Forget what you have heard about Queenstown, New Zealand, the ‘Adventure Capital’ of the world. For a fraction of the price and in the sunny comfortable climate of Central America, you can travel to Belize. Nestled within Central America as the only English speaking country, Belize boasts the Caribbean Sea to the East, Mexico to the North, and Guatemala to the South and West. It’s such a small country that you can travel from East to West in just two hours, or North to South in a little over that. Traveling on a budget? No problem! You can hop on their affordable bus systems. Balling in style? Not a problem either; you can hop on a plane and be to your next destination within a matter of minutes! From trekking through rainforests, to diving the Blue Hole, to snorkeling the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, to climbing to the top of the Mayan temples, there are a variety of activities to match everyone’s tastes. You will be sure to find something that suits you, and it’s all easily accessible so you get the most out of your time. Here are a few highlights from my trip.
A beautiful, scenic, 15 minute trip from Belize City, Maya Airlines provided a quick means to get to the islands in a hurry. A one-way trip from Belize City to Caye Caulker is $80 USD. If you’re lucky enough you might even get a chance to copilot. Another option is Belize Express; offering services to Belize City, San Pedro, Caye Caulker, and Chetumal. Tickets range from $10-$20 USD one way and $20-$35 USD round trip. Belize Express offers easy and convenient scheduling with most destinations offering around 6 trips per day.
Known for its laid-back, back-packer atmosphere, the smaller island of Caye Caulker is accessible from Belize City by water taxi or plane. Smaller and less touristy than Ambergris Caye, if the ambiance of this quaint island doesn’t win your heart, the friendly locals reminding you to ‘go slow’ will. *We learned they adopted this motto because there is no hospital on the island and getting emergency care is quite a challenge. Most people get around by bicycle, foot, or the occasion gulf-cart ‘taxis.’
A budget guesthouse centrally located on the main strip of the island, De Real Macaw, provided us affordable beachfront housing. We stayed in the ‘Sea Front Rooms.’ They were equipped with a small kitchenette, air conditioning, warm, high-pressured showers (plus), a queen and twin bed, and wrap around front porch with hammocks and lounge chairs where we could relax and enjoy a glimpse of the ‘Island Life.’ The room cost $70 USD/night, which split by three is an exceptional deal. Other accommodations at this location range from $20 USD for a single room to $130 USD for a furnished 2-bedroom condominium. Management was friendly and accommodating; they even let us check out a night early with full refund so we could go check out San Pedro for one night.
Barrier Reef Sports Bar and Grill is one of the more happening spots in town. Here they want to be known as the ‘community living room.’ Go there if you want some company, a cold one, and a cheap meal with your typical American staples.
Lazy Lizard Bar and Grill at the Split is the Go To Place! Always full of fun people with high spirits, this place will definitely bring you back over and over again during your time on the island. It’s located at The Split so you can enjoy the sunset, sip on a Rum punch, snorkel, swim, sunbathe, or join fellow travellers for a game of cornhole.
Frans Grill may not look like much, but this little shack is packed with soul-cooking from none other than the famous Miss Fran herself. Seriously, their mashed potatoes are the best I’ve had. Frans boasts an authentic feel, and is only open in the evening. Dinner costs about $8 -$10 USD and fills your plate with a mound of carribean jerk chicken, texas toast, and creamy piping hot mashed potatoes. Be sure to get there early as the picnic tables fill up fast!
Ice n’ Beans Coffee Shop provides free mini doughnuts while you’re waiting for your coffee…need I say more? Offering organic Belizean coffee, this is the closest thing to Starbucks on the island – so if you need your fix, this is the place to go. Start your morning on their patio watching the sunrise while sipping your joe.
Diving was the main attraction that pulled me to Belize. Little did I know there were so many other adventures lurking inland (…keep reading). The mystery of the Blue Hole had been calling me ever since I read about it when first obtaining my PADI certification three years prior. After researching various diving facilities, we went with Blue Sea Diving for all of our dives. *Of note I will acknowledge the many negative reviews they have throughout the web, however our experience exceeded our expectations. They were professional, knowledgeable, courteous, and most importantly fun and easy going. Dive locations included: Blue Hole, Esmerelda, Light House, and Half Moon Wall. Of them all, Half Moon Wall was my favorite; surrounded by vivid contrasting colors of coral and abundant marine life, I felt like a real life mermaid. We were lucky enough to see manta rays, Caribbean reefs sharks, nurse sharks, numerous varieties of fish, and sea turtles.
Another awesome activity for those of you not willing to take the plunge all the way to the bottom of the deep blue sea is snorkeling. There are plenty of tour companies that offer a variety of different tours that meet the needs of every traveler. Shark Ray Alley was the only one (and the only one that HAS to be done, in my opinion) that we did while we were there. It was one of the best snorkeling experiences I have had, ever. PERIOD. Where else can you swim freely with dozens of stingrays and nurse sharks? The creatures are so docile they literally follow you around like puppies. They certainly aren’t camera shy and will swim right up to your camera for a perfect capture. Absolutely a must on my list!
San Pedro is the only town on this larger, touristy island just North of Caye Caulker. It offers a full range of shops, restaurants, accommodations of any price range, and multiple tour companies with a variety of activities. There are even local ancient Mayan sites!
Gulf Cart Rentals are always on my list of favorite things to do. It gets you mobile and outside of the city limits to areas that are only accessible by foot. $50 per day ride around town gets you a birds eye view of how the locals live in and outside the city.
Literally a place to grab a cold one on the beach with your toes in the sand, Sandy Toes should definitely be a place on your radar to swing by. One of my favorite spots in San Pedro was Tackelbox Bar & Grill. Located right beside Belize Express Water Taxi, this place is loads of fun. Known to have ‘the best burger in San Pedro’ and for their slogan, ‘lunch all day-party all night,’ this place provides all day entertainment. Although I can’t speak for their well-known burger, the tacos are a must and you could easily spend a whole day here. Jump off the dock and float in the inner tubes while waiting on your food and drinks until sunset when the DJ comes on for some evening dancing and drinking.
The capital of the Cayo District, this town has something for everyone. Referred to as the West Tourist Hub for all your inland activities, you’ll find travelers from all walks of life here. It has everything from upscale hotels, to a few scattered hostels, to a variety of restaurants, to endless tour agencies willing to book your next adventure, to one dance club, to a popular bar on the hill called Thirsty Thursdays.
Ranked #1 on TripAdvisor and in my book for their customer service, Maya Walk Tours provided us with all of our adrenaline pumping tours. Ranging from $70 USD-$125 USD, these inclusive tours were the highlights of our trip. I highly recommend the ATM tour. Mixed with high physical activity, history, and excitement that lay behind every corner, it actually feels like you are stepping back into time. Archeologists have left the Mayan remains completely untouched and unearthed, exactly as they have been discovered! The guides refer to it as a real-life Indiana Jones movie. Unfortunately cameras are not allowed due to damage from previous tourists dropping cameras, however you are provided with stock photos at the end of your tour. ☺
If you enjoy a more relaxing take on adventures, cave tubing is for you. After a short stroll through the jungle you can sit back, relax, and float down the Cave Branch River system through a series of four different caves. The views are out of this world with massive caves reaching heights of 100 plus feet. You learn about geology, Mayan history, and ancient history of the limestone cave systems. Once finished you are treated to a homemade local lunch, topped off with bottomless Rum Punch.
The last tour we went on, Black Hole Drop is only provided by the pioneer company of adventures in Belize, Ian Anderson’s Cave Branch Adventure Company. Known as the ‘Mother of all Caves,’ this is not a tour for the skittish. Following a vigorous hike in the jungle with the opportunity to see Tarantulas, Howler monkeys, tropical frogs, and snakes, you are lead to the edge of Actun Lock Tunich sinkhole, 300ft above the basin, 200ft above the rain forest canopy. Once here you are strapped in and locked up for your rappel to the basin below. I have to admit, I was scared beyond words, but managed to conjure up enough courage to make it down below… AND lived to write this travel blog AND tell you, you SHOULD DO IT! Once at the bottom you have the chance to explore while the guides provide a delicious picnic style lunch, followed by a short rock climb to a ladder to climb up out of the sinkhole. Cost is $110 USD.
San Ignacio Hotel had exceptional customer service, which seems to be a theme here. You are greeted with a cold towel enhanced with peppermint essential oils to cool you from your hot, long journey, a welcome drink, and daily homemade mid afternoon snacks that include seconds if requested. ☺
Green Iguana Conservation Project For just $8 USD, you can hold baby iguanas, medium iguanas, and extra large iguanas. Located behind the San Ignacio Hotel, this might be a small enclosure, but it stands for a big cause. Dedicated to conserve and look after the endangered Green Iguana species in Belize, they offer an interactive educational approach to the locals and visitors.