A Taste of Belize

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Views of Belize
Placencia San Ignacio Cahal Peche Caracol El Pilar Xunantunich The Blue Hole Belize Zoo
Placencia

 

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The Moorings charter yacht base is in Placencia, some 150 miles south of Belize City.

We were due to fly from Jacksonville in Florida, (50 miles south of Brunswick), to Miami and connect to Belize on American Airlines on 11th May. Made a 5am start from Brunswick and drove to Jacksonville. Checked in for the 0820 flight to Miami. 0900 no news on the flight. 0915, tyre problem, replacement due in at 1400 so flight cancelled. Returned to check in to re-book. A THREE HOUR QUEUE to re-book meant we missed every flight that day. We finally reached Miami at 9pm, where at least we were offered hotel accommodation. Arrived Belize a day late on 12th May.

Decided in our wisdom to see something of the personality of Belize and take the local "chicken market" bus to Placencia. A 5 hour trip!

Had to wait a couple of hours for the next bus, so had a quick walk around Belize City. Came to the conclusion that it has very little to offer.

Sure enough, our bus stopped hundreds of times at every little village and farm. We had chickens on board, dogs on board and every flavour of Belize society. Belize is made up of people of Latin American Indian, Spanish and African origin. Add to this a few more recent European and North American mixes, some resident ex-patriates and back-packing tourists.

The journey on the bus took us inland to Belmopan, the capital of Belize then back towards the coast and onto the peninsular of Placencia. On the way, we travelled through lush rain forest and many farming areas. Bananas and Oranges are Belize's main agricultural exports. Many farms are run by Mennonite farmers who came from Europe in the 1950's and still live their very simple traditional lives.

We arrived Placencia after dark and had trouble finding our booked accommodation at Capt. Jak's. When we did find it, they had given up waiting for us and gone for dinner. Eventually the owner turned up and we moved in.

Placencia is primarily a fishing village. It offers an enormous sheltered lagoon between it's peninsular and the mainland, hence the attraction to charter operators who can move their boats quickly up the lagoon and into the mangrove in the event of storms or hurricanes. Otherwise the predominant tourists there are back-packers, divers and snorkellers and the accommodation is all guest houses, no major resorts.

Restaurants are all simple thatched shacks on the beach as are the bars. There is one narrow main road down the peninsular and Placencia's famed "Sidewalk" a 1 metre wide concrete path that winds its way down the beach, parallel to the road, passing all the restaurants, bars and gift shops.

You walk everywhere as Placencia is far too small to warrant wheels. We spent 6 days there. For 3 days we were involved with viewing, surveying and re-viewing the catamaran at the Moorings base. The other 3 days, we were tourists.

We met up with Curtis Collins, who we had previously met in the Bahamas in 2005, when he and his wife Sandra were heading to Belize to set up a sailing school.  In 2005 they had been sailing their catamaran Cattleya. Tragically, just before we flew to Belize, we learned that Sandra had very recently been killed in a boating accident on the Rio Dulce where they were building a home.

Curtis is running his sailing school business and was a great help to us in terms of local sailing advice.

Left Placencia on 18th May, Iza having again persuaded Geoff to make another chicken bus run, and returned to Belize City. As it was Sunday, the bus was quieter, with fewer stops so far quicker.

We picked up a rental car in Belize City, drove west again through the capital, Belmopan and on towards the western border with Guatemala.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
San Ignacio
 

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A few miles before reaching Belize' western border with Guatemala lies the town of San Icnacio.

This is a quaint little town on the Belize River with a definite Spanish/Mexican flavour.

Full of little restaurants and guest houses, it is the starting base for visits to all the major Mayan ruins and those in Eastern Guatemala.

We stayed 2 nights in San Ignacio, the first in a 4 star hotel up on a hill overlooking the town and very close to the Cahal Peche ruins.

Our accommodation was a cabana on the slopes overlooking the town of San Ignacio. No problem wheeling our bags down the slope when we arrived, but a different matter getting them back up the hill when we left.

On our second night we stayed at an American expatriate operated camp called "Parrots Nest" right by the Belize River on the outskirts of San Igancio.

Accommodation was very, very back-packer basic. A rustic cabana in the forest garden, with shared toilets and showers.

In the gardens of "Parrot's Nest" we saw an animal that we could not identify. We were told by an American tourist that it was a Giddy. Never heard of it. It looked like a cross between a very large rabbit and a small deer.

They were camera shy but otherwise unperturbed as they shuffled around the garden.

During our later visit to Belize Zoo, we discovered these are actually classified as rodents and are called Agouti, not Giddy.

 

 

     
Cahal Peche

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Cahal Peche was in walking distance from our hotel and was our first introduction to Mayan pyramids and ruins, all of which were built to the same geographical and astronomical layout.

These are phenominal feats of design and engineering. The four that we visited were in different stages of excavation and preservation and are also of different vintages.

There is a great deal of climbing and the steps were built deliberately large so that the relatively small Mayans had to go up on all fours as a sign of respect and homage.

These cannot be adequately described in words. Let the pictures tell the story. Visit our Belize Photogallery.

We "did" Cahal Peche 3 times in one evening as we thought we had dropped Iza's glasses in the ruins. They were not there, they were in the hotel, but it was great exercise!

Caracol

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Caracol was a different story from Cahal Peche. Whereas Cahal Peche was so close to the town of San Ignacio, it took away some of the mystique, Caracol was a dusty, bone rattling, teeth chattering, butt bruising 50 mile drive over corrugations that threw the little Suzuki off course every so often as the wheels lost all traction.

This experience was interspersed with sudden slow downs for small bridges over rivers and was very reminiscent of roads in northern Kenya.

We climbed through a forest of pines, most of which have been attacked by a beetle that destroys the bark of the pine, leading to the eventual death of the tree. The forest is mostly made up of young pines, (whose bark is less attractive to the beetle, we assume) as the old are dying off.

At one point on the road, we slowed down to pass a parked pick up. We did not notice the registration or the occupants in the dust. They started up and followed us so we late pulled over to let the pass. They stopped behind us and flashed their lights for us to carry on ahead. A little further we could see a very scenic rive crossing ahead. We stopped again to wave them past. They pulled alongside and said "We are your escorts." Only then did we notice the Belize Defense Force (BDF) registration plates, the uniforms and guns.

A little further on and we come around the corner to a junction and there are three vehicles stopped, one apparently broken down. The BDF pick up pulled up behind us, thinking it was a hold up!

At Caracol itself, there are "Tourist Guards." All very polite and low key, some being very knowledgeable about the ruins who act as impromptu guides.

Caracol is very impressive. Lots of climbing. Many more buildings that Cahal Peche and once the largest city in Belize.

While walking around Caracol, an incredible howling noise started. It sounded as if the spirits of the Mayans had returned from the jungle to haunt us. We were finally told these were Howler Monkeys, and their call can be heard over a mile away. Very eerie!  Sounds as if the creatures making them must be at least as big as elephants!

On our way back to San Ignacio, we stopped at the "1,000 Foot Falls." Actually they are claimed to be 1,660 feet high and the highest falls in Central America.

 

 

 

El Pilar

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After the equally bone shattering drive back to San Ignacio from Caracol, we decided to squeeze in a visit to another set of ruins on the outskirts of San Ignacio, called El Pilar.

The book said that these ruins were mostly un-excavated and as the road was so rough, rarely visited.

Yes, the road was rough, but a very interesting drive through forest, farming and ranches.

Only one section of El Pilar has been partially excavated, so it was an interesting comparison with the well excavated Caracol.  El Pilar is smaller, but the same layout as all the ruins. The forest has taken over many areas and this makes it a very attractive site whose mysteries are yet to unfold.

On our way back into San Ignacio, we caught sight of our first Keel-Billed Toucan, the national bird of Belize.

 

 

Xunantunich

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Pronounced "Shoenantonich," Xunantunich is not far from San Ignacio and only a couple of miles from Belize's western border with Guatemala.

Reached by crossing the river on a hand operated car ferry, these ruins provide yet another perspective on the Mayan civilisation.

Although the general geographic and astronomic layout is always the same, as is the general building structure and purpose, each set of ruins has its individual design. So it is definitely not a case of "You've seen one, you've seen them all."

Xunantunich was again very impressive and humbling. Remember that the Mayans knew about the wheel and even made toys with wheels, but they never actually used the wheel when building these pyramids.

Each of the ruins is placed on high ground and all offer fantastic forest views.

 

Blue Hole & Caves

 

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After our early morning visit to Xunantunich and a quick Mexican lunch in San Ignacio, we drove back East to Belmopan, the capital, then turned south back towards Placencia to visit the Blue Hole National Park.

This drive was all on good paved roads, so the Suzuki held together a little better.

The Blue Hole is a sink hole, reported to be 100 feet deep, set in the forest.

Not as impressive as other blue holes we have seen, but we had a very chilling, refreshing dip followed by a brisk 1 mile hike through the forest before setting off to find accommodation for the night.

There is very little accommodation available on this road, so we were lucky. Just across the road from the Blue Hole Park was "Ian Anderson's Caves Branch Lodge." Sounded intriguing.

Ian Anderson is Canadian, who left the hotel trade in Canada, took up caving, (of which there are many in Belize) and started this lodge. The main building and restaurant are beautifully built in wood again reminiscent of many up-market game lodges in Kenya.

The forest cabanas are basic but far more appealing than those at Parrot's Nest.

Over dinner we met up with a fantastic group of people who were enjoying caving, abseiling cliffs and waterfalls, dropping into waterfalls, cave-tubing and much more.

It was great to meet them all and share experiences:

Bobby and Allie from the USA on their honeymoon.

Alex and Kelly also from the USA.

Trent and Christie from Calgary in Canada.

Angela, from New York, courageously travelling on her own.

Angela joined us the following day on our visit to Belize Zoo on our way back to Belize City and flight out.

 

 

 

 

Belize Zoo

 

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Now having lived in Africa, seeing animals in their natural habitat and enjoying their freedom, zoos are usually a no-no for us.

However, Belize Zoo was started by accident when a animal trainer from the US was hired to look after some "tame" wild animals for a movie being made in Belize. The movie ran out of money and everyone left, leaving behind the animal trainer and the animals with nowhere to go.

So she stayed and made a home for them in Belize, eventually obtaining the present site and official recognition.

The zoo is very well done with animals in as near natural forested surroundings as possible. All animals are indigenous to Belize.

Many animals are confiscated illegal pets and there is a program to release certain species back into the wild.

The zoo is educational and hosts schools from all over Belize.

We took Angela along with us for the trip then she caught the bus back to Caves Branch Lodge.

We continued on to Belize City, returned the car and flew back to Brunswick via Miami with great memories of Belize and the people we met along the way.

 

 

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Email

prower@ondreamon.com

Telephone

USA: 1-954 4785948        UK:  +44 7855388258         Skype: geoff.iza