Almost half of Belize is protected wilderness. Dense jungle, remote mountains, subterranean rivers, and hundreds of Maya ruins are still being mapped within its borders. But as Central America’s only English-speaking country and one of its smallest, Belize is also surprisingly easy to navigate on your own. Use the money you save on a tour operator to stay another week—you’ll want the extra time. Most Belize-bound travelers follow the winter escape route, but June offers an even better alternative. Prices are lower, and the sun-and-fun crowds have headed home, which means you’ll have the place almost all to yourself. The quickest path is a direct flight to Belize City. You can also fly to Cancún, then hop a six-hour bus to the border—and save $300 in the process.
1. Fill In the Blanks on a Subterranean Map
Belize’s underground cave system might be the most extensive on the planet. Truth is, no one knows for sure—not even the National Geographic explorers who’ve been mapping the caves since the 1960s. More than 300 have been ID’d so far, but thousands more exist, many containing ancient bones and artifacts. You can help plot new passages on Ian Anderson’s Bad Ass Expedition (ten days, $1,200 per person), take a float trip beneath the surface ($85), or rappel into a 300-foot-deep black hole ($105). Anderson’s Caves Branch Jungle Lodge sits on prime spelunking territory (one-bedroom tree house, $225; cavesbranch.com).
2. Road-Trip Ruin to Ruin
Mile for mile, Belize has one of the most concentrated archaeological stashes in the world. See the best on a ten-day loop linking Maya temples and jungle lodges. Rent a 4x4 in Belize City for the rural roads (from $90 a day; crystal-belize.com). First stops: Lamanai, Xunantunich, and Caracol, a 30-square-mile, five-plaza city in the Chiquibul forest—a biodiversity hot spot worth the trip itself. After some serious temple trekking, ease your muscles at Blancaneaux Lodge’s spa (doubles from $230; blancaneaux.com ). Then head south to the Maya ball courts at Nim Li Punit, where at one time games determined the teams’ fate: The losers were sentenced to death.
3. March With Monkeys
Victoria Peak may be only 3,675 feet high, but it’s no cakewalk: Plan on five days of tough trekking to bag it. Start in Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, surrounded by howler monkeys, red-eyed tree frogs, and jaguars—often heard but rarely seen. In the village of Maya Center, herbal healer Aurora Saqui runs Nu’uk Che’il Cottages (doubles from $23; mayacottages.com). From there, local mountain guide William Sho, who has summited 30 times, can lead you to the top ($50 a day; 501-660-0587).
4. Join the Swiss Family Robinson
If you can’t afford your own private island, then Glover’s Atoll Resort is the next best thing. It evolved when the American-French Lomont family came ashore 35 years ago to live off the land and water. The kids have kept their parents’ paradise from being paved and today welcome visitors to share it. Catch the free boat shuttle from Sittee River Village and spend a week playing castaway, sleeping in open-air wood-and-thatch huts, sea kayaking, snorkeling, and hand-lining yellowtail snapper for your supper ($249 a week; glovers.com.bz ).
The $5 Feast: Every day at noon, locals across the country open their kitchens to serve up the cheapest, freshest Belizean cuisine. (Ask around for recommendations.) Five bucks will buy stew chicken, roasted plantains, and coconut rice and beans.
Bang the Drums: Creole elder Emmeth Young can teach you the same beats his ancestors brought to the West Indies from Africa in the 1700s ($125 for a drum, $10 an hour to learn to play it Belizean-style). Email him to arrange a meeting (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Dive with Giants: Ambergris Cay may be the go-to spot for visiting divers, but a more authentic option is the village of Placencia, where you can scuba alongside 20-ton whale sharks—the biggest fish in the world (from $165 for two dives, lunch, and equipment; belizescuba.com)—and join locals in the rum-soaked beach bash that kicks off lobster season (June 26–28; placencia.com).