Newsflash! You don't have to scuba dive or snorkel to enjoy Belize.
This Central American country, known for its world-class diving, is developing some new adventure options where you get away from the beach and head into the jungle. Now instead of spending your time underwater searching for tropical fish, you can travel around the rainforests, where you can still find jaguars, monkeys and crocodiles.
Bordering Mexico and Guatemala, Belize is on the east coast of Central America on the Caribbean Sea, covering close to 9,000 square miles. Up until recently, the country primarily marketed its outstanding coral reef, the second largest in the world, but the tides are turning as more travelers are looking for affordable, eco-friendly adventure trips off the beaten path.
One of the most interesting places to explore Mayan ruins is deep in the jungles of Belize, about 10 miles west of the town of San Ignacio, near the Guatemala/Belize border. The Cayo Region was the heart of the Mayan Empire until the civilization disappeared around A.D. 1000-1500. The region is now home to more than 600 documented Mayan sites.
A favorite is called Xunantunich. This area use to be a huge ceremonial site. To get to these ruins, you have to cross the Mopan River by a hand-cranked ferry that only fits one vehicle. If you're traveling with a tour operator after you cross the river, they will drive you right up to the entrance site, but if you're exploring alone, no private cars are allowed, so you'll have to walk the mile up to the entrance. It's smart to go early to beat the heat.
One of the great draws to visiting these ruins is that you can walk right up to ancient temples and even climb on them for a bird's-eye view of the area. Don't miss hiking up the largest pyramid, El Castillo, and checking out the west side of the pyramid, which is covered with impressive hieroglyph carvings.
Insider Tip: Once you're done exploring the area and cross back over the Mopan River, keep an eye out for local artists who are selling their beautiful slate carvings by the ferry. They love to bargain and offer some of the best prices you'll find in Belize.
If you want to explore the jungle, it just makes sense to head for the treetops. Not far from Belize's famous barrier reef, there's a 200-plus-acre resort called Jaguar Paw that's known for its zip-lining. You don't have to stay at the resort to sign up for this high-flying adventure, you only need to call ahead and make sure you reserve a space.
After getting fitted with a special safety harness, you hike up to the first of eight zip-line platforms. The name of the game here is clipping onto the different zip-lines and screaming across the treetops. The highest platform is 85 feet off the ground and the longest ride is 300 feet. News about this exciting adventure option is spreading fast so be sure to sign up early so you don't miss out.
Inside Tip: Your best days to visit are during the week to avoid the cruise ship crowds that come on the weekends.
After playing Tarzan, swinging from tree to tree, a great way to cool off is to grab an inner tube at Jaguar Paw and take an easy 20-minute hike through the rain forest to the Caves Branch River.