Belize is unlike many other Caribbean destinations, where it's easy to isolate the best beaches of a particular island. The mainland coast of Belize is a tangle of mangroves, which is about as far as a person can get from ideal beach conditions. Not to worry, Belize has literally hundreds of cayes (pronounced keys, as in Key West). These offshore cayes, or islands, are where beaches of all sizes can be found, although almost all have to be accessed by boat. While the country has a handful of mainland beaches, these cayes are where beach lovers should be concentrating their search for the ultimate Belizean beach holiday
The country's best mainland beaches can be found along the 18-mile Placencia Peninsula in southern Belize. Often referred to as the "caye you can drive to" the eastern Caribbean side of Placencia has a wealth of golden sand beaches, while the western side of the peninsula has a protected lagoon-like bay (there are crocodiles in the bay, so swim at your own risk).The peninsula, which stretches across three villages — Maya Beach, Seine Bight and Placencia Village — is itself only about a mile wide. Along the palm-fringed shoreline are restaurants and resorts, including some high-end properties, such as Chabil Mar Villas and Laru Beya Resort. The water on the eastern side is crystal clear, creating prime conditions for snorkeling. Placencia is also a good jumping-off point to explore the more secluded beaches of the Silk Cayes and Laughing Bird Caye. During May and June, Placencia offers visitors an extra thrill: this is when huge 20-ton whale sharks come to the waters to spawn. Tour operators offer excursions to snorkel among these gentle giants, which are harmless in spite of their name.
Hopkins Village Beach
Garifuna culture is one of the treasures of Belize. Sometimes called Black Carib, Garifuna are the descendants of West African, Central African, Island Carib, and Arawak people. Hopkins is a coastal Garifuna village in eastern Belize about a 40-minute drive from the transportation hub of Dangriga. The five-mile long Hopkins Village Beach is lined with coconut trees, modest guesthouses and local eateries that create a laidback scene, rich with local color. Beach lovers seeking out Hopkins Village Beach get the added attraction of enjoying Garifuna music. The best known form is punta music, which has infectious rhythm driven by drums, inspiring a hip-shaking dance that resembles a milder form of twerking. For a full on Garifuna meal, try the coconut rice with red beans. If your taste runs towards five-star, you can lay your head down at the ultra-chic Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort.
Ambergris Caye lies off the northern waters of Belize and is the largest of hundreds of islands in the area. Ambergris Caye is Belize's tourism superstar, combining the laidback with the sophisticated for a chic-barefoot elegance vibe. The largest town on the caye is San Pedro, where some locals and tourists take a plunge into the sea right off the dock. The best beaches are to the south and north of the island. As beautiful as these stretches of the sand are, most beachgoers find the sand upstaged by the vivid turquoise blue of the sea. Many of the waters directly off the best beaches are choked with sea grass and while sea grass is ecologically vital, it creates less than optimum conditions for swimming. Select resorts have been permitted to remove the sea grass and some of the best beaches lie directly in front of the swankier resorts. All beaches on Belize are public, so travelers shouldn't feel intimidated about staking their spot on the sand. Some of the best beaches on Ambergris Caye are the beach at Ramon's Village and the beach at The Villas at Banyan Bay. There are also plenty of operators on the beaches offering tours and providing gear for snorkeling, scuba diving and fishing.
Caye Caulker has developed into a popular beach destination with a pronounced kick-back-and-relax ambience – the kind of place where cars are few and far between. The caye is only five miles long. The best beaches tend to be those maintained by the caye's resorts. The Split is the name given to the most visited stretch of beach. Located at the south end of the island, locals and visitors make their way to the The Split in the early evening to watch the sun dip into the sea. Caye Caulker also has appeal for its proximity to the Belize Barrier Reef, where travelers will find some of the world's best diving and snorkeling.
Half Moon Caye
Half Moon Caye is a good choice for nature-loving beachgoers. While the crescent-shaped beach is a beauty in itself, Half Moon Caye is also a nesting spot for protected sea turtles, including green turtles and loggerheads. Away from the beach lie forested areas and a sanctuary for nesting birds, including frigate birds, osprey and most especially, a colony of 4,000 red-footed boobies. There's even an observation tower that gives birders a prime spot to watch the nesting birds.
Southwest Caye is part of Glover's Reef Atoll. This is a prime location for those travelers in search of secluded beaches. Simple, eco-conscious accommodations can be found at Isla Marisol Resort and Islands Expeditions, where guests can start the day with yoga and then move into exploring the waters around the islands or enjoying the beach. Divers will catch a thrill at the Southwest Caye Wall, which plummets underwater to a depth of 130 feet before launching the diver into a 350 near-vertical free-fall dive.
South Water Caye
The south Belize mainland town of Dangriga is a prime spot for embarking by boat to explore nearby cayes, including South Water Caye, located 14 miles from Dangriga's coast. The island is only 15 acres in size and actually sits over Belize's Barrier Reef, guaranteeing optimum snorkeling from shore. The major resort on the island is Pelican Beach Resort, which has a fine white sand beach. For an extra thrill, book The Frangipani House at Pelican Beach Resort. This is the oldest house on the island and it is said to be haunted by a friendly ghost called the Grey Lady.