Ever seen those Belize tourism videos where people playing the wooden drums? That's probably the Garifunas from Hopkins.

Hopkins is known as the cultural capital of Belize, but it's WAY more than that. Visiting Cockscomb Basin, only 30 minutes from the village, is a magical wildlife experience.

After spending a couple of weeks Hopkins, here are some free activities I enjoyed as a local

Walk the dirt roads

The village has one paved road only, the main road. The rest are dirt roads where the locals live. And that's where you'll find the essence of the people. Garifuna people are genuinely friendly folks — easy to chat with.

garifuna boys playing basketball
Photo of locals playing basketball on dirt roads

On our recent trip to Hopkins, we walked all the little dirt roads and found tiny shops that had everything made with casssava. We found cassava chips, cassava flour, and even cassava ice cream! Shout out to Nice Cream.

  • Cost: Free (Maybe an icecream)
  • Location: All the back roads

Go birdwatching at Sittee River

Sittee River is both a river that runs inland from the East coast and a tiny village. I recommend grabbing a pair of binoculars and do some birdwatching in the village.

woman watching birds through binoculars
Photo of birdwatcher at Sittee River

Early mornings and late evenings are the best for spotting some beautiful birds like King Fishers.

We went driving, but you can go on bike or motorcycle. I would just avoid going too late because mosquitos are wild around the river with mangroves in the area.

Listen to live Garifuna drumming

I make fun of the local tourism sector exploiting the Garifuna's drumming in their marketing content, but the truth is, the sounds are electrifying. A couple of years ago, I helped my Dutch friend find a local to teach her to make a drum, and it became her number one memory of Belize.

The drumming is famously heard at Driftwood Beach Bar & Pizza Shack. We were lucky enough to hear it even during the pandemic! Lucky for us, it was the weekend.

garifuna drummers playing at restaurant
Photo of Garifuna Drummers by Ken Mayer

If you have more time and love drumming, find someone to help you make a drum like my friend did.

  • Cost: Free
  • Opening Hours: 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM (Closed on Sundays)
  • Location: Seafront Road

Enjoy Sunset/Sunrise

The first time I ever visited Hopkins was for Garifuna Settlement day, and it was a beautiful sunrise with the reenactment of their arrival by canoe. It was senses overload watching a scene like this with local drums playing and singing in their language.

On any other day, you can still wake up early and enjoy sunrise by the beach or dock. Maybe you can even grab a cassava/coconut flavored ice cream from Nice Cream while you're at it.

red sunrise with man canoeing in water
Photo of Hopkins Sunrise by Chris Chafer
  • Cost: Free
  • Location: Beachsides

Here are some magical places I visited that are not free but very affordable

Cockscomb Basin Nature Reserve

When new friends ask me to recommend a place visit in Belize, my first answer is normally Cockscomb.

girl walking on bridge surrounded by lush rainforest
Photo of Cockscomb Basin Nature Reserve

It's the world’s first jaguar sanctuary.

The reserve is filled with over a dozen hiking trails including the highest point in Belize, Victoria Peak. There are also small waterfalls at the end of two trails.

waterfall with red mud on the left
Photo of waterfall found at the trails

The trails absolutely incredible with rich flora and fauna including many bird species, howler monkeys, agoutis, and of course jaguars. But it's very unlikely you'll spot one. They are nocturnal after all.

list of trails at nature reserve
Photo of trails available at the reserve

If you want to increase your chances of seeing a jaguar from 0.1% to 0.2%, you can camp at the reserve. Wildlife comes alive at night, and you can hear and feel everything. Camping at Cockscomb at the site entrance and another camping site found at one of the trails.

  • Entry Fee: $5.00 USD per person ($10.00 BZD)
  • Camping Fee: $10.00 USD per person ($10.00 BZD)
  • Opening Hours: 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM Daily
  • Location: Cockscomb Parking & Campground

Ya'axkin Butterfly Farm

If you know nothing about butterflies, you'll walk out as a guru after your trip around this butterfly farm.

Their farms have upwards of 3000 butterflies which can be a fun experience for a family with kids. We were three grown adults and had a lot of fun having Javier and his worker explain the caterpillar's complete lifecycle.

guy showing butterfly on flower
Photo of Ya'axkin Butterfly Farm

It's a delicate process that requires precision and lots of care. You might develop a new respect and fascination for butterflies.

  • Cost: $6.00 USD per person ($12.00 BZD)
  • Opening Hours: 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM Daily
  • Location: Maya Center

Che’il Mayan Chocolate Tour

While on the road to Cockscomb Basin, we stumbled on this little chocolate factory called Che’il Mayan Chocolate. It wasn't very busy during the pandemic, but it seems to get a lot of tour vans. The farm tours weren't operation when we went, but I would have loved to see the entire chocolate making process from the start.

thatch house with mayan painting
Photo of Che'il Mayan Chocolate

I did, however get to taste the 100% cacao chocolate bar and also bought the cacao butter which is an excellent moisturizer for dry skin. The prices were extremely affordable, so that was a plus!

  • Cost: $15.00 USD per person ($30.00 BZD)
  • Opening Hours: 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM Daily
  • Location: Maya Center

Maya King Waterfall

I would have never found this place if it wasn't for a new hostel friend I met in Hopkins. The triple waterfalls found at this ranch is magical. I can't believe I have lived all my life in Belize and never been here.

To get here you'll definitely want to be in a car. After reaching the Mayan King Monument, you'll have to take a 4km ride into the ranch where you'll pay the entrance half-way to the destination.

waterfall with black rocks
Photo of Maya King Waterfall

The pool of water at the waterfall is possibly the cleanest and clearest water I've seen in Belize. It's pristine and refreshing for the heat. You don't want to miss out on this place. I'm glad I found it and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

  • Entry Fee: $15.00 USD per person ($30.00 BZD)
  • Opening Hours: 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM Daily
  • Location: Mayan King Ranch

Serpon Sugar Mill

If you decided to visit Sittee River, you're already half way there. This site is the country's first historical reserve and now a museum with remnants of the first steam-powered sugar mill.

aged sugar mill with workers
Photo of Sermon Sugar Mill Recreation by Stacy Holbert

The mill was established in 1865 which marked the start of Belize's Industrial Era.

  • Entry Fee: $5.00 USD per person ($10.00 BZD)
  • Opening Hours: 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM Daily
  • Location: Sittee River Road

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