Second stop: Inland. The first inland town I visited was Southern Belize’s Punta Gorda, which has two things going for it. First, you won’t need a wakeup call—the howler monkeys hanging from trees just outside your room are enough to snap you out of bed! Second, its proximity to Mayan villages like San Miguel, where I learned how to weave myself a bracelet from bright green, purple and yellow threads with a little guidance from a serene Mayan woman. In nearby Blue Creek village, I hiked up a river of the same name and an hour later found myself swimming inside a cave, peering up at sleepy fruit bats and sparkling stalactites with a tiny flashlight strapped to my head. This is the part where my inner scaredy cat won out and I promptly found myself sprawled out on a rock. Clearly, I’d jinxed myself, but luckily I emerged with just a little black and blue—and the experience of a lifetime.
Another popular inland destination: San Ignacio, where the rustic-chic Lodge at Chaa Creek tends to every traveler’s need with savory organic food, healing spa treatments and incredibly knowledgeable guided tours. After checking out the gorgeous “Belizean Blue” butterflies, I encountered the highlight of my trip: Xunantunich (or “Maiden of the Rock”) a wildly impressive Mayan temple from the top of which you can see the border between Honduras and Guatemala. After an exhausting climb—one that involved a lot sweat and bravery on this chica’s part—I stood at the top, felt the energy rush that many say led the ancient Mayans to select the locations for their temples, and thought to myself: Screw the white sands—this is totally worth it.