Snorkeling, a cruise to Caye Caulker and a day trip to the Mayan Ruins are all part of Our Unique Island Adventure.

We spent half a day in Caye Caulker

You were previously introduced to the jewel of the Caribbean, Belize. Now, we will go into the details of the outstanding outdoor activity that makes this country, the size of Rhode Island, so special.

Belize is the land of sparkling ocean blue waters. It includes miles of inland rivers and rain forest and the location of Mayan ruins, dating back to 6,000 B.C.

My wife and I chose to take three excursions during our nine-day stay on Ambergris Caye, located 10 miles offshore from the mainland in Belize.

Snorkeling with Chuck and Robbie in San Pedro

The half-day venture ($55 per person U.S.) is a boat trip that begins on the docks in San Pedro starting with a half-hour motor boat ride to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve inside the 185-mile barrier reef surrounding the islands.

Chuck & Robbie's Diving & SCUBA Instruction came highly recommended and didn't disappoint. Our crew of three entertained guests as if it was a Las Vegas night club act. They kept their guests in stitches. Our guide, Ishmael, was highly trained in the art of leading a snorkeling group.

Hol Chan Marine Reserve is a state park of sorts, located in a seabed well inside the coral reef. Our guides had to hand over a permit to visit the park. The staging area looked like a parking lot for boats. While we snorkeled and shared the turquoise waters with sea turtles, sting rays, eels and tarpon, scuba divers worked below us at depths of hundreds of feet. The ocean bed, where you could walk in spots, was a cornucopia of sea life. The fish swam to snorkelers like they were the best of friends. What you saw you of coral formations you were not permitted to touch, nor bring home as a souvenir.

After 45 minutes of diving and snorkeling at Hol Chan, the boat headed south for about 10 minutes, stopping at Shark Ray Alley. Divers swam nose to nose with baby sharks and got a chance to touch them. It was quite the experience. More advanced divers get to experience the Blue Hole, outside the barrier reef, clearly one of the finest diving reserves in the world.

Half a day on Caye Caulker

You can get to Caye Caulker on a snorkeling-sailing cruise or or take a half hour water taxi ride from the pier in San Pedro. We chose the latter. ($10 U.S., per person roundtrip).

Caye Caulker is the epitome of a laid-back lifestyle. We got off the boat and thought Ernest Hemingway, not Coronado, may have discovered this 23-mile dot in the ocean. Caulker has to be at least a 50-year throwback in time.

We had lunch at a shack with a sand-covered floor and sampled the local flavors and beverages found in places like Key West, FL. Streets in Caulker are covered with sand. There is just one street to explore the shops, restaurants, bars, hotels and street vendors. The buildings are all wooden, and the hotel rooms are cheap ($50-$60 a night), albeit most lacked air-conditioning. With a tropical breeze, they arenít really needed. College students have found Caulker a place to swim in the ocean, sample the cold beer at the beach front joints and hang out without going broke.

We walked end to end at a leisurely pace, spending about four hours on the island. Haggling over the price of a carved pink shell necklace on a beaded chain from a friendly street vendor was part of the unique experience. We loaded up at the souvenir shop on T-shirts and other items, getting away with a bill of less than $50 U.S.

Cruise Up the Northern River to the Mayan Ruins.

I would say if you are taking a day trip to see Belize inland, by far and away, it should be booked through Sea-rious Adventures in San Pedro ($150 per person, U.S.). This all-day tour begins early from your home dock and doesnít return until around 6 p.m. The all-inclusive tour includes breakfast, lunch, snacks and plenty to drink.

Again, the guides were friendly, knowledgeable and quite entertaining. Our boat guide was Wayne who also calls himself Tipper.

Wayne mixed rum drinks with great liberty. The tour is an hour-long open water excursion to the mainland, landing about 8 miles north of Belize City. After a brief river ride, the tour splits into three groups, and the groups either headed to ruins at Lamanai or Alta Ha or went cave tubing and zip lining high above the tree tops in the rain forest. We chose the 29-mile boat ride to the Mayan ruins at Lamanai in the Orange Walk District. An hour long school bus ride took us through sugar cain country to the boarding dock.

We didnít regret our choice. On the 29-mile boat ride, we fed bananas to spider monkeys, saw Mayan descendants fishing out of a canoe and swept right past a rum mill and a Mennonite farm. The river was so calm and peaceful and uninhabited by humans.

We even saw a little creature called the Jesus Christ bird because he literally walked on water, skipping gingerly on the river's lily pads.

The cruise on the Northern River stops on a big lake at Bomba. There, we feasted on the local favorite, a chicken-and-rice buffet; tramped through the rain forest and climbed the heights of Mayan Temples, soaring as high as 120 feet into the sky. The scream of a jaguar in the forest caught everyoneís attention. Our tour guide at the ruins had a college degree and knew his history, inside out.

The day was perfect. The tour was unforgettable. We had gone to Belize to soak up the sun, and we saw the history of the mainland up close and personal and came back with a lifetime of memories.

Side trips should be a necessary part of the overall Belize experience.

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