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#13927 - 05/08/01 02:32 AM Just returned from first trip to Belize
Jen Offline
And it was wonderful . . .

Because of problems redeeming our frequent flyer miles, we could spend only eight days in Belize and I'm sorry that we couldn't spend more time there. I have a list of things I would like to see when we return someday.

My scattered thoughts:

We didn't have a reservation to fly to Dangriga after we landed in Belize City. It couldn't have been easier to buy our tickets and get on the next Tropic Air flight. After a brief (5 minute) stop at Belize City Muni Airport, we flew south to Dangriga, a small fishing village about 18 minutes away. Took a taxi to the Riverside Cafe and caught a ride to Tobacco Caye with Captain Buck. $30 U.S. for two of us and the ride was beautiful, easy and only about 40 minutes.

Anyone who is planning to stay on Tobacco Caye should be forewarned: it is indeed a very small island. It is not glamorous. There are patches of beach, but not very big. And when we were there, there was quite a bit of debris scattered all along the island's edge.

We stayed at Reef's End, which is at the far south of the island. Bad for catching breezes, but great for watching sunrises and sunsets. Everyone there was very friendly (and colorful) and the food good. Our cabana was small, very small, and not for the faint-hearted. It is right above the beach, and accessible to bugs. And it was pretty warm. So, my initial impression was one of disappointment. By our first sunset, things were much better. By the time we went snorkeling the next morning, all was forgiven. From the dock at Reef's End, it's about a one minute swim to where reef begins, with good visibility. You can immediately see many types of fish. We ventured out a little further, into the channel, where the reef drops off about 30 feet (what we were told -- it seemed awfully deep) and we watched manta rays float by under us. We floated above a school of tarpon, which are very, very large fish. Some of the smaller tarpon swam up within 15 feet of us and could easily have been 3 feet long.

Thus began our Belizean experience: snorkel, sun, eat, rest, snorkel, sun, etc.

After three nights on Tobacco Caye, we headed inland, taking the bus from Dangriga to Belmopan to San Ignacio. $14 U.S. total, very easy to figure out and a beautiful ride of about 2 hours total.

Once in San Ignacio, we lunched at Martha's. Great food. We took a cab to Chaa Creek, which is beautiful, although we stayed at their Macal River Jungle Lodge. I would stay there again in a heartbeat and skip Chaa Creek's Cottages. We were the only guests at the time, staying in an immaculate platform "tent" and using outdoor flush toilets and showers, both being cleaner than my bathroom at home. Having to go outside to use them was not a problem at all. Having to use flashlights and lanterns around the site also was not a problem. And the food . . . was amazing. We spent a lot of time with the camp's manager, Dosio, who taught us a lot about the area and the wildlife. His sister, Irene, cooked for us the first two days and his wife cooked on the last. They were wonderful people. Dosio arranged for us to go with a tour leaving from Chaa Creek to visit Tikal and consistently insisted on driving us to/from the Cottages rather than have us take the longer hike.

Chaa Creek's tour to Tikal is pretty pricey. We were lucky enough to have two other couples going along, so it defrayed the cost somewhat. Tikal is beautiful and well worth using up a valuable day in Belize. I ended up being glad we were part of a tour. I know it's supposed to be easy to travel into Guatemala and to Tikal without one, but it was comforting having someone along who knew when payments had to be made, that the police might pull us over, etc. I was a little ticked about our one shopping stop, to a single shop that did not carry the best selection of items and was incredibly overpriced. At the very least, I was hoping to pick up a decent postcard of Tikal (something I was going to purchase at the site, but was assured by our tour guide that when we stopped for shopping, they would have "everything." Oh well.)

next day. We canoed down the Macal, into San Ignacio, ate at Eva's (not as good as Martha's) went over to Xunantunich, came back and hiked around Chaa Creek's trails.

next day. went to the natural history center and butterfly farm. interesting, but I wouldn't have taken a special trip or paid to see them, especially with so many other things to do.

This being our last day, we ate lunch at the Cottages' restaurant. While unlike at the camp, there is a selection of food, neither my husband nor I was impressed with our meal.

Overall review: I really liked the San Ignacio area and wished that I had more time to explore it. If we come back, I might want to find a place that is more easily accessible. The road to Chaa Creek (and Black Rock and Green Heaven) is a nightmare unless you're in a newer, larger car. Before coming, I'd entertained the idea of simply walking up to the main highway and catching buses and taxis everywhere, but the distance is much too far to make this convenient. Another consideration is the location of lodgings. When the breeze was blowing at the Camp, things were heavenly. when it wasn't, it was oppressive (no fans in the "tent.")

As a last note, we enjoyed watching the great variety of birds at Chaa Creek, even though we really aren't birdwatchers. And, on our last night, an amardillo was digging behind our tent. made for a restless night as we tried to figure out what it could be.

Took a taxi to Central Farm, where we splurged on a charter flight with Javier's up to Gallon Jug to spend two nights at Chan Chich.

I cannot say enough things about how great Chan Chich Lodge is. We are not high-maintenance people and I was worried that Chan Chich might be too fussy for us. But from the moment we arrived, it was wonderful. The cabanas are spacious and airy. Everything (pool, dining room/bar, trails) is easily accessible. The people there were incredibly friendly yet gave us space, the guides knowledgable, the guests polite and down-to-earth. . . Without a doubt I would recommend it, despite how difficult it is to reach. In our two days, we were able to hike most of the trails, take a guided night walk and one early the next morning, and go horseback riding, still leaving plenty of time for napping in hammocks and cooling off in the pool. we found a little crocodile on one of the trails, saw and heard numerous howler monkeys, and found the birdlife incredible. The off season rates still made this the most expensive place we stayed in Belize (and more expensive than most places we would normally stay), but not once did I feel that anyone was actually making a profit off of me. For every guest, there seems to be three or four people keeping trails clear, driving tours, cooking, etc.
And maybe we lucked out, but the weather was beautiful and breezy. I was able to keep mosquitos away with my long-sleeved shirts and pants without being too uncomfortable. (for the record, I am a mosquito magnet. I took plently of precautions and made it through Belize without any mosquito bites (I think -- I have some bites from the night I didn't use repellent or wear socks, but they appear to be something else)

My only complaint is that the food was good, but not great. The menu offers a mix of somewhat Americanized foods and things that might be seen as more traditional. And I was disappointed that the Gallon Jug coffee wasn't better, so I didn't purchase any to take home.

All in all, we had a wonderful time. While there are still many places in this world that we want to explore, I definitely hope to come back to Belize someday soon.

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#13928 - 05/08/01 04:19 AM Re: Just returned from first trip to Belize
Richard Chambers Offline
And you never even went to San Pedro! That's the other 1/2 of the Belize adventure. I hope you return to experience the remainder of this wonderful country.

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#13929 - 05/08/01 04:23 AM Re: Just returned from first trip to Belize
Chloe Offline
Jen Thank you for your wonderful report.
It is most helpful to make my future plans to
Belize. One Question, did you stay at the best place on Tobacco Caye, or would you choose another next time?
_________________________
Dare To Deviate

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#13930 - 05/08/01 02:37 PM Re: Just returned from first trip to Belize
Lan Sluder/Belize First Offline
Jen,

Great trip report!

--Lan Sluder
_________________________
Lan Sluder/Belize First
http://www.belizefirst.com

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#13931 - 05/08/01 03:47 PM Re: Just returned from first trip to Belize
Chloe Offline
I have another question. Do you think you did your trip in the correct order?
Like is it best to start out on the beach and then do the mainland, or reverse the trip, so one can come home really rested and calm. This has been a concern of mine for awhile, which way is the best. Thanks
_________________________
Dare To Deviate

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#13932 - 05/09/01 01:50 AM Re: Just returned from first trip to Belize
Jen Offline
I initially tried to plan the trip to start out inland and then end on a beach somewhere. Unfortunately, with the frequent flyer miles fiasco, we ended up travelling in April/May rather than May/June. So, to take advantage of Chan Chich's off season rates, we ended there instead of starting there. I really didn't mind. Tobacco Caye really forced me to just relax (after the crazy work weeks I had leading up to the vacation, I needed an opportunity to do little to nothing with my brain) and after the three days, I was ready to move on and start my jungle adventures. And we ended up on a relaxing note as well. Although there's a lot of hiking at Chan Chich, it, too, was pretty isolated so we could hike a couple miles of trail, relax for an hour by the pool, nap for an hour in a hammock, eat lunch and then start the process over. I really have no regrets about ending inland, rather than on a beach.

To answer the question about lodging on Tobacco Caye, I don't know whether Reef's End is the "best" or "nicest" place there. A friend of mine stayed at Gaviota's and loved it. When we were there, it certainly seemed that the cabanas on that side of the island received a lot of breeze. Once I made that discovery, I hung out on the beach over there, rather than outside my cabana on the south side of the island. They are all pretty rustic. I chose Reef's End because I wondered whether it would be easiest to reach good snorkeling areas from there. In reality, anyone really can walk over to their docks and head out into the water. I suppose one advantage of Reef's End was the restaurant/bar. It has a great view of the east, west and south and was a very nice place to hang out. I took numerous pictures of the view from there and we ended up just staring at the ocean, waiting for sunrises/sunsets. This gathering place was the one thing that Reef's End might have over others.

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#13933 - 05/09/01 02:09 AM Re: Just returned from first trip to Belize
Chloe Offline
Thanks Jen, well put. Helps me a great deal.
_________________________
Dare To Deviate

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#13934 - 05/09/01 04:51 PM Re: Just returned from first trip to Belize
Sandcrab Offline
Jen,

Thanks for a great trip report. I enjoyed the tales of your experiences.

**Jim
_________________________
**Jim

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#13935 - 05/11/01 04:18 AM Re: Just returned from first trip to Belize
ch'eel Offline
That was a nice trip and I also appreciate that you like well prepared food as much as I do.

Just a few notes:

There have been a number of robberies of tour buses around Tikal. It is good that you had no such problems.

Some people end up paying a lot for food in the Tikal park. True, the prices are inflated, but the little comedores have good food and cost less than the ripoff restaurant. My favorite is the last one heading out of the park, the Imperio Maya, where they serve a lot of good food with a "salad" you can eat. Their idea of salad involves pleasantly cooked carrots and summer squash.

Regarding San Ignacio or Cayo, there are a number of places to stay in town. It makes it a lot easier to get to other places.

There are also a number of Maya ruins nearer to Cayo than Tikal. There is Xunantunich near the Guatemala border, El Pilar for that lost in the jungle feel and the world class ruins at Caracol.

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#13936 - 05/11/01 01:32 PM Re: Just returned from first trip to Belize
Axeman Offline
Thanks for the report..those of us stuck in the states looks forward to reports to bring us back....I'm there in my mind....
_________________________
Life May Be a Beach...I prefer Reefs...

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