My Belize Vacation Adventure

Day 1 - Arrive Belize
My Belize vacation began when I landed at the Belize airport. The minute I departed the plane and start climbing down the stairs, the heat and humidity hit me directly in the face. Then we were led (in a straight line of course) to a small building where customs and our luggage await. Going through customs I always wish I was a local their lines always seem much shorter. After passing through customs and collecting our baggage, my friend Ruth and I are met by our driver Jorge. For the next 5 days we will be staying in the Jungle, a 1 ½ hour drive from the airport. Jorge informs us that he has to pick up another passenger before driving us to our resort. This gives Ruth and I the opportunity to have lunch at Bacab Eco Park (only 15 minutes from the airport). I had read about it online and was anxious to check it out. We were not disappointed, the park is an oasis. We did not partake in any of the many activities they offer, just strolled around their beautiful pool and then settled down to lunch in front of the pond. Ruth tried the local beer and we shared a basket of Chicken and Fries, which is a local Belize specialty.

When Jorge returned he advised us that another driver met the new arrival and that he was all ours. We then decided to stop at the Belize Baboon Sanctuary on our way to our resort. I am still not sure why they call it the Baboon Sanctuary since it is all about the Black Howler Monkey. We booked the nature tour ($7 USD a person) and meet our very nice and knowledgeable guide. He grabbed a bunch of leaves and led us across the street, past a port-a-potty and along a short trail where he starts howling. Sure enough the leaves on the trees start shaking and monkeys are flying through the air. Their "friend" with the food has arrived. We both let the monkeys climb on us as they reached for their food. It was fun and we had short lesson about the nature around us. We still had about an hour's drive to our resort in San Ignacio. After 5 days we discovered that every activity and destination is about a 1 to 2 drive away. Since I have traveled to the jungles of Costa Rica and Nicaragua I was expecting to be staying in a hotel in the middle of a jungle. I was presently surprised that the hotels of the jungle are really just outside the small, quaint city of San Ignacio. I would not recommend the resort we stayed at and prefer not to mention it. So one afternoon I did site inspections of two hotels that were recommended to me by taxi drivers, Rumors and Windy Hill. I would highly recommend either one. Rumors Resort Hotel is managed by the owner's son and girlfriend. It is a small resort, very clean and has a nice restaurant/club. The only downside would be that is does not have a pool. I then stopped at Windy Hill Resort and received a warm welcome and toured the property. The cabins were clean, the beds are comfortable and they had bathroom amenities, which is rare in Belize. The gym was well equipped and the restaurant had a separate bar area with a pool table, ping pong and darts available.

Day 2 - Caracol Ruins

On day two of our vacation we were scheduled to go to Lamanai but was told that it was going to be too crowded because it was cruise day in Belize. Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday hundreds of cruisers descend on Belize and all the wonderful activities the country has to offer. Instead we went to the ruins of Caracol. According to the map, Caracol seemed very close, about 25 miles away but this is Belize and it would take us about an hour to an hour and half to get there. Mario, our guide for the day, met us at 8:00am and told us to be prepared, the road to Caracol was bumpy and he was not kidding. Once you turn off the main road, there is a 30 minute drive on an extremely rocky road. Mario was in rush to get there so we can check-in and join the caravan to the main site. The "check-in" was a wooden 2-story building with lots of men hanging around. Mario went in and when he came out we were on our way. No caravan just us for another 15 minute drive to the parking lot of Caracol. Caracol was once an ancient Mayan city and the ruins are amazing. We visited the central core of the ruins which consists of three plazas, surrounding a central acropolis, dozens of structures, two ball courts, and two reservoirs. The largest structure of Caracol is the Caana pyramid, which reaches about 140 feet, and remains one of the tallest man-made buildings in Belize. Over 200 burials have been excavated here. There is lots of information available about the history and architecture of Caracol, I like – After our exploration of Caracol, we enjoyed our pre-packed lunch in the shaded picnic area by the main entrance. There is a small gift shop that sold drinks and snacks but everyone had brought lunch. Mario asked us if we wanted to stop at Rio on Pools for a short hike and a dip in the pools. We both declined so Mario had a great idea. He pulled the car into the view point of the pools and I am glad he did. It was a great photo opportunity as the pools and waterfalls were beautiful. – I heard from other travelers that the walk to the pools is slippery. We arrived back at our resort around 5:00pm just in time for a shower and dinner.

Day 3 – Lamanai Ruins

A really early morning, 6:30am we meet Mario (we are very happy to have Mario again) for our trip to Lamanai. I am starting to think we are nuts, this is a crazy way to spend a vacation. The 2 hour drive actually went pretty quick and the next thing I know we are in Orange Walk Town and ready to board our boat. I had heard the boat was half the fun of the tour but I would say more like 75%. Maybe it depends on the boat driver but ours liked to drive fast. The one suggestion I have is to have a light weight sweater or jacket for the ride. It is a 26 mile scenic boat trip up the New River that takes about 45 minutes to an hour to travel. Our driver would speed along until he spotted something for us to admire and photograph. Along the river's edge is a Sugar Mill and we heard about the history of sugar in Belize. Then we way we picked up passengers by the bridge and by a house owned by John Macafee. We were told he rents out the house for a $1 a month to the locals. Our boat ride continues and we spot crocodiles sunning near the river's edge, any species of birds including the "Jesus Christ Bird" walk on water. We stopped at the Monkey stop and waved our bananas but to no avail. Our guide said that the monkeys have been feed already and that we would stop on the way back. As we pulled up to the bock dock I expected to see Mayan ruins along the river since Lamanai is known as the submerged crocodile. To my disappointment we had to walk along a dock and then we first reached the gift huts and lunch area. Before our tour lunch was served. If you want to purchase any souvenirs now is the time as you will not be passing the huts on the way out. Our tour of Lamanai was about an hour long, with the Jaguar temple the most important site on our visit. The Holwer Monkeys running around the jungle temple were a lot of fun to take photos of. Back on the boat for our ride, the weather was warm and we were excited for our speed boat trip. True to the guide's word we stopped at the monkeys and this time, one of them came right up to our boat for his banana. The rest of the ride back to the Orange Walk was uneventful and we were glad to be on our way back to our resort. Two hours later, 6:00pm we arrive back in San Ignacio, tired, hungry and totally happy.

Day 4 – ATM Cave

First let me state the ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal) Cave is not for everyone. It is a total Indiana Jones Adventure with a reward of Mayan skulls, pottery and a skeleton at the end of the cave. Of course the day starts out with an hour drive to the parking lot of the ATM caves, where we meet our guides and adventure partners. There are only 30 qualified guides allowed to give tours in the cave and only 8 cavers allowed per guide. To get to the cave there is a 45 minute hike to the entrance. The hike is fairly easy but you will need to cross the river 3 times and the rocks are slightly slippery. After about 45 minutes we reach the picnic area by the entrance to the cave. Even though it is still morning, lunch is served. I made the mistake of not eating but I should have. You will be in the cave for 4 to 5 hours and you are not allowed to carry anything into the cave with you except for socks. You must have a pair of socks with you otherwise you will be barefoot in the cave. To protect the cave, you are also asked not to put on any sun tan lotion or insect repellant As we put on our provided helmets with lights on them, it is time to begin our real adventure. There is a large pool of water at the entrance to the cave. You will need to swim about 2 minutes to get inside the cave and onto dry land. Once inside it is dark but to my surprise not cold. Expect to climb over, under and around rocks of all sizes, through water and on dry land. The last climbs are the most challenging. But with the help of our guide, I was able to do the entire cave and I am not in the greatest physical shape. Once you get to the back of the cave, there is pottery and skulls cemented to the cave by years of sediment. This is where you must take your shoes off and you are glad to have your socks. To see the skeleton you need to climb a tall metal ladder that is tied to the cave. Now that we have seen the ruins it is time to traverse the cave because the entrance and exit are one in the same. I felt a total accomplishment when I exited the cave and took off my helmet at the picnic table. Then I realized that I still have a 45 minute hike back to the parking lot. They should sell t-shirts that say "I survived ATM" and I would be the first customer. Glad I did it and glad I don't need to do it again.

Day 5 Cave Tubing and San Ignacio

We left the hotel at 9:00am and were ready for our 1 ½ hour ride to the river where our cave tube adventure begins. You are recommended to have water shoes, or old sneakers that you don't mind getting wet. Flip flops will not do because you will be hiking to the beginning of the tube run. If you don't have the proper foot attire you will be able to rent water shoes for $3. You will also need insect repellant and sunblock. Depending on the time of year you vacation in Belize depends on how long your hike will be and how fast the water is flowing. From June to November is rainy season so the water moves quickly and you will be walking for about 60 – 75 minutes. It is a leisurely hike, uphill, rocky or packed mud and along the way your guide will point out birds, reptiles and possibly small mammals. No matter what time of year you are hikining, you will need to traverse the river 3 times. There is a rope to help you cross the first time, after that you are on your own. Just take your time. We were there in December and the river was slow, so our walk was only about 25 minutes to the entry point. Did I mention that you will be carrying your tube for the entire hike? Once you put the tube in the water and put your behind into the tube, life becomes wonderful. We were lucky, we were not there on a cruise day and we were able to float down the river enjoy the scenery. Within 10 minutes we had to turn on our head lights and we floating in a cave. It was amazing. We had a private guide, every group gets one and when the water was too slow or we headed in the wrong direction, he was there to steer us. We arrived back at our starting point, happy to only have less than 5 minutes back to the parking lot. We arrived back in the hotel in time for lunch, Then I called a taxi and did my hotel site inspections (see above). Tonight we had dinner at Let's Go Eat (Ko-OX Han nah) Restaurant in San Ignacio. We had to wait about 5 minutes for a table and we browsed the vendors selling jewelry. The menu was extensive and the food was pretty good. After dinner we walked the pedestrian street and bought a few souvenirs before we took our $5 taxi ride back to our hotel.

Day 6 – Ferry Day to Ambergris Caye

It is about a 1 hour and 45 minute drive from San Ignacio to the port in Belize City. Loved all the activities and excursions but glad to be leaving the "jungle" behind and heading towards the beach. I heard Belize City was not a safe place to be and after driving to the port, and through the city I can understand why. Once we got to the ferry port and driver took our luggage and handed us baggage tickets we needed to get our luggage on the island. Then our ferry tickets were bought. The price was BZ$35 (17.50 USD) The ferry ride was about an hour and half and we stopped at Caye Caulker to let passengers on and off. Arriving in San Pedro is an experience, our luggage is wheeled off the pier and we exchange our tickets for our suitcases. Another person came along and put us in a taxi. Only taxis and golf carts are allowed on the island. Our hotel in Ambergris was arranged by the hotel in San Ignacio and since we had issues there we were concerned about our lodging in Ambergris Caye. As soon as we pulled up to our "resort" we knew we could not stay there. It was little more than a hostel. No TV, no air conditioning, not for us. Our taxi driver was wonderful, staying with us until we found the delightful Portofino Resort, 9 miles North of San Pedro. To add to our adventure we actually drove the ride to the North end of the island. No one does that and now I know why. The road is no more than rocks, mud and gravel. Please take the water taxi or most hotels, including the Portofino have their own boats and will pick you up in San Pedro. The rooms at the Portofino Resort are great and they gave us our choice of soap when we checked in. We ate at the Portofino's dining room and enjoyed our best meal in Belize that night

Day 7 – San Pedro – New Year's Eve

We were supposed to go snorkeling in the morning but it was too windy. So instead we had a leisurely morning at the hotel and took the water taxi into San Pedro. At $22BZ (11 USD) each way, the water taxis can get expensive. We strolled San Pedro town and browsed in all the stores. Checked out all the artist/vendors in the street and made a few purchases. Not much to see or do in town so we went to check out the Banana Beach Resort for future stays. After seeing a room, the pools and the beach, I would recommend this resort. It is a $5 taxi ride from town. We had lunch at a grill restaurant on the beach before catching a water taxi back to our resort. There was time to relax before we went to Captain Morgan's Casino on New Year's Eve. Note – not all resorts and hotels in Belize have shampoo, conditioner or lotion available, it seems that soap is all they have. 

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Wednesday, 03 June 2020
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