Belize

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.

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It was weird to be greeted in English at the border after 6 months of Spanish. We got our Tourist visa, our vehicle’s Temporary Import Permit and liability insurance for 30 days. (Notice the duct tape on the camper door!)

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).

Corozal

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!

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As it has become a tradition among Overlanders, when you arrive into a new country you have to try the local beer and or alcohol in this case a Belikin Beer and Rum with fruit juice!

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From Corozal we headed towards the small coastal town of Sarteneja. On the way we took 2 hand crank ferries to cross small rivers, which we thought was pretty cool!

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We spend our second night in Belize free camping down a little dirt road that led to this secluded spot about 8km outside of Sarteneja.

Sarteneja

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.

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Fishermen bring their wooden boats to the small village of Sarteneja for repairs.

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These wooden sail boats are use by the local fishermen mainly for lobster and they get an overall makeover before the season starts on June 15 until February 14. Every year more than 500,000 lbs of the Caribbean Spiny Lobster is harvested.

Caye Caulker

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.

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We did not have a reservation but with the help of a local, we found the Colinda Cabanas owned by a Canadian couple.  When we leave our rig, we like to splurge a little on nice accommodations. Since it was not high season we negotiated 3 nights for $200 for a room with Air Con, a small kitchen and even a flat screen TV and 2 bicycles!!!

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Picture of a painting by a local artist!

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Caye Caulker is known for the “No shirt, No shoes … No Problem” attitude that suits us just fine. The white sand beaches seem to disappear into the Caribbean Sea!

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Our beautiful Cabana came with 2 bicycles we could use to explore the small island (5 miles long by 0.15 – 1.2 miles wide). Bicycles and Golf carts are the preferred mode of transport besides walking.

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We took a half day snorkeling tour to the nearby world’s second longest barrier reef. We saw many fish and colorful corals and swam with nurse sharks and eagle rays.

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Typical fish dinner with a Caribbean flair. Red Snapper with coconut curry sauce! We were to early for the Lobster! Bummer!!!

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On the way back we stopped in San Pedro for lunch and walked around Ambergris Caye which is more developped and more touristy with upscale resorts and restaurants! Apparently it’s the island that inspired Madonna’s song:  La Isla Bonita!  

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.

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When we got to the Marina we were happy to see familiar faces. Guy & Amy in their Land Rover Defender and Beat & Betty from Reisefriedli in their cool Land Cruiser Camper. (Notice, the  awning and side door were removed from our camper)

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We spent 3 nights at the Marina while they worked on the fiberglass. During the day we just hung out at the marina and at night they gave us back the camper so we could sleep in it. They worked two full days and did a fantastic job for $225.

Belize zoo

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.

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The Spider Monkey lives in the tropical rain forests of Central and South America. They have a prehensile tail, witch means it can grasp and can be use like a fifth limb.

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The Tapir is the largest land mammal of Central America and is often referred to as “mountain cow”. It’s also the national animal of Belize.

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!

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Hummingbird Highway

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!

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Along the way we pulled over to a little side road that led us to this small river. Perfect spot for the night! We made dinner, had a quiet night, swam in the river and Joe forgot his Chaco sandals! Hopefully someone is enjoying them!

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Fresh dairy is rare in Central America. When we saw the Country Barn we had to stop and stock up on cheese, yogurt and milkshakes! It’s run by a Christian ministry and employs local youths and trains them in farm skills.

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Poverty is present everywhere in Belize. We also noticed that pretty much all the grocery stores throughout the country are owned by Chinese and the Mennonite community called “Millionites” by the locals seems to have the monopoly on fresh produce, poultry, beef, dairy, wood products and handcrafted furniture!

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Education is free in Belize through age 14, however many do not complete primary school.

Placencia

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!

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This little piece of concrete, it looks more like a side walk to me, holds the Guinness World Records for the “World’s Narrowest Street”

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Fry Jacks (deep fried dough) are a staple of the Belizean breakfast! Oh and that guava jelly!

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An indigenous women selling her craft on the beach.

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The cashew tree is a tropical evergreen tree that produces the cashew nut and the cashew apple. Cashew wine made with the cashew apple is very popular in Belize but the apple can also be eaten fresh. The nut is encased in a toxic shell, intended to keep animals away, so it has to be roasted first to neutralize the acid! No wonder they cost so much!

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We camped with Guy and Amy in the parking lot of the Mariposa Beach Suites and Resort. The friendly Canadian owners Bruce and Sharon allow Overlanders to camp for free as long as we eat one meal per day in their restaurant. Not a bad deal! And we can use the pool, wi-fi, beach chairs, bathrooms and outdoor showers!

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The best feature of the Mariposa is their awesome pool. Not a bad place to celebrate our 17th year Wedding Anniversary!

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After 4 days in Placencia we got back on the road but not before having a late breakfast at this gorgeous little restaurant/hotel!

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!

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San Ignacio

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.

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Mana Kai Camping & Cabins in San Ignacio is a great place to meet other Overlanders and plan and regroup before exploring the many attractions nearby or cr

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This is Man Kai’s always busy owner, Javier. He is super friendly and helpful in planning excursions and booking tours.

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But before heading out we had some maintenance to do on the truck. While driving through Belmopan, the Capital, we did not see a speed bump and it hit so hard that we blew our driver’s side air bag! We went to the Mennonite town of Spanish Lookout to get a replacement and the salesman referred us to this guy to have it installed! Not sure he knew what he was doing but with Joe’s guidance and tools, he got the job done!

Caracol Ruins

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Caracol is Belize’s largest and most important Maya site. Once among the most powerful cities in the entire Maya world, this ancient city now lies amongst thick jungle near the Guatemalan border.

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It was occupied as early as 1200 BC. Its greatest period of construction was in the Maya classic period, between 600 and 900 AD. The town covered 65 sq miles and supported a population of about 120,000 people.

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Joe, John & Mandi trying to envision what it was like way back when the Mayans were roaming around these buildings!

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On top of the world! The Mayan world that is!

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There is military presence through out the park and you have to register and follow a military convoy to access the site. Apparently disputes about the border with Guatemala have created tensions in the area.

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Siesta time in the shade! It takes about 3 hours on pretty bad roads to get there, so there is not to many tourists around. When we visited we only saw 2 or 3 other small groups.

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

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We made a quick stop at Rio Frio Cave!

Rio on Pools

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View from our camp site!

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One of our all time favorite camp spot! And it’s free!

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From our camp site, we walked down a little trail for about 5 minutes to this incredibly refreshing river!

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We sat under this little waterfall for hours!

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Our daily schedule: Coffee, talk about the great night we just had, breakfast, go down the river for a swim, come back to camp for lunch, more swimming in the afternoon, followed by a nap, then happy hour while preparing dinner, go to bed early and start all over again the next day!!! If you enlarge the picture, you will see our camp site with our rigs in the upper center of the photo.

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The temperature was great, sunny days, cool nights and no bugs, well except your occasional scorpion!

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:

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We could not leave Belize without having a lobster feast! So on June 16 one day after the start of the Lobster season we enjoyed the Caribbean Spiny Lobster prepared Belizean style.

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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

NEXT, GUATEMALA … STAY TUNED !!!

10 thoughts on “Belize

  1. Holy mackerel Batman I can’t believe it’s almost a year since they crossed over to Belize…..they just got to Panama. Sorry to hear about the break in. And all the subsequent repairs. Life on the road has its risk. But looks like the trip is worth every bit of it. Keep trucking. Be safe, and save every bit of this blog for your future tour guide!

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    1. Hi Bob and thanks for you comments! It is crazy how time flies. Btw we did not have a break in, we drove off with our camper door open and it got ripped off when we drove near a cement post! Ouch!!! All the Best! J&J

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  2. Just a heads up, I don’t know if you remember Ed Cassidy from the Academy. He was one of the Immigration Chiefs who ran basic after we merged. One heck of a nice guy. He died this morning after a long bout with cancer. Fought hard but eventually lost. Take care my friends and enjoy the adventure

    Bob

    Sent from my iPhone

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  3. You two are having such a great adventure. I really enjoy hearing about your travels. Thanks so much for sharing them with me.

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  4. Chers vous deux,
    Quelle belle lecture de votre aventure qui semble vous comblez vraiment.
    merci de nous le faire partager .Depuis notre retour du Mexique le 14 mars c’est l’hiver au Quebec Ouach!
    Bonne continuation!
    Pierrette et oscar

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    1. Merci de suivre nos aventures! Il faudra rester au Mexique plus longtemps l’an prochain! Pour nous ça continue vers le sud, nous sommes maintenant au Panama et croyons traverser en Colombie dans quelques semaines.
      Les marchés publics vont bientôt commencer j’imagine que vous continué toujours la production de votre bon saumon fumé! Je vous souhaite une bonne saison et salutations à tous. Bisous J&J

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