Belize Things to Do Tips by Bwana_Brown Top 5 Page for this destination
Belize Things to Do: 257 reviews and 407 photos
With my gear on, close to the Cave mouth
One of our two prime objectives of staying in the San Ignacio area was to explore a Mayan cave. The particular one that we wanted to see was Actun Tunichil Muknal (known as ATM or 'Cave of the Crystal Maiden') and theTrek Stop owner was able to arrange this for US$60 each, set for the morning after our river tubing .
Our Mayan guides, Eduard and Gliss turned up in their van and away we went at about 8:30 AM. A few miles short of the Hummingbird Highway near Belmopan, we turned right onto a dirt road and headed south toward the Maya Mountains. We were soon driving through vast fields of vegetables that had been carved out of the jungle along Roaring Creek. It took us about 45 minutes to make the drive to the end of the road (2nd photo), where Sue and I left our set of dry clothes in the van and then set out on foot with Gliss. Because this 40-minute walk involved three fords of Raging Creek, Gliss put our cameras in his waterproof backpack. The first ford was up to our thighs and you had to be careful about your footing on the smooth boulders littering the bottom. It was a pleasant walk through the jungle with Gliss pointing out various things as we zig-zagged twice more across the Creek before reaching the Base camp used by all tour groups (3rd photo). We had a short rest there for a snack from the lunch provided as part of the tour, as well as a toilet stop.
Once Gliss showed us how to adjust our miner's helmet headlamps, I wandered the short distance over to the mouth of the cave itself. It is shaped like an hour glass, and there was not a large amount of water coming out from the underground stream. However, once standing on the bottom lip at the cave mouth, you have to plunge into a 16 ft (5 m) deep pool and swim for about 35 ft (10 m) in your clothes and sneakers before reaching solid ground that you can climb onto inside the cave. Because of the climbing required on the 600-m trip into the depths of the cave, sometimes over rough rock surfaces, it is recommended to wear sneakers and long trousers.
Address: Western Belize
Directions: Southwest of Belmopan on Roaring Creek
Phone: 501-600-9192 or 501-601-5673
Mopan River Rapids at Start of Tube trip
After our morning walk to Xunantunich, we chilled out on the internet for a while and then had lunch. However, by 1 PM the heat had built up quite nicely to the 30 C (86 F) range, so we decided to take advantage of the Trek Stop accommodation's river tubing adventure package. For US$10 each, we hopped in the rear of one of their pick-up trucks and they drove us to the Mopan River just upstream of the hand-cranked ferry to Xunantunich (note the local guy in the photo standing by a small island out in the shallow rapids). There, we were both outfitted with life jackets, which were attached by a small rope to the large rubber inner tubes that we were both given.
It was then into the water as we began our 'jungle cruise' adventure! This was a really fun trip as just the two of us floated down the winding Mopan for more than two hours, traversing a series of eight Class II and III rapids, interspersed with quiet stretches of water. These sections were very peaceful as the thickly forested banks drifted by and colourful Amazon Kingfishers flew past. Of course this was after the first set of rapids tipped us both out of our tubes, but that was the only time that happened. Each set of rapids was fun as you could hear the roar of the water as you floated closer. Usually there was a small island in the middle of the river at each of these, and it was difficult to guess which way was the safest to avoid the deepest drop into a back-swirling pool (Sue got caught in a couple of those but my 'inertia' carried me through!). Also had to remember to bring your butt up out of the water and lay straight as a board on the tubes to avoid scraping on the rocks as we went over these ledges! We had a fantastic time, at last reaching the hotel beside the final Clarissa Falls rapids. There, we paddled to shore and called the Trek Stop from the bar area - the truck soon arrived to pick us up. I don't have any good photos of this because we did not take any glasses, watches, cameras or anything for this one!
Directions: Start just upstream of Xunantunich and float for 2+ hours down to Clarissa Falls Hotel
Ruth relaxes on a hammock as we talk
After our various activities on Caye Caulker, we spent two nights on the nearby and busier Ambergris Cay. After a short stroll around San Pedro on our first day, Sue and I returned to the Hotel del Rio to spend a few hours just relaxing in our new surroundings. The del Rio has a beautifully treed area just off the beach (2nd photo) where guests can relax under a thatched roof shelter with a large table with several chairs and hammocks available if you want to watch the beach activities or just chill out.
We were reading our books there when Ruth, the lady who runs the place for the absentee American owners (her husband did the paperwork as we checked in), came over and sat down beside us for a chat. It was interesting to hear her story, having emigrated from Guatemala 13 years ago because of all the civil unrest at the time. She and her husband have complete control of the running of the hotel and, not having any children, she has taken on a couple of cats as permanent guests. One of them took a liking to Sue, and it ended up asleep on her lap (3rd photo).This cat had its jaw broken some months before after an attack by one of the many roaming beach dogs, but Ruth and her husband had forked out quite a bit of money to have a vet fix the cat up so the jaw is still useable. The afternoon passed quickly in conversation instead of reading, and we got some useful tips from Ruth regarding bicycle rentals and good local restaurants!
We finished the afternoon off with further conversations with other guests (all American) as they joined us on returning from their various day-trip excursions to both the mainland and other parts of Ambergris.
Directions: Hotel del Rio, near the San Pedro River
View of Temple I (the Great Jaguar) from Temple II
In addition to exploring a Mayan cave, the other objective of our stay on the western border of Belize was to work in a trip to Tikal National Park, in Guatemala. We talked over the options of how this could be done with the Trek Stop owners and decided to just take off on our own without any prior arrangements. The Trek Stop was very helpful even with that, saying we could leave our backpacks in our cabin at no charge for the night we were away!
The next morning we headed out early to get across the border and it all worked out fantastically well (my 'Tikal National Park' page has the full story)! We had a great time taking in as many of the sights as we could during our two half-days there. Temple I (the Great Jaguar) and the surrounding complexes are the most impressive structures, but there was so much to see it was hard to believe. We certainly got our exercise in as we trudged up and down hills and temples in the boiling heat. The Park is set in the middle of the jungle all by itself - power goes off at night, with lights out from 10 PM to 6 AM!
We also succeeded in having a 'sunset' experience while at Tikal. After first scouting out where in the park the best viewing spot would be, we made the half-hour trek there from our hotel to one of the smaller temples - Mundo Perdido. It is located at the western edge of the complex of structures, a perfect spot for looking eastward toward the other large temples as the west-setting sun bathed them with soft light.
We joined a small crowd atop Mundo Perdido and it was great to be perched above the jungle canopy, with only the huge main temples and very large Ceiba trees managing to poke themselves through the canopy. We sat there in the fresh breeze and listened to the sounds of the jungle while different kinds of tropical birds flitted from tree to tree in the soft light. Once the sun finally does go down in the tropics, the light does not last long, so everyone quickly descended and hit the trails leading back to the hotel area before it was totally dark!
Directions: Cross the border to Guatemala (see map in my 'General' tip)
Phone: (415) 762-3996
Gliss led us up a narrow channel that wound past large fallen boulders and some razor sharp edges. The inside air temperature tends to stay at about 15 C and the water temperature was not bad either. As we went deeper, we were up to our waists or even our necks in water a few times as we snaked through narrow passages and held on to avoid slipping into deeper water. We passed through several large chambers (2nd photo) where there were amazing mineral displays formed by the constant dripping.
We first came upon broken ceramic jars (main photo) that were used to hold water. Throughout the cave, we came across hundreds of these artifacts, offered as sacrifices to the Mayan rain god 'Chac'. The Mayans believed that even inanimate objects had a spirit, so they purposely broke the jars to allow the sacrificial release of this spirit. These relics closer to the mouth of the cave date from the period of around 250 AD, with the more recent relics found deeper in the cave, as the Mayans tried to get 'closer' to Chac so the sacrifices would have more impact.
Finally, we came to an area that had a large natural platform high above the stream. Using the protruding rock formations, we followed Gliss as he climbed out of the stream onto this portion of the cave. In this sacred area of human remains, we had to take our sneakers off and carefully walk in our sock feet among the many artifacts of pottery and human bones.
The first human skull (3rd photo) was that of a 35-year old male and a short distance onward we came to a jumble of sacrificial remnants that had been washed loose, ending up as a pile of broken pottery, two human skulls and a leg bone.
A ladder to an even higher small ledge brought us to the remains of the victim for which the cave is named. This lady is believed to have been about 20 years old when she was sacrificed, leaving her spread-eagled on the ground just the way she fell, in about the year 900 AD.
Our return trip to the mouth of the cave did not seem to take long and we were 'home' by 5 PM.
Address: Western Belize
A typical lush view in the Maya Mountains
Finishing up with Guanacaste National Park, we swung off the Western Highway leading to Guatemala, and headed southeast on the scenic Hummingbird Highway for the 55 mile drive to Hopkins. Now this is a scenic route, the lush green tropical growth immediately being much more appealing than the dryer savannah-type forest along the Western Highway. Obviously, the peaks of the Maya Mountains, through which this road passes, catch more rainfall and the vegetation shows it.
We were thinking of stopping for a look at or dip in the cenote at the Blue Hole National Park along the way, but it clouded over and spit with rain just then, so we decided to keep on rolling. I really enjoyed the rugged peaks along here covered in green forests and with plantations of orange and grapefruit trees on the lower slopes. However, it was frustrating because the vista was so wide-spread that it could not easily be properly captured in a photo (2nd and 3rd photos). It turned out to be a great highway with a few quaint single-lane bridges 4th photo) and it was also interesting to see how an actual orange harvest is carried out as we passed many plantations along the way. We had much better weather on our way back to Belmopan, so I was able to better appreciate the views.
Take this highway if you get the chance - it is paved all the way and smooth (except for speed bumps which are located everywhere in Belize).
Directions: Runs from just outside Belmopan, where it meets the Western Highway, to the outskirts of Dangriga. The highway continues onward to the far south eastern town of Punta Gorda.
Sue & Norm meet a Guanacaste tree
After finishing our morning Zoo excursion, we and our Canadian friends drove off in our rental for the Hopkins area. However, a half-hour later, we made a stop at the small Guanacaste National Park, located beside the highway where we had to swing off toward Belmopan and the southeast.
This 50-acre remnant of the tropical forests of Belize is managed by the Belize Audubon Society and has a small visitor's centre with information on the Park's trails, flora and fauna (US$2.50 pp entry fee) as well as toilet facilities. We headed off on one of their shorter jungle trails that leads to the park's namesake - a huge Guanacaste tree. Also known as a Tubroos, these trees have a trunk diameter of of more than 6 feet and are usually festooned with vines and epiphytes hanging from the branches high above. These trees were prime targets for loggers but, because this particular 100-year old specimen had a partially broken trunk, it is guessed that it was bypassed for choicer victims. It was quite a sight to behold (check out the 2nd & 3rd photos), as were the many tropical birds that inhabit this little bit of forest where Roaring Creek flows into the larger Belize River.
Continuing our jungle trail walk from the Guanacaste tree, we came to the small Roaring Creek tributary of the Belize River. The forest trail followed high above the very deep ravine through which the creek flowed and along which were located various bird watching platforms. Where the Creek meets the river, a large series of wooden platforms and steps built there provide a great viewing area of where these two bodies of water meet. Just a few weeks before we arrived, torrential rains from the record 2005/06 season had caused flooding - in the 4th photo take a look at the brown high water mark on that tree trunk across the creek!! Even the platform we were standing on had various bits of mud deposited on it! Now I could understand why the other tree trunk had been torn loose!
Directions: Beside Roaring Creek where the Hummingbird Highway meets the Western Highway, only 2 miles from Belmopan.
American Crocodile warming up in the morning
After leaving Bermudian Landing, it was only a short drive to the Belize Zoo, located in the tropical savanna countryside. It is different from most zoos in that it does not import animals from different parts of the world but simply takes in creatures that are native to Central America. The various animals and birds that call the Zoo 'home' have not been captured for the sake of display - they have either been previously injured, are pets given up by owners when things got out of hand or have been seized by the government for illegal ownership. We had found out by chance that it is possible to stay within a mile or so of the Zoo, at the Tropical Education Center (see 'Accommodations'), so we had a great opportunity to really enjoy this collection of creatures as well as link up again with two Canadians we had met on Caye Caulker.
In talking to the staff, we found out that we could take a personally-guided Night Tour of the Zoo, with a side-benefit of allowing a free Day tour the next morning. Our night tour was given by one of the curators at the Zoo and starts with their caged snake and insect collection at the entrance building. Then, various flashlights (torches) were distributed and we headed off into the maze of wooded trails leading throughout the zoo (2nd photo). This photo shows one of their American crocs by day (when we came upon the creature at night, we could see its eyes glowing in our lights as it was submerged at the far end of its pond. It was amazing to watch as the curator called out to it with grunting noises and the eyes slowly slid forward. Eventually it reached land and continued out of the water, stopping only when it reached the fence at our feet!).
They have a great collection of big cats (Jaguars, Pumas, Ocelots, Margay and others) and many other mammals, birds and insects. The Harpy Eagle (3rd photo) is one of the world's largest and can pluck unsuspecting monkeys, like the Spider Monkeys (4th photo) off the tree tops. We really enjoyed this Zoo experience by both night and day!
Address: Mile mark 29 (Km 46) Western Highway
Directions: On the Western Highway, about half-way between Belize City and Belmopan and where the little used Coastal Highway meets the Western Highway.
The view from atop El Castillo pyramid
Hitching a ride with another guest at Crooked Tree, our next stop was outside San Ignacio, on the Guatemala border. A major attraction that was within easy walking distance of our accommodations were the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich. We spent our first morning exploring what was left of this site - first settled between 200-500 AD with the peak years of this small settlement being between 700-900 AD. This is a relatively small site as Mayan ones go, so it makes for a good half-day trip! We were out and about early (8:30 AM), so it was quite a peaceful stroll up the 2-km entrance road to the Xunantunich Archaeological Reserve (US$5 pp entry).
After looking at several interesting relics of stone stella and a historical overview of Xunantunich located in buildings to protect them from the elements, we continued into the main part of the ruins where we first saw the main temple of El Castillo. Situated on a limestone ridge, it has a great view from the top as you can see here. The 2nd photo shows this 135-ft (40-m) high structure, with intricate 10-ft (3-m) high carvings on two of it's faces - with the larger (Eastern) of these friezes protected by a replica artifical covering, with me standing below the frieze for scale. Steps lead to the top of the pyramid from two sides and although steep, are not difficult to climb.
It was great being atop El Castillo in the almost total silence, except for the refreshing breeze that helped to cool us down after our climbing exertions, and to be able to look down on the Xunantunich site itself to get a different perspective of the other buildings. However, it was not long before we noticed the first tour crowd arriving. Although they busied themselves at the far end of the site for a while, some very small people could soon be seen drifting toward the main attraction of the Reserve (3rd photo). Although the side of the pyramid looks to angle down very sharply here, it was not actually too bad to navigate.
Address: 8 miles west of San Ignacio, at San Jose
Directions: Local bus from San Ignacio, ask to be let off at Xunantunich. From there take the free, hand-cranked ferry across the Mopan River then walk 2kms uphill to the ruins.
The entrance to historic old Government House
Finishing up in San Ignacio, the Trek Stop shuttle delivered us to Belize City for our last night in the country. The tour I most enjoyed in BC was of old Government House, maybe because we did not have time to check out the Fort George area due to limited time combined with most attractions being closed on Sunday. This old building really is an antique, built almost 200-years ago, between 1812-14 to serve as the official residence of the Governor of the colony, the Queen's representative in this backwater outpost. We took a walk around the grounds (2nd photo) and, although a few bits have blown off it over the years, I am amazed that a large wooden structure like this is still standing on these hurricane-prone shores! In fact, it was the devestation caused to Belize City by Hurricane Hattie in 1961 that prompted a new capital to be built inland at Belmopan, and that was the beginning of the end of the 'official' use of this building. After several years of neglect, the structure has been rehabilitated in recent years, and now also serves as a museum of sorts (the House of Culture), where various things Belizian are displayed.
For our US$5 per person entrance fee, we enjoyed wandering through the mansion, viewing it's antique furniture (3rd photo) and reading various plaques on the walls detailing the history of the Colony and it's various Governors down through the years. A stroll on the seaward grounds revealed a monument to Baron Bliss, an eccentric British aristocrat who was one of the main benefactors of this backwater. He sailed into the harbour for the first time in 1926 aboard his yacht 'Sea King', but was too sick with food poisoning to ever actually set foot on shore before dying several months later. Even so, he had been so impressed by his welcome, that his will bequeathed $2 million to be used for the benefit of the citizens of Belize! His small tender which allowed his crew to travel between the yacht and shore, is now mounted on the seaward grounds of Government House.
Directions: On the waterfront, south of the Water Taxi Terminal and accessed from Regent Street.
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