Popular Belize City Shore Excursions
Diving and Snorkeling: Underwater sightseeing is number one on the hit parade of favorite outdoor activities due to the astounding sites along the barrier reef. Some of the best dive sites lie just off Ambergris Caye. Cruise ships and charter operators offer day trips that include transportation. If you'd rather make your way to Ambergris Caye on your own, head for the main town of San Pedro, where many of the dive operators are clustered. For a list of local dive shops Google "Diving on Ambergris Caye." A favorite snorkeling area is known as Shark Ray Alley (one hour by speedboat from San Pedro) where it's possible to get "up close and personal" (petting is permitted) with nurse sharks and sting rays. Hol Chan Marine Reserve is another 3-square-mile dive site. Birders can also find much to see at Ambergris Caye; one highlight is a guided boat trip to the Little Guana Caye Bird Sanctuary.
Altun Ha: Among the best of Belize's Mayan cultural sites is Altun Ha, a heavily excavated site that is a convenient day trip out of the city. Once a major trading and ceremonial center, it consists of several impressive temples and tombs highlighted by the Temple of the Masonry Altars. You can get there with a ship excursion, private tour operator or by hiring a taxi. (Open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Xunantunich: Another important Mayan site, Xunantunich is located near the Guatemalan border, and can only be reached by crossing the Mopan River on a hand-cranked ferry. Situated here are six major plazas ringed by more than 25 temples and palaces; the largest of the remaining temples is Il Castillo, which is worth climbing for the spectacular panoramic view from the top. Because Xunantunich is not easy to get to, your best bet for visiting is with a tour operator. (501-608-1788)
Museum of Belize: Housed in an old prison (it served as Her Majesty's Prison from 1857 to 2002), the museum features several exhibits that explore the city's past, including the pirate years, colonial era, and natural and man-made disasters. You can even walk into a jail cell to see what the prison experience was like. (8 Gabourel Lane; 501-223-4524; open Monday to Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)
The Belize Zoo: Wildlife lovers who would rather not venture far from the city can check out the Belize Zoo. Set on 29 acres, visitors will find more than 170 animals, representing 45+ species, all native to Belize. Highlights include jaguars, ocelots, coatis, howler monkeys and kinkanjous. (Western Highway mile marker 29; 501-220-8004; open daily 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary: This sanctuary, a little further out from the center of Belize City, is a bird lover's paradise. With more than 16,000 acres of lagoons, creeks, forests and pine savannas, visitors can spot dozens of bird species, as well as howler monkeys, crocodiles and more. (Western Highway mile marker 30.8; Open daily, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
Community Baboon Sanctuary: While not the easiest of attractions to get to (you'll need to hire a taxi or rent a car), if you love monkeys, this really is the place to visit. Part of a larger "community" of villages, you'll find the Baboon Sanctuary visitor center in Bermudian Landing. The village is home to a substantial number of black howler monkeys, called "baboon" in the local Creole dialect. You'll also find an abundance of other animals including parrots, hummingbirds, turtles and more. Guided nature walks are available for a small fee. (Across the street from the soccer field in Bermudian Landing; 501-245-2009; open most days from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; email ahead of your visit to arrange a tour - firstname.lastname@example.org)
Jaguar Paw: One of the best spots to explore Belize's caves. In ancient times, the Mayans believed that caves were the "underworld" and were revered as sacred places. Options for exploring the network of caves include tubing or by kayak or canoe. Look for cave float tours from your cruise line or private operators, including Viator and Chukka.
Belize City is not the best port for beaching it up, but you will find a couple of options if you absolutely must spend some time on the sand or in the water. Both options require a boat ride to get to.
Closest to Your Ship: For the ultimate in R&R at the beach, head to Caye Caulker, a 45-minute ferry ride from the Marine Terminal. Just 5 miles long and 1 mile wide, laid-back Caye Caulker is great for snorkeling as Belize's famous barrier reef is just 10 minutes away.
Best for Sunbathing: A bit farther away is Ambergris Caye, the largest of Belize's islands. Some of Belize's prettiest beaches can be found here, but you'll also find some of the best snorkeling and diving spots, including Shark Ray Alley.