May 24 – June 20, 2016.
After spending 6 incredible months in Mexico, we crossed into Belize on May 24, 2016 and explored the small country for about a month.
Just before reaching the border we were getting ready to leave our camp in the Mexican town of Chetumal when another catastrophe made us go nuts for a few hours. The day before we had ripped off our camper’s side door by hitting a cement post and now the popup camper that runs on 4 hydraulics posts did not want to close all the way. We could not figure out why? We decided to leave anyway and stop at Home Depot where we had to get a few things anyway. When we got there we called the office of XPCamper and spoke to Richard who was able to identify the problem from what we were telling him over the phone. It turned out to be just a screw sticking out in one of the railings…and just like that we were on our merry way! It’s so nice to have someone to call when these moments of panic happen.
Belize, formerly known as British Honduras, is the only English speaking country in Central America. English is the official language but we also heard a lot of Kriol and Spanish. The main attractions are found either somewhere around the Caribbean Sea on the east side or through the Jungle on the west side but what made it so special for us was the mix of cultures we encountered. The different ethnic groups are: Mestizo, Creole, Mayan, Garifuna, Indian, German, Amish and Asian. The population is just over 350,000 living on a territory of 8,800 sq miles (22,800 sq km).
The first town where we stopped after the border crossing was Corozal, where we spent our first night camped in the back yard of a Sea front restaurant. The Turkish owner was agreeable for $10.00. We got some local currencies (the Belizean dollar is half the value of the US dollar) and sim cards for our cell phones. Which seems like a 30 minute errand but we quickly found out that in Central America everything takes a looooooonnnnnngggggg time. In hindsight we realize that Mexico was quite efficient when compared to Central America!
A small fishing and shipbuilding village on the northern Coast where time seems to stand still. We spent one night at the Backpackers Paradise Hostel owned by Nathalie a nice French-Swiss woman. We walked around the village, had a nice fresh fish dinner and watch the sunset and wooden sailboats being repaired.
We left our rig securely parked at the Backpacker Paradise hostel in Sarteneja and got on the Thunderbolt Ferry to San Pedro on Ambergriss Caye and then we took another ferry to Caye Caulker where we spent three nights on this laid back Caribbean island Paradise.
Old Belize Marina
When we got back to Sarteneja from Caye Caulker, our camper side door, that had been temporarily put back on after being ripped off by a cement post in Mexico, no longer closed properly so we had to address that asap. Our friends Christiane and Birger from Slow Motions had messaged us that the Old Belize Marina or Cucumber Beach Marina had a crew doing fiberglass on boats and they would be available to work on our camper to fix the door. We spent another night at the Backpackers Paradise Hostel and left early the next day for Belize City.
After our door was repaired we left Belize City and made a stop at the Belize Zoo which is more a refuge than a traditional zoo. Their mission is to protect the native species and educate the population about them.
“Many of the animals in Belize Zoo are rescue cases, that is, wild animals that were kept as pets by individual collectors. The zoo makes every attempt to recondition such animals for a return to the wild, but only when such a return is feasible. In cases where return is impossible (as is the case with most of the zoo’s jungle cats, who have long since forgotten how to hunt, or never learned in the first place), they remain in the zoo: perhaps not the best life for a wildcat, but better than winding up in Zsa Zsa Gabor’s closet.”
Excerpt From: Lonely Planet. “Lonely Planet Belize.” iBooks.
Cave tubing Nohoch Che’en
After spending the morning at the Zoo we decided to cool off in the Caves Branch River. After a hike along the jungle we reached the point in the river that leads into the first cave, with crystal clear water, we got on our tubes and just let the current take us down the river. Along the way we went through three pitch dark caves where we had to use our head lamps to observed all kinds of geological formations that our guide was pointing out to us. What a great way to spend an afternoon!
The Hummingbird Highway is a 50 mile stretch through the mountains that connects Belmopan, the Capital, to the Southern Highway along the coast. It’s at the top of the prettiest drive we have done!
Placencia is a beach resort town on the Caribbean coast and is very popular with North American expats and tourists. It’s located on the Southern tip of a long, narrow sandy peninsula, the drive reminded us a bit of the Florida Keys!
Mayflower Bocawina National Park
We stopped at the Mayflower Bocawina National Park for a hike through the rainforest to see the Antelope Waterfall. The scenery was beautiful but it got so hot and humid, and just before we got to the waterfall (we could hear it) the trail got so strenuous and we started to hear thunder so we decided to turn around. Even if we did not see the fall and swim in the pool bellow, it was still a great experience!
Shortly after, our friends John & Mandi reached out to us to see if we wanted to join them to explore the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve so we rendez-vous in the little town of San Ignacio close to the Guatemala border.
Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve
“The sudden switch from tropical rainforest to pine trees as you ascend to the Mountain Pine Ridge – a broad upland area of multiple ridges and valleys – is a little bizarre and somewhat startling. The reserve is full of rivers, pools, waterfalls and caves; the higher elevation means relief from both heat and mosquitoes.”
Excerpt From: Lonely Planet. “Lonely Planet Belize.” iBook
Rio on Pools
Back to San Ignacio
After our magical time in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, we had to return to San Ignacio to get ready for our border crossing into Guatemala.
But before, John and Mandi convinced us to take another Cave tour called: Actun Tunichil Muknal ATM . One of the most exhilarating and challenging experience we’ve had so far. The all day tour consists of a hike through the jungle, three river crossings, then you enter a cave that is several kilometer long but first you first have to swim to get in, then you squeeze in these passages with just your head above water and up and down rocks and laders… This cave is a popular Mayan burial sites that contains skeletons, bones and different artifacts. In the upper chambers we had to walk on our socks to prevent damage to the artifacts! That was a real Indiana Jones moment and we’re so happy we did it! Unfortunately cameras are not allowed so I downloaded a few pictures from he internet:
We love this mural in San Ignacio and the message sums up how we feel about Belize:
“We may be small but packed inside are wonders waiting to be revealed to those who take time out to see, to be, to feel. Mayan Pyramids showcasing the talent of our native land dwellers, the infrastructural mindset of the indigenous, creating artifacts so stellar, a community build upon love, trust and commitment withstanding all hardships due to persistence. A society so majestic, so tranquil, nurturing people so peaceful, so blissful . A home to many young and old, filled with past events, just waiting to be told, filled with kind present youths, who continue to be bold, filled with future promises, just waiting to unfold.”
by Natasha Velasquez