I’ve been lurking on this board for a long time in preparation for our trip to Belize. It’s been a great source of information, so in gratitude for all the bits and pieces of information I acquired from so many of you before our trip, I’ve put together a pretty lengthy trip report. Me, my husband Merritt, and his scuba buddy Don went to Belize for our first time the week of Thanksgiving: Sunday, Nov. 19-Friday, Nov. 24. Here’s a rundown of our little adventure:
First, the opening credits: Our trip would not have been possible without the help of our travel professional extraordinaire: Barbara Kasak of Barb’s Belize! I saw her recommended on one of the boards and decided to give her a try. Am I glad I did! Barb put everything together for us: we didn’t have to worry about making the hotel reservations, booking the flights, figuring out how to get from Point A to Point B to Point C and back to Point A—she did it all, and I HIGHLY recommend her! She knows her stuff and she knows Belize! There are many trips we book ourselves without much help from a travel agent, but I think Belize is a place where you really need someone knowledgeable to help you out. If you’re thinking of going to Belize, but not sure where to start your planning, try Barb (see her Web site at www.barbsbelize.com).
Anyway, we had a blast! Everything went fine with the flights (Milwaukee to Detroit to Houston to Belize City), and we arrived in Belize City on time. We took the flight over to San Pedro, and were kind of surprised when we landed. We've been used to some of the ramshackle little houses we see in the Caribbean, and we knew the hurricane took it's toll on San Pedro, but our first view of San Pedro and Ambergris Caye was a bit of a shock. You could see where the boatyard had been--everything had just been swept bare--how sad. There was a Tropic Air plane near the runway with its tail broken right off, too. There were big piles of debris here and there, and Merritt and Don had "I don't know about this" looks on their faces.
Somebody from Ramon's was waiting for us, and we took the short golf cart ride over to the resort. Mr. Ramon was there to greet us, which we thought was nice. We checked in at the "office"--it's now in cabana #33. The lobby suffered a lot of damage from the hurricane. They were also working on the Purple Parrot bar and the gift shop (which is temporarily in a cabana next to the office for now), both of which were just empty rooms when we arrived. They did quite a bit of work on the Purple Parrot when we were there--rebuilding the bar and sanding and varnishing it--Merritt and Don were impressed with their work and said they thought it would look awesome when they were finished. They've moved the bar in-between the pool and the beach under a thatched roof (I don't know if this "outside bar" was there before in addition to the regular bar location).
Rooms 53-61 looked to be in pretty poor shape--the workers must have stripped any of the cabana roofs and siding that remained on those units, and pretty much seemed to be starting from scratch. They were working on these units the whole time we were there. The noise was a bit noticeable--your typical buzz-sawing and hammering--but not bothersome at all.
The pool was beautiful. Maybe they had to replant a few things, but you couldn't tell. It looked great. We liked the big Mayan statue head with the waterfall effect. It looked really neat when they lit it up at night with red and green lights.
The beach looked great, but several of the palm trees were missing most of their fronds. A lot of the trees made it through the hurricane fairly well, though. The dock and dive shop are fine--they were working on sanding and varnishing a lot of bar stools they had in there (I gotta say everyone is definitely working hard to make the whole resort look great!) The little thatched roof seating area at the end of the dock was a nice place to relax and view the hotels and condos up and down the shoreline. Some people told us they saw quite a bit snorkeling off the end of the dock one day. Merritt and Don were out there the next day when the current was kind of rough and said it was ok, but they didn't see as much as the other people had described.
The south end of the resort looks great. We liked the "South Seas" character of the place and the sandy grounds. We were in cabana #4. "Our little home," as Merritt and Don called it, was cute. Not luxe or anything, but very clean and a lot more character than a Holiday Inn, for sure. We liked how tall the cabanas were, and how neat it looked from the inside looking up to the top. You could sit on one of the chairs on the little porch and see the ocean through the bushes and trees, which was nice.
We took a brief walk through town the first night. Most of the buildings looked to be in pretty good condition, but there were those big piles of garbage here and there, which I tried to ignore but Don kept bringing them up and Merritt got big eyes whenever he saw them. There was a huge pile of desks and chairs and debris in front of the Catholic school. They must've gotten hit hard. We were at Fido's one night and a kid was down on the beach. He asked me if he could have some money to buy some books for the school. OK--he may have been hustlin' me, but he must've known I'm a librarian, 'cause when he said "books," I took the bait and gave him a few bucks!
First place we went was Mr. C's--of course, the two Nebraska boys saw the words "sports bar" and headed up to see if they would have any football on. Don immediately fell in love with the local girls at the bar--he's still talking about Belizean women.
Went to the Tropica to eat that night. Food was good, but nothing to rave about. We like hot and spicy stuff, but everything we ordered hot or cajun or spicy was pretty mild. We sure used a lot of that Marie Sharp's sauce whenever it was available!
Next day we went out to Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley. Merritt and Don scubaed Hol Chan, as did the other four people on our boat. I was the only one snorkeling, which was fine. I saw more fish at Hol Chan than I have ever seen anywhere! Huge grouper, jacks, a 3-4 foot barracuda, a huge stingray as big as me, and lots of other fish that I didn't know what they were. A neat red and green one, a pretty blue and black one--lots of others. Literally hundreds of them just swimming all around you. Shark-Ray Alley was neat, too. The second our boat stopped, there were three sharks already waiting on the side of the boat for us. We jumped right in and more came around. What a neat experience! The guys loved it. Merritt and Don did two more dives that day while I went out and walked the town a bit.
We ate at Fido's that night--once again, the food was just OK. We had the buffalo wings for an appetizer--I think they came in mild, medium, spicy, and macho hot. We ordered the macho hot and they were the wimpiest wings we ever had in our life. We asked for hot sauce and what they gave us was again very mild and practically tasteless, so we were pretty disapppointed.
Ran into a rasta named Robin at Fido’s. He carries around a homemade fishing spear. Says he used to live on a boat, but it was lost during the hurricane. What a wild guy. Merritt became "D-Merritt" and I was "Miss Pamela" to him. Don asked him what's the best ganga, and we were treated to a half-hour discussion on all the different kinds of ganga ("Lebanese Red! Best in the East and the West, best in the North and the South!"). Barefoot Skinny (the local equivalent of Jimmy Buffet) was playing at Fido's that night. We were pretty disappointed. In-between tunes, you couldn't even understand what he was saying--er, mumbling. We think he was stoned. He let Robin come up and sing a few reggae tunes, and we were surprised at how good Robin was. We had met an English guy named Nick on the plane, and we chummed around with him during our whole stay on the island. Nick got up and asked if he could play the drums. Barefoot Skinny said no problem, and Nick jammed his way through 6 or 7 tunes. It was fun. Then a drunk rasta went up to the mike to tell a joke and started off with, "EVERYBODY SHUT THE F*** UP!!! I want us all to get along, no matter what color we are, if we are from the mainland or here, blah blah blah..." and everybody cheered and clapped just to get him off the stage. Then Robin the rastah told a great Santa Claus joke that everybody loved (“How come Santa Claus has no children? ‘Cause he only comes once a year, and when he does, it’s down the chimney!”), but then launched into his "Vulgar Poetry" (a la Jack Kerouac/Hunter Thompson x 100). Very shocking yet hysterical. What a night.
Last full day on Ambergris Caye: I wanted to go to the zoo. I had asked Amy in the office at Ramon's about it the morning before, and she said she would set something up for me. But it seems nobody was offering any tours to the zoo the next day! Everybody she called said they wouldn't take just one person. Merritt and Don had planned on diving again, but they were so tired from their three dives and snorkel the day before, they just wanted to hang out on the beach at Ramon's. Amy kept trying for me, and after her shift was over, Carlo kept calling guides and taxi drivers. Finally, he got a hold of a man named Reuben Dobins who said he would take me for $75 US. I don't know if this was a good deal or not, but I really wanted to go, so I said yes.
The next morning, I took an 8 a.m. flight from San Pedro to Belize Municipal. Landing there is an experience! It looks like you're going to land on the water because the runway is literally 2 feet off the water! Reuben was right there to meet me. He was a really nice guy. He took me for a quick tour around Belize City (kind of a "tropical Detroit,"--I can say that since I'm a Detroit girl
)--but some interesting things to see here and there). And he even stopped at his house to get some insect repellant for me since I foolishly didn't realize I'd need it at the zoo.
The zoo was wonderful. My family is big into animal welfare causes, so a zoo like this was right up my alley. We got there around 9:30, and Reuben said he'd wait in the parking lot so I could have some time to myself to take in the zoo. It was great--I didn't see more than 10 people in the zoo--including workers--so it was very peaceful. I can't believe how close I could get to the jaguars--they were literally only 3-4 feet away! It took me a little more than an hour and a half to go through. I would definitely go back.
On the flight back, the plane was only a 7-seater--including the pilot. A man on the runway instructed each person getting on where to sit. I was the only girl and the lightest, so I sat in back next to all the luggage! I've never been on a plane that small--what fun! Once in the air, you could see it was raining just beyond the reef. It started to rain just after we touched down in San Pedro, and I ran back to Ramon's in a downpour.
Met up with Merritt and Don, who had been snorkeling off the dock. We were hungry, so we headed out to find something to eat. I had been curious about the Jambel Jerk Pit since I had first seen it, and the guys said it looked fine to them for lunch. We ordered the Jambel Chicken Wings for an appetizer--great smoky, spicy flavor! "Spicy?" the waiter asked. "Not super spicy, but really good!" I said. "We like things REALLY spicy!" Merritt said. So the waiter yelled back to the kitchen to make our lunches "Spicy! Spicy! Spicy!" I had the jerk chicken, Don had the Jambel shrimp Jamboree special, and Merritt had the jerk lobster. The food was AWESOME!!! Merritt said if he had known how good the food was there when we first got there, he would've eaten there for every meal. He then proceeded to stop every diner as they walked in and practically forced them to order the jerk lobster. The guys behind the bar were laughing.
We were scheduled to go on a night snorkel at Hol Chan, but when we got back to Ramon's, the guys there told us it was too rough to go out, so I'm disappointed we didn't get the chance to do that. It had been raining on and off all day since I came back from the zoo--sometimes really hard, and they even cancelled the Barefoot Skinny show at Ramon's because of it. So we went back to Fido's for the rest of the night and drank much too much. :c)
Flew out the next day--on to Lamanai! The guys loved the runway at Municipal and the inky-dinky "terminal." Our Lamanai driver was there to meet us. He didn't know too much English, which was fine since we were tired from the night before and not that talkative either. The boat ride over to Lamanai Outpost was neat--makes you really feel like you are in the middle of nowhere! Oscar from Lamanai greeted us as we arrived at the dock. He is a nice fellow and was very helpful with whatever we needed.
Lamanai Outpost Lodge was wonderful. It really looked nice from the web site and brochures, but it surpassed my expectations. The grounds were beautiful--lush and ultra-tropical with little winding walkways and paths and just absolutely perfect. We were in Cottage #2 near the top of the hill. It, too, was really nice. Don was especially impressed. "Somebody really put a lot of thought into this place," he said, as we were all relaxing on the porch.
We were all really impressed by the way everything was organized at Lamanai. They have a big chalkboard with all the different tours and activities on it, and you look for your name to see when you are scheduled to do everything. We started out that afternoon with Carlos on the Herbal Medicine Walk. I was hoping the guys wouldn't think this was too "tame" of a walk, but they really enjoyed it. Carlos is a bird watcher's dream--he is an expert at identifying all the birds in the area. He told us a lot about the history of the area, and we examined, smelled, and even chewed on some of the plants as he told us about their medicinal powers and uses. The entire time, of course, Merritt was scanning the trees for monkeys. He was getting discouraged, but near the end of our walk, he says, "Listen! Monkeys!" Carlos scanned the trees, but didn't see anything. A few seconds later, Merritt screams, "There! There!" "You found some!" Carlos laughed. Merritt asked Carlos if we could go off the trail to try to get closer to the monkeys. Carlos, caught up in Merritt’s infectious enthusiasm, hacked his way through the bushes for us so we could get closer. Later on, Don and I found our ankles and waists covered with itchy little bug bites—chiggers! Carlos laughed at us at dinner and said, "I get them right away, and I didn't bother saying anything to you guys because I knew you would get them later!" Merritt, the one with the great idea to go through the brush, didn’t get a single bite!
I was surprised that the hurricane had damaged so many trees on the mainland. The river was high, of course, but there were a lot of trees down in the jungle. Big areas had been cleared where they had lost tons of trees--I didn't know the areas had been cleared specifically because of the hurricane damage until Carlos pointed it out to us. Carlos said in many areas where we could see open sky above us, it used to be a thick forest canopy.
We went on our Night Spotlight River Trip that night with Benjamin. That was a blast and a little surreal. The teenage kid behind me kept yelling, "Apocalypse Now! Apocalypse Now!" as we sped across the river in the pitch blackness. We saw some unusual birds, a big iguana, and a couple crocs--one swam right by our boat.
The next day we went on our Lamanai Ruins Tour with Benjamin. Both he and Carlos are terrific guides! Again, Merritt kept up with his, "When are we gonna see monkeys? Will the monkeys be at the next temple?" Don had gotten in the habit of calling Merritt "Monkey Boy," and Benjamin picked up on it, too. We walked past a group of workers cutting down some trees near the ruins, and they laughed and said, "Mono Blanco!" (Spanish for Monkey Boy
) ) And once again, Merritt found his monkeys. We even saw a spider monkey, and Benjamin said only two spider monkeys had been sighted in the area in the past few months. We saw a beautiful, big toucan, too, by the Jaguar Temple.
We went out later that afternoon on our own. Saw more monkeys, and an animal that we later identified as a kinkajou. That night, Merritt and Don took out our snorkel lights and went on a little "night safari" of their own (I had stupidly missed a step coming out of the dining area and twisted my ankle something nasty, so I didn't go with them). Apparently the boys got "attacked" by some bats that kept landing on them, and they admitted to screaming and flailing their arms like a couple of girls. They ran back toward the lodge, and some workers out back were laughing at them when they came running back with their lights flailing and flashing all over the place.
The boys then asked some of the workers where they could find some tarantulas, and one of them flushed a tarantula out of a hole near the dock. They have video of the tarantula crawling all over them. Not sure if I would've done it! They spent some time talking with Monique and Mark Howells, too. They are really nice people. Merritt told them he wants to come back for three weeks to do some volunteer monkey-watching research (he's dead serious).
The next day--our last in Belize--we took a canoe out on our own. I sat in the middle and listened to those two argue back and forth about how to paddle the canoe properly, but it was still fun. We paddled down to the ruins again, and then through a channel in the lagoon and looked for crocs in the mangroves. Didn't see any.
Flew out of Lamanai about 3 that afternoon. The little airstrip is a riot--nothing but gravel! I had expected maybe a little hangar or something. Little things like that made our trip all the more fun. But we all loved Lamanai. Merritt said he would've given up his diving on Ambergris to spend his entire time in the jungle.
Whew!!! I guess that's enough! But overall, we loved the trip! I would go back to both Ramon's and Lamanai and would recommend both to anyone. I can't say enough about Amy and Carlo at Ramon's, who were friendly and patient and helpful with whatever we needed. And the same goes for Oscar at Lamanai, as well as Carlos, Benjamin, and everyone else there. I would say, though, that Belize is not for everyone. You have to be open-minded about your surroundings sometimes, and realize that you really are far, far from home. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to go back, see some areas we didn’t get a chance to explore, and revisit some places and do some things we did the first time around, too!