Every January we like to make goals for the new year. In 2015, we thought it would be a good idea to begin to travel internationally. We didn’t have much experience in that area, but we did have valid passports and time to save a few bucks. There were just a couple of requirements: the location had to be warm, affordable and fairly safe. We also wanted to be able to communicate easily–this was our first big trip in a long time and neither one of us is good with foreign languages. So, after many hours on TripAdvisor and Google, we settled on Belize and booked a trip for April 2015.
Cost was a huge factor–basically, it couldn’t cost much. We were willing to scrimp on luxury accommodations in order to do as many fun activities as possible. We found Maya Mountain Eco Lodge and it fit the bill. They set us up with amazing excursions (we were often the only people on the tour) and provided us with fresh, homemade gourmet meals for our entire stay.(There are no pictures of this because we don’t take pictures of our food. However, the food was beautiful as well as tasty.)
The staff was kind, attentive, and understanding. They answered every question we had and continually put us at ease before and during our stay. The coffee was always fresh. Although the accommodations were basic, the rooms were clean and sufficient for our needs; we were rarely in them. The grounds were well maintained and beautifully landscaped.
Our family was more concerned than we were when we showed them our itinerary for our trip: tours of ruins, caving, ziplining, hiking. Family members who had been on cruises and stopped in Belize tried to talk us out of going. However, we could afford the tickets, English was the official language, and we could book a caving expedition where you had to swim in before you took your shoes off to climb. There was no turning back!
Let the Tours Begin
The air everywhere in Belize smells like a campfire. It’s because of the slash and burn agriculture. It isn’t overpowering. It is a scent that is comforting, like camping as a child. We are firefighters so we don’t hate the smell.
Everything in Belize is also 2 to 3 hours away. It doesn’t matter where you begin, wherever the ending is will be two to three hours from the start…on roads with little to no pavement…with lots of “sleeping policemen.”
Our first trip was to Caracol, an ancient Mayan city. Within Caracol is Caana, the “sky palace” which is still one of the largest man-made structures in Belize. To get to the site we went through a military base and a national park. We also braved our way through howler monkeys who did not want us there. Guards with automatic weapons sat in the sun in various spots around the site. Nearly everything in Belize is on the border of something else and must be guarded accordingly.
Unlike some other ancient sites, every ruin in Caracol is available for climbing and touching. It is far enough away from cruise ship traffic that we felt almost alone. We had time to explore and climb in peace. The noises of the jungle were all around us. Magical.
Hot, Hot, Hot
Did I mention that Belize in April is about 105 degrees? And sticky? We went in the dry season so we would be able to participate in all the adventure activities, but dry does not mean cool. However, we were very pleased about the lack of stinging insects. We didn’t get stung by anything.
On our way back from Caracol, we stopped at Big Rock Falls to cool off. We parked in a sandy lot and hoofed it about a half a mile through the woods and then down a singularly unique rickety wooden staircase decorated with bottle tops.
The falls themselves were lovely and, thankfully, not too aggressive. Mandy is not a great swimmer and it was all she could do to get to the ledge. Mark was much more daring and leapt off the high rocks. If it had been more Niagra-like, Mandy would have remained dry.
So, what did we learn from our first day out and about in Belize? Bring water. Bring toilet paper. No, you didn’t put on enough sunblock. Yes, fresh watermelon juice is about the best thing we have ever tasted. Surprisingly, there are no Dairy Queens or Starbucks here so plan accordingly.