Belize has a lot to offer. Along the coast, it has amazing marine life and the world famous Blue Hole. Inland, it has some fantastic Mayan ruins, many of which are still being excavated and explored. Also, prices inland were lower than in the more touristy areas of San Pedro so you can get a lot more bang for your buck. Here is my 7 day itinerary for a memorable trip to Belize.
- Day 1 – Arrive and Drive to San Ignacio
- Day 2 – Visit Caracol
- Day 3 – Drive to Tikal
- Day 4 – Go to San Pedro/Ambergris Caye
- Day 5 – Blue Hole
- Day 6 – Hol Chan
- Day 7 – On to the next adventure!
Arrive in Belize and rent a car. You’re going to be doing a fair amount of driving and if you don’t want to go through tours, your only option is to rent a car. Luckily, driving in Belize is super simple and is exactly like the US but with far fewer cars. When renting a vehicle, you’ll want to make sure you can 1) drive it across the border into Guatemala (to go to Tikal) and 2) have 4 wheel drive to go through some rough terrain. You can check out my post here for rental cars.
After you get your car, drive dead west toward San Ignacio. The drive will take about 2 hours and is a pretty straight forward drive. The road is well paved but not well lit so depending on your arrival time, you’ll want to race into San Ignacio while there’s still daylight or drive very carefully down the road. It isn’t dangerous but it can be hazardous since again, there are no lights and you’ll be driving through a very rural part of Belize.
Get up early and drive to Caracol. This drive is going to take some time is over some rough terrain (thus the need for a 4 wheel drive vehicle). If you didn’t rent a 4WD, you might want to think twice about driving there yourself since the road is pretty rough. The drive will take about 2.5 to 3 hours and a lot of it is unpaved. If you make it past the military post before 9am, you can beat the caravan there. Some might feel more comfortable being a part of the caravan but it’ll certainly slow you down. I didn’t run into any issues just driving solo.
Caracol is a great place and it’s so remote that there’s a good chance you’ll have the entire park to yourself regardless of when you go. The thing to remember is to make sure you bring enough water since there is no place to purchase water until you’re pretty much back in town. You can easily spend a couple hours there and since there’s no one there, you can really take your time and see everything. Don’t forget to look up in the trees for the toucans as well.
On your drive back, stop by the Rio on Pools for a quick dip to cool off. It’s a nice place to just swim around enjoy the refreshing water. There are even changing stalls there on site.
Back into town, do a quick trip to Xunantunich if you have energy. It’s only about a 15 minute drive from San Ignacio and the bulk of the time will be spent waiting for the hand operated ferry to come back across. However, if you’re tired, skip it and relax. After seeing Caracol, Xunantunich is going to be a major disappointment.
Get an early start again and drive across the border to visit Tikal in Guatemala. Depending on your rental car company, they probably did most of the paperwork for you that’s needed to cross the border. Getting to the border is simple since you only have to drive west until you’re stopped. However getting all the paperwork and paying all the fees at the border is going to take some time. It isn’t difficult but it does feel a bit like going to the DMV. To learn more about the process, please read my post here.
Once you’ve finally through, it’s just about a two hour drive to Tikal. If you started early enough, you’ll probably want to stop and get some breakfast along the way. Stop at one of the numerous spots along the road where you’ll see women grilling and selling food. The smell alone will make you want to stop.
At Tikal, you’ll need to pay for your ticket before you’re allowed to drive through the gates. You’ll be approached by guides offering their services if you’re interested. Remember that the park is cash only and does NOT accept credit cards for payment. For those of use (like me) who are so used to whipping out the plastic everywhere, this is going to come as a bit of a shock. They also don’t exchange money at the office but will direct you to this cafe/general good store across the street where the man will gladly rip you off in the exchange rate.
Drive through and park anywhere. If you’re there early enough, you’ll pretty much be able to snag the first parking spots available. Know going in that the park is massive and it’ll be warm so you’ll want to take it slow. You could easily spend days there exploring every pyramid, wall, and carving there is but a full day should be more than enough time to get your fill.
The main pyramids have a limit to the number of people who can be up at any given time so if you arrive at a busy time of day, you could be waiting around. Also, before you enter, make sure you take some time to figure out a clear route you want to take. The last thing you want to be doing is backtracking through the heat because you decided to just start walking without a clear plan.
After you’re done, drive back to San Ignacio. The process for getting back into Belize is much smoother than going into Guatemala so it only takes a few minutes to cross back into Belize. Once you reach your hotel in San Ignacio, a quick lie down is going to be just what the doctor ordered. Maybe even a relaxing snooze by the pool since you will be tired.
It’s farewell to San Ignacio as you drive back to the airport to return your rental car and take the short flight over to San Pedro/Ambergris Caye. You can also take a water taxi but the flight is much faster and depending on the time, could be a cost competitive way of reaching San Pedro. Please see my post on how to get to San Pedro here.
If you do decide to fly, you can even ask the person at check in to see if you can sit in the front seat as the copilot. You’ll get some amazing views as you fly. Also know that you can have a ticket for a specific flight but since the flights are rarely full, you can just ask at the counter to be moved up as a standby passenger for an earlier flight. When I checked in, they proactively asked if I wanted an earlier flight and there was no problem hopping on the earlier flight and getting to San Pedro an hour earlier.
Once you’re on the island, you’ll want to check in and figure out exactly how far your hotel is from the main drag. The main drag is about two streets wide and runs for about ten blocks parallel to the beach (possibly less). The reason you’ll want to know the distance is because it can get fairly hot on the island and walking around is not going to be pleasant. You may want to consider renting a golf cart for the number of days you’ll be there since that’ll definitely make your stay much more manageable. If your hotel is on the southern tip of the island, walking to the main drag can take about an hour.
I stayed at the Mahogany Bay Resort and Beach Club and you can read my review here. It was a fantastic place to stay and I really enjoyed the my time there.
For your first day there, you’ll want to explore the area and maybe check out the beaches in the area. Unless if you’re arriving super early, most of the afternoon boats will have left and you won’t be able to go out and do any sort of diving or snorkeling offshore. Don’t worry though, you still have plenty of time for water activities in the next couple of days. However, you should get an idea of what you’d like to do and when. Many people like to do water activities like snorkeling in the morning group so they have the rest of the afternoon to do whatever they want. You should definitely look around and see you’d like to do since some boats also have a minimum number of passengers to meet before they’ll go out.
You’ll also want to check which sites you’ll want to go visit. Some sites like Hol Chan offer a lot of marine life and can be reached with a half day boat. A site like the Blue Hole is a full day boat and you probably won’t see as much marine life. However, consider that getting to the Blue Hole sites takes a couple hours and you’ll be spending the bulk of the time getting to the sites vs. being in the water.
Do your planned water activity. Since you’re there, I’d recommend going to the Blue Hole even if you’re not a diver. Sure, you can take an aerial tour of the area but it isn’t the same as being in the water and see it at eye level. The water is so clear it’s magical. If you’re a diver, this is certainly a bucket list item for many (even though I heard the water wasn’t as clear as they’d hoped).
Going to the Blue Hole is a full day activity and you’ll also stop at a couple more dive sites throughout the day. Obviously the tour is geared more toward divers but snorkelers are more than welcome and you’ll certainly see an abundance of marine life as well. Also, if you get tired throughout the diving day, you can just as easily take a break from all the swimming and just enjoy the ride.
One thing to note is if you’re the type of person who gets motion sickness, you may want to take some seasickness pills. Although a lot of the ride is incredibly smooth (especially when you’re protected by the reef), remember that you will be on an open top boat and when you’re out in the open ocean, the water can certainly get choppy. It’s certainly something to keep in mind to make sure you get the most enjoyment from your day.
Do a half day tour out to Hol Chan or another site. Hol Chan is by far the most popular site and there will be multiple boats going out every day. Shark Ray alley is another popular spot as well. Either way, these are both half day cruises so you can easily come back with plenty of time to relax and enjoy the beach. There are also other types of activities available as well like deep sea fishing or even a simple catamaran tour. Obviously most of the activities are going to revolve around water but you can just as easily take the day off and just relax and enjoy the culture.
I usually try to plan the activity I want to do more first because if something happens and the day’s activity is cancelled (like poor weather, low turnout, mechanical issues, etc) I’ll still have the second day available as a possible back up. If I leave it for the final day and the activity is cancelled, I’ll end up leaving without having done the activity I was most looking forward to.
If you did rent a golf cart, this would be a perfect day to just drive around the island and see what you can find. Unfortunately, if you’re there during peak tourist season, the streets are going to be clogged with golf carts so that may not be as much fun.
Sadly, today is the day to say goodbye to Belize and move on to the next adventure. Fly from San Pedro to Belize International and board your flight. One thing to note is that the flights from San Pedro are basically 12 seater air taxis and if the first one is delayed, it causes a domino effect for delays as the day progresses. You’ll want to make sure you give yourself enough time to catch your flight. That said, although the airport suggests being 3 hours early, it really didn’t take any time at all getting through security or immigration. However, it did look like my United flight back was boarding at the same time as an American flight so maybe that will cause a delay if I had arrived a little later.
Hopefully you’ll find this guide helpful for your travels to Belize. Driving through Belize is simple and outside of San Ignacio, you really won’t encounter too much traffic. Just be aware that road conditions can be tough and to limit the amount of driving you do at night since there are no lights. Once in San Pedro, you can have your fill of water activities or just lounge by the pool or beach. Not every aspect of your trip needs to be at a frenetic pace and you might want to spend a little time relaxing as well.