Traditionally a quiet, unassuming beach town, Hopkins, in southern Belize has in recent years become a must-visit place for many visitors to the country. There are many reasons for this growth in popularity, from its ideal location to many southern mainland tours, highly rated resorts, and authentic culture, to its proximity to Sittee River.
Hopkins is a small, authentic Central American village that is warm and welcoming to visitors. There is a large percentage of Garifuna settlers here, who have maintained their cultural traditions, such as drumming, which is a must-do in Hopkins. Directly adjacent to Hopkins is the Sittee River and “resort row”. The marina close to the resort area has started to become highly sought after for Belize investors, and there is a great deal of development here. Along Sittee River, boaters will be able to access deep river boating with direct access to the Caribbean Sea.
If the idea of an authentic cultural village, newer to tourism than the more developed, discovered places like Ambergris Caye, Caye, Caulker, and Placencia, appeals to you. And you like the idea of land that looks like it could be Alabama from 100 years ago. Or you like the idea of deep-water boating with direct access to the sea. Then you may want to put Hopkins on your must-visit list. For those that have made this decision, here is a guide to making the most out of your time here.
Things to do in Hopkins, Belize
1. Hike, Zipline, and Swim in the Waterfalls at Bocawina National Park
This park is gorgeous, and the world-class hiking you can do will take you to remarkable vistas and waterfall swims. You can do it all in the park and it is a short drive from Hopkins.
2. Take a Monkey River Tour
Monkey River is a very rustic, frozen-in-time village in southern Belize. You can boat down a river on a crocodile sighting hunt, and you can walk through the dense forest and see Monkeys. This is an unforgettable trip for many people. You can see the mangroves and leeward side of the Caribbean, as well as likely see manatees.
3. Visit the Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve
Cockscomb is one of the only jaguar preserves in the world, and it is a huge, vast piece of land where you can hike through the tropical forests, see untouched Maya ruins, swim in waterfalls, and tube through a natural lazy river (it is long, relaxing, scenic, and fun).
4. Listen to Garifuna Drumming
Garifuna culture is a huge part of the Belize experience, and part of the culture is the history of art, music, and food from African roots. The Garifuna drumming is a hypnotic, exotic experience that can only be had in a handful of places in the western hemisphere. Art and cooking lessons are also offered in the area.
5. A Day in Town
I highly recommend you take a day on your vacation to see the town and area surrounding Hopkins and Sittee River. You can rent a bike very easily and see the entire area—don’t miss seeing the Curve Bar, a world-class marina and a wonderful stop for a rest. You can rent paddleboards or kayaks right in town, I recommend you do this early in the morning as the water tends to be the calmest. At night, there are so many wonderful dining and entertainment options. A few of my favorites are Hamanasi, The Coconut Husk, Chef Rob’s, Driftwood, or the Sandbar at the upscale little shopping area called Caribbean Shores.
6. Maya King Waterfalls
Maya King waterfalls used to be more of a secret, where local families would come, especially on Sundays, to relax, swim, and barbeque. Now it has caught on as an amazing day trip, and there is a large, comfortable pavilion, toilets, a deck overlooking a waterfall that is perfect for yoga, world-class hiking, a wild tubing experience, and more. Don’t miss a peek at the bamboo forest on your way out too.
One of the most popular and memorable experiences you can have in Belize is the world-class snorkeling at the second biggest barrier reef in the world. People come from all over the world to snorkel and scuba dive here. In fact, Belize is one of the few places in the world where you can scuba dive with whale sharks. There are hundreds of cayes off the shore to visit in addition to the reef. The array of snorkel experiences could make up a whole week of a trip, but I recommend you at least book a one-day trip so you can even combine it with some fishing or island hopping.
8. Banana Farm
There aren’t too many places in the world where minutes away you can tour and experience a live, working banana farm. This farm will feel like you went back in time, and is a highly regarded experience for an exotic, authentic look at how many bananas make it into the U.S.
9. Xunantunich and Cave Tubing
One of the most popular and well-regarded Maya ruins in the country is Xunantunich. These are spectacular Maya ruins that you can climb all the way to the top of. This is not for the faint of heart, and contains no handrails. This is located in Cayo, which is a couple hours’ drive from Hopkins, but is worth the trip. You will get to see a lot of the country, and I promise, the drive goes very quickly—the guides often make interesting stops and provide history on the way. The tour is often combined with world-class cave tubing or other experiences, and is a full day that shouldn’t be missed when in Belize.
10. Maya Chocolate Tour
The Maya culture is a big reason people want to come to Belize, and in southern Belize, there is ample experiences to interact with Maya families—even in their homes. You can learn to make chocolate, learn to cook in an open cooking pit, basket weaving, and much more. There is a range of experiences you can pick from, all within a reasonable drive from Hopkins.
Where to stay in Hopkins, Belize
When it comes to staying in Hopkins you can relax at one of the many highly-rated resorts along resort row. Hamanasi is one of the most highly-rated resorts in Central America, and as such, it can be pricey. But if you read the reviews, almost everyone agrees that it is worth it for the experience due to the level of service, wonderful restaurant, and beachfront location with many areas to relax and enjoy nature. Fortunately, there is a range of resorts for every budget here. Jaguar Reef is more moderately priced but with wonderful pools, restaurants, free bikes, and a very central location. You can hardly go wrong with any resort in this area.
Interestingly, most of this part of Sittee River is a scrubbed-clean tourist area—one of the only places in the country that is specifically set aside for tourists, no local housing in the vicinity, and yet it still manages to maintain local charms, with Hopkins just a short bike ride away.
How to get to Hopkins, Belize
To get to Hopkins you will fly into Belize’s one and only International Airport, Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport, BZE, in Belize City. Hopkins is about a two-and-a-half to three-hour scenic drive from here. Driving in Belize is straightforward and renting cars in common practice. Other popular methods of transport to Hopkins are to get a shuttle bus from BZE directly to your hotel, or you can take a puddle jumper to Dangriga, which will take you about 15 minutes, and you can get a cab or hotel shuttle to your hotel from there.