1. Home
  2. Destinations
  3. Panama Canal & Central America
  4. Pictures From a Small Ship Cruise to Belize

Pictures From a Small Ship Cruise to Belize

  • 1

    Tropical rainforests, Mayan ruins and some of the best snorkeling in the Western Hemisphere -- if you're looking for diversity, an expedition cruise along Central America's Caribbean coastline is hard to beat. With its English-speaking population and reputation as a diving hub, Belize is a popular draw for adventure-lovers, but those who seek quieter pursuits, such as photography, hiking and birding, will also find plenty to do.

    While the large cruise ship lines stick to Belize City, smaller ships can visit lesser known areas of the country, such as Dangriga, home of the Garifuna (descendents of African slaves from St. Vincent who intermarried with black Carib tribes); sleepy Punta Gorda; and the ruins at Lubaantun, where the infamous crystal skull was found. They can also pop down to Placencia, a Jimmy Buffet beach town; the Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve, where you could stumble upon a paw print or two (the big guys are unlikely to be seen); and Santo Tomas de Castilla, neighboring Guatemala's window on the Caribbean.

    On this type of cruise, be prepared to relax and take things as they come. Central America runs on its own time, with little regard for our over-scheduled lifestyle. Need a recipe for relaxation? While you're there, crack open a Belikin, find a nearby hammock, and gaze at the turquoise Caribbean. In the meantime, click through this slideshow to see what's in store.

    Photo: milosk50/Shutterstock.com

  • 2

    Belize: The Country

    First a Spanish colony and then held by the English as British Honduras until 1981, Belize escaped much of the violence that touched Central America during the latter part of the 20th century. Along the southern coast, the Garifuna have maintained their culture; visiting the small Garifuna Museum in Dangriga allows you to learn more about these proud people.

    Highlight: For a country its size, Belize has a remarkable number of national parks, including Mayflower Bocawina in the south-central region. Birders are drawn to the 197 species within the park, while hikers love the trails leading to the numerous waterfalls. Make sure to wear your swimsuit under your clothes, as these fresh-water cascades provide the perfect dip on a hot day.

    Photo: Svetlana Bykova/Shutterstock.com

  • 3

    Santo Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala

    As soon as you dock at Guatemala's Caribbean port of Santo Tomas de Castilla, you'll notice differences from its northern neighbor. Guatemala is poorer than Belize, for one thing -- a remnant of civil wars from 1960 to 1996. The landscape is also lusher (notice the banana plantations dotting the roadside), and Spanish is the official language. Stop by San Felipe fortress on Lake Izabel for insight into the Conquistador lifestyle.

    Highlight: Get a close look at the infamous Mayan calendar at Quirigua, an archaeological site in southeast Guatemala that's known for its intricately carved stelae (large upright stones with special markings on them). While less impressive than Tikal in the north, Quirigua does have the square step temples and plateaus that characterize Maya civilization. Birders take special delight in the woods surrounding the ruins. Bring binoculars and look for species like the turquoise-browed mot mot and tropical pewee.

    Photo: DC_Aperture/Shutterstock.com

  • 4

    Punta Gorda, Belize

    With its pier surrounded by red mangroves and a handful of expat-run businesses, Punta Gorda carries an end-of-the-road atmosphere, a place to get lost or start over. Tourists come here to access the lower end of Belize's barrier reef, with Snake Caye providing near-perfect kayaking and snorkeling conditions.

    Highlight: A pair of Mayan sites can be seen in a morning here, and each has its own charm. The forested grounds of Nim Li Punit vibrate with bird song, the calls ringing out among the ruins and rubble. And Lubaantun remains infamous as the discovery site of the crystal skull, later immortalized by Stephen Spielberg in Indiana Jones and the Legend of the Crystal Skull. While no one knows where the Skull rests today -- or even if it's an authentic artifact -- the Belize government is suing the filmmaker for a portion of the proceeds, claiming that he benefited from the country's cultural heritage.

    Photo: ambertq/Flickr

  • 5

    The Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve

    The Mayans believed that jaguars represented strength, and the spotted felines are found on stelae throughout the region. After hunting diminished the jaguars' numbers, the Belize government in 1990 set aside wide swaths of land so the wild cats have room to roam. As with most hunting mammals, jaguars are nocturnal; while you hike the Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve, about 90 minutes from Placencia, check the ground for their paw prints, as well as those created by their smaller cousins, ocelets, margays and jaguarundis.

    Highlight: Now that Ambergis Caye in northern Belize has morphed into a busy expat haven, North American retirees have looked south to Placencia for their own slice of paradise. For tourists, this means the town has an almost-perfect mix of amenities -- beach bars, souvenir stands, coffee shops with Wi-Fi -- while still maintaining an undeveloped vibe.

    Photo: Wollertz/Shutterstock.com

  • 6

    Belize Barrier Reef

    Spanning the length of the country, the Belize barrier reef is one of the largest in the world and a UNESCO heritage site. While the tourist economy has destroyed coral in some areas in the north, the southern atolls remain healthy and full of fish (more than 500 species). Grab a snorkel mask, and don't forget the sunscreen (or wear a T-shirt over your bathing suit). The sun is strong between the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer.

    Highlight: Crawl Caye is a private island with a marine biology station and easy access to the reef from the beach. Once you've gotten your fill of delicate sea fans, spiky urchins and colorful tangs, take a walk around the island and look for osprey nests, or simply relax in the hammocks provided under a shady cover.

    Photo: Brian Kinney/Shutterstock.com

  • 7

    Half Moon Caye, Belize

    You can't ask for a better desert island than Half Moon Caye, a natural monument located at the southern end of the country's Lighthouse Reef atoll. Iguanas loll on logs, and hermit crabs scuttle on empty beaches; before you head to the hammocks, visit the isle's western end, home to one of the world's few colonies of red-footed boobies and male frigatebirds that puff out their chests like red balloons to draw mates.

    Highlight: At more than 984 feet across and 407 feet deep, the Blue Hole has for years drawn curious divers, including Jacques Costeau (who made it famous by bringing his ship, the Calypso, there in the 1970's). Even if you aren't ready to descend into its depths, a snorkel around its outer edges reveals grouper, rays and fish of varying shades. All together, it's unforgettable.

    Photo: Tami Freed/Shutterstock.com

Find a Cruise

Popular on Cruise Critic

Best Time to Cruise
It's one of the most common cruising questions: When is the best time to cruise Alaska, Australia, the Caribbean, Canada/New England, Hawaii, Europe or the South Pacific? The answer depends on many variables. Autumn -- or "Fall" in North America" -- foliage enthusiasts, for instance, will find September and October the best time to take that Canada/New England cruise, whereas water sports-lovers (and families) much prefer to sail the region in the summer when school is out and temperatures are warmer for swimming. The best time to cruise to Alaska will vary depending on your preferences for viewing wildlife, fishing, bargain-shopping, sunshine, warm weather and catching the northern lights. For most cruise regions, there are periods of peak demand (high season), moderate demand (shoulder season) and low demand (low season), which is usually the cheapest time to cruise. High season is typically a mix of when the weather is best and popular travel periods (such as summer and school holidays). However, the best time to cruise weather-wise is usually not the cheapest time to cruise. The cheapest time to cruise is when most travellers don't want to go because of chillier temperatures or inopportune timing (too close to holidays, the start of school, etc.). But the lure of cheap fares and uncrowded ports might make you change your mind about what you consider the best time to cruise. As you plan your next cruise, you'll want to take into consideration the best and cheapest times to cruise and see what jibes with your holiday schedule. Here's a when-to-cruise guide for popular destinations.
How To Choose a Cruise Ship Cabin: What You Need to Know
Your room on a cruise ship is called a cabin (or stateroom) and is akin to a hotel room, but typically much smaller. Choosing a cruise ship cabin can be fun and challenging at the same time, and not just a little bit frustrating on occasion. Cabins fall into different types or "categories," and some cruise lines will present as many as 20 or more categories per ship. Before you get overwhelmed, it's helpful to remember that there are essentially only four types of cabins on any cruise vessel: Inside: the smallest-sized room, with no window to the outside Outside: a room with a window or porthole (a round window) with a view to the outside, often similarly sized to an inside cabin or a bit larger; also known as oceanview Balcony: a room featuring a verandah that allows you to step outside without going up to a public deck Suite: a larger cabin, often with separate living and sleeping areas, and a wide variety of extra amenities and perks
11 Best Luxury Cruise Ships
The moment you step aboard a luxury cruise ship, a hostess is at your arm proffering a glass of bubbly while a capable room steward offers to heft your carry-on as he escorts you to what will be your home-away-from-home for the next few days. You stow your things (likely in a walk-in closet) and then emerge from your suite to get the lay of the ship. As you walk the decks, friendly crew members greet you ... by name. How can that be? You just set foot onboard! First-class, personalised service is just one of the hallmarks of luxury cruise lines. You can also expect exotic itineraries, varying degrees of inclusivity in pricing, fine wines and gourmet cuisine as well as universally high crew-to-passenger ratios. That being the case, you might think any old luxury cruise ship will do, but that's not quite true. Like people, cruise ships have their own unique personalities -- and some will be more suited to your holiday style than others. Lines like SeaDream might not offer the most spacious suites, but their intimate yachts can stealthily visit ports that large ships can't manage. Regent Seven Seas and Oceania Cruises are owned by the same parent company but Regent offers a completely inclusive holiday experience, while Oceania draws travellers with a more independent streak. Take a look at Cruise Critic's list of best luxury cruise lines and ships to see which one resonates with you.