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Belize

Curious what backpackers do in Belize? Discover travel destinations all over the world of travelers writing a travel blog on FindPenguins.
  • Early departure from Caye Caulker and a boat, taxi and public bus later we arrive at San Ignacio.

    Not much to the town but it is a base to explore nearby ruins, caves, waterfalls and reserves.

    We have lunch at the town's market - $2 for a quasadia and 10 cents for 2 bananas.

    Then we catch a bus to the Xunantunjch ruins. And I am pretty sure the bus driver had his foot flat to the ground - at one stage I thought we were going to take off! After crossing the river on a barge its a 15 minute walk we are told. A 15 minute walk uphill in the sun! You can see the photo of my view at the back of the pack!

    The ruins are in a lovely quiet setting with few tourists.

    You can see the pyramid I didn't climb!! You can also see my red face! I lay under a tree in the shade minding the bags! But as there was no one around it was lovely and peaceful.

    Bus back to town early dinner and bed! The hotel doesn't have air conditioning included in the price and its $20US extra a night. There are two fans though so they should blow any mosquitos away!

    Usually I crank the air conditioning up to artic temperatures and sleep in long soaks, long pants and a long sleeved top. Pretty sure no mosquito is going to get through that!

    In the evening we strolled around the very busy town centre. We ended up sitting on the stage in the park in the centre of town eating our yummy street food. My tacos were $1.75 and my friends has a chicken and rice dish for $4.00. Then we found an ice cream place and had 2 scoops for $4.00.

    A very nice day.
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  • Today we are doing a guided tour of Actun Tunichhil Muknal cave (ATM for short). Numbers are restricted and you can only do it with a registered tour guide.

    We had to swim across a few rivers then when we got to the cave we swam into it. Then with our helmuts with flashlights we waded right into the cave. There was alot of climbing up and down through the water. The cave was fascinating and the crystallations sparkled. Although alot of it has died due to a lack of rainfall. In mayan times there was no water.
    But it was hard going!!

    The footwear was socks and crocs and mine were a size too small and they basically had no grip! And with my foot still healing from the ruptured ligaments I don't have the balance and strength that I did pre injury.

    So I had to tread carefully and take my time so the guide took me up the front and held my hand which gave me the extra stability I needed.

    Then we got to this huge rock which we had to climb up. So the guide tells me to basically do the side splits as the first part of getting up the rock! Couldn't do it and as I thought they were just going to walk over the limestone in soaks and the guide said they would be back soon I stayed behind.

    So at first it was quite nice being in the cave by myself and I found a nice rock to sit on with my feet in the water but as time marched on I thought something isn't right. I watched a group go up and their guide showed them a much easier way up. There were two vital steps our guide missed which meant no side splits!

    Then I watched another group go back the way we came and I thought OMG the main point of the tour is up there!!!! So I was one cranky $95US out of pocket person on a tight budget.

    Anyway thank god one of guides offered to take me up and I was up that rock very quickly and we speed climbed deeper into the cave!

    And there was the highlight! The site of the maya sacrifices. It was incredible.

    A huge space that is called the Cathedral and it really looks like one. Beautiful stalactites and stalagmites and lots of simmering.

    Lots of pots everywhere that would have contained offerings to the rain gods. And then the saddest part is seeing all the skeletons of the human sacrifices including seven children the youngest 18 months. The way they died was kept a secret and it was violent. They could be disembowelled, their beating heart pulled out, skull mashed or mutilated. It was all about letting as much blood as possible as an offering to the raingods.
    It was a great honor to be a sacrifice and supposedly they were volunteers.

    The 18 month old had its skull smashed and the axe is laying next to the skeleton. Another skeleton is laying on its back which means it was probably disembowelled.

    The mayans thought the cave was full of evil so going into it showed the gods how brave they were.

    No cameras are allowed after a French tourist was leaning over the rope getting close to a skull (he obviously had never heard of zooming) and dropped his camera smashing the skull!! Clearly he had not heard of a safety strap either. The Government then closed the caves. The guides then lobbied for them to be re opened with camera restrictions. They tell you if you try to sneak a camera in their jobs are on the line.

    So a long trek back and an early night for me. Exhausted!

    No photos of the cave so random Belize photos attached. The little guy did a fine job of trying to sell me things! The little girl is his sister and was in the stall having a great time swinging away! Under the sign saying no alcohol is where the town drunks hang out! And Zuly's had some great food.
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  • To say we went to Belize is a lie. In fact, we're doing our best to avoid it. We've been warned of dangers many times and it only takes a quick scroll through the local rag to make that assertion yourself. Instead, we'll stick to the touristy hot spot of Caye Caulker.

    Caye Caulker is a tiny island off the east coast of Belize, barely above sea level and  protected from the trades by the mesoamerican coral reef. The surrounding waters are super shallow, barely deep enough for the ferries and not even deep enough to swim! It's got that caribbean island feel. Time is just a distant concept, happy hour is every hour and everybody is your 'man' or 'bro' especially if you like green or white.

    We spent four nights here, getting in some serious feet up time. Our first two nights were in Pause Hostel, which clearly should be spelt Paws as it was an animal sanctuary for birds, cats and dogs - dozens of all of the above. It was a feral place; the grounds smelt like cat piss, the ocean, showers and bathroom wreeked of human waste, the room was filthy and our beds still had the previous occupants sheets on when we arrived (at night). The bathroom was disgusting, there was no hot water, the toilet had no seat and finding tp was a difficult ask. It was humorously awful until we discovered that a raw faecies were being discharged directly into the same place we were swimming. That was the straw the broke the camel's back, so we moved elsewhere.  M&N Hotel felt like a luxury hotel based on our previous experience, infinitely better with lovely staff and not only towels, but fresh towels daily. What a treat! Not to mention it was cheaper than Pause!

    We spent our days on the island wandering the streets, unwittingly in search of the finest cheap dining. There are a surprising number of bars and restuarants with quite a variation in price range and style of food. Undoubtedly best at breakfast was the local Fry Jacks hut. Deep fried corn bread/tortilla stuffed with your choice of chicken, ham, cheese, beans or eggs for a mere $1.50 US. A great start to every day! We also took delight in the local grill with unlimited rum, pulled pork buns, key lime pie and a variety of bakery treats enforced by the rising king of the donut, Scott.

    The highlight of Caye Caulker would have to be the snorkelling. We took a full day trip with the Caveman and were not disappointed. It was an eight stop affair including swims with turtles, sharks, stingrays, eagle rays and plenty of fish and coral. The biggest prize (and main reason for the trip) proved too elusive on the day - no manatees for us. I was gutted, I've always wanted to swim with these creatures but like Caveman said "you can't control mother nature!" Our final two stops were to feed the tarpon (big fish) and the kite birds. Our guides were young and fun and very efficient which was a welcome change from some, who treat you like you can't tie your own shoe. There were plenty of options for snorkel tours as there's not too much else to do in the island. The interesting thing was that the reef extents from Cancun almost to Panama but they all snorkel the same spots. Surely there's some hidden gems they're not showing the tourists?

    Caye Caulker is also one of the closest ports from which to visit the Blue Hole - a giant circular depression inside the lagoon. I would have loved to dive this or even fly over it, but at $120US it was too hard to justify. The woes of sticking to a budget...

    MERC got up and running again on the island. Still working on any measure of base fitness, I was stoked for some suuuuper flat running. Unfortunately, the entire length of the island can't have been more than about 2.5km somewhat limiting explorative distances. An intervals session was proposed at the local soccer field and for the first time in MERC history, appeared successful despite a barrage of verbal insults from the local kids. The second run more than circumnavigated the island, and almost ended in disaster for me, coming through a bout of the old Delhi belly. Almost. Things are looking up for the club!

    All in all it was a solid few days rest on the island. It took some adjusting to go back to english speaking, with accidental 'Holàs' slipping out on occasion. I'm sure, however, it'll be harder to go back to Spanish.

    We caught the ferry back to the mainland  (Belize City) which was surprisingly well run, except for the fact it was overbooked and we had to sit on the floor. From the we split Belize in two, bussing five hours due west across the border and into Guatemala. I was humoured by the emigration agent playing games on his phone whilst processing people, barely bothering to batan eyelid. Love it. We'll spend the night in Flores and set out to explore Tikal tomorrow. Fingers crossed for no rain!

    For now our biggest conundrum is whether or not to visit Honduras. Suggestions welcome!
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  • After a relatively short and comfortable journey (6.5 hours yay!) We made our way to our main destination of Belize, an island just off the coast called Caye Caulker.
    As we arrived the water changed colour to a tropical turquoise and we saw palm trees lining the edge of the island. We started walking north up the island on the main road towards the direction of our hotel. There are no vehicles allowed on the island except for golf buggies and bicycles, so we started seeing them everywhere, along with lots of dogs. Everywhere you looked were lots of fun coloured bars, restaurants and hotels, often with swing seating and adverts of happy hour everywhere.
    After dumping our stuff and getting changed we went for a stroll and enjoyed exploring the island. It's not big at all so very easy to get around. We wandered up to the famous 'Split' where the south island is separated by the north after a hurricane divided the two. There was always a small channel for boats but the hurricane made it much wider, although still easy to swim across at roughly only 15 metres wide.
    By now we were very hungry after an early start (5am bus) so had lunch with a sea view and on some hanging swing seats. The food was delicious and we could feel ourselves relaxing and settling into island life! The day flew from here and we went and booked ourselves onto our full day snorkeling tour for the following day. Some of the snorkeling in this area is considered amazing as it's the second largest barrier reef in the world, so we were eager to get out in it. After booking our tour the man we booked it with said to stay with him on the beachside benches and have a beer or two. We ended up staying with Gerald for several hours and had a few rounds and great conversation. He is the brother in law to the owner ' Caveman' (of Caveman tours) and does all the bookings. He used to be a policeman but was medically signed off for a heart condition - which could be operated on but it won't be as it would cost him $10,000 dollars (!) So he just has to take each day as it comes. He also told us his wife was sick too, and she could also 'drop down any moment' because of her condition, a hynea. How incredibly humbling to us to hear conditions that could be treated for free at home are life threatening there. We didn't say of course, we couldn't be so unfair. Anyway it was a great evening and learnt lots about their island life. They also could not believe we don't really have guns in the UK. Culture differences are fascinating sometimes.

    The next day we went on our full day snorkeling tour. We were on the small boat of 8 people. Us and a group of friends from Israel. Firstly we went out to where the manatees graze and within minutes saw one coming up for air. It was so cool to see these large majestic animals. Sadly we couldn't get in with them but we enjoyed seeing one.
    Next we went through some choppy water and went to an area where fisherman clean their catch, because of this it attracts some larger marine animals such as stingrays and turtles. And I can tell you it really does! I jumped in and immediately I saw a giant stingray glide it's way through the sea grass under me, in fact every minute I'd see another large stingray. Amazing! Yet it got better, as I swam up to a fisherman's boat right there was a giant loggerhead turtle, it was huge! And so beautiful. It couldn't care less about me or the other people in the water and kept swimming around so close. At times I had to try and move to get out of it's way. In fact in one moment I had my head out of the water looking for Phil, when I felt very clearly the shell of the turtle touch my stomach...the turtle had swum right under me. I let out a little squeal in surprise and awe. That stop was a real bucket list moment.

    From here we went on to another well known spot called Shark Ray Alley. Similarly this is where fisherman used to come to clean their catch and this attached rays and sharks to the area, to which they rapidly grew and now live there permanently. As we arrived we started to see the tell tale signs of sharks with some fins out of the water. Lucky for me and my fear I had been reassured there are only really nurse sharks here which have no teeth, instead they use some sort of sucking motion to eat their food. One of our deckhands threw in some sardines and they went crazy sliding all over each other for it, then they told us to jump in! So we did it and got fairly close, it was very exciting to see from under the water. As they started to disipate it was quite a thrill having them swim underneath you as they swam away. We swam on to some nearby reef where we were told we'd see them more naturally, asleep on the reef. We found several and every time it would make me jump. Not from fear but surprise, as you'd be exploring coral and then a huge still shape would appear. Another marine creature we've seen wild and up close to tick off the list.

    From here we went straight to the Hol Chan marine reserve which is an area of protected reef to see more underwater life. We stopped on the boat for lunch then shortly after dived back in. Now this area has a channel that leads out to a deeper reef and waves crash close by. This in turn causes a strong rip tide so it was important we stayed with our guide and snorkeled as a group so not to get dragged out there. He did tell us people had drowned out there so they took the risks very seriously (that incident happened with a man who said he was a marine guide but had only ever done land tours... he had no idea what he was doing, very bad). Anyway some of our group were not very confident swimmers or snorkelers and decided to use life jackets. Even then they struggled and one girl had a freak out. At this point the guide said she should probably go back to the boat and she agreed. She was very slow and we were all tredding water waiting for her to be seen safely back. She didn't manage it and thankfully another boat came and picked her up. We were understanding, however she never said she was a poor swimmer when asked at the beginning of the tour, which was frustrating to the guide as it obviously it caused these problems. Finally we got moving and the guide was excellent, constantly diving down to show us things, tell us the names and guide us round. He even 'snake charmed' a moray eel out from it's lair for us to see, awesome!
    We snorkeled for around 45 minutes to an hour and really enjoyed still seeing so many new things.

    From here we went to our final snorkeling spot called Coral Gardens. I was the first one in and practically landed on a nurse shark! Eek. Thankfully it swam quickly away but was very cool to see again. From here only us and another couple got back in and we explored close to the boat. By the now the sea was a little rough so we didn't want to venture far. We still saw new corals and things of interest so it was a nice way to end.

    Finally the tour stopped on the other side of the island to see a seahorse reserve and some Tarpon fish. At the reserve you could look down into the water from a pier, and see both brown and yellow tiny seahorses clinging onto ropes and debris purposely placed in the water. They are adorable and we loved looking at them. Back on the boat just upstream is where Tarpon fish live, huge fish that were about 3 foot long, but can get big enough to be 300 pounds heavy. We had some sardines to feed then and they leap out of the water to snatch it out of your hand. I did it once but it made me scream so let Phil do it several times instead. I think you could easily mistake these fish for small sharks. We also fed some greedy pelicans who stopped by.
    This marked the end of the tour and we returned back to land exhausted but thrilled with the range of wildlife we'd seen that day.

    Over the following days we took the time to wind down and 'go slow' as the Belize people say. We slept, ate and swam the next few days away. Also enjoying meeting up with some fellow travellers we'd meet on route. One evening we found a secret spot of the other side of the island to watch a fabulous sunset. As we were sat with our feet in the water we saw movement. Right there was a small striped stingray gliding around. The water was so clear you could see everything, and not long after the ray we saw more aquatic life including a very large hermit crab (which Phil tried to pick up but chickened out...it did have big claws) and other crabs and fish. It was awesome to have found this spot and have this underwater display all to ourselves.

    On our final day we went kayaking with a lady who'd lived on the island for 20 years and knew all about the mangrove habitat, that Phil was particularly keen to learn more about. We hopped on to our kayaks, including a tag along in the form of her adorable dog who sat on my lap most of the way. Very cute. We learnt about the algae, and even ate some (!) As well as all there is to know about mangroves. Again we saw the Tarpons and looked at the seahorses again. This time seeing many more including some pregnant ones up close. We continued to kayak including crossing the Split, and seeing some of the more wild north island and hearing about how the island has changed.
    Truthfully the island doesn't have the charm it once did years ago and we felt that even when we arrived. We really enjoyed it, but the very high expectations we had were probably more appropriate for some years ago when the island was more quaint. Suddenly big hotels are popping up and the island is growing too fast. Hopefully it won't loose all it's charm in the upcoming years.

    Before long it was 7am one morning and it was time to get the water taxi to Mexicos border and say goodbye to this unique and beautiful island.

    Beth
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  • "Taxi? Boyfriend?"

    "Conch fritters! Conch fritters! You're missing out!"

    "I'm looking for a girlfrieeeeend!"

    After a somewhat haphazard day consisting of multiple forms of transport and unorganised border crossings, the team set foot on the island of Caye Caulker, Belize some 10 hours later with much emptier wallets. Immediately after stepping off the ferry, we realised how friendly the Belizean people in this island are, striking up a conversation with anyone and everyone that passes them in the street. There are a lot of bold personalities here that's for sure. Pretty strange to be back in a predominately english speaking country again but this is only a fleeting visit for us to Belize. Expensive living and no real outstanding attractions compared to the other Central American countries means the island of Caye Caulker is the only stop for us in this country.

    Accommodation options were somewhat limited for the five of us when we got around to trying to book somewhere so we ended up in an animal sanctuary come hostel for our first two nights. Unfortunately it lived up to most of the poor reviews, giving us dirty, boiling hot rooms and a lingering smell of cat pee. Probably not surprising considering there are probably at least 40 cats within this property. Perhaps the original idea was nice but the place has got out of hand and is well in need of some TLC. Thankfully after walking around and asking almost every hotel/guesthouse on the island, we found a new place to stay for our last two nights. Much cleaner, with fresh towels daily and almost half the price too. Upgrade would be an understatement.

    "Go Slow" is the motto around here so that's mostly what we've been doing. Starting the day with fry jacks became part of the daily morning routine. Fry jacks are a traditional belizean dish, consisting of deep-fried dough and filled with any combination of cheese, eggs, beans, chicken or ham. They don't look appetising at all but they satisfy the stomach each morning. After that most of our days revolved around where to eat next, punctuated with drinking, swimming, kayaking, sunbathing and reading. Tough times out here.

    We did make an exception to venture out for a full day snorkelling trip with Caveman tours which was definitely a highlight. Multiple stops, including one to Hol Chan Marine reserve allowed us to see a range of sea life, beginning with one of the biggest turtles any of us had ever seen. We also managed to see a few different stingrays, sharks, a shipwreck, sea horses, tarpons, eels and an abundance of other smaller fish. Unfortunately we missed out on seeing manatees due to it being the wrong season, but everyone really enjoyed the day regardless. Amazing visibility and being able to swim in such close proximity to the stingrays, sharks and the turtle was epic and our guides showed us a good time.

    Given that we'd walked past Fran's Grill every night with her hollering at us to come and have dinner, we thought we'd better give her food a shot. This establishment literally consisted of a small shack about twice the size of a London telephone box for food prep and a handful of picnic tables on the beach. The usual deal involved a main with two sides, unlimited rum and dessert for 25 Belize dollars each (£10/$17NZD). This particular night they had no dessert and this was by no means a cheap meal for us so we we bargained for extra sides as a replacement! At one point Rich also tried to bargain for more rum as well, to which we had to remind him we were already getting unlimited servings... The food was pretty good, we had a mixture of jerk chicken and variations of shrimp between us and a few laughs with the staff in between.

    A post dinner chat with one of the locals that helped served us gave us a bit of insight to life on the island and in Belize in general. This was definitely one of the perks of the locals speaking English here. So many times in Mexico I found myself wanting to ask more about things or the culture but the language barrier stopped me from being able to do so. Got to brush up on the Spanish some more for the next few countries as we are heading back into primarily Spanish speaking places again now.

    We're headed to Guatemala next. This is one of the countries I have been looking forward to most, so let's see what it has to offer!
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  • This little island off the coast of Belize is the equivalent of Paradise on earth. Time seems to stop on this island and everyone and everything is slow and relaxed.
    People get around the island on a bike, a golf cart or by foot (barefoot).
    The mixture of different ethnicities is fascinating but the culture is generally the same in the country, although Belize has only been an independent country since 81', people still speak Spanish as a result of the Guatemalan influence but they prefer English or Creole.
    Sunsets are just magical to watch from the Split whilst sipping a Margarita at Lazy Lizard Bar.
    Trips to the barrier reef are well worth it as you get to swim with sharks, turtles and all kind of fishes.
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  • I left the beautiful island of Caye Caulker in the morning and started heading to San Ignacio after taking the ferry to Belize City, capital of the former British Honduras.
    The chicken bus (public bus) to San Ignacio took about two hours, and it was a unique experience in itself. Locals will get off the bus at random stops and we'd shuffle around to find a seat before others jump in.

    I only spent two days in San Ignacio, which is located closer to the Guatemalan border. The town has no shortage of tour operators, selling activities in the area. However I decided to get the local bus in the morning of the second day and head to the mayan ruins of Xunantunich. A much less touristy place and a beautiful view over the ruins and the Macal river.Read more

  • RDV demain San Francisco.

    Bis Morgen in San Francisco.

You might also know this place by the following names:

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