Belize. It had been a destination I dreamt of going to ever since I was a broke 21-year-old and I first saw pictures of the infamous Blue Hole. Five years later, in March 2016, I made that fantasy into a reality. Was it like I always imagined it would be? No. And that’s okay. Below is the itinerary Joe and I followed during our 9 days in the country. While there are many high points I will look back on fondly, I will also include the few experiences/mistakes I wish we could have skipped.
Day 1: Flew into Belize City.
We were immediately picked up from the airport by a man that our Air BNB had arranged to pick us up. We were informed that the ferry to our next destination would not be for another two hours, so he offered to drive us into the city so we could eat ‘authentic’ Belizean food. Before I could say ‘no,’ my boyfriend jumped on the idea. And so off we went, but not before our driver made a side-trip so he could buy a grill from someone selling them out of his front yard.
Why did I say no? I knew that, on paper, Belize is not a safe place. In fact, it is amongst the top ten countries for homicides. However, I also knew that this was chiefly because of the violence of Belize City and did not pertain to the rest of the country, as well as the fact that tourists were not targeted. Instead, it’s due the increased presence of the drug cartels and gangs battling one another.
Our experience in Belize City was short. We stopped over into a restaurant where we got food to go, and our meal of rice, beans, and sweet potato pie was delicious indeed. From there, we waited at the ferry terminal (it’s important to note that, unbeknownst to us, there is more than one with varying times, a fact that would haunt us later). When our boat arrived and we sprung up from our seats, a man intercepted Joe and offered to sell him drugs, to which he said no and went on his way. No harm, no foul.
The sights we saw on our way to Caye Caulker were a feast for the eyes. We passed small islands, mangroves, and saw a gorgeous sunset as we jetted over the water.
Day 2: Exploring Caye Caulker
Our itinerary designated this day to be left open for whatever water activities we stumble across, whether it be swimming or catching a boat to see manatees. Unfortunately, on-and-off rain grounded all water-based activities, leaving us to explore the island and eat delicious food. Be warned though that there’s not much to do on the actual island of Caye Caulker that doesn’t involve eating, drinking, browsing a few of the stalls, and general relaxation.
To learn more about the food, the sites, and practical tips, read my full review of Caye Caulker.
Day 3: Snorkeling in the Second Largest Barrier Reef in the World
We took a five-hour snorkeling tip that had us swimming alongside sharks, vibrant schools of fish, textured coral, and even a sunken barge. The trip finished with our boat floating right along side friendly pelicans who, much like the pigeons of Philadelphia, were hoping to charm us into throwing bits of food overboard. Of all of the things we did in Belize, this was amongst our favorites.
Day 4: Drive to San Ignacio with Stops at the Belize Zoo and the Belize Iguana Project
We rented a car and drove the width of the country, which proved to be a quick and easy drive. On the way, we stopped at the Belize Zoo. This organization only houses animals rescued from harmful domestic situations, were orphaned at a young age, or were disabled. There is a heavy emphasis on conservation, and I’ve never been to a zoo in which the animals were granted so much space. Bravo!
In a similar vein, the Belize Iguana Project is an organization that raises iguanas to maturity before releasing them back into the wild. A quick tour will educate you about their initiative, and grant you the opportunity to play with the animals themselves.
To learn more about the Western region of the country, check my blog post about things to do in San Ignacio.
Day 5: Trip to Caracol
The road to Caracol was long and bumpy, but entirely worth it. Our guide had us visit an incredibly tall cave called Rio Frio Cave on the way there, as well as waterfalls Rio on Pools in which we could swim on the way back. However, the ruins themselves were the main jewel of the day.
A group of eight of us hiked through the jungle, learning a bit about the trees we passed. Our guide was quite knowledgeable about the purposes of the structures and faded artwork.
If you go, you’ll notice a military presence. Though our guide originally told us the army’s presence was to protect the land against Guatemalan poachers, he would later reveal that this was mostly a lie. Roughly a year prior to our visit in March 2016, Guatemalans attempted to rob tourists at Caracol and shot a police officer dead. This provides yet another reason why it may be smart to venture to Caracol with a tour rather than by yourself.
To read more about what to expect when visiting Caracol, check out this blog post.
Day 6: Barton Creek Cave Canoe and Ziplining
Many people choose to do the ATM Cave, but we ultimately decided that it may be too treacherous for us. After all, I’m not great in tight spaces, and Joe was recovering from a back injury. Instead, we canoed through Barton Creek Cave.
The drive there was beautiful, as was the scenery outside the cave. The inside of the cave was stunning in its own rugged right, but don’t’ expect to seem glistening geodes or well-lit rock formations. Instead, you’ll be slowly canoeing through the darkness with only flashlights to allow you to see overhead.
You’ll hear about Mayan rituals of human sacrifice, as the boat drifts deeper into the earth. It’s beautiful and creepy, but certainly isn’t the adrenaline-inducing for which some may have hoped. As much as we liked it, those with back problems will find the canoes uncomfortable.
After driving through the gorgeous Mennonite-owned lands (you read that correctly), we sat for a pre-packed picnic lunch with our guide. This is when he opened up about Belizean culture. He told us about how the country only recently gained independence from England, and found itself unprepared for the consequential struggles. He mentioned how the army had roughly 500 soldiers, and how Guatemala was bullying them for land and valuable resources. We learned about the inner-battles to make preservation of nature a priority, as well as how new educational reforms were trying to shape a bright future for the new country. A true nature-lover at heart, he told Joe and I about how he faced off against poachers who shot at him, and how he was retiring from tourism to talk to school children about the importance of the environment. Listening to him talk was the highlight of the day.
Then there was the zip lining _. Trust me, skip the zip lining. While it was nice to not have a private trip that meant zero lines or waiting, the zip lines were low to the ground and far from thrilling. While the dull experience may have been simply because of the company we went with, I have a sneaky suspicion that the Belizean zip lines will always fall short of what you’ll find in Costa Rica. Considering that San Ignacio offers plenty of other activities to do, I suggest leaving zip lining off of your itinerary.
Day 7: Xunantunich and the Other Blue Hole
The next day, we left our hotel and drove the very short distance to Xuantunich. Unlike Caracol, these Mayan ruins are easily accessible, which means that we encountered slightly more people. The view from the top was wonderful.
Afterwards, we hopped back in our car and drove to centrally-located Belmopan, the capital of Belize. The real attraction for us was St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park. A fairly small park, it proved to be wonderful nonetheless. We hiked through some of the densest jungle we encountered in Belize, and swam in a pleasant pool. While there is also a cave to explore, we did not bring flash lights and, therefore, could not venture deep into its interior.
Day 8: Howler Monkeys & Crooked Tree
On our last full day in Belize, we drove to the Community Baboon Sanctuary near Bermudian Landing. Here, a guide took us into the jungle and called out to the baboons, prompting the creatures to cautiously approached us. What made this spectacular was the fact they were wild animals who simply had grown used to the guide’s voice, rather than captive animals that were performing for treats. Whenever Joe talks to others about how much he loved our trip to Belize, being a mere foot away from the howler monkeys is always one of the things he always mentions.
Following this, we went to Crooked Tree Sanctuary. An island that resembled the American South more than a tropical paradise, its unique mellowness relaxed us. If you’re considering adding this destination to your Belizian itinerary, check out my full review of things to do in Crooked Tree.
Day 9: Flying Home
We ultimately chose to spend our last night at Crooked Tree because of the island’s proximity to the airport (without being in dangerous Belize City). The next morning, we drove to the airport, returned our car, and were in the air before we knew it.
What I Would Have Done Differently:
We had some bumps along the road of our trip but, ultimately, there was very little I would have changed about our Belizean itinerary in hindsight. If I have a 10th day for the trip, I would have most likely spent it in San Ignacio as there were plenty of things to do which we had to skip.