A Rainbow Tour's Latin America Specialist returns from Belize and shares her expriences of this beautiful country.
Sandwiched between Mexico and Guatemala, Belize may be a small nation but it is full to the brim with culture and adventure. Made up primarily of lush Central American jungle and bordered by the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean, visitors can take advantage of many land and water based activities. I started my adventure in one of Belize’s most visited mainland regions, the Mountain Pine Ridge area within the famous as the Cayo District.
The first on my list of adventures was a visit to one of Belize’s most accessible Mayan ruins; Xunantunich. Part of the fun is getting there and crossing the Mopan River on a tiny hand-cranked ferry (which carries the cars as well as foot passengers)! The site was said to be occupied as early as 1000 BC and the large architecture seen today began around 7th century AD. Feeling like Indiana Jones, we climbed to the top of the main pyramid; El Castillo, for a spectacular 360-degree view overlooking the surrounding jungle and towards Guatemala.
Afterwards we headed to Barton Creek, a river cave; said to be a Mayan ceremonial cave. Considered one of the longest subterranean sites in the country, ceramics have been found within dating back from AD 200 as well as human remains. Whether these were sacrificial remains is a question on many archaeologist’s lips. As we paddled the dugout canoes through the cave system, equipped with powerful torches, we took in the amazing stalactite and stalagmite formations whilst in places ducking from low-hanging rocks!! (Helmets are provided!)
Two properties we stayed at within the Cayo area that absolutely deserve a mention are Gaia Riverlodge and Chaa Creek Cottages. Gaia is situated within the Mountain Pine Ridge area, a slightly elevated region within the Cayo District. Characterised by its pine trees and said to be cooler climes, Gaia has an absolutely stunning location. Perched up on a hillside, the hotel overlooks a spectacular valley with a beautiful river running through and small waterfalls. Easily accessible by a set of steps down the hillside or a funicular; the pools provide a perfect refreshing dip and after guests can kick back and relax in the hammocks. Very comfortable accommodation is in the form of thatched cabins dotted amongst lush tropical gardens.
Chaa Creek, in the heart of the Cayo District, is one of the most well-known and long running hotels (opening back in 1981) within Belize. Sat on the banks of the Macal river within a 400 acre nature reserve, it is rated as one of the world’s best Eco Lodges. On site, guests can visit its Butterfly Farm, explore the Medicine Trail to discover the medicinal purposes of the plants according to the locals dating back to the Mayan times, bird watching, hike, canoe and river tube. Also, not forgetting - enjoy its beautiful infinity pool surrounded by tropical gardens.
My next stop on this Belizean adventure was the Toledo District right in the South. Considered the “Forgotten District” we reached this beautiful part of the country by a Tropic Air flight. One of the best bits of Belize is actually the getting around the country by short light-air craft flights. Almost like a hop- on hop-off bus, these flights offer its passengers stunning views of the jungle and coast line, are as quick as 15 minutes and often no longer than an hour and for sure are definitely quite an exciting experience! Upon arrival, into Punta Gorda, the Toledo District’s capital we travelled just a few minutes out of the town to Hickatee Cottages; a gem in this beautiful part of the world. Run by a very welcoming couple from the U.S., it is a tranquil jungle base for a few nights in the area. We explored its nature trails from the property, listened out of the raucous, eerie call of the howler monkeys, relaxed in hammocks on our balconies and enjoy fantastic local food. Famous of its seafood, we enjoyed fresh Snook; a popular local white fish and finished off with home-made chocolate ice-cream, cocoa rum and local cocoa dark chocolate – an absolute treat!
For those wanting to get a taste of Belizean culture; the Toledo District is the place to be. Still excellent for flora and fauna, nature, jungle, waterfalls and lesser visited Mayan sites; this area offers a chance to look a little deeper into the local culture. The least visited part of Belize is full of quaint Mayan villages. We visited a local cocoa farm to learn about the process from cocoa plant to bar, of course tasting along the way and there are also spice trails in the area to discover the abundance of local spices growing in the region.
For beach and sun worshippers; deciding whether you want to end your trip a Caribbean Island or remain on the beautiful mainland shores of Belize is a tricky decision to make! On the mainland, certainly one of the best places is Placencia – a long peninsula with a very cute, colourful little town, there are a variety of lovely beachfront properties here overlooking the shimmering blue waters of the Caribbean.
My final stop of the trip was Ambergris Caye, the largest of Belize’s Caribbean Islands. Located next to the largest barrier reef in the Western hemisphere, which runs the length of the island, it is a marine lovers paradise. We visited the nearby Hol Chan Marine Park and snorkelled with docile nurse sharks and rays. We also very much enjoyed another snorkelling spot called Mexico Rocks; both were full of many very vibrant tropical fish and colourful corals. For those seeking a real thrill and keen on diving, the Blue Hole is one of the most famous sites, but that will be for next time!