Thursday, January 31, 2013

8 Days in Belize

I am convinced that my trip to Belize was perfect. Maria and I spent 8 days in December in the country split between two different locations. We got adventure, relaxation, and lots and lots of culture.

Days 1-4: San Ignacio, Belize

Accommodation: Parrot Nest Lodge, Bullet Tree Falls

We were looking for a place to stay that was inland, hopefully in the jungle, that would give us a good home base to do the daily excursions and interact with other travelers (which is always one of my favorite parts). We hit a jackpot with Parrot Nest Lodge. You drive in along this dirt rode and see a hand painted sign that reads its name. As you venture down the path, you see these individual huts nestled along the trees and a main open dining area. We stayed in a cabin that had 3 beds (2 singles, and a double) and its own bathroom that was on the porch- we fell asleep at night to the sounds of the jungle. Theo, the owner, has a nightly dinner that you can sign up for earlier in the day and you are served with the other guests. The prices are good- the food and company are better. We would all discuss what we had done for the day, exchange tips and stories, play cards, and drink Belikans. Theo would help us set up our activity for the next day and call her recommended tour operators that would come and pick us up from the lodge for our adventure.

It's hard to even put down in words the experience we had. Was it glamorous? No, but its clean and the hospitality is unbeatable. It set the standard for all of my future travel.


1. Tikal National Park, Guatemala

It was surprisingly easy to cross the border between Belize and Guatemala to visit the Mayan ruins. We went with Max's Adventures (Trip Advisor Review; $120 USD per person plus $30BZ to cross the border). They picked us up from Parrot Nest Lodge, Max drove us to the border, which was only a quick ride away, then another driver, Douglas, met us on the Guatemala side and stayed with us the remainder of the tour. It was a 2-hour drive once we crossed the border until we reached Tikal. Once reaching the National Park, we picked up a bilingual guide- Henry- who explained the history of the National Park and took us around to the various sites. He made sure that we climbed the right places to get the best vantage point for pictures, etc. The price we paid included the drive to and from Tikal in a private van, entrance to the park, a personal guide and extra guard, and lunch on the way back to Belize.

Tikal is located in the middle of a very dense jungle and has only recently been excavated by some American students. We saw spider monkeys, howler monkeys and a toucan as we weaved through the ruins.

Although we had read in some guide books that going into Guatemala and Tikal was very dangerous, we didn't feel unsafe as all. Perhaps if we didn't have a guide it would have been different since as soon as you cross the border you see armed military personnel roaming the streets, but we had an awesome, all-around experience.

2. Cave Tubing, Jaguar Paw (Nohoch Che'eh Caves Branch)

Through a recommendation from Theo at Parrot Nest, we did our cave tubing adventure with John Chuc at Kin Winik Jungle Tours (Trip Advisor Review; $70 USD per person). He was truly the greatest guide I have ever had and a pleasure to spend time with.

In a group of four, we took rubber tubes and headlamps and navigated ourselves through a series of dark caves where the only lights were from our head lamps. At a few points we got out of our tubes and climbed through the caves to see the salt formations and some Mayan ruins. We had to army crawl through a small passage way before it opened up to show show these beautiful crystal formation area- Thanks Johnny! Later down stream we got out again to explore this spot where the water was so clear it didn't even look like you were standing in water.

Johnny supplied a great fruit, chips and salsa lunch before taking us back to Parrot Nest. On our way back we had him drive us through Spanish Lookout- which is the Mezinite community in Belize. The Mezinites are a group of progressive Amish who control 75% of the agriculture in Belize. It looks as if you are driving through rural Iowa!

3. Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve

We were picked up in the morning once again by Johnny for our all day excursion to Mountain Pine Ridge with two others (Trip Advisor Review; $75 USD per person). We had a 2-hour drive until we got to our first location- Thousand Foot Falls - a lookout point among pine trees where you can see the tallest waterfall in Central American at 1,600 feet. From the top of the hill, you can also see Belmopan, the new capital of Belize after Hurricane Hatti.

After taking our pictures, we drove back down the hill for about an hour until we reached Rio On. We had lunch at a picnic table over-looking a gorge of natural pools and waterfalls. We hiked down to them and did a little tanning on the warm granite.

Our next stop was Rio Frio- this awesome cave with an 85-foot entrance. Then we went to the Chiquibal Cave System- an adrenaline rushing adventure from the beginning. Immediately upon entering the save we had to squeeze through a small hole and then with our headlamps on continued further into the cave- at some points having the crawl sideways to fit and always surrounded by sleeping bats- eek! The clay got slippery the further down we went until we reached the small stream at the bottom. We slid down slopes, repelled down short cliffs where the rope didn't reach all the way to the bottom. The whole time in this huge cave with "layers of the underworld" you didn't think you would be able to fit, or survive, or make it up- but as we emerged muddy, scraped, and bruised, just as the bats were starting to wake up- we were all excited, and relieved- we had done it!

To rinse off after the hike, Johnny took up to the amazing Big Rock Falls- which felt amazing after the all-day adventure we had just experienced- just as the end of the day turned into night and we were driven back to the Nest.

Places to Eat & Drink:

1. Parrot Nest Lodge- the perks of staying there- you get great food on sight after long days of adventures!

2. Han-nah's- good burritos and Belikans

3. Running W Steakhouse (San Ignacio Hotel)- white tablecloth restaurant. Bottle of red wine, two pepper steak entrees with sides and Oreo Cheesecake for dessert- BZ $90 total!

4. MayaWalk- AVOID- sketch owners, rumors of people being drugged there, rip-off tours


1. William's Belize Shuttle ( - the best and only way you should get from the airport to San Ignacio. $40 USD per person to Parrot Nest Lodge, with stops along the way to try the local tortillas or fruit or coffee cake or grab a Belikan. Sent us a long e-mail prior to our arrival with tips for traveling to Belize. Truly a gem. We also used him to bring us to the water taxi (San Ignacio to Belize City)

2. Water Taxi to Caye Caulker- ( BZ $15 per person one way

Days 5-8: Caye Caulker

Accommodation: De Real Macaw

Located right across from the "street" from the Caribbean, it was clean, quiet, reasonably priced, had air-conditioning and a private bathroom.


1. Scuba Diving

We had a 4:45 am wake up time to make it to our meeting place at Belize Diving Services at 5:15 am. We were served a quick breakfast then set off on a boat around 6 am with 3 guides and 8 other divers just as the sun was starting to rise.

Two hours after departure we reached our first dive sight- "Elbow" at Turneffe South. Our awesome guide TJ took half the group where we dove 80 feet for about 35 minutes. Our 45- minute surface interval gave us enough time to travel to our next dive sight "Black Beauty"- a much shallower dive at about 40 feet for 51 minutes. During our second surface interval we were served lunch and had time to tan again. Our third dive of the day was at "West Point" for another 45 minutes at about 60 feet.

On our ride back to the island we were accompanied by a school of flying fish and then dolphins!

I highly recommend Belize Diving Services (; about $200 USD per person)

2. Fly Fishing

Angler's Abroad (, half- day $220 USD total)

After a short walk from our hotel, we arrived at 8 am to a dock that had a private boat and guide waiting for us to take us out for a half-day of fly fishing for tarpon and bone fish. We spent the morning on the water where there wasn't another boat in site and gliding among the mangroves.

3. Snorkeling/ Sailing/ Sunset Cruise

Raggamuffin Tours (, BZ $140 per person)

A young group joined us as we went to three different locations to snorkel. We visited Shark- Ray Alley where we swam with nurse sharks and sting rays and Hol Chan Marine Reserve where we saw lots of turtles.

We sailed back to the island by the direction of captains Jacob and Shane, while drinking rum punch, eating fresh ceviche, listening to "forever young" and watching the sun set. The best way to spend out final day in Belize!

Places to Eat & Drink:

1. "The Split"- Lazy Lizard

2. Pizza Caulker- ran by a Canadian local- good pizza- write a note on the wall!

3. Syd's Restaurant- great fried chicken!

4. Habaneros- Fanciest restaurant on the island- we had delicious appetizers and cocktails there before dinner at Rose's around the corner.

5. Rose's Cafe- A must- Lobster for $15 USD! YUM!!

6. Barrier Reef Sports Bar- Karaoke Saturday night, the whole island comes out!

7. Amor y Cafe- good breakfast spot


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