Belize is a rising star among those seeking active and educational vacations. Tourists go to see its vast expanses of rain forest, rich collection of birds and animals, a long stretch of coral barrier reef and plentiful Maya ruins. As a result, tourism now surpasses agriculture as the largest industry in Belize, generating more than one-fifth of the country's gross domestic product.
Of course, Belize's growing popularity is making it somewhat less wild than it used to be—especially if you find yourself in a well-appointed jungle lodge or seaside resort. Even the sounds of howler monkeys can seem rather civilized when you're sipping cappuccino on the veranda.
Belize's travel infrastructure is continually improving but remains far from polished: Some areas are difficult and/or expensive to get to, and conventional resort amenities such as golf courses and tennis courts are few and far between. Belize's five "highways" are narrow but in fairly good condition, and traffic is light on them. The rest of the roads are one or two lanes, and typically unpaved, though some are filled in with gravel or sand.
Belize City is Belize's only urban area of any size, though it and its suburbs account for fewer than 80,000 people. It is the country's commercial, cultural and transportation hub, but it is actually Belize's least-appealing visitor destination. Belize City's high violent crime rates keep visitors wary, especially around the downtown area after dark. Many quickly leave the city for safer and more scenic areas on the mainland or to the islands (commonly called cayes in Belize), a short plane flight or boat ride away from Belize City.
Ambergris Caye, Belize's most popular destination, offers a pleasing mix of informal living, watersports and the country's best restaurants and nightlife. Caye Caulker, Hopkins, Placencia and San Ignacio also attract many visitors. Up-and-coming spots such as Punta Gorda, Corozal Town and Sarteneja are inexpensive and almost totally unspoiled by mass tourism.