The Best Belize Itinerary | From the Jungle to the Beach in One Week
Are you more of a jungle adventurer or a beach-goer? In Belize, you don’t have to choose! It’s literally the best of both worlds. With this one-week Belize itinerary, you will go from the inland jungle area exploring Mayan ruins to the Caribbean island area with some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world.
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Keep reading for tips on planning your trip to Belize, including the best lodging, restaurants, and activities!
Belize Trip Overview:
PTO/Vacation Days Needed: 5-7
Exchange Rate*: 1 Belize Dollar = $0.50 USD
Language*: English and Spanish
*Good news for American travelers- Belize accepts US currency, and they are the only country in Central America where English is their official language. This makes it very easy to get around and communicate!
Once you land at the Belize International Airport (BZE) and make it through customs (plan for about 1 hour for this) , you will begin your journey towards San Ignacio, located in the Cayo District.
There are two ways to get from the Belize airport to San Ignacio (I didn’t include renting a car as an option, because I’ve heard bad things about renting cars in Belize) :
1. Pre-Arranged Private Shuttle
Time: about 2 hoursCost: $70-120 USD
If you are not on a strict budget (or if you are traveling with a few people), a private shuttle is a good option. They will pick you up from the Belize airport when your flight lands and take you directly to your hotel in San Ignacio in an air-conditioned vehicle. I’ve heard great things about William’s Shuttle Service.
2. Local Bus
Time: About 3.5 hoursCost: $34 ($25 for taxi to bus station, and $4 for bus ticket)
If you are traveling on a budget, or just want more of an authentic, local experience, consider taking the bus to San Ignacio. First, you must take a taxi from the airport to the bus station in Belize City. There really isn’t room for negotiation with the taxis here- they will all charge you the same flat rate of $25 USD to get from the airport to the bus station. However, it is easy to find other travelers also heading to the bus station who you can share a taxi with to cut down on costs. The taxi ride to the bus terminal in Belize City will take about 20 minutes.
Once you get to the bus station, look for a bus that says “Benque”- this is the one that will take you to San Ignacio. The bus terminal is small and easy to navigate- we were able to hop on a bus headed that direction within minutes.
There are two types of buses: Express and Regular. Both are like the typical American school bus, but the “Express” one does not make as many stops along the way and costs a few dollars more. We were hoping to take the Express bus, but the regular bus was about to depart when we arrived, and the Express bus wouldn’t have arrived at the bus station for another 45 minutes. We decided to take the Regular bus instead of waiting around the terminal for the Express bus, and it worked out fine!
When you board the bus, you can sit anywhere you want and can put your bags on the shelf up top. Someone will come by about 10 minutes into the ride and collect your money. It should cost $8 BZE ($4 USD) and is cash only. One thing I learned in Belize is to not be on a timely schedule for anything. Everything is slow here and takes longer than you’re used to, which also applies to this journey. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride! There’s no A/C, but almost everyone puts their windows down so it’s breezy.
The bus will make quick stops along the way to let people on and off, and then will stop about halfway at the city of Belmopan for 5-10 minutes. You’ll reach the town of San Ignacio after about 3-3.5 hours. You can either walk or take a ~$5 cab ride from the bus terminal to where you are staying.
Where to Stay in San Ignacio:
San Ignacio is a town in Western Belize that is central to many activities, including exploring caves and Mayan ruins. There are several eco-lodges and hotel options nearby that make you feel like you are staying in the middle of the jungle, but that are still close enough to take a short taxi ride into town if desired. In order to get the best of both worlds, I recommend splitting your time in San Ignacio by spending 1 or 2 nights in one of these jungle lodges, and 1-2 nights in town.
Jungle Lodging Recommendation: Parrot Nest Lodge
I LOVED my time spent staying at Parrot Nest Lodge, and definitely recommend it. It’s located in a town right next to San Ignacio called Bullet Tree Falls, about a 10 minute drive away. Surrounded by the Mopan River, these rustic treehouse bungalows really make you feel like you are in the heart of the jungle. There is a common area on the deck with colorful hammocks, and a view of the Mopan River out back. They even have tubes that you can take to float down the river!
They have a fridge stocked with beers that you can drink on the honor system, and plenty of free filtered water, coffee and tea. They offer a home-cooked breakfast and dinner served every night on communal tables on the deck area for an extra fee (it was around $7 USD for breakfast and $12.50 for dinner). Not only is this a great way to meet other travelers, but the food is delicious! (Enchilada night was my fave).
This spot is great for bird-watching and for spotting wildlife like iguanas, otters, and coati. Fireflies lit up the garden area in the evening, making for quite the fairytale setting. Also Theo, the owner, is super friendly and can help you organize any tours for the next day.
If you’re looking for something more upscale, I’ve heard great things about the below places:
After you spend some time relaxing in the jungle area, re-locate to a spot in town so that you walk to bars and restaurants.
Where to Stay in the Town of San Ignacio: Old House Hostel
If you’re traveling on a budget, I definitely recommend staying at Old House Hostel in San Ignacio. We stayed in a dorm room here for one night (they also have private rooms) and loved it! If you’re looking for super chill vibes and want to meet other travelers, this is the spot for you. They have a relaxing back deck area with a nice view of the town at sunset, and a cute indoor common area as well.
As the name implies, it’s literally an old house that has been converted into a hostel. There are two shared bathrooms, as well as a kitchen that you have access to with filtered drinking water. There’s also a resident cat, who is super cute. It’s conveniently located right next to Burns Ave (the main street of San Ignacio) so you can walk wherever you want to go in town from here.
The staff at Old House Hostel are really friendly, and can help you arrange any tours for the next day.
If you are looking for something more upscale, here are two options that I’ve heard good things about:
As day 1 of your one week Belize itinerary was spent traveling to San Ignacio, you’ll have 2 full days of activities in San Ignacio for day 2 and 3. I recommend the following:
Day 2: Explore Mayan Ruins (I recommend Tikal)
Day 3: ATM Cave or Crystal Cave Tour
While you are in San Ignacio, you can’t miss exploring some Mayan ruins. There are a few options, but I highly recommend splurging for a day tour to Tikal. It was the highlight of our trip!
Tikal is actually located in Guatemala, however it is just a 2 hour drive across the border from San Ignacio. This UNESCO World Heritage site was considered the most powerful kingdom of ancient Mayan civilization. The grounds of Tikal are massive- the ruins are surrounded by a jungle full of wildlife which you get to walk through to get to the different sites. We even saw a few Spider Monkeys on our trek through the jungle, which was super cool. In addition to Spider Monkeys, Tikal is home to 300 species of birds, plus jaguars, pumas and coati. It’s an amazing place!
There are a few guided tour options to choose from. We took the tour from Maximum Adventures, as recommended by the owner of Parrot Nest Lodge, and it was awesome! The price was a little more than we wanted to spend, at $145/person (Belize is one of the most expensive countries to visit in Central America), but this cost includes round-trip transportation, border entrance fees, guided tour of Tikal, and lunch. Also, Maximum Adventures keeps the groups small, at no more than 8 people. Our tour ended up being private, as no one else had booked for that day!
Make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes and bring lots of water. We filled up our Camelbak water bladders at Parrot Nest Lodge with the filtered water they had available, which worked out great. You’ll get picked up at your hotel around 7am, and Max will drive you to the border where you’ll walk through immigration (another passport stamp- yay!). Expect the line to take about 30 minutes.
When you cross the border on foot, Max will introduce you to your Guatemalan driver and guide, who will take you the rest of the way to Tikal. The drive is pretty scenic- you will pass through colorful Guatemalan towns and beautiful lakes. Also- you might encounter pigs crossing the road:
Our guide for Tikal was fantastic. He was so passionate about Mayan ruins and taught us a lot of history about the area. Tikal is massive, and he definitely knew his way around. Instead of taking the paved pathway with all of the other tourists, he led us through less-traveled trails that weaved in and out of the forest, to pyramids and dwellings that had no one else there. It was quite a magical experience, and was great to escape the crowds!
He also taught us that you can eat the fruit that falls from the gumtrees- it’s delicious.
You’ll get to see a few temples throughout Tikal, as well as climb up to see a beautiful aerial view of the park before heading to the Great Plaza.
Our last stop was the Great Plaza that Tikal is known for- there’s no way to escape the crowds here, but it is still breathtaking and makes for a great photo-op. Your guide will give you about 30 minutes of free time at this spot to roam around and take photos.
On your way back to Belize, you’ll stop by this seemingly hole-in-the-wall spot for lunch. I ordered the chicken fajitas- it was delicious! I’m in love with Guatemalan tortillas.
If you are traveling on a strict budget and aren’t able to splurge for the Tikal day tour, you have other options:
Xunantunich are the only ruins in the area that you do NOT need a tour to get to- hooray for saving money! You can take the public bus or a taxi about 15 minutes outside of town until you see the sign for Xunantunich. There is a small hand-crank ferry that takes you across the river, where you will then begin your 1-mile trek uphill to the ruins. Even though this one is right outside of town, the surrounding trees and plants make it seem like the middle of nowhere. You might even see a spider monkey!
2. Caracol- These ruins are about a 3 hour drive from San Ignacio, and are easiest to see with a guided tour. Caracol is one of the oldest Mayan cities and contains one of the largest man-made structures in Belize. At this site, you will see pyramids, royal tombs, dwellings, and more. While it is possible to go on your own, it’s a very bumpy and muddy drive. Going on a guided tour is the easiest option, and they are slightly cheaper than the tours to Tikal. This guided tour includes lunch and a stop at the Rio On Pools on the way back!
Day 3 in San Ignacio: Cave Tour
The other activity not to miss while you’re in San Ignacio is a cave tour. The most popular and highly recommended of the options is the ATM cave tour (ATM stands for Actun Tunichil Muknal). The ATM cave is deemed the #1 sacred cave destination in the world from National Geographic. It was once used for human sacrifices back in the day, and the skeletons are still there for you to see in the cave. For this excursion, you hike about 45 minutes through the jungle and then swim across 3 rivers before entering the cave. Once inside the cave, you’ll put on a headlamp and go through tight crevices and up and over boulders to explore the unique cave formations. It’s quite the adventure!
One important thing to note- there are no cameras or phones allowed on this tour. This rule came into place back in 2012 when a tourist dropped their phone on an ancient skull and cracked it. Since you can’t bring a camera, most tour companies will send you stock photos of the tour (which are the same photos you see in everyone’s blog about this tour).
Also- we learned that all tour companies must cap this tour at 8 people. Based on this, and the fact that it is the most popular tour, there is a good chance it will sell out in the busy season if you don’t book ahead of time. We researched a lot of different tour companies, and they were all about the same price- $95 USD per person.
Alternative Cave Options: Crystal Cave or Cave Tubing
One of the employees we spoke with at MayaWalk tours told us that her favorite cave tour was not the ATM tour that everyone does, but rather the Crystal Cave excursion. The Crystal Cave excursion is more challenging than the ATM cave tour, and involves rappelling down into the dry cave. Sounds exciting if you’re up for the extra adventure!
If you’re looking for a more low-key (but still awesome) excursion, check out a cave tubing tour. On this tour, you’ll hike a short distance through the jungle and then float downstream on the river through caves while learning about Mayan culture. Both relaxing and exciting!
Once you return to San Ignacio, don’t miss out on getting a great meal in town. We went to Guava Limb Cafe, and it was delicious! While this restaurant is a bit pricier than other options, all the food is farm-to-table fresh, and it shows.
Another restaurant that I have heard good things about is Ko-Ox-Ha-Nah.
For breakfast, definitely check out Pop’s and order the Chaya Fry Jack! Fry Jacks are basically the Belizian staple of breakfast, and are deep-fried pockets of dough stuffed with beans and eggs and such. Delicious! The Fry Jack at Pops is stuffed with eggs and Chaya (their version of spinach) and is so good.
Belize Itinerary Day 4-7- Caye Caulker
Day 4: Head to Caye Caulker from San Ignacio
Now that you’ve gotten your fill of the jungle life, it’s time to head back towards the ocean! There are two main islands that people go to- San Pedro/Ambergris Caye, and Caye Caulker. San Pedro is bigger than Caye Caulker, and is known to be more upscale and expensive. We chose Caye Caulker after reading about how it’s more suited for a chill-backpacker vibe (and budget). Also, because of the way the islands are positioned, apparently Caye Caulker is the only one where you can view the sunsets!
How to Get from San Ignacio to Caye Caulker
Similar to how you got to San Ignacio, the two main options are to either take a bus or a private shuttle to Belize City. We opted for the bus again, and you can walk to the San Ignacio bus terminal in the heart of town. As a reminder, the regular bus takes about 3-3.5 hours to get to Belize City, and costs $4 USD per person.
Once you get to Belize City, you can either take a quick flight (about $75 USD, 15 minutes) to San Pedro, or take a water taxi ($18, 45 minutes). Note that you will have to take a taxi from the Belize City bus terminal to either the airport ($25 USD) or to the water taxi terminal (~$5 USD).
I’ve heard of some people doing the water taxi one-way, and then taking the flight the other way just to check out the scenery from above. We were on a budget so did the water taxi round-trip, but it is something to consider!
I don’t recommend buying your water taxi tickets ahead of time, just in case you arrive later than planned from the bus. Once you get to the water taxi terminal, you can easily walk right up and buy your tickets. We used San Pedro Belize Express, and they have a ferry leaving almost every hour from 8am-5:30pm. Even on a windy day, the ferry ride is very smooth as it goes on the protected side of the water, so no need to worry about getting seasick!
Where to Stay in Caye Caulker
Caye Caulker is a really small island. There aren’t even any cars on the islands- just golf carts! The island is only 5 miles long from North to South, and less than a mile wide. You can easily walk from side to side in about 5 minutes, and from end-to-end in about an hour. We didn’t feel the need to rent a golf cart, and instead just walked everywhere. Since it’s so small, pretty much anywhere you stay will be a good location.
For our first night, we stayed at the Tropical Paradise hotel and loved it! For about $100/night we had our own bungalow that sleeps 4 people (with A/C) right on the beach.
Our second night we stayed at a more budget-friendly location called Marliny’s Guest House, as recommended to us by our Tikal tour guide. Marliny’s is right in the middle of town, above the Happy Lobster restaurant. There are 6 basic guest rooms with two beds in each (no A/C, but there are fans), with two shared bathrooms, for $25 USD per night. Such a bargain! You can’t book this place online, but rather just show up and inquire about availability downstairs at the Happy Lobster restaurant. There’s also a really cute shared deck that overlooks the main street of town.
What to Do in Caye Caulker:
Caye Caulker was honestly a little more touristy than I expected, but we were also visiting there during the high season around New Years Eve. To me, the highlight of this area of Belize is what lies under the ocean’s surface- the Belize Barrier Reef and the Blue Hole!
One Week in Belize- Day 5: Snorkel Tour or Explore the Island
Depending on what time you arrive to Caye Caulker, you may have time to hop on a half-day snorkeling tour if you’re feeling ambitious. All of the dive shops in town pretty much have the exact same itinerary for snorkeling tours, but I recommend going with Caveman Snorkeling Tours (which was also recommended to us from our Tikal guide) as they only take small groups. They have a half-day tour starting at 2:00. (For reference, we left San Ignacio around 7:30am and got to Caye Caulker at 1:30pm- just in time to make it on this tour)
The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest barrier reef in the world, and is right off the coast of Caye Caulker! Snorkeling this reef is definitely a cool experience. First, they’ll take you to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. This section of the reef is super shallow (about 7 feet) and you’ll get to snorkel around wherever you want for about 30 minutes. It’s beautiful and colorful, and there is lots to see!
Next, they’ll take you to the Coral Gardens section of the reef, which is deeper and equally as beautiful. Some highlights here were seeing a Moray Eel and a Spotted Eagle Ray!
After that, they’ll bring you to Shark Ray Alley. I personally thought this part of the tour was kind of gimmicky, but if you are new to snorkeling and haven’t seen stingrays or sharks up-close before, you might enjoy it. Basically, they take you to a shallow area and you stand in the water while they drop food in. The nurse sharks and stingrays have a feeding frenzy, while you get to watch them close-up.
They’ll then bring you on the boat to the other side of the island, where you can view a sea-horse farm right off the shore, and then can feed tarpon. The tarpon will jump out of the water for the bait fish, which is always fun. The guide then had us play a funny game of sitting on the bow of the boat with a bait fish in your hand to see how long it takes for a pelican to swoop down and eat it out of your hand (spoiler alert- it takes about half a second!)
Once you get back, grab a happy hour cocktail at The Lazy Lizard bar at The Split. The island of Caye Caulker is split into two by a narrow waterway. The tip of the island is referred to as “The Split” and is the popular place to hang out during the day and night. During the day, it’s also a popular area for windsurfers and kite-boarders. You can rent a board or take a lesson, or just watch from the sidelines with a cocktail in hand. There’s also a platform where you can climb up and jump off into the ocean!
One Week in Belize- Day 6- Dive the Blue Hole or Dive the Belize Barrier Reef
The most important thing to note about Caye Caulker is that if you want to scuba dive, book with a dive shop ahead of time, or the second you arrive!! We made the mistake of not doing this, and unfortunately literally every single dive shop in town was booked. Not only for just the Blue Hole dives, but even for other reef dives in the area. We were there during high season around Christmas/New Years, so you may have better luck if you are there during another time, but to be safe, I recommend booking ahead.
Now that you have learned from my mistake and will be booking ahead of time, if diving the Blue Hole is on your bucketlist, this is the day to do it. That being said, the dive costs $300 USD per person and is a 3-hour boat ride to get out there, so if you are prone to sea-sickness make sure it is a calm day. The Blue Hole looks amazing from an aerial view, and is the most popular dive site in Belize, but you have to set your expectations accordingly- there is no colorful reef to be seen when diving this site. It is more like a cave dive, and is deep (you descend about 130 feet) and dark. However, it is still a bucket-list dive and would be an awesome experience! Also, I’ve heard great things about the dive you do after the Blue Hole, called Half Moon Caye.
If you want to scuba dive on day 2, but don’t want to spend the time and money to go to The Blue Hole, there are several dive shops in town that can take you to other great, world-class diving sites in the area.
One Week in Belize – Day 6 – If You Are NOT Scuba Certified:
Scenic Flight, Spearfishing Tour, Kiteboarding Lesson, or Relax at The Split!
Option 1: Scenic Flight Over the Blue Hole
If you aren’t scuba certified, but still want to see the Blue Hole, you should consider taking a scenic flight over it if it is in your budget. These flights are expensive, at $269 per person, however it does look amazing. They’ll take you up over the Blue Hole and do a few circles around it to ensure that everyone gets good pictures.
Option 2: Spearfishing Tour
I’ve heard great things about the Spearfishing Shack– they’ll take you out and teach you how to spearfish in the area, and then can help you find a place to cook the fish you catch once you get back.
Option 3: Kiteboarding or Windsurfing Lesson
Another adventurous option would be to take a windsurfing or kiteboarding lesson near The Split. With almost constant Easterly winds, Caye Caulker is a premier destination for kiteboarding and windsurfing. You don’t need to book this ahead of time- there are a few booths near The Split that offer these lessons. If you already know how to kiteboard or windsurf, you can rent a board and do it yourself instead.
Option 4: Relax!
Caye Caulker’s motto is “Go Slow”. They even have this posted on a sign that you’ll see when you first arrive! If you are looking to relax, you’re in the right place. Sip a cocktail at the Lazy Lizard bar and watch the boats and kiteboarders go by. Check out the “Sip N Dip” bar next door, where you can swing in hammocks over the ocean or sit in a table in the water while you sip your rum punch. (this bar was closed when I was there, bummer!) Head to Margarita Mikes in town for a great view and cheap drinks, where you can sit on a swing instead of a bar stool.
Caye Caulker also offers a “free” ferry (5 minute ride) to the other half of the island, to a place called Koko King. I put “free” in quotes, because you have to spend a certain amount at Koko King (I believe it’s $30 USD per person) to get the free ferry ride back to the mainland of Caye Caulker. We didn’t go here as we heard that it was somewhat of a tourist trap, but it is there as an option if you want to check it out.
Lastly- I have to mention that you should definitely try the coconut water. You’ll see people selling it on the side of the street- for about $2.50 USD, they’ll chop the top off a coconut and stick a straw in it. SO much better than the coconut water you buy in the store in the US! Some of the vendors offer to put rum in your coconut too- the ultimate mixed drink.
Where to Eat in Caye Caulker
Errolyn’s House of FryJacks– this was closed for the holidays when we were there, but we heard great things about their cheap, grab-and-go fryjacks!
Ice and Beans– this is also a quick grab-and-go breakfast spot in town that has great bagels, coffee and doughnuts. Try their honey & apples bagel- you won’t regret it!
Meldy’s– this is a super hole-in-the-wall spot that is basically the back deck of someone’s house. When we walked up, she said that she wasn’t serving breakfast that day and so didn’t have a menu, but that she could make us fryjacks. She did- and they were delicious!
Juice/Smoothie Shop- I don’t know the name of it, but there’s a juice/smoothie bar on the same street as Meldy’s and it’s SO good, fresh, and cheap. Definitely worth a stop.
Chef Kareem’s UnBelizeable Lunch– you’ll see Chef Kareem out on the main street grilling chicken, lobster, and pork all day. Be prepared for a long wait for your food, but it’s worth it!
Reina’s– cute spot a little off-the-beaten path that has amazing Snapper dishes
Dee N Dee’s– great food with a sunset water view!
Enjoy Restaurant- we happened upon this place for our New Year’s Eve dinner and had the BEST coconut curry!
One Week in Belize- Day 7: Head Home
Depending on what time your flight is (most tend to be in the afternoon), you may have time to enjoy one last breakfast on the island before catching the ferry back to Belize City. Don’t forget to arrive at the airport 2 hours before your flight for international departures. I would then tack on an additional 1.5 hours to account for the ferry and taxi to the airport to be safe. For reference, our flight home was at 1:00pm, and we took the 9:00am ferry from Caye Caulker to Belize City which worked out perfectly. The ferry sometimes will be a few minutes delayed (in our case it was about 15 minutes delayed) so be prepared!
If you think you’ll be hungry, definitely get some food in Caye Caulker or bring a snack because the options at the airport are very limited.
One Week in Belize – Packing List:
Here are some things that you should not forget when packing for one week in Belize!
Travel sunscreen (if you forget this, it’s quite expensive to buy in the shops there)