly a sleepy fishing town, Placencia is now a burgeoning luxury destination with high-end hotels, and the boutique Chabil Mar Resort and the laidback luxury of the Turtle Inn Resort, owned by film director Francis Ford Coppola.

It’s quieter here with fewer crowds than Ambergris Caye. The main focus seems to be relaxing rather than adventuring, but there’s still plenty to scratch the activity itch. Families can go snorkelling, take a boat up-river to look for monkeys, or go manatee-spotting. A short drive to the north, Seine Bight offers the chance to learn about the Garifuna culture. Garifuna people are descendants of an Afro-Indigenous population originally hailing from St Vincent in the Caribbean. The whole family can take a class to try traditional drumming and dancing.

Read more family trip ideas to Belize

Start thinking about your experience. These itineraries are simply suggestions for how you could enjoy some of the same experiences as our specialists. They're just for inspiration, because your trip will be created around your particular tastes.

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