The small country of Belize has put sustainability first over the years proving itself to be a top place to add to your green bucket list. Though only small, Belize is a behemoth of biodiversity with rich natural habitats and an expansive coastline that provides a safe haven for many threatened species.
Belize is best known for its Caribbean coast and is home to the largest barrier reef in the Northern Hemisphere. The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve is composed of reefs, cays, mangrove forests, and coastal lagoons with must visit attractions like the Blue Hole and lesser publicised migratory visitors like whale sharks.
But Belize’s unspoiled interior is also packed with wildlife rich and eco friendly places to visit.
The Belizean government backs up the country's ecotourism image through policies like the ban of off-shore oil drilling in 2018, and the ban of single-use plastics in 2019.
It’s fair to say that the country as a whole has an eco-friendly ethos and realised the importance of looking after nature long before sustainable travel became popular. Visiting Belize in a sustainable way is now easier than ever with a host of eco friendly accommodation options, tours and local community projects to visit.
Many of Belize’s best sights are protected by UNESCO or have national park status, so visitors can feel safe in the knowledge that these places will be around for many generations to come.
The Meso-American Barrier Reef that stretches all of the way down Belize’s coast and beyond is one of the top visited attractions in Belize. It’s the second-largest living barrier reef in the world and is world renowned for scuba-diving and snorkelling.
Visit the Cayes and you will find a good selection of operators who choose to operate here in an ethical and sustainable way - but it does always pay to check for things like ‘no feeding’ and ‘no touch’ policies before you book onto a tour. Laws are also in place to protect species, such as a ban on swimming with the manatees during the breeding season.
The national parks and jungles also offer some great places to visit in Belize. As a part of the Maya Forest Corridor (the most extensive continuous stretch of jungle in Central America), Belize has been protecting its landscapes for generations.
Top spots to visit include the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve (home to ATM Cave), Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, Payne’s Creek National Park, Guanacaste National Park, and the Rio Bravo Conservation Area.
A visit to the Chiquibul National Park offers visitors the chance to spot the Baird’s tapir, the country’s national animal, classed as vulnerable to extinction; they can be spotted on guided tours within the vast area protected by the Chiquibul Forest Reserve.
Jaguars and pumas are also on the rise due to continued conservation efforts in Belize. The best place to try to spot the elusive creatures is the 250,000 acre Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, earning itself global recognition as the world’s first jaguar preserve.
The best time to spot jaguars is during the dry season, from February to May, guided tours run day and night and you can usually see at least some traces of big cat activity.
Another popular resident of Belize are the Black Howler monkeys which can be found at many Mayan temples and sites around Belize. Visit the Community Baboon Sanctuary, managed by a local cooperative, to take an expert-led guided tour of the seven villages along the Belize River that are involved in the project.
By visiting you will help contribute to employment for locals choosing tourism over the illegal pet trade and logging.
For birdwatchers, a visit to the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary is a must as it provides a habitat for almost 300 species of bird. One of the most impressive sightings is the migratory Jabiru stork, but you will also spot an abundance of crocodiles, monkeys, otters and freshwater turtles.
Though predominantly Creole, there is a vast array of cultures that call Belize home including Mestizo, Garifuna, Maya, and Mennonite.
The Maya and Garifuna people welcome tourists into their community, providing a way to get a unique insight into the cultures and supporting the communities through various projects and by purchasing locally-made souvenirs.
Learn about traditional Maya weaving techniques and help to support further education for girls of indigenous communities. Other experiences include visiting bean-to-bar chocolatiers (the Mayans invented it after all), pottery and cooking workshops, and staying with local families.
Get a taste for the Garifuna culture in Dangriga, Hopkins, Seine Bight, Punta Gorda and Barranco. UNESCO named Garifuna dancing and other aspects of the culture one of the ‘Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’. Get lost with the rhythm by attending a traditional Punta dance, and try out some of the incredible local food and drinks.
There are a swathe of eco-friendly hotels in Belize, with jungle lodges, marine-friendly beachfront resorts, and sustainable accommodation options all around the country.
Ka’ana Resort and Spa is a good option near the tourist hub of San Ignacio. Sustainability is at the heart of everything here, and the hotel partners with local conservation organisations to support sustainable tourism and wildlife conservation in the region. There’s also an infinity pool, guided excursions, and its top-end on-site restaurant La Ceiba serves up locally farmed produce.
If you’re heading to Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve to spot some of Belize’s 600 bird species, stay at Gaia Riverlodge next to the Five Sisters Waterfalls. The off-the-grid accommodation option offers thatched cabañas, with electricity provided by solar, sustainable waste management, and food sourced locally from farmers.
The Belize Tourism Board has strict regulations in place to make sure eco-friendly activities are carried out in a sustainable way. With the help of local environmental organisations and the protections put in place by the Belizean government, travelling sustainably in Belize is remarkably easy.
Volunteering in Belize is also becoming increasingly popular, usually with a focus on wildlife or marine conservation. To learn about volunteering holidays in Belize that involve lionfish spearing, coral reef restoration, or rainforest protection visit Responsible Travel.
Or from Placencia join Reef Conservation International, one of the leading NGOs/non-profit marine conservation organisations in Belize, on a marine conservation and diving trip to one of the remote offshore islands.
For an interactive map of sustainable destinations to visit in Belize head to travelbelize.org, they list responsible tourism organisations as well as ideas for places to stay where you can find out more about sustainability in Belize.