Oh the Places You Will Go: Belize

Last year was a big travel year for me and my blog became mostly a picture album for those wonderful trips, so I can hardly Belize that I got back from the biggest, best trip of my year over a month ago and haven’t even posted anything about it!

Over the summer, my amazing, adventurous friend, Emily, said, “I’m going to Belize for Thanksgiving, want to come?” It wasn’t, “I want to go” or “I’m thinking of going.” It was just, hey, here’s where I’ll be, will you be there too? See? Amazing.

In college, I had a chemistry professor from Belize and it seemed like a cool place to visit, so it’s been on my list ever since, so when the opportunity to go with two of my best friends came up, it was a no-brainer. (Except for the brain power it took to figure out how to get more vacation days that I really didn’t have.)

Lists of locations and activities flew between us as we planned the trip and we ended up with a great itinerary for our eight days there. I flew into Belize City to meet Emily and Robin, who had been there for one day already and we took a van inland to San Ignacio for the first part of our trip. It was about a two-hour drive, but it was filled with anything and everything the driver could tell us about the country. All of our tour guides were so friendly and knowledgeable. One point for being a fantastic travel location…English is the official language of Belize.

In San Ignacio we stayed at Maya Mountain, which was a highlight of the trip for me. The staff was so welcoming and accommodating, the food was awesome and they helped us coordinate our fantastic tours.

Day 1: Actun Tunichil Muknal or ATM
This is the “must-do” tour in San Ignacio and we were told to save the best for last because nothing would top it, but with the threat of rain that could close the tour down (as it had the previous week), we wanted to make sure we got it in while it was sunny.

We were going spelunking, so we wore helmets:

photo (7)It’s a cave tour and you start by hiking about two miles to the cave entrance, then it’s go time. You swim, wade, walk and climb almost a mile into the cave, which was a Mayan ceremony site, so it’s full of ceramics and skeletons from human sacrifices (yeah, for real, like right next to you). Because you get up close and personal with the artifacts, you can’t take cameras in (someone dropped one on a skull once) and at the end, you climb in socks. Seriously, such a great experience.

Day 2: Cave canoeing + picnic + swimming
On this day, I understood why we were told to save ATM for the last day. This cave canoe trip was fun, but just very tame compared to ATM.

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I really enjoyed, well, the picnic, because Maya Mountain packed our lunches on these tours and they were maybe the best sandwiches I’d ever had. But, I also really enjoyed the swimming afternoon. We hiked down to the pool of a waterfall and swam around there. It was a hot day and the water felt great.

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Day 3: Tikal (Guatemala)

DSC01234Tikal was a massive Mayan city in Guatemala. We were told that, but seriously, it’s huge and one of the most fascinating things is that it was abandoned at the end of the 10th century and, since it’s in the middle of a rainforest, these massive temples just got buried under all the new growth and it was undiscovered until the 1800s. Not much money was put into the excavation until the 1950s and even now there are buildings that are currently being excavated and some that haven’t even been started. And there are thousands of buildings in the city, including temples, which were a lot of the buildings we did get to see and even climb. The temples sticking out above the tree canopy was so cool, it was used in one of the Star Wars movies, which maybe made it less cool, but still beautiful:

Oh, and I also made a new friend:

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Since the basis of the trip was that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a lot of the things I did were based on the same idea, as well as the theme of What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding, which I had just finished reading: Do the thing you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it. 

Day 4: Travel to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye
We had to say goodbye to Maya Mountain and make our way back to the coast to stay on the cayes, pronounced keys and cayes are like islands, but different in that they are actually formed on top of coral. The reef that stretches from Mexico to Belize is one of the biggest in the world, BUT it protects Belize, making it unsurfable. I only mention it because when I put Belize on my bucket list it included surfing in Belize, so I was kind bummed when I found that out. And because I’m a huge nerd who was so excited to learn everything on vacation.

But, San Pedro on Ambergris Caye is beautiful (La Isla Bonita according to Madonna) and a really fun, lively place to stay. Unfortunately, our luck with the weather wore off by the time we got there and it was cold and rainy for much of the rest of our trip.

Day 5: Fishing + snorkeling
We still wanted to see all the things and do all the things, so we chartered a boat tour, aka, asked the bartender to help us set something up and when a man in a boat appeared at the end of the dock the next morning, we jumped in his boat. Fortunately, it was actually our guy.

He took us out a ways and we went fishing, which was kind of unexpected, but a lot of fun. Our fishies we caught were kinda small, but pretty. We had to catch a lot because we were going to eat them for lunch! Our guide BBQed them and some potatoes and it was delicious.

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The dive location we wanted to go to was difficult with the wind and rain, so we ended up detouring, but still seeing coral and fish. I hadn’t been snorkeling in a long time, so I was a little unsure. And then right when I put my face in, I saw a shark! It was a nurse shark and at the floor, which was maybe six feet down, so I wasn’t too concerned. It was actually really cool! I was swimming right on top of big schools of fish and saw a big old stingray too.

Day 6: Boat taxi to Caye Caulker + drinking weather
We decided to split our beach days between two of the cayes and I’m so glad we did. San Pedro was fun, but Caye Caulker was so wonderful. I read that if you want to see what San Pedro was like before it got totally popular and commercialized, go to Caye Caulker. They have three main dirt roads that have real names, but everyone calls them Front, Middle and Back. There are no cars, just bikes and golf carts, but everything’s walkable anyway. We stayed at a little condo place at one end that had a patio with an exit right to Front Street and the ocean.

Unfortunately right when we got there it started raining. Optimistically, we headed to a snorkeling tour company to sign up for a tour the next day assuming it cleared up, which (spoiler alert) it did. However, for the rest of that day, it was just a downpour, so we just sat at a restaurant drinking two very Belizean drinks – Belikin beer (you say, “I’ll have a beer,” and that’s what they give you, it’s awesome) and a Panty Ripper, which is pineapple juice and rum and delicious. Aaaand, I don’t remember what we did after that, probably read and went to bed early.

Day 7: Snorkeling sailboat trip
Another highlight of the trip was waking up on our last full day to SUNSHINE! We had a great breakfast and boarded a Rastafarian sailboat for a snorkel tour of the reef.

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We stopped at a place called Shark and Ray Alley, which you can guess meant it’s where the sharks (again, nurse sharks) and rays hang out. Even more so when the tour guides throw fish at you while you’re in the water and they come up and get it! It took me a while to get in, but it was amazing.

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At the next stop, we swam out to the reef and saw everything! More rays, a few turtles, eels and lots of fascinating fish. Then we sailed back with ceviche, rum punch, reggae music and the sunset. It was incredible.

After some warm up showers and shower beers, we went to a restaurant the crew suggested where you pick your dinner from a table of fresh seafood on the street – I got a lobster – and they take it in and cook it up for you! Then we went to a reggae bar (one of two bars on Caye Caulker that came highly recommended – and the other one was closed). It was dead, but we met a few Americans and then it began to fill up, including with a few of the guys from the boat. We danced and drank and stayed out probably not very late at all, but the latest we were out all week.

Day 8: Home 😦

Just like that, it was over.

So, obviously, I had a great time. I’ve been telling anyone and everyone to go to Belize! It’s accessible and easy-going with so much to do and such great people, but not yet overly touristy. I would go back in a heartbeat to see the places we didn’t get to and even return to some of my favorites that we did.

I got the travel bug big time and can’t wait for my next trip!

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