I just returned from a fantastic trip to Belize, and many thanks to the people on this board who provided so much valuable info! This report is kinda lengthy, but there is so much to do and see in Belize that I didn't know what to leave out - so here it all is
Day 1 - We flew from Newark, NJ to Houston to change planes for Belize City. No problems with the flight, just a big
military presence at Newark airport. In Houston, one of our group of 6 decided to play it safe for lunch with a Subway tuna sandwich, and was sick all the way from Houston to Belize City. Not a fun thing on a plane
Beware the Texas Tuna if you're passing through Houston International.
We arrived in Belize City and had reservations for the 5:30 Tropic Air flight to Ambergris Caye. While waiting in the departure lounge, we were encouraged to visit the airport bar for "the best rum punch" by a cute little man. The rum punches were pretty bad, but it made for a good photo op.
Our 14 passenger plane to AC was full and I got to play co-pilot. At the AC airport, we got our first introduction to the San Pedro dogs. We thought it was a novelty to have dogs greet us when we deplaned, but little did we know they would be following us back to the condo and through town every day. We took a cab to Banana Beach Resort, and found that my condo had been upgraded to an oceanfront unit for the first 3 days. A nice surprise - thanks Tim!
We were all wiped out, and Banana Beach recommended Rico's for dinner, nearby at the Villas at Banyan Bay resort. It was a 5 minute walk on the beach. The food was
excellent, especially the tortilla soup.
Day 2 - We took a cab into town to rent golf carts. Banana Beach is a bit far from town to walk every day (and night), and the carts looked like fun. We checked the prices at a few places in town and got the carts from Carts R Us, between the airport and the Island Supermarket. After that, we drove into town and had lunch at Jambel's Jerk Pit.
Terrific food there, especially the jerk pork, curry chicken, and coconut rice. We decided on the week's activities and found Seaduced had good prices, free t-shirts, and was willing to waive the 5% service charge for using a credit card
Most places will do that if you ask. We booked the manatee/Shark Ray Alley trip for the next day. Back at the resort, we sat on the beach in front of Mata Rocks and watched a waterfront wedding in progress. First time I'd seen a minister in a tropical skirt, but that's definitely the way to have a wedding! That night, we went to the Spindrift Hotel for the Chicken Drop. Rachel bought 20 numbers, and sure enough, the chicken dropped on one of them. Part of the $100 prize is cleaning up the droppings
Dinner that night was at Elvi's Kitchen, and was excellent - don't miss the key lime pie.
Day 3, Thanksgiving - Seaduced picked us up on the Mata Rocks pier next door and off we went. It took about half an hour to get to where the mangroves and manatees were, and right before we got there, 3 dolphins surfaced near the boat! That was the highlight of the manatee trip, as we never did see any manatees. After half an hour of
slowly cruising through the mangroves, we headed to the tiny island of Goff's Caye for a beach barbeque and snorkeling trip. The food was again excellent (fresh fish, coconut rice, potatoes, pasta salad, broiled plantains, endless rum punch) and the snorkeling around the island was fun. We
were there for over 2 hours though, a bit long. To liven things up, 2 in our group (an engaged couple) had a huge fight on the boat before we left. If anyone reading this
was on the boat that day and remembers the pregnant woman, and the guy who dunked his digital camera over the side, that was our happy group
After that, Seaduced made
another attempt to find the manatees. All we found were ripples in the water, and some sandy areas where the manatees *might* have just been. Then we snorkeled over at Shark Ray Alley among the stingrays and nurse sharks. They were very cool to see, especially when our guide held a nurse shark in his arms like a baby! The stingrays here
don't get handouts from the snorkelers, like they do in Grand Cayman, so they didn't often come too close. Luckily, the sharks didn't either
There was a stop at Caye
Caulker for a brief shopping/walking excursion. A long day - and it got even longer when the engines quit on the way back to Ambergris Caye. Another two in our group were able to keep clearing out the fuel lines so we could get back to Caye Caulker for a better fix. Seaduced gave us a 10% discount on our next trip for our efforts.
Day 4 - We went scuba diving with Blue Hole Divers at Hol Chan Marine Park. 3 of us took the resort course, as 2 of us were already certified, and one is pregnant. She snorkeled around while we dove, and swam right into a coral head. While scuba diving, Alex found a gold ring in about 25 feet of water. That's what the rest of us get for
looking at the sharks, giant grouper, and other fish when we should have been looking for buried treasure
Our dive guide Zoe found a sea cucumber and urchin for us to
hold, and we sort of saw a barracuda in a cave. Zoe and our dive aster, who's name I forget, were really helpful and professional.
We had dinner that night at Estelle's, who makes great homemade tortilla chips and coconut pie. The best fish and chips too! Every meal we had on the island was so large
there were always leftovers.
Day 5 - A day of rest, more or less. We started by parasailing at Fido's dock, then did some shopping. The wood carvings sold on the streets are beautiful. I bought a carved manatee, just to say I actually saw one. Most stores had stuffed manatees, but the labels said they were made in Newark, NJ, which minimized their appeal (all of us being
from NJ)! After spending about 2 hours laying on the beach back at the resort, two of us went for a massage at La Diosa, a beautiful Victorian house just south of town. The massages were nothing to write home about, but their collection of soap art made for good souvenirs.
Day 6 - We went to Altun Ha and Maruba Jungle Spa with Seaduced. Herman, our guide, was great. We went up a river after crossing the bay near Belize City and he pointed out
all kinds of things, like giant termite nests (ick), and tiny fruit bats that looked like brown knots on the tree...until he flicked a few drops of water at them and they swooped towards our boat. Lots of screams, oohs, and aahs, mostly from me
After about half an hour, we stopped at the village of Bomba to board a bus out to the
ruins. Most of the villagers had gorgeous wood carvings for sale and we picked out what we wanted, which we would retrieve on the way back. Two of the shops had an animal
called a gibnut in a cage. It's a very cute creature with spots that looks like a giant hamster. They're also called jungle rats, and are occasionally served as food
seeing one, I asked the shop owner if he could make me a carved one, which he did. Their carvings are really brilliant.
The bus ride out to the ruins took about 40 minutes and we passed quite a few villages and small shacks/huts. On or off Ambergris Caye, you can't forget you're in a third
world country. The people may be poor, but the poverty in Belize doesn't have the menace of the povery in Jamaica or other places. Altun Ha was a great site and we were able to climb most of the temples. Herman was very knowledgable and told us all about the site, the Mayans, and the surrounding jungle. After about 2 hours, it was off to the Maruba spa in the jungle. They have all kinds of spa treatments, and I
highly recommend the one hour massage. The best! Others in our group had the mud treatment and aromatherapy. They have a pool and a hot tub to relax in as well.
Dinner that night was at Mambo, at the Mata Chica resort on northern Ambergris Caye. Access is by water taxi only - and the water taxi was (over)loaded with people from several docks, and as it sped northward, the bow became airborne a few times and kept slamming down into the water. After 10
minutes of this, our pregnant friend was in a lot of pain and we had to finally YELL at the driver to slow down; earlier requests were ignored. It felt like my liver
had been shaken loose. Once we slowed down, sheets of spray came over the side of the boat and soaked Alex and his silk shirt. It took about 20 minutes and cost $10 US a
person one way. Mambo was a beautiful place when we finally arrived, and as usual, the food was spectacular. Chocolate souffle in paradise can't be beat. This was also the
priciest meal we had (about $40 a person), but still much less than a comparable meal in the US. Alex got a souvenir a t-shirt, and buttoned his wet shirt to an empty chair
and let the sea breeze blow-dry it. With island music pounding out of the sound system, the shirt looked like it was dancing in the chair to a calypso beat. We hired a
private water taxi to take us back to Banana Beach, and that was even more of an adventure. The boat was a small, decrepit
fishing skiff and the floorboards were so soft I almost put my foot through one. The driver brought one plastic garbage bag as a raincoat since we couldn't go very fast, but the person (Chris) that had to sit in the line of fire still got soaked...and looked hysterical with a garbage bag as a bib across his chest. At least we had a less
bone-rattling ride home and got a good laugh at his expense
The driver was really nice and let us off at Fido's dock so we could
cab it back to the resort.
Day 7 - A flight on Tropic Air back to the mainland for our trip with Searious to go cave tubing and to the Belize Zoo. At the Belize City airport we bought fresh breakfast tacos from a lady on the street - delicious! We were picked up in Belize City in a van stuffed with inner tubes and people
and drove about 60 minutes out of the city. We turned down a dirt road and jolted and bounced down this for about 30 minutes until we got to the Sibun River. It was raining
slightly when we started our hike through the jungle. We had to cross the river to continue the hike, but the current was so strong it knocked me and my tube down. Alex
grabbed my arm, he fell down, and we were both wedged into the river rocks until Luis the guide was able to help us up. Alex's waterproof camera fell off his arm and started floating downstream. Luis zipped after it, and got us back on the trail. We had heard it would be an "easy hike on a
level path" through the jungle to where the river flowed into the caves. Not quite. This was a 90 minute trek over a narrow, slick muddy path complete with branches to trip over, holes to fall into, hills to roll down, and little wooden bridges to cross. In addition to our 6 months pregnant friend, there was an older woman with a knee brace, and me - six months post-op from knee surgery, and most of us were wearing sandals. The hike itself wasn't really a technical challenge, but the potential to
slip and fall was very high. Luckily, we were all moving slowly and carefully. Luis pointed out wild rhubarb and gave us
all some. Note: you should eat, drink, and load up on bug spray before starting this hike - the hike was 90 minutes, the tubing was about 45, then 10 minutes back to the bus, and 30 minutes to the nearest restaurant.
The cave tubing was incredible once we got there. We all wore headlamps and hooked our feet to the person's tube in front of us, and floated single-file through the limestone
caves. Where the caves had openings to the jungle, we were able to take a few pictures. It was really spectacular. After we floated through the caves, the rest of the river
tubing was a lot of fun, complete with a few rapids. An excellent trip - but long and exhausting. Lunch was included at Cheers, a small restaurant on the way to the zoo. Great stew chicken with rice and beans, and
coconut bread pudding. The zoo was small but impressive. We saw howler monkeys, a black panther, 2 large jaguars, a puma, a toucan, macaws, tapirs, and a few other small creatures (coatamundi?, gibnut, some ferret like things, etc.). Then back on the bus to the city and back to AC.
Another great meal at Rico's again. We were too tired to go more than 5 minutes away.
Last day - We were scheduled to leave at 1:00PM. Some of us got up and showered around 7:30AM...good thing, because
Banana Beach had a scheduled power/water outage at 8:00AM. Scheduled for them, but we had no idea it was coming. Eventually they turned the water back on, but with no power, there was no air conditioning. 2 of us took a tour of the north island in the golf cart. We crossed over the cut on the little ferry ($5 US, and hand-pulled with a rope by a couple of guys), then continued on the rutted dirt road for half an hour. We passed Sweet Basil's restaurant, and a few beautiful custom made homes. One custom made
home was an airline container from Air Express, which is apparently "Sonny's place". Sonny has a telephone line running to it, so I guess it's home.
We were all so exhausted after every day's excursion that we never went to any bars at night. I think we were all asleep by 10:00PM most nights!
Then back to Banana Beach, the airport, Belize City, Houston, then New Jersey. It was a great trip and I definitely hope to go back!