What’s Belize Like?

What's Belize like?
What’s Belize like? Well, you have some great caves and water sports, but mediocre beaches and food.

If you’ve ever wondered "What’s Belize Like?", the latest entry in my "What’s it Like" series has the answer.

Belize in a Word: Narrow

What's Belize like?
A misty day at the Gaia Riverlodge.

OK, what do I mean by "narrow?" Well, it means that Belize has a narrow range of appeal. If you’re going there for food or beaches, prepare to be disappointed. I found neither to be memorable. Let me correct that – the beaches were memorable for being strewn with flotsam. Resorts hire people to keep them looking nice.

What's Belize like?
Belize looks great from the air.

On the other hand, if you are a caver (please don’t say "spelunker"), snorkeler or SCUBA diver … Belize is heaven. I absolutely loved the Aktun Tunichil Muknal cave tour more than I can tell you. If I had more time, I would’ve interrogated locals for non-tour, do-it-myself cave experiences. Belize is practically all limestone, and has more miles of caves than anyone can properly track. And for the water people, Ambergris Caye, Belize is a perfect base to get you out for snorkel or SCUBA adventures where you’ll see baracuda, octopi, rays and much more.

What's Belize Like?
The ATM cave is full of all sorts of great surprises.

You’ll note that I went in December. The weather was nice but warm. Though the town of Hopkins was just downright hot, even in December. This is coming from a guy who has lived in Arizona for decades, so pay attention. I mean it.

Don’t bother with Belize City. It’s horrible. Oh, and everybody there wants to sell you souvenirs. They can’t compare to the Red Dzao or Black Hmong in Vietnam when it comes to high-pressure sales … but they make up for it in volume.

Things People Said to Me
"Hey, big guy! Let me braid your hair!"

What's Belize Like?
A view from Caracol.

Other Cool Stuff Worth Noting
I absolutely love the Gaia Riverlodge outside of San Ignacio. It’s a hydroelectric lodge powered by a nearby river. There were no TVs or even hairdryers in the thatched-roof huts. Since my visit, it’s gone all-inclusive and changed names. But the location remains the same, and it’s a serene, quiet place that’s an excellent base for hikes and cycling. I also had a great time visiting the Caracol ruins. Don’t be surprised if you wind up with an army escort to visit the ruins – or if you here gunfire from Guatemalan bandits clashing with the army.

When I Went: December 2007
Duration: 10 Days
Areas Visited: Caye Ambergris, San Ignacio, Hopkins, Belize City

Disclaimer
Sure, I was only there 10 days. I’m not expert on Belize. But I think you’ll get enough out of this to make some better-informed choices if you’re going to Belize.

Belize – The Right Destination for You?

belize-021
Exiting the plane old school-style in Belize.

The cool thing about Central America is that just because you’ve seen one of its countries, you haven’t seen them all. It might be natural to assume that Belize would be like Costa Rica, but with more Mayan ruins. It would also be completely wrong.

So is Belize worth visiting? That depends on you, traveling friends, and what you want out of your journey. No matter what, Phillip SW Goldson Airport will be Belize’s first chance to make an impression. This is a Mos Eisley Cantina of an airport – hot, stuffy and far more chaotic than an airport of its Lilliputian proportions should be. Plus points – no jetways! You get to kick it Old School by descending a moving staircase (unfortunately, it’s not attached to a truck like Michael Bluth’s ride in Arrested Development). You’ll also see large commercial aircraft lined up with three-person Cessnas from local airlines. That ups the Indiana Jones factor.

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Five of the Cayo District’s Best Spots – Belize

A rainbow over the forest
A rainbow over the forest

If I had just one place to go in Belize, I’d head straight for the Cayo District. I’d skip the beaches. I’d turn my nose up at the cayes. I’d blow off the cities.

I’d head inland to the limestone maze of the Cayo District … caves, rivers, ruins, pine dscf3369forests and a laid-back vibe are what you’ll get. Here’s what you shouldn’t miss.

1. I already waxed poetic in an earlier post about the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave tour. This is seriously not to be missed. If you won’t take by word for it, go back and read the earlier post. Now, doesn’t that sound mind-blowing?

A small pyramid overgrown with flora.
A small pyramid overgrown with flora.

2. The town of San Ignacio is a perfect launch pad for the ATM cave trip. There are plenty of restaurants and services, and hotels from bare-bones budget to luxurious. San Ignacio is big enough that you can walk all over the place and get everything from Indonesian food to a pint of the ubiquitous Bilikin stout. It’s also more friendly and genuine – not everyone here is a huckster wanted you to buy souvenirs (I’m looking at you, Caye Ambergris!).

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