The Cayes and Atolls

We’ve compiled the best of the best in The Cayes and Atolls - browse our top choices for the top things to see or do during your stay.

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  • 1. ACES Wildlife Rescue

    This remarkable nonprofit specializes in the care and rehabilitation of American crocodiles, but they also rescue and rehab pelicans, iguanas, turtles, snakes, and other creatures. Operators Christina Manzi and Chris Summers are warriors for the protection of Belize's wildlife and their habitat. You can schedule an educational visit to the center, and possibly see unreleasable crocs or critters temporarily on-site for medical care. It's a little off-the-beaten track but well worth a visit. 

    Tres Cocos Area, 2 miles north of bridge, Ambergris Caye, Corozal, Belize

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: No charge; donations encouraged, By appointment
  • 2. Bacalar Chico National Park & Marine Reserve

    Development on Ambergris continues relentlessly, but most of the far north of the island remains unsullied by that development. At the top of the caye, abutting Mexico, this UNESCO World Heritage Site spans almost 44 square miles (113 square km) of land, reef, and sea. Here, on 11 miles (18 km) of trails you may cross paths with whitetail deer, ocelots, saltwater crocodiles, and, according to some reports, pumas and jaguars. There are beautiful diving, snorkeling, and fishing opportunities, especially off Rocky Point, and a small visitor center and museum to get you oriented. You'll need a boat and a guide to take you here, where there are at least nine ancient Maya sites. Walk carefully, as loggerhead and green sea turtles nest here. Be sure to bring insect repellent. An all-day snorkel trip to Bacalar Chico from San Pedro is unforgettable.

    Ambergris Caye, Corozal, Belize

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: BZ$10 day pass or BZ$30 week pass
  • 3. Blue Hole

    From the air, the Blue Hole, a breathtaking vertical chute that drops several hundred feet through the reef, is a dark blue eye in the center of the shallow lagoon. The Blue Hole was first dived by Jacques Cousteau in 1971 and has since become a diver's pilgrimage site. Just over 1,000 feet wide at the surface and dropping almost vertically to a depth of 412 feet, the Blue Hole is like swimming down a mineshaft, but a mineshaft with hammerhead sharks. This excitement is reflected in the thousands of stickers and T-shirts reading, "I Dived the Blue Hole."

    Lighthouse Reef, Belize
  • 4. Eco Iguana Corner Foundation

    Put this idiosyncratic iguana sanctuary at the top of your list for San Pedro. Founder Calvin Young celebrates the fascinating, prehistoric reptiles by preserving a patch of mangrove habitat for some 300 black and green iguanas. The impressive park is by-donation only and open daily. Keep your eyes peeled for Oh My God––a seven-foot iguana named for the expression everyone says when they see him. While you can't feed wild iguanas, it's okay to offer a banana or papaya to these critters, which have been raised. 

    Iguana St., San Pedro Town, Belize District, Belize

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Donations accepted
  • 5. Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes

    If you’ve always wanted to dive with the gentle, 60-foot-long whale shark, Gladden Spit is the place. But this is the catch: you have an extremely narrow window in which to do so. The spawning of various snappers—cubera, mutton, and dog—draw the whale sharks here, and that takes place from March through June from the full moon to the last quarter. (Even March can be chancy.) If your schedule coincides, all dive outfitters in the village of Placencia can get you here during these mini-seasons. It means needing to reserve far in advance for a popular excursion that can be offered three—four if you’re lucky—calendar weeks during the year. The other 48–49 weeks, the two pristine, deserted Silk Cayes offer a chance to picnic on their sugar-white beaches and snorkel in their clear-blue waters. Plan on seeing Goliath and Nassau groupers and various sea turtles, but not the whale sharks.

    Placencia Village, Stann Creek, Belize
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  • 6. Sapodilla Cayes

    Few visitors make it to this collection of six sand and mangrove cayes, Belize’s southernmost island group. If you’re one of those lucky few, you’ll come back with tales of Hunting Caye, the largest of the Sapodillas, and its gorgeous white-sand beach. Shallow waters immediately off the islands’ coasts make for good snorkeling; various dive sites lie farther out. Spadefish, parrot fish, and dolphins are yours for the viewing. Camping on Lime Caye is your only option for an overnight stay. Save for a few researchers from the University of Belize, who study the sea turtles here, and Belize Defence Force (BDF) personnel, the islands are otherwise uninhabited. Why the military outpost? Guatemala and Honduras also claim the Sapodillas as their own. Belize maintains control of the islands, with its own military on Hunting Caye to ensure that status. The dispute need not concern you as a visitor, and, indeed, you might rub shoulders with day visitors from Livingston, Guatemala. They all need to go through passport control with the BDF. You won’t. Outfitters in Punta Gorda can fix you up with a trip, either for the day or overnight.

    40 miles (64 km) from Punta Gorda, Punta Gorda, Toledo, Belize
  • 7. Caye Caulker Forest Reserve

    On the North end of the Caye Caulker, above the Split, lies over 100 acres of preserved littoral forest abundant with salt-tolerant mangroves. This area is seldom visited by tourists, but is a favorite of spoonbills, pelicans, herons, black catbirds, and white-crowned pigeons, as well as black spinytail iguanas (known as wish willies), turtles, and the occasional crocodile. It can be reached by kayak on the island's lee side, and there is no park fee. 

    Caye Caulker, Belize District, Belize
  • 8. Emerald Forest Reef

    Although most of the best dive sites are along the Glover's Atoll's southeastern side, this is the exception, being on the atoll's western arm. It's named for its masses of huge green elkhorn coral. Because the reef's most exciting part is only 25 feet down, it's excellent for novice divers.

    Glover's Reef Atoll, Glover's Reef Atoll, Stann Creek, Belize
  • 9. Half Moon Caye National Monument

    Belize's easternmost island offers one of Belize's greatest wildlife encounters, although it's difficult to reach and lacks accommodations other than camping. Part of the Lighthouse Reef system, Half Moon Caye owes its protected status to the presence of the red-footed booby. The bird is here in such numbers that it's hard to believe it has only one other nesting ground in the entire Caribbean (on Tobago Island, off the coast of Venezuela). Thousands of these birds hang their hats on Half Moon Caye, along with iguanas, lizards, and loggerhead turtles. The entire 40-acre island is a nature reserve, so you can explore the beaches or head into the bush on the narrow nature trail. Above the trees at the island's center is a small viewing platform—at the top you're suddenly in a sea of birds that will doubtless remind you of a certain Alfred Hitchcock movie. Several dive operators and resorts arrange day trips and overnight camping trips to Half Moon Caye. Managed by the Belize Audubon Society, the park fee here is a steep BZ$80 per person.


    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: BZ$80
  • 10. Half Moon Caye Wall

    The best diving on Lighthouse Reef is at Half Moon Caye Wall, a classic wall dive. Half Moon Caye begins at 35 feet and drops almost vertically to blue infinity. Floating out over the edge is a bit like free-fall parachuting. Magnificent spurs of coral jut out to the seaward side, looking like small tunnels; they're fascinating to explore and invariably full of fish. An exceptionally varied marine life hovers around this caye. On the gently sloping sand flats behind the coral spurs, a vast colony of garden eels stirs, their heads protruding from the sand like periscopes. Spotted eagle rays, sea turtles, and other underwater wonders frequent the drop-off.

    Half Moon Caye, Belize District, Belize

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: BZ$80
  • 11. Laughing Bird Caye National Park

    This superb little national park lies off the coast of the Placencia Peninsula, and its boosters insist that it, not Belize’s northern cayes, has the best beach in the country. The atoll takes its name from the laughing gull (Larus articilla), which used to nest extensively here. Visitation by humans has pushed the gulls’ nesting to other nearby islets, but you’ll still see the birds in abundance here, as well as green herons and brown pelicans. Local boaters in Placencia Village can take you to the park for BZ$80 to BZ$200 round-trip. The Friends of Laughing Bird Caye, the park’s private administrators, can also help you get here.

    Placencia Village, Stann Creek, Belize
  • 12. Long Caye Wall

    This is an exciting wall at Glover's Atoll; between its bright coral and dramatic drop-off hundreds of feet down, diving it truly feels like extraterrestrial exploration. It's a good place to spot turtles, rays, and barracuda.

    Glover's Reef Atoll, Stann Creek, Belize
  • 13. Northside Beach Club

    Don’t come here for an hour, come for the day—and bring friends. Picture paradise with an immaculate beach, “VIP” daybeds for rent, and a bustling restaurant perched over the lagoon. It gets a lot of talk (and mixed reviews) for good reason: It’s not the Caye Caulker most tourists know, but it’s a Caye Caulker you might love. Every half hour, a five-minute ferry ride takes visitors up to the property north of the Split, where you can lounge on the private beach until the stars come out. Spend BZ$50 per person and the ferry is free. Spending is easy, as the restaurant has fairly high prices. Being on the lagoon side, the placid water is a draw for families. To many, Northside Beach Club is more San Pedro than Caye Caulker (developed and resort-ish), which has ruffled some feathers. But there’s no denying it’s a gorgeous place to pass a day. Amenities: daybeds, restaurant, private beach. Best for: relaxing, dining and having a few tropical drinks.  

    North of the Split, on lagoon side, Caye Caulker, Belize District, Belize
  • 14. San Pedro House of Culture

    A small but wonderful cultural center, the House of Culture celebrates the fascinating history and diversity of San Pedro. Past exhibits have explored Garifuna Settlement Day and the village's lobster industry. Be warned: opening hours are erratic. 

    2101 Almond St., Ambergris Caye, Corozal, Belize

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Closed Tues.--Thurs. and weekends
  • 15. Southwest Caye Wall

    Southwest Caye Wall is an underwater cliff that falls quickly to 130 feet. It's briefly interrupted by a narrow shelf, then continues its near-vertical descent to 350 feet. This dive gives you the exhilaration of flying in blue space, so it's easy to lose track of how deep you are going. Both ascent and descent require careful monitoring.

    Glover's Reef Atoll, Stann Creek, Belize

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