Dive into Belize’s melting pot of culture through music, food, and adventure.
Belize will forever be linked with diving, snorkeling, and jungle treks. But stray off the beaten tourist path in this Central American country and you’ll find eclectic cultural experiences like a chocolate-making class (at a cacao farm, to boot) and a solar-powered private island. Other off-the-beaten-path excursions to weave into your itinerary while in Belize are touring a hot-sauce factory and staying at a jungle lodge owned by one of America’s most famous film directors.
Learn to Make Chocolate
Belize’s chocolate industry may date back to ancient Mayan times, and during the 1970s Hershey’s ran a plant here, but the country’s bean-to-bar movement is still quite new. Taste Belize leads a day-long tour to Ixcacao Chocolate’s small certified-organic farm where you can learn to make chocolate in an intimate setting. Tours of the tiny factory are also offered.
Stay at a Film Director’s Luxe Lodge
Resorts hugging the waterfront in Belize, from San Pedro to Dangriga, grab all the attention. But for a very different glimpse of the country, travel inland, across remote terrain and small villages, to the jungle. That’s where Francis Ford Coppola debuted Blancaneaux Lodge, born out of his family retreat in the Cayo District, in 1993. Each of the chic cabanas sports a thatched roof and modern amenities, with access to a restaurant, pool, horseback riding, and a spa.
Dance in Dangriga
This community a two-hour drive south of Belize City is flush with Garifuna residents who showcase traditional dance, with lots of hip-shaking and drumming. Dig deeper into Belize’s musical roots at the Lebeha Drumming Center in Hopkins, which hosts performances and lessons. For a more modern edge, check out punta rock, a music style born out of this traditional dance that adds electric guitar and synthesizer—many stores in Belize sell albums. In 2006, the center’s “Traditional Garifuna Music” album was nominated for a Grammy.
Visit a Solar-Powered Private Island
Bomba Island in Belize, solar power is the main source of electricity. From Ambergris Caye, it’s a 70-minute boat ride, the perfect day trip and offered by several tour operators. You can explore the remote island and purchase crafts, wood carvings, and wood bowls from local artisans.
INSIDER TIPBring cash.
Shop at a Fish Market
Punta Gorda, in Southern Belize’s Toledo District, hosts one of the country’s best seafood markets, with booths selling spiny lobster, crab, octopus, fish fillets, shrimp, and fresh produce. Mennonite farmers sell their products alongside Mayan farmers every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. If you’re renting a villa with a kitchen, consider picking up the daily catch for that night’s dinner.
Visit a Hot-Sauce Factory
While Marie Sharp’s hot sauces, jams and jellies—crafted from farm-grown ingredients within a few miles of the factory—are sold here and there in the U.S., when it comes to culinary ingredients, there’s nothing better than heading to the source. The factory in Dangriga features a retail store and very informal tour of the factory where you might meet Marie herself.
Experience San Pedro’s Nightlife
The town of San Pedro is truly a hub for after-dark fun. It’s on the southern tip of Ambergris Caye, not far from the luxury resorts on the sand. Check out some very local establishments, such as Crazy Canucks Beach Bar, with theme music nights (such as reggae) and hermit-crab races. Nearby Coco Loco’s Beach Bar is a great place to soak up the sunset.
Tour a Mennonite and Mayan Community
About 10,000 Mennonites live in Belize, selling poultry, vegetables and dairy products at farm markets. Only within the past five years have they allowed tours of their village. Book MayaWalk Tours’ Maya and Mennonite Cultural Village tour for a sample of two cultures, starting with the Mennonites of Barton Creek and visiting the village of San Antonio to have lunch with the Mayan women who operate a bakery. There are also weavers, clothing designers, artists, and sculptors.
Dine on Belizean-Style Chinese Food
Belize’s Chinese population—around 1,700 people—lives mostly in Belize City and the Cayo District. Many have opened up restaurants with a unique spin on Chinese cuisine. Fried chicken with sweet ketchup is a must. Lee’s Chinese Restaurant in Orange Walk serves Hong Kong-style cuisine and Chon Saan Palace’s Cantonese-style restaurantin Belize City is another popular choice.
INSIDER TIPLobster is on the menu February through June.
Sample Food Stalls in Belmopan
Belmopan is the country’s capital. With around 16,000 residents, it’s Belize’s third-largest city. An outdoor market in the city’s center is a major hub for locals and sells food items for bargain prices, perfect for grabbing a quick meal with regional flavor. Food and vegetable vendors are also at the market.
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