In Belize you can participate in a "dig" at a Mayan archaeological site, usually under the direction of a university archaeological team. Sessions run only a few weeks of the year, usually in spring or summer. Archaeological digs that accept volunteer workers are mostly in Orange Walk District. Some programs offer academic college credit. Prices don't include transportation to Belize or incidental personal expenses.
Road Scholar, a division of Elderhostel, offers a 15-day program in Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras on the history of the Maya, with insight into modern-day issues affecting their community. It also offers a 10-day Mystery of the Maya Program in Belize and Guatemala that combines snorkeling and visiting Maya sites. All the Road Scholar programs include accommodations, meals, guides, field trips, and in-country transportation, but not flights to and from Belize. The Maya Research Program, established in 1992, has two-week volunteer programs in the Blue Creek area of Orange Walk District. The Center for Archaeological and Tropical Studies (CATS) at the University of Texas-Austin accepts students and others for summer digs at its field station in the Rio Bravo Conservation area of Orange Walk District, located on Programme for Belize lands. Participants pay a fee for one four-week or two-week session. Fees cover room and board but not air fare to and from Belize. Participants live in a rustic dorm setting and learn the basics of field archaeology through lectures and hands-on experience. Students can gain class credits at the University of Texas.
Maya Research Program. 1910 E. Southeast Loop 323, #296, Tyler, Texas, 75701. 817/831–9011; www.mayaresearchprogram.org.
Road Scholar. 11 Ave. de Lafayette, Boston, Massachusetts, 02111. 800/454–5768; www.roadscholar.org.
University of Texas Center for Archeological & Tropical Studies (CATS). J. J. Pickle Research Campus, Bldg. 5, 10100 Burnet Rd., University of Texas-Austin, Austin, Texas, 78712. 512/471–5946; www.liberalarts.utexas.edu/cats/.
Nearly 600 species of birds have been spotted in Belize, and every year five or more additional species are found in the country. Birders flock to Belize to see exciting species such as the jabiru stork, the largest flying bird in the Western Hemisphere; the harpy eagle, the scarlet macaw; the keel-billed toucan, the national bird of Belize; 21 species of hummingbirds; and endangered or rare species such as the yellow-headed parrot, ocellated turkey, orange-breasted falcon, and chestnut-breasted heron. Birding hot spots in Belize include Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, the Mountain Pine Ridge, the area around Chan Chich Lodge at Gallon Jug, and the Cockscomb Basin.
When selecting a bird-watching tour, ask questions. What species might be seen? What are the guide's qualifications? Does the operator work to protect natural habitats? How large are the birding groups? What equipment is used? (In addition to binoculars and a birding guidebook, this should include a high-powered telescope, a recorder to record and play back bird calls, and a spotlight for night viewing.) Trips can cost from BZ$1,600 per person for a six-day/five-night birding trip, including guides, lodging, and some meals. On an à la carte basis, short birding hikes with a local guide cost from BZ$30 per person, though at some jungle lodges such as Chaa Creek local birding hikes are free.
Victor Emanuel Nature Tours (VENT) has birding tours that combine visits to Chan Chich Lodge and Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. One-week tours in 2017 cost US$4,795 per person, not including airfare to Belize. Wildside Nature Tours has 8-, 10-, and 13-day birding trips that visit Crooked Tree, Cockscomb, and Cayo in Belize, and Tikal in Guatemala, from US$2,500 per person, not including airfare to Belize.
Victor Emmanuel Nature Tours. 2525 Wallingwood Dr., Suite 1003, Austin, Texas. 800/328–8368; 512/328–5221; www.ventbird.com.
Wildside Nature Tours. 241 Emerald Dr., Yardley, Pennsylvania. 888/875–9453; 610/564–0941; www.wildsidenaturetours.com.
Culture Tours and Homestays
Homestays and village guesthouse stays in Mayan villages in Toledo District are offered by Toledo Ecotourism Association and Aguacate Belize Homestay Program, local organizations in the Punta Gorda area. These stays are very inexpensive, typically less than BZ$100 per day including meals and activities, but accommodations are basic.
Aguacate Belize Homestay Program. This Homestay Program allows you to stay in a Maya home in the Kekchi Maya village of Aguacate, about three hours northwest of Punta Gorda. The home will be traditional thatch with a dirt floor and no indoor plumbing. You sleep in a hammock, take a bath in a creek, and share simple meals with the family. You may go with the family to work on their milpa (small farm). Rates are around BZ$16 per person, plus BZ$7 for each meal, plus a one-time registration fee of BZ$10. Fees benefit the entire village. For information on arrival, visit the BTIA office at 46 Front St. in PG. BTIA, 46 Front St., Punta Gorda, Toledo. 722/2531; www.aguacatebelize.com.
Toledo Ecotourism Association (TEA). Toledo Ecotourism Association arranges stays in basic guesthouses in five Maya villages in Toledo: Laguna, San Antonio, Santa Elena, San Jose and San Miguel. Stays start at around BZ$56 per person per night. A one-night package including lodging, three meals and activities is BZ$200 per person. TEA also offers cave, cacao farm, and village tours and programs in chocolate making. For information on arrival, go to the BTIA office at 46 Front Street in Punta Gorda. TEA c/o BTIA Office, 46 Front St., Punta Gorda, Toledo. 722/2531; www.teabelize.org.
The best-known fishing lodges in Belize are high-end resorts catering to affluent anglers who, after a hard day on the water, expect ice-cold cocktails, equally icy air-conditioning, and Posturepedic mattresses. El Pescador on North Ambergris Caye, two lodges on Turneffe Atoll (Turneffe Flats and Turneffe Island Lodge), and several beach resorts in Placencia and Hopkins offer fishing with a touch of luxury—everything from guides to cold drinks included. Fishing travel companies like Rod & Reel Adventures typically book with fishing lodges.
If you want a less expensive fishing vacation, you can make your own arrangements for lodging and meals and hire your own local fishing guides in San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Placencia, Hopkins, Punta Gorda, and elsewhere. Destinations Belize in Placencia is a compromise between a total package and doing it all yourself. The owner, Mary Toy, an American lawyer from St. Louis, can help you arrange moderate accommodations, some meals, and guides for light-tackle or fly-fishing day trips (or for longer periods). She also puts together moderately priced packages for fishing in Placencia and elsewhere in Belize.
Desinations Belize. General Delivery, Placencia Village, Stann Creek. 523/4018; 610/4718; www.destinationsbelize.com.
Rod and Reel Adventures. Rod and Reel Adventures arranges fishing trips in Belize through Belize River Lodge near Belize City, El Pescador Lodge on North Ambergris Caye, and Tarpon Caye Lodge off Placencia. 800/356–6982; 541/349–0777; www.rodandreeladventures.com.
U.S.-based Equitours offers riding tour packages in the Cayo. A six-day, five-night trip is US$1,095 per person, not including airfare. Several lodges in Belize, including Mountain Equestrian Trails (MET) near San Ignacio and Banana Bank Lodge near Belmopan, specialize in riding vacations.
Equitours. Equitours offers six-day jungle riding tours at MET Belize in Cayo District starting at US$1,095 per person and also has an eight-day combination Belize and Tikal riding tour from US$1,500 per person. Tours do not include airfare to Belize. 10 Stalnaker St., Dubois, Wyoming, 82513. 800/545–0019; www.equitours.com.
There are two types of kayaking trips: base kayaking and expedition kayaking. On a base kayaking trip you have a home base—usually a caye—from which you take day trips (or longer). On an expedition-style trip you travel from island to island or up mainland rivers. Typically, base kayaking is easier, but expedition kayaking is more adventurous.
Island Expeditions offers a number of complete expedition packages around Glover's Reef, Lighthouse Reef, and South Water Caye Marine Reserve. Several trips combine sea and river kayaking and base and expedition aspects. A six-night kayaking and paddleboarding lodge-to-lodge guided tour in the South Water Caye Marine Reserve is US$1,979 per person.
Island Expeditions. Island Expeditions, offering Belize adventure tours since 1986, has a large variety of kayaking, snorkeling, and multisport adventure tours in Belize. 4--1384 Portage Rd., Pemberton, British Columbia, V0N 2L0. 800/667–1630; 604/894–2312; www.islandexpeditions.com.
Multisport simply means that you can take part in a series of different activities—hiking, kayaking, cave tubing, birding, swimming, snorkeling.
Many Belize adventure trips include a bunch of different activities. For example, Adventure Life offers a variety tours, some combing jungle hiking, paddling, snorkeling, and visits to Mayan sites. Island Expeditions' 10-night Ultimate Adventure trip offers kayaking on the southern part of the Belize Barrier Reef, paddling on rivers in Toledo and caving and other adventures in western Belize. This tour is limited to 13 participants with up to 6 guides.
Adventure Life. Adventure Life offers eight tours in Belize, starting at around US$1,500 per person, not including airfare. 712 W. Spruce St., Suite 1, Missoula, Montana, 59802. 800/344–6118; 406/541–2677; www.adventure-life.com.
G Adventures. Formerly called Gap Tours, G Adventures offers 10 Belize multisport tours, including a 15-day tour from central Belize to Caye Caulker, involving canoeing, kayaking, light hiking, walking, biking, and rafting, with rates from US$1,495 per person, not including airfare to Belize. Other tours combine visits to Belize, Mexico, and Guatemala, and a couple add Costa Rica. 19 Charlotte St., Old Town, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 2H5. 888/800--4100; 260--0999; www.gadventures.com.
Nature Photography Adventure offers occasional photo safaris to Belize and Guatemala, with an emphasis on remote caves; participants must be reasonably physically fit to join this trip.
Nature Photography Adventures. Box 1900, Ava, Missouri, 65608. 417/683–6881; www.naturephotographyadventures.com.
International Zoological Expeditions has 8- to 10-day trips, usually with an educational component such as ethnobotanical walks or mapping an island. IZE's trips combine time inland at Blue Creek in Toledo and at South Water Caye.
International Zoological Expeditions. IZE specializes in faculty-led study abroad programs in Belize. It has facilities on South Water Caye off Dangriga and in Blue Creek in Toledo District. It has been operating these programs since 1970. 210 Washington St., Sherborn, Massachusetts, 01770. 508/655–1461; www.izebelize.com.
For information on Belize, your first stop should be the official site of the Belize Tourism Board. Belize Explorer is a private site that provides information on budget hotels—those priced under US$75 double. The Belize Tourism Industry Association's website also provides visitor information, mainly through information offices and monthly publications for visitors in Placencia and Punta Gorda.
The Belize Forums is an active online community of Belize visitors and residents; many regulars are happy to answer questions, though occasionally discussions become heated. Also, Lan Sluder, the co-author of this guide and many other books on Belize, has his own site called Belize First.
Belize Bus Blog has detailed and comprehensive information on bus, water taxi, shuttle, and other transportation in Belize.
There are numerous destination-specific websites, as well as dozens of personal blogs on living in and visiting Belize. Facebook also has many community and special interest pages on Belize. Increasingly, smaller restaurants and hotels often use Facebook pages rather than websites to promote their businesses.
For information on Guatemala, contact that country's tourist board, INGUAT.
Ambergris Caye. Ambergriscaye.com.
Belize Tourism Board. 64 Regent St., Commercial District, Belize City, Belize District. 227/2420; 800/624–0686; www.travelbelize.org.
Belize Bus Blog. belizebus.wordpress.com.
Belize Explorer. www.belizeexplorer.com.
Belize First. www.belizefirst.com.
The Belize Forums. www.belizeforum.com/belize.
Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA). 10 N. Park St., Commercial District, Belize City, Belize District. 227/1144; www.btia.org.
Belmopan Online.com. www.belmopanonline.com.
Caye Caulker. cayecaulker.org.
Destinations Belize. www.destinationsbelize.com.
Go Caye Caulker. www.gocayecaulker.com.
INGUAT. INGUAT is the official tourism information organization for Guatemala. 502/2421–2800; 1500; www.inguat.gob.gt.
Northern Belize. northernbelize.com.
Southern Belize. southernbelize.com.
Visit Hopkins Village. www.visithopkinsvillagebelize.com.