Welcome back! I’m excited to share the second half of our week in Belize with you. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out part one of this post before diving in so you don’t miss anything!
All caught up? Great! Let’s go snorkeling!(Note: some of the links in this article may be affiliate links, which means that I may earn a small commission from your purchase at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting Full Life, Full Passport! You can find the full disclosure here.)
Day 5: Snorkeling the Belize Barrier Reef
The fifth day of our week in Belize dawned with a glorious sunrise that promised a wonderful day to come. We were off to snorkel the Belize Barrier Reef.
We chose to snorkel with Seemore Adventures, won over by their excellent online reviews and the promise of an “island BBQ” lunch. (Many of my travel decisions hinge on food.) Udell and Steven, our captain and guide, respectively, picked us up right from the dock at Parrot Cove. With three other people in our group, we were soon setting off across the waves for a day of sun and snorkeling.
Our adventure began with a pause at South Water Caye so that we could check our equipment in shallow water. I have never had a snorkeling company do this before and really appreciated it, especially when I realized that the flippers I had originally received were too big. Thankfully, I was able to swap them out for a pair that fit perfectly. I am not the world’s strongest swimmer, so this quick stop gave me some much-appreciated confidence in my equipment. This, in turn, made jumping into the open ocean a lot less scary when the time came for our first go at snorkeling.
Within about twenty minutes, and with everyone set up for snorkeling success, we were on our way to our first patch of reef.
Our day would consist of snorkeling at three different locations along the reef, a pause for a snack of fresh pineapple and watermelon back on South Water Caye, an unscheduled interlude at a sand bar in the middle of the ocean, and a barbecue lunch on Bread and Butter Cayes with time to enjoy the peaceful island life.
And folks… I can say without any hesitation that it was the best day of snorkeling I have ever had.
I have snorkeled on a number of occasions, but – no pun intended – Belize blew all of them out of the water. Never in my life have I observed such an unbelievable diversity of coral formations and fish, with colors more vivid than any I had ever experienced. I witnessed stingrays flapping along the sea floor and burying themselves in the sandy bottom. We spotted a nurse shark and a moray eel, neither of which I had ever seen before in the wild. At one point, as we crossed a small, empty stretch of sand and came upon a huge coral formation, I felt like I was living a National Geographic special. The reef we were approaching was so big, so colorful, and absolutely teeming with life. My jaw would have dropped had I not needed to keep my snorkel in place.
Now, I have to admit something to you.
I have zero photos of the Belize Barrier Reef and the amazing snorkeling I did there.
I left M’s GoPro at home in Pennsylvania and decided against bringing my ancient underwater point-and-shoot, which takes lousy pictures anyway. I also didn’t quite trust my new waterproof pouch to fully protect my iPhone when submerged.
Thus, I didn’t take a single photo. Worst travel blogger, ever, right?
But you know what? I don’t regret it. Without a camera, I could just enjoy each individual moment. I could marvel at the beauty before me and lose myself in this world beneath the waves without worrying about capturing it in the optimal light or catching a fish at the perfect angle. I didn’t need to fiddle with camera settings or change shutter speeds or adjust the aperture. My focus was fully and completely on this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
And I loved every minute of it.
Between each snorkeling experience were other wonderful moments. The pineapple and watermelon provided to us after the first stop were so fresh and delicious I couldn’t get enough. It probably tasted better for having been devoured in the shade of swaying palm trees. After our second snorkel, Udell and Steven decided to swing us by a sand bar in the middle of the ocean. It was such a unique experience to stand in waist-deep water with nothing but ocean around us for miles. We loved our barbecue lunch at idyllic Bread and Butter Cayes and fell in love with island life. The trips from and back to Hopkins were exhilarating, wet, and wild rides.
The day just kept getting better and better.
Our lunch stop, Bread and Butter Cayes, is owned by a Minnesotan named Dwayne who spends half of his year in Belize and has devoted over a decade to creating his own island paradise. A naturalized Belizean citizen with a heart for improving the economic circumstances of the people around him, he is warm and welcoming, and his affection for his adopted home is contagious. I’m convinced that if my mom had had the money in her pocket she would have purchased her own caye within the first ten minutes of their conversation.
In addition to being expert seamen and guides, Steven and Udell cooked up a delicious lunch of barbecued chicken, rice and beans, and cole slaw. Whether it was due to the exertion of swimming, the hospitality of our hosts, or the quality of the food, we tucked in with vigor. Afterward, we had time to relax and enjoy the tropical breeze and beauty of the cayes before we moved on to our third and final snorkeling stop just offshore.
Despite tired muscles and no small amount of sunburn, we were sorry to see our day come to an end. After climbing into the boat for the last time, we made the bouncy, wet trip back to Hopkins and bade a fond farewell to Steven, Udell, and our fellow snorkelers. It was easily one of the best days we had out of our entire week in Belize.
My mom was ready to turn around and do it all again the next day.
- Our tour cost $100 USD per person and included the marine reserve visitor fee, snorkeling equipment (masks, snorkels, fins, and life preservers), boat transportation, guide services, a snack of fresh fruits, water, a barbecue lunch on a private island, and three snorkeling stops. We received a $5 discount per person for paying cash, which brought the cost to $95 apiece.
Tips for Snorkeling the Belize Barrier Reef:
- I absolutely recommend a full day of snorkeling rather than a half day tour. The trip out to the reef takes between a half hour and forty-five minutes, and the scenery is so incredible that anything less would be a disappointment.
- We loved our experience with Seemore Adventures. In addition to the aforementioned equipment testing and the quality of the lunch, we were also impressed by Steven’s guide services. He was very informative as we moved about the reef, had a keen eye for spotting wildlife that I never would have found, and was a reassuring presence/hand holder for the less confident swimmers in our group.
- Make sure to reapply sunscreen frequently, especially to your back and the backs of your legs, as those areas will be exposed for long lengths of time as you are facedown in the water.
- Don’t forget motion sickness medication if you are susceptible. The trip out to the reef can be choppy.
- Take precautions with your camera and electronics, as rain can come up unexpectedly and you will most likely get splashed by waves as you travel between snorkeling sites.
- Tips (customarily between 5-10% of the tour cost) for your captain and guide(s) are much appreciated.
Day 6: A Relaxing Day in Hopkins
Six days into our week in Belize was the perfect time for some rest and relaxation. We had planned to spend the day lounging on the beach, but our long hours out in the open the day before had left the three of us with sunburns that had us rethinking more hours of exposure. We stayed off the beach and instead chose to take in the sights and tastes of charming Hopkins.
Brooke and I started our morning by taking advantage of the kayaks available for guest use. Parrot Cove has quality, inflatable kayaks that you can sign out and use for as long as you want. We were glad not to have any time restraint; the sea was calm and the paddling easy as we floated away from the hotel and admired the beautiful, palm-crowded coastline from the water.
Next, we borrowed bikes from Parrot Cove – also free and time-unlimited – and rode through the streets of Hopkins. Parrot Cove is located south of the town center, so we had a nice ride up to the north end of town and back. The terrain ranged from packed, dusty red clay to bumpy asphalt, but the view was always interesting. We stopped into a cafe for delicious smoothies, scoped out restaurants for dinner, swung by a tea shop, and generally enjoyed getting to know this cute, beachy place. It was Sunday, so people were out and about, and we even heard some wonderful singing as we pedaled by a church. I was so tempted to stop in and join them in worship.
Eventually, we returned to the hotel to collect our mom for lunch. We drove to the northern side of town for a delicious trio of personal pizzas, then meandered our way back to Parrot Cove by checking out the supermarket, artisan shops, and other fun places along the way. All in all, it was a peaceful, relaxing day – perfect after all of our adventure thus far!
Why We Chose Hopkins
We had a lot of options when it came to choosing where to spend our beach time in Belize. The Northern Cayes, most notably Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, are very popular and have a lot to offer in terms of scenery, dining, and excursions. Further south of Hopkins is the beautiful town of Placencia, a fishing village located on a peninsula that was listed as one of the New York Times’s 52 Places to Go in 2017. Islands abound offshore, offering everything from luxury resorts to camping to the ability to rent an entire island for yourself through Airbnb.
So how did we choose?
For us, it came down to two things: sandy beaches and access to Belizean culture. My mom and sister were especially keen to spend time lounging on a beautiful beach during our week in Belize, and we are all intentional about immersing ourselves among the locals whenever we travel. I had read that the northern cayes, while beautiful and within easy reach of the Belize Barrier Reef, lack long stretches of sand and most swimming is done from piers and docks. Not only did Hopkins have sand for our toes, but it is a center of Garifuna culture and has more of a local vibe than other locations in the country. Winner winner!
After our two days in Hopkins, we would make the same choice again in a heartbeat.
Day 6 Alternatives:
If a day of lounging on the beach isn’t your thing and you’re not keen on exploring the town of Hopkins, there are plenty of other great things to do in the area. The most obvious involve the sea: you can take another snorkeling trip, go scuba diving, visit other islands and cayes, go fishing, and more. Tour operators in town, including Seemore Adventures, are happy to help you get back out on the water.
Inland, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Mayflower Bocawina National Park both offer ample opportunities for hiking, wildlife viewing, visiting waterfalls, birding, and jungle exploration. While these parks are easily accessible by car, they can also be visited via an organized tour. Talk with your hotel or guesthouse staff for more information.
While we loved Parrot Cove, there are plenty of resorts, guest houses, and other lodging in the cayes that line Belize’s coast. During my next week in Belize, I would love to try a night on an island for the ultimate escape!
Top Tips for a Day in Hopkins
- Hopkins is a long, thin town. Especially if mobility is limited, it’s worthwhile to rent or borrow bicycles or a golf cart if you’re heading from one end of the village to the other.
- Sandflies are ubiquitous along the beach, so bug spray is essential, especially when the air is still.
Top Eats in Hopkins
- Love on the Rocks and Chef Rob’s Gourmet Café exist within the same space at Parrot Cove and have menu items that change daily. Ordering from the Love on the Rocks menu will result in your meal being delivered on a hot stone (about 700°F), where it will finish cooking in front of you. If you’re not staying at Parrot Cove, it’s a good idea to make reservations in advance.
- Lucky Lobster is an open air bar and restaurant toward the south end of town with delicious, informal food and a fun atmosphere. It was a perfect supper spot after our long day of snorkeling.
- We visited the Driftwood Beach Bar and Pizza Shack for a yummy lunch of personal-sized pizzas. They tasted even better with our toes in the sand. Driftwood also often has live music.
- Peer’s Place is located in the middle of town and has incredibly tasty food from a variety of international cuisines. Come early or make a reservation; Peer’s is small and we watched many people who came later than we did get turned away because of the long wait time.
- Brooke and I stopped into the Oasis Fitness Gym and Cafe at the south end of town for smoothies. They were really good, but the Belizean powder bread I bought on impulse was even better.
Day 7: Drive North, with Belize Zoo
As reluctant as we were to leave Hopkins behind, we had decided to spend our final night in Belize at a hotel near the airport. Even though our flight wouldn’t take off until the early afternoon, we didn’t want to chance the almost-three-hour drive from Parrot Cove to the airport on the morning of our departure. Staying nearby also allowed us plenty of time to pack and relax before our long day of travel home to the States, and it enabled us to take our time and make some fun stops on the drive north.
With a fond farewell to Parrot Cove Lodge, we took a final drive up the dusty streets of Hopkins and set off for the Hummingbird Highway.
Our first stop was Marie Sharp’s factory outside Dangriga, about a half an hour into our drive. We had been enjoying Marie’s eponymous hot sauces all over Belize, so we couldn’t resist swinging by for a tasting and to purchase some bottles to take home. Marie Sharp’s sauces are so tasty and contain only locally-sourced, natural ingredients. Brooke, in particular, fell in love with them right away.
They weren’t bottling at that time, so we skipped the factory tour. We did, however, enjoy sampling the full array of hot sauces, jams, and spreads under the helpful guidance of a friendly employee named Damian.
I was also pleased to learn that Marie is passionate about providing employment opportunities for women. Marie grew up and started her business in a more traditional time when women didn’t have a lot of options for self-sufficiency and advancement. As a result, she is very intentional about providing those opportunities to other women now that she has the power to do so. According to Damian, women make up a large majority of her workforce.
The tasting was free and the prices for each product were the lowest we’d seen, so it’s safe to say that we headed back up the road with significantly heavier suitcases!
About an hour up the Hummingbird Highway – which was just as gorgeous heading north as it was going south – we paused to see the cenote at St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park. For anyone unfamiliar, a cenote is a sinkhole or pit that has resulted from rock collapsing into subterranean bodies of water. They were integral to Mayan mythology and spirituality and are often quite beautiful to behold.
The park entrance fee was $4 USD and included access to the cenote, hiking trails, St. Herman’s Cave, and other natural attractions. We walked the short trail down to the pretty cenote, but didn’t go for a swim or take advantage of the rest of the park. During our next week in Belize, it would be fun to take a dip, explore the cave (which contains Mayan artifacts), or do some hiking through the forest. It would also be nice to spend a night along the Hummingbird Highway and take full advantage of the beautiful Maya Mountains.
To our delight, the timing of our drive worked out perfectly for another lunch stop at Cheers. I’m not ashamed to tell you that I ordered the exact same meal that I had on our first day in Belize and that it was just as delicious the second time around.
From Cheers, it was a short, five-minute drive to the Belize Zoo. Nicknamed the “best little zoo in the world” and founded to provide a home for animals left behind after the making of a rainforest documentary, this wildlife education center is a labor of love. It’s unlike any zoo I’ve ever visited.
The zoo has evolved over the years to provide care and rehabilitation to wild animals that have been injured, rescued from trafficking, used as pets, or orphaned in the wild. Most remarkable is the mission to educate Belizeans, especially children, about their natural heritage and engender a sense of pride in the animals of their country. Throughout the zoo, detailed signs, often in rhyme, provide quick snippets of information about each animal and serve to challenge fears and stereotypes around each species.
We visited at the same time as a large school group, and it was so gratifying to be surrounded by children who were filled with awe and pride as they saw their country’s wildlife up close. If you’re traveling with your own children, you absolutely shouldn’t miss the Belize Zoo.
I’m not generally a huge fan of zoos, but I loved walking around this one. These were animals in their natural, if enclosed, habitats (no polar bears here) and it was reassuring to know that each one was being rehabilitated for re-entry into the wild if possible or lovingly cared for if not. It’s an organization that I felt good about supporting. The walkways are shaded and well-maintained, and we were able to catch glimpses of animals we would have had little chance of seeing in the wild, like the elusive jaguar.
Admission to the Belize Zoo costs $15 USD for adults and $5 USD for children. Belizean citizens pay about fifty percent less. The zoo opens at 8:30 AM and last admission is at 4:15 PM. The walkways and bathrooms are also wheelchair accessible.
When we at last tore ourselves away from the zoo, it was a quick thirty-minute drive to our final destination, Black Orchid Resort in the village of Burrell Boom. Located about twenty minutes from the airport, Black Orchid is a popular place for travelers to spend their first or last night in Belize.
The resort is located along the Belize River and feels very secluded. Our room was small and simple, but the water pressure in the shower was delightful and the grounds are beautifully kept. The on-site restaurant was tasty, too, which is helpful because there aren’t any alternatives within walking distance.
It was a bittersweet final night in Belize, but we appreciated the comfort of Black Orchid and the leisurely pace we could enjoy the next morning.
Tips for Your Last Day and Flight Home:
- I recommend grabbing accommodations near the airport the night before your flight, especially if you have an early morning departure or are staying more than an hour and a half from the terminals. You will save yourself a lot of time and stress on the day of your departure.
- The prices of Marie Sharp’s hot sauces varied widely in shops across the country. The cheapest places we found were local supermarkets and the factory itself, where we paid less than half the price they were charging at some souvenir shops. Tours are offered during normal business hours on Monday through Friday, but you can always call ahead (501-532-2087) to secure a spot. We heard that Marie sometimes leads the tours herself!
- I recommend taking the Hummingbird Highway again even if your GPS tries to direct you to the Coastal Highway. While the latter is shorter mileage-wise, my understanding that it is primarily rough dirt road and won’t save you any time.
- Don’t forget to use bug spray when visiting St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park.
- There is a little cafe and gift shop with free WiFi at the Belize Zoo if you need some refreshment and an internet fix.
- The staff at Black Orchid are happy to help arrange tours and activities if you are spending more time there or if you are just arriving in Belize.
- If you are returning a rental car, there is a Puma gas station on the left about fifteen minutes into your drive from Black Orchid to the airport.
- We didn’t have any trouble with our return process through Crystal Auto Rental, but it is always a good idea to snap some photos of your car before handing over the keys in case the rental company charges you for any damages.
So there it is – a full itinerary for an incredible week in beautiful Belize! Thanks for joining me on this adventure. This trip meant a lot to me for a number of reasons: I hit the milestone of twenty-five countries visited; it was my first (non-work) travel experience since launching Full Life, Full Passport; I met some of the most genuinely friendly people I have ever encountered in my travels; and I had a number of standout experiences that included the best snorkeling of my life and my first time exploring Mayan ruins.
Above all that, though, is the overwhelming gratitude I feel at having had the chance to travel through this amazing place with my mother and sister. It was the first girls’ trip we have ever taken together, and it was a bucket list destination for my mom that she had been dreaming about for years. Getting to spend this time together was incredibly precious for all three of us and I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity.
Thank you for letting me share our week in Belize with you. I hope it has inspired you to undertake a similar adventure, in Belize or otherwise, with someone important in your life.
Belize is a place that gets into your heart. You would rightly expect to be impressed by some Mayan ruins or relax on a beautiful beach, but it’s so much more than that. This tiny, proud country of breathtaking landscapes and warm, welcoming people is an enchanting blend of history, culture, cuisine, natural beauty, and unique activities that makes for a truly special trip.
I hope you get there someday, if you haven’t already. And if you have, I hope you’ll be quick to return. I know I plan to be.
Have you been to Belize? What was your favorite part?
What trip have you taken that had particular meaning for you because of the people with whom you traveled?
This guide to a week in Belize was originally posted on April 4, 2018, and last updated on April 2, 2020.
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