While Belize's barrier reef is stunning, it does have one drawback: it stops the surf from crashing on the shores, which means the small country's beaches are limited. Belize is not considered a beach destination, but there are a few places to find great beaches typical of Central America. For those looking to relax on the sand and soak up the sun, you'll likely want to spend your vacation on the cayes or the southern coast. For the most part Belize's shores are lined with mangrove swamps. Though mangroves don't give that pristine white-sand look, they bless the coast with lush, green beauty and protection from erosion and hurricanes.
The traditional Belizean beach has a thin line of light sand, ocean floors blanketed in sea grass and in some places varying amounts of garbage washed up from the sea. Surfing is almost a complete write off as there are virtually no waves that reach the shore. Nude beaches don't exist, nor do lifeguards. On top of your sunscreen, throw on some baby oil to protect against sand fleas, also called no-see-ums, which are common on the beaches. One quick look at a Belizean shore and you'll see they're ideal for relaxing, with hammocks swinging in the gentle, cooling breezes, tiny waves splashing against the beach and clear blue waters offering stunning views of the world's second largest barrier reef.
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Belize District - The Cayes and Atolls
The majority of Belize's beaches are found on the cayes, which aren't as protected by the reef. A common misconception about the cayes is that you can wade out into the water and do some great snorkelling. While it's possible on some beaches, for the most part the ocean floor is covered in sea grass and good snorkeling requires a short boat ride to the reef. The best time to visit the cayes in Belize is during the dry months from December to April, as the wet summer months host both rain and a higher number of hungry insects. If you find yourself on a Belize beach during June, July or August, you'll find that it's turtle nesting season and the beaches may be laden with eggs or hatchlings working their way to the sea. While care must be taken to avoid frightening the turtles (no flash photography), seeing a live turtle hatch is an incredible experience.
A thin strip of sand runs along the Caribbean shore of Ambergris Caye, where there are some nice spots with fantastic ocean views. Ambergris is currently the most popular beach destination in the country, and several resorts have built their own patches of sand, often keeping them clear of sea grass and garbage. For better swimming, head to the end of a pier and hop into the deeper waters. In addition to having some of the countries best beaches, Ambergris is also the jumping off point for some of Belize's best scuba diving.
If you're planning a trip to Ambergris Caye, and are looking for a little more elbow room in your accommodations, consider staying in a vacation rental. The island boasts a good selection of vacation properties that provide you with more space and amenities, often for less than the cost of a hotel.
Mar De Tumbo
A mile south of San Pedro, a small natural break in the reef permits the waves to reach the shore of Ambergris Cayer rather than breaking out at sea, creating a beautiful natural beach called Mar De Tumbo. A few resorts have been built around the beach, taking advantage of the palm trees and good swimming conditions.
Good for relaxing but not great for swimming, the beaches on Caye Caulker are small and not as white and sandy as those on Ambergris Caye. Most of Caye Caulker is lined with mangroves so the beach is limited to the east side of the island and is often spruced up by resorts. In 1961, a hurricane cut the island in two and now the channel of water called "The Split" is hugely popular for swimming (be cautious though, as the current can get a little strong).
The small private island of Caye Chapel is mainly advertised as the only 18-hole golf course in the country, but the eastern side of the island has some great white-sand beaches. Many are protected by retaining walls, though there are some places where you can wade out to sea for a swim.
At just over one acre, this tiny uninhabited island is really just a patch of sand poking out of the Caribbean Sea, with less than a dozen palm trees fighting for room. Despite its size, Goff's Caye is extremely popular for cruise ship passengers and day-trippers as a convenient place to stop for a picnic and some snorkeling. The small island is showing some signs of wear form the numerous visitors, but the beach and surrounding water are still charming and beautiful.
Not to be confused with the other "Rendezvous Caye" off the shores of Southern Belize, this Rendezvous Caye is just 40 miles from Belize City and an increasingly popular day trip destination both for its pristine white-sand beach and some of the best snorkeling in Belize. A thatched palapa is the only building on the tiny island and camping is permitted and common.
Predominantly a world-famous diving destination, there are a few beaches on the cayes of Turneffe atoll where you can relax after a day under the water. While the 200-plus islands are mostly covered in mangroves, thin ribbons of sand appear now and then, almost exclusively on the Caribbean side, and are usually accompanied by some sort of resort or dive outfit.
Lighthouse Reef Atoll
Though very little of Lighthouse Reef breaks the surface of the water, a few nice beaches can still be found near the Blue Hole. The Two Northern Cayes and Half Moon Caye both boast white sand beaches with some of the best diving in the world just steps away.
Glover's Reef Atoll
Where the land rises above the water on Glover's Reef, the small cayes have some wonderful white-sand beaches and as parts of the Glover's Marine Reserve, there are perfect opportunities to snorkel right off the beach and see protected marine species in the crystal clear water.
Long Caye at Glover's Reef
Rising out of Glover's Reef, Long Caye enjoys white sand, palm trees, snorkeling right off the beach, and is the one place in the country where you can find some decent surfing. The only surf break in Belize has eroded the coral on the sea bed, creating a safer spot to surf, free from the dangerous sharp coral that can be perilous during falls. Recommended for intermediate to advanced surfers.
Belize District - Mainland
The Belize District mainland shores are very much sheltered by the reef and the mangroves, so there aren't any beaches of note. Much of the coast around Belize City is protected by retaining walls to prevent erosion and the water is heavy in sea grass and murky from the many rivers carrying dirt from further inland.
The Corozal district's shoreline runs along the Chetumal Bay, known here as the Corozal Bay, and all along the coast there are beautiful, peaceful views into the clear turquoise waters. A great place to relax in a hammock or go for a picnic, the whole coast is quilted in mangroves so there are virtually no beaches or diving opportunities to speak of.
Corozal Bay Resort
Now the exception to the beachless coastline of Northern Belize, the Corozal Bay Resort trucked in tons of sand to offer a beach experience unique to the region. The man-made beach is tucked behind a sea wall and the water can be mucky and not great for swimming, but the resort has the cure for those itching for some time in the sand and sun.
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As the cayes run the length of the entire country, some of them fall in the borders of the Stann Creek district in Southern Belize rather than the Belize District. On the mainland, much of the southern coast is protected by the reef, so mangroves, thin beaches and grassy sea floors are the norm. But unlike the rest of the mainland, the Southern Belize coast is famous for its string of beaches, easily the most beautiful off the cayes and arguably the best in the country. Beach bums looking for a vacation are always directed to Southern Belize's shores, where hotels and resorts abound and the reef is only a short boat ride away.
The Placencia Peninsula
If you've seen a postcard of Belize's sandy shores, chances are the picture was taken at the beautiful Placencia Peninsula, the most popular beach destination in the country after Ambergris Caye. Nearly the entire east side of the sixteen mile peninsula is outlined with tan-colored sand, slightly coarser and hotter than the white powder found on the cayes, and the swaying coconut palms help give the perfect Caribbean vibe. Sailing, snorkeling and kayaking are popular activities in the calm water and Placencia is quickly becoming world-famous for its variety of excellent fishing opportunities.
This small Garifuna fishing village a few miles north of Placencia offers one of the best beaches in the country. Light brown sand, great swimming right off the beach and friendly locals are contributing to Hopkins’ increasing popularity among tourists. But Hopkins remains largely undiscovered for now, so it's easy to find a secluded spot on the beach to relax in peace.
Laughing Bird Caye
A short eleven mile boat ride from Placencia will bring you to the beautiful white-sand beach of Laughing Bird Caye. A popular day trip for locals and visitors, this tiny island has good swimming, beautiful marine life and tour guides will often build small fires for picnics on the beach. As a protected national park, overnight stays aren’t permitted and there are no restroom facilities on the island.
Geared towards budget and solo travelers, Tobacco Caye is popular for day-trippers on snorkeling tours. With a few facilities and some simple hotel cabins, this five acre island boasts very few bugs on its charming white-sand beaches. Tobacco Caye also sits atop the reef, making it great for waddling out into the water with some flippers and a mask.
South Water Caye
If you're looking for a beautiful white sand beach with excellent snorkeling just a short swim away, head to the south side of the 15-acre island South Water Caye. Easily one of the cleanest, sandiest beaches in Belize, South Water Caye is a half hour water taxi trip from Dangriga and one of the few places you can visit the reef without a boat. Plan ahead though, as there are only a few resorts on the island and very little else in the way of facilities.
Coco Plum Caye
The 16-acre island Coco Plum Caye is conveniently located close to both the mainland and the reef and boasts a wide, sandy beach. Though the sand flies can get bothersome, the swimming and snorkeling in the shallow waters surrounding the island are excellent.
The main island of the Sapodilla Cayes in the extreme south of the reef, Hunting Caye hosts what is often called one of the best beaches in Belize. With no reef for protection, the east side of Hunting Caye has been long exposed to the Caribbean Sea, giving it a wide beach with fine coral sand. Also a major turtle nesting site, Hunting Caye is a distant 40 miles off the shores of Punta Gorda, making the trip out long and expensive, so consider camping overnight.
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