By Belize specialist Leticia
Belize’s compactness lends itself to honeymoons. In one or two weeks, you can experience several different landscapes and activities. You’ll be able to see the north’s wildlife-dense jungles and mangrove channels, then the half-forgotten Maya temples and cave systems of the Cayo District, before snorkeling alongside reef sharks in Belize’s barrier reef. All without taking any long domestic flights.
The country is officially English-speaking, which makes it slightly easier to navigate than other areas of Central America. Its large mix of ethnicities still makes for real variety — you might hear village elders speaking Yucatec Mayan in one place, while Creole, German and Spanish are spoken elsewhere.
It may seem hackneyed to say that Belize appeals to most honeymoon couples, but hear me out. The mainland has all the ingredients for an adventure honeymoon, with spelunking, river tubing and white water rafting. Or, you could simply relax on the beaches of Ambergris Caye, a tropical isle that feels closer to a sleepy, easy-going Caribbean hideaway than Central America.
The best places to honeymoon in Belize
Stay in the rainforest in the Lamanai Outpost Lodge
For couples interested in exploring Belize’s wildlife and jungle, the Lamanai Outpost Lodge would always be my first choice. An hour’s drive from Belize City past fields of sugar cane, followed by a hour’s boat journey, brings you to this remote, low-impact ecolodge on the banks of a spring-fed lagoon.
To say you’re immersed in the rainforest is an understatement: I remember immense palm fronds and orchids pushing their way onto the terrace of my thatched cabana room, and every morning I woke to a cacophony of howler monkeys emitting their guttural calls.
Group sizes for expeditions into the rainforest are kept small and, unlike other jungle lodges in the area, most of your activities and trips (as well as all your meals — freshly made with local ingredients) are included in your stay. You can choose from different activities every day, from sunrise canoeing to a walk exploring the powerful medicinal properties of the rainforest flora: knowledge passed down from the Maya.
One night, while taking a boat safari in the surrounding mangroves and keeping an eye out for caimans, my guide turned off the engine and the lights, plunging us into inky tropical darkness. It seemed utterly silent — you’re so far from developed areas here. Gradually, we became attuned to the sounds of the nocturnal forest waking and could pick out species such as red-eyed tree frogs, tarantulas and coatimundis.
I enjoyed cruising the lagoon at sunset on a pontoon boat, but you needn’t stray far from the lodge to see creatures such as coatimundis, toucans and kingfishers. On a guided night walk of the lodge grounds, my guide suddenly alerted us to a rustling in some nearby bushes. Then a Mexican hairy porcupine came snuffling out of the undergrowth.
It’s not just wildlife out there in the rainforest. Hiking along a trail overgrown with cohune and bay leaf palms, you come into the courtyard of a 33 m (108 ft) stepped Maya temple. There are other structures in the complex, carved with jaguar heads, a ghastly open-mouthed face and crocodiles, still vivid despite their age.
Escape to the beaches of Ambergris Caye
Sea kayak, Ambergris Caye
A 20 minute light aircraft ride from coastal Belize City brings you to the largest of a series of islands and atolls. Although Ambergris Caye, the largest of this island group, is becoming steadily more developed and popular with overseas visitors, it’s still mostly a languid idyll. A place where golf buggies have replaced cars.
Once you travel beyond San Pedro, the laid-back main town, you start to feel more like a Crusoe-esque castaway. The narrow soft-sand beaches are lined with shady palms and rimmed with flowering sea grass — an important and indeed protected part of the Belizean ecosystem — which shelters young fish. Beyond these underwater meadows, the sea is fluorescently azure.
If you’re looking for some downtime at the end of your honeymoon, I’d say that Ambergris Caye is the place to go. You can while away several days here simply relaxing on the sand and snorkeling from the end of the piers that stretch over the sea grass. More energetically, there are all kinds of watersports to take part in, from sea kayaking to paddle boarding.
Honeymoon hotels on Ambergris Caye
Victoria House, Ambergris Caye
I like Victoria House, a beachfront property that’s close (but not too close) to San Pedro. Set out like a New World plantation, its gardens are brimming with bougainvillea and bird of paradise plants.
For something slightly more low-key, there’s Matachica Resort and Spa, a collection of thatched casitas (complete with hammocks) that’s a water taxi ride away up the caye’s northern coast.
Snorkel with stingrays and sharks in the reefs near Ambergris Caye
Great Blue Hole near Lighthouse Reef
A ten minute boat ride south of the caye lies Belize’s barrier reef. It’s part of the huge Mesoamerican Reef that sweeps from the tip of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula and down Belize’s coast before tapering off as it reaches Honduras’s Bay Islands.
Ambergris Caye makes a great base for any honeymooners wishing to explore Belize’s barrier reef. If you dive, you can travel from the caye to outer atolls such as Lighthouse Reef. This is the location of the Great Blue Hole, an ocean sinkhole that stands out among the surrounding turquoise waters like a vast unblinking indigo pupil.
When I first went snorkeling on Belize’s barrier reef, I had been in the water mere minutes before I knew that this was the best snorkeling I’d ever done. At Hol Chan Marine Reserve, the water over the reef is piercingly clear and shallow (to give you an idea, if you were to stand up you’d be treading on the corals themselves). This means that visibility is superb. You can see the details of individual corals and conches, as well as the markings of the many tropical fish that dart around you in rainbow swirls. I shadowed a marine turtle for a while after it went swimming past me, unperturbed.
My guide then took me to Shark Ray Alley, where (as the name suggests) the waters are thronging with nurse sharks, reef sharks, giant stingrays and southern stingrays. Logically, I knew that the 20 or so reef and nurse sharks around me were vegetarian but, even so, it took some getting used to swimming with them. However, they’re more timid than the turtles, and will only come near you if you stay extremely still.
Climb lesser-known Maya ruins in the Cayo District
The Maya ruins of Xunantunich
Belize’s southern Cayo District is today a peaceful, backcountry sort of place covered in fruit farms, tropical forest and nature reserves, but its scattering of prominent Maya ruins speak of a bellicose past.
Most visitors to the area visit Caracol, the largest archaeological site in the country with multiple plazas and a towering pyramid. Yet the ruin I’m most fond of is Xunantunich, several hours’ drive north of Caracol. It’s smaller, but I find this makes for a more personal experience.
You enter the site via the ceremonial square. Here the surrounding jungle has been cleared back and you find yourself facing the terraced pyramid El Castillo. Climb it to see the top terrace’s carved frieze up close — it depicts a figure surrounded by knots and ropes, believed to be a god being born.
There are also several smaller structures on the site, including a recently discovered burial chamber that had been hidden for years under soil and debris. It contained the remains of a male corpse (thought to be royalty) and relics such as obsidian and ceramic objects, plus jaguar and deer bones.
I once visited Xunantunich at around 3pm to find that my guide and I were the only people there. We climbed the pyramid and looked out over the jungle canopy that stretched all the way into nearby Guatemala, an unbroken expanse of green.
Enter the Cayo District’s cave systems
Actun Tunichil Muknal Caves
The entrance to Actun Tunichil Muknal Caves
In the middle of a rock wall covered in moss and vegetation, the mouth of the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Caves gapes open in a peculiar hourglass shape. It doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to understand why the Maya saw these caves as the underworld.
To cross ATM’s threshold, you have to half swim, half wade through a pool of water that’s sometimes as high as your shoulders. Bear in mind, though, that you’ll have just hiked for 45 minutes through jungle to reach the cave, so a cool dip can be welcoming.
Emerging onto dry ground inside the cave, you’ll follow your guide through a series of chambers. Huge bulbous urns punctured by ‘kill holes’ (the hole through which a spirit was thought to escape) litter the caverns — the remnants of rituals and ceremonies once conducted here. Some areas have so many relics strewn around, you’re asked to remove your shoes to avoid damaging anything. Natural rock pillars have been hewn into the shapes of gods, and you can imagine how powerful they must have looked when illuminated by the Maya’s firelight.
When you approach the chasm known as ‘the Cathedral’, you’ll stumble across calcified bones and skulls glinting among the sand on the floor. Finally, there’s the still-shocking sight of the complete skeleton of a young girl, believed to have been a sacrificial victim.
Chechem Ha Cave
Cave system in Belize
Although the ATM Caves understandably receive a lot of attention, personally I prefer this cave complex that’s located a little way to the west. Admittedly, it feels like a humbler operation at first — my guide and I pulled up outside a small farm and were led through the jungle by William, the farmer, (as well as his four bounding dogs) until we reached a small square grilled opening.
‘Is that it?’ I thought, having just endured a fairly challenging 45-minute hike to get there (there are some steep inclines and you need to haul yourself up one slope by a vine). But the story behind the cave’s discovery was compelling — William told me how, one day, one of his dogs unwittingly found it when it raced off chasing a gibnut (a Belizean term for a paca, a rabbit-sized rodent), which disappeared into the half-buried cave.
The initially narrow passageway opens up the further you descend. Ropes and ladders lead up to shelves containing Maya pottery and other ceremonial objects found in the caves. Eventually, we were standing in a cavernous, dome-like chamber. William turned off all the torches, and we stood for a moment in the pitch black, listening out for the scratching of bats.
Honeymoon hotels in the Cayo District
Black Rock Lodge
I recommend the Black Rock Lodge as your base for exploring the Cayo District. Veiled in jungle, it has river views, excellent service and is well situated for accessing the Maya archaeological sites.
I also like the Hidden Valley Inn — it’s located in a large open clearing and is less rustic and slightly more refined than Black Rock. There are several self-guided walking trails around the property.
The ATM Caves are around one- to one-and-a-half hours away; it’s 45 minutes to the farm to access the Chechem Ha Cave.
Best time to honeymoon in Belize
For sunny, dry weather, plan to travel between early December and April. Avoid September and October — these are the wettest months, and tropical storms are common.
Extending your honeymoon
As you might expect, Belize combines well with bordering Guatemala.
I have a particular soft spot for this country, where fewer visitors to Central America tend to venture. As Belize doesn’t really have any noteworthy cities you might want to visit colonial and characterful Antigua, and experience the completely different landscape of Lake Atitlán with its backdrop of conical volcanoes.
If you’re keen on Maya archaeological sites, you could also visit Tikal — which boasts the tallest Maya structure in Central America — and carry on over the border to Xunantunich, a three hour drive away.