Belize's Rainforest and Reef Combination

Take in a full range of adventures by combining water time with a trip to the jungle

A juicy lobster or a prime steak? If you can't decide, why not have both. It's called a surf n' turf, and in the Central American country of Belize, this combination isn't confined to the dinner table. Divers come from around the world to delve into the aquatic riches of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. So many adventurous travelers are looking to tap into their inner Indiana Jones in the country's rainforests and mountains. And just like that special surf n' turf dinner, a Belize vacation doesn't have to be one or the other. At Caradonna Adventures, we've created packages for thousands of travelers who wanted a taste of both the reefs and the rainforests of Belize.

The Surf

Belize's is flanked by the second longest barrier reef in the world. This massive coral wall runs the entire length of the country's Caribbean coastline. And just inside the reef line are a string of small islands known as cayes. The largest of these is Ambergris Caye, and it's also the pace where the corals come closest to the shore. You could call Ambergris a just-right island since it's large enough to have an airport, nice beach resorts, and some WiFi hotspots, but small enough to still have the feel of an off-grid, going-barefoot tropical village where golf carts and water taxis are the prime modes of transportation.

And the diving? Textbooks would describe the underwater landscape as “high relief spur and groove.” What that means is that the reefs stand tall above the sand, and are riddled with deep canyons, intricate swim-thoroughs and hidden grottoes. These hulking hard-coral castles are topped with staghorn, elkhorn and brain coral growth, and decorated in a colorful array of gorgonians and sponges. The full cast of Caribbean critters is in evidence, from tiny tropicals and invertebrates to turtles and reef sharks. Many of these sites are within a half mile of shore, and just a few minutes boat ride from resort docks.

In addition to these “front yard” sites, Ambergris is the starting point for trips to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Hol Chan is Mayan for "little channel.” Here, currents wash through a cut in the reef that draws dense schools of jacks, grouper, snapper and barracuda. Dives in the channel are usually followed by a snorkel in the shallows of nearby Shark Ray Alley, which is the only place in the world where swimmers can interact with stingrays and nurse sharks in the same location. A third option for Ambergris-based divers is a day trip to the offshore atolls of Turneffe and Lighthouse Reef. Belize boasts three of the Western Hemisphere's only coral atolls, with circular barrier reefs wrapped around sandbars and mangrove shallows. The outer edges of these reefs drop to depths of more than 3,000 feet, creating vertical walls and tall coral pinnacles riddled with canyons and swim-throughs. Turneffe is the largest of the atolls, while Lighthouse is the site of the world-famous Blue Hole, which is a site worthy of any diver's bucket list.

The Turf

Belize is one of the smaller countries in Central America, coming in at about the size of the state of Massachusetts. But though relatively small in size, it's big on natural attractions. About 80 percent of Belize remains forested, and the country has the lowest population density of any in Central America or the Caribbean. This translates to many square miles of pristine mangrove forests, coastal savannas, jungles and tropical pine forests to explore.

Landscapes on the border of remote and hard to reach Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve and Chiquibul Nature Reserve in Belize
Landscapes on the border of remote and hard to reach Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve and Chiquibul Nature Reserve in Belize

A two-hour drive from the coast brings you to the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, where evergreen forests grow atop a plateau that is the oldest land in Central America. This region is home to dozens of clear water rivers that flow from the Maya Mountains, carving gorges, waterfalls and caves into the limestone bedrock. This landscape provides a natural playground for adventurous travelers, who can hike, paddle, ride horses or four-wheel their way through dozens of national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and forest reserves. This is also prime territory for what tour services call soft adventures. Don't think boring, think supported. You'll be zip lining through the forest canopy, floating through underground rivers, leaping from waterfalls, and visiting mysterious subterranean tombs and lost Mayan cities. The soft part is that you won't have to hack your way through the underbrush and sleep out on the jungle floor to access these adventures. You might have to do a bit of hiking to reach some sites, but at the end of the day you'll be relaxing on the deck of a jungle lodge, or soaking in the hot tub with a frosty libation.

The Properties

The Caradonna team has made numerous trips to Belize to scope out the best places to stay and the most rewarding and exciting activities to suggest. Along the way, we've identified a select number of resorts and tour operators, and create agreements that allow us to represent them, providing our customers with advantageous rates and special packages.

Two of our favorites on Ambergris Caye is the Sunbreeze Hotel and Ramon's Village Resort. Both are waterfront properties, and both are located close to central San Pedro, putting guests within walking distance of local bars and shops. Of the two, the Sunbreeze is the more cost-effective choice, with modern rooms in two-story buildings surrounding a pool, and the ocean just steps away. Ramon's is a bit more exotic and a few dollars more, with thatch-roofed bungalows that mix a South Pacific theme with Mayan artwork. The property also has a bit of natural beach, while the Sunbreeze has a sandy area contained by a low seawall.  Both resorts feature on-site, full-service dive shops that offer daily one- and two-tank dive trips to area reefs, along with all-day excursions to Turneffe Atoll and the Blue Hole.

Sunbreeze Hotel
Sunbreeze Hotel
Ramon's Village Resort
Ramon's Village Resort

When it's time for inland adventures, we also have two favorite properties that serve as base camps for a wide range of adventure tours. Unlike the various off-grids, thatch-roofed jungle lodges hidden in nearby jungles, both of these resorts provide a full complement of modern amenities. Windy Hill sits just off the Western Highway and closes to the town of San Ignacio. This location is a convenient starting point for driving tours to historic Mayan sites such as Caracol, and visits to the Rio On pools or the Actun Tunichil Muknal Caves. Rooms and private cottages at the resort are decorated with exotic hardwoods, local art and hand-woven rugs, but also include modern comforts such as air conditioning and in-room Wifi. Hidden Valley sits a bit farther back in the forest, and within a private 7,200-acre nature preserve located near the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. The property maintains the style of the original Victorian-era plantation that once occupied the site, with cottages surrounding a clubhouse-like main lodge. Nature takes center stage at the resort, but indulgences are not forgotten, as there are an on-site spa, a top-ranked restaurant and a pool and a pool terrace where guests can end the evening with a hot tub soak under a starry sky.

Windy Hill Resort
Windy Hill Resort

With several excellent choices of lodging, and dozens of ways to combine diving, snorkeling and watersports with jungle adventures and cultural tours, a Belize surf-and-turf combination presents numerous opportunities. If this sounds like your idea of a great trip, give us a call at 800-330-6611 or send us an email at sales@caradonna.com, and we'll start helping you plan out a custom itinerary that takes in the best of Belize, both on land and sea.