Divers and snorkellers have long known about the spectacular reefs off the coast of Belize, but the mainland is also rich in flora and fauna, with 40% of the country set aside in conservation areas, which makes for incredible exploratory fodder on a luxury holiday. The lush rainforests are still home to jaguar, puma and various species of monkey, as well as the beautiful, brilliantly plumed quetzal.
Formerly British Honduras, Belize is a country defined by various cultures, languages, and ethnic groups including descendants of the Mayans, whose civilisation dominated this region for centuries. Mayan links are evident in well-preserved remains such as Xunantunich, with its plazas and temples, and Caracol's 138ft tall Sky Palace Pyramid.
The inland area of Belize is home to dense rainforests but also - bizarrely - pine forests more reminiscent of Europe than Central America. There are luxury lodges here that are the perfect place for some luxury holiday downtime before or after the beach, or for anyone crossing over into Belize from Tikal in Guatemala (an excellent combination). And on the subject of Tikal, while none of the Mayan sites in Belize matches the imperious site in Guatemala, the likes of Cahal Pech are definitely worth a visit, as are the cave systems, such as at Actun Tunichil Muknal, which were often used as Mayan sacrificial sites. Spooky but spectacular.
And then there are the beaches and Cayes of the coast with excellent laidback lodges (with more popping up all the time) from which to explore the Lighthouse Reef System, the second longest reef system in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The reef is also home to the Blue Hole, a perfectly circular sinkhole filled with countless species of marine life including angelfish, sponges, barracudas and different species of shark as well as impressive coral formations and extraordinary stalactites. The water temperature is a thoroughly civilised 76 degrees (or even warmer) as far down as 130 feet, making this a bucket list essential for divers. Closer to the surface, the cayes and coastline are also home to the extraordinary and endangered manatee or sea cow.
Our Latin America team have stayed in all the best lodges throughout the country and work with the top guides for cultural and wildlife excursions. We only use the finest dive operators and can arrange dive trips to see whale sharks in this, one of the few places on the planet where marine biologists know when, why and where they congregate. The last Original Travel consultant to dive in Belize saw eight whale sharks on his solitary dive. Not a bad return.