Belize, which is located next to Guatemala and Mexico on the Caribbean sea, offers a mix of thick green jungle and white sand beaches. But there are plenty of draws that set this particular country apart from the destinations that are most likely to make up the rest of any Caribbean cruise itinerary. 

Here, the lush forest — much of it protected by the environmentally conscious government — is filled with fascinating wildlife, like howler monkeys, manatees and even colorful, yet elusive, toucans. There are a variety of ways to explore these deep woods, from zipline canopy tours to tubing down rivers, guided boat tours and hikes. There are also various types of iguanas and crocodiles, and enough bird species to keep bird watchers content with a part of binoculars for as long as they’re in town. Belize is home to several animal sanctuaries that could be worth a visit as well, and they tend to focus on a single type of animal, such as monkeys or birds.

related: Five incredible sights in Peru 

The coral reef just off Belize’s coastline is as much, if not more of a draw, than the country’s jungle landscape. Home to the second longest reef in the world (right after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia), it’s no surprise that diving down into the underwater, otherworldly network of caves and snorkeling are popular pass times here. Don a mask and fins, and you can look for fish, turtles, and colorful coral. 

One of the uniquely appealing aspects of Belize compared to other countries in this part of the world is that off its coast are tiny islands called cayes, a bit like the motu in French Polynesia. Most are uninhabited, and sun worshippers go there to swim in the clear blue water and lie on the sparkling sugar-white sand.

Whatever you decide to see, you will most likely have the option of booking through the cruise line or on your own through an independent tour operator. Be sure to compare pricing and what’s included. And, if your tour includes lunch, look for ones that offer grilled local lobsters or the sweet fish that swim off of the reef.

 

WHERE TO GO

Western Caribbean cruise itineraries often call on Belize City, and this common port is a jumping off point for a variety of different sites including a variety of Mayan ruins.

Altun Ha: This former Mayan city, about 30 minutes north of the port, contains stone ruins and temple pyramids.

Lamanai: The Temple of the Jaguar Masks here is surrounded by legend, and the name means “submerged crocodile.” Many copper artifacts were recovered here.

Xunantunich: Located 80 miles west of Belize City, near the Guatemala border, this site functioned as a ceremonial place for the Maya. The site is said to be haunted by the ghost of a woman.

 

For more travel advice on exploring Belize, go to www.insightguides.com.