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Belize - February 3-13, 2003
After a couple feet of snow and temperatures not getting over 20F, we headed out of Boston to Belize. Flying American through Miami, everything went perfect and arrived at Belize City International Airport right on time. We were picked up by our host, Chaa Creek and given a very informative 2 hour introduction to Belize on the ride to the Cayo District. Chaa Creek was beautiful. The cottages were very nice, the food was okay, the grounds were immaculate and the people were the best we experienced in years of travel. Everyone connected with the resort was friendly, knowledgeable and helpful and it was very genuine. We can't say enough about it.
Day 1 - Check out Chaa Creek
This morning we hiked up to the Natural History Center and Butterfly Farm. The Blue Morpho butterfly is spectacular, hard to believe that it only lives for two weeks as a butterfly. Next we checked out the Medicine Trail, only to find out that it was closed. Maybe next time. So we went down to the Macal River just to see what it looked like and how the canoeing would work for tomorrow. Much of what sounds like just hanging around was really camera time. I got a new digital camera before coming and had to try it out on everything I saw. It even takes short movies. By the end of our ten day trip, I had taken 350 pictures and 10 movies. That afternoon we decided to give our feet a break and took a guided horseback tour around the property. It was a lot of fun, but of course other parts of the body were now fatigued. The hammocks outside our cottage sure came in handy.
Day 2 - Canoeing
Today we were heading to Barton Creek Cave. Mayawalk Tours picked us up at Chaa Creek and drove us into San Ignacio to prepare for the trip. There were only three plus one guide on this trip. They strapped a huge canoe to top of their vehicle and off we went. After about an hour on mostly dirt and rock roads through orange and grapefruit groves, we came to the river. We hooked up a giant floodlight and paddled into the cave. We were probably in the cave for about an hour. It was huge. Several places along the way you could see Mayan artifacts. After emerging from the cave, we stopped by a section of the river that was perfect for swimming. It was nice break before our hour long trek back to San Ignacio. Before we left on our trip we had read about Mayawalk, primarily because they tour Actun Tunichil Muknal (tomorrow's trip). We also found that Chaa Creek prices for tours were on the expensive side. I highly recommend Mayawalk. They go everywhere, they'll take small groups at a reasonable price and they really know their stuff. We had a great time. That afternoon, we took our own canoe trip up the Macal River. Lots of birds and iguanas along the way. Very relaxing.
Day 3 - Actun Tunichil Muknal
When we first read about Belize, we were interested in going to the cayes for snorkeling and sailing. Once we read about the cave, Actun Tunichil Muknal, we just had to spend some time in the jungle and take this trip. Only two tour groups can go to ATM. The original reason was to protect it from too much traffic, though both groups seem to do multiple trips, so I'm not sure that it's working. Again, Mayawalk picked us up at Chaa Creek and took us into San Ignacio, where we were given our gear for the day. Backpacks, dry bags, helmets, lights, and lunch were issued to everyone. We had a group of six plus one guide. It's about an hour and half drive and then a 45 minute hike to the cave entrance. At the entrance we stopped for our lunch and got our instructions for the trek into ATM. It was interesting how the guide commented about two of the people wearing sandals (not a day at the beach) while he was barefoot! It's about a 10-15 yard swim into the cave. After that, it was climbing over rocks and formations, squeezing between rocks, more swimming, and much walking. You really had to be careful and help each other all the way through, but it was not that hard, just take your time. Some of the cave areas were huge, with stalagmites and stalactites everywhere. After climbing up a fairly steep wall, we were instructed to remove our shoes and if people had cameras in their dry bags, they could get them out. The guide had us turn off all lights, he lead us into place and then turned on his lamp. There were Mayan artifacts everywhere. After seeing a few in Barton Creek, this was amazing. We turned on our own lights and followed the guide now further into the cave. Every where you went were more and more pots, and then some bones and a couple of skulls. The final climb, up an aluminum ladder, (who said the Mayans weren't ahead of their time) takes you into a smaller area with a complete skeleton crystallized into the floor. The way back out of the cave was as exciting as the way in. Swimming, squeezing, sliding !
and hiking through fabulous caverns. We reached the entrance, swam back out and were just amazed at what we had been through. We were in the cave for about 3 hours. We all admitted it was a once in a lifetime event. If you ever have the chance be sure to check out ATM. Of course the day wouldn't have been complete without the tarantula on the inside ceiling of our cottage that night. After about 15 minutes, it went back into the thatch and never heard from again. He had nothing to do with the fact that were checking out the next day.
Day 4 - Off to the Cayes
Today we packed up our bags and took the 2 hour ride into Municipal Airport and then over to Ambergris Caye. We were booked at Xanadu Island Resort. It's on the south side, less than a mile from town. A relatively new place on the island, the condos are very modern concrete structures with thatched roofs. Our place had a loft bedroom, two baths, full kitchen, dining area and living space. We had a great balcony facing right on the ocean. First agenda item was to check out the walk to town. One of the reasons we chose Xanadu was the location. It took about 20 minutes to get to town on an easy walk up the beach. If you don't want the walk, you can take complimentary bikes around town as well. In town our mission was to book a sailing snorkel tour for the next day. One of things you quickly find out in Belize that it's helpful to travel with others. Finding a trip for two was actually difficult. Almost everyone required at least 4 or even 6 to go out. Since there are so many tour groups on Ambergris, it seemed like no one ever got their quota. Finally we booked an all day catamaran trip to Caye Caulker through Hustler Tours.
Day 5 - Sailing to Caye Caulker
At about 8:30, Hustler Tours picked us up at our dock and took us to the boat. It was a pretty crowded trip, about 20 passengers. Quite a surprise after finding it impossible the day before to find a trip with 6. Oh well, it was fun. Good conversation, a good breeze and a great snorkel at Hol Chan. The drawback here of course is that there a loads of boats and people and you had keep track of where you were, but the area was excellent. Trigger fish, Hog fish, Flounders and a Spotted Eagle Ray were exciting to see. After Hol Chan we stopped at Caye Caulker for lunch. After an $18BZ Lobster lunch, we headed off to investigate the main drag. We were specifically looking for Annie's, which people told us was at Chocolat's. Well we found it at the far end of were we landed. They have very nice clothes, but we were now out of time and had to get back to the boat. Next stop on our trip was Shark Ray Alley, or as we renamed it, Stingray Alley. There were no sharks, none. The rays were all southern rays, not as spectacular as eagle rays, but very impressive. We then took a leisurely sail back to Ambergris.
Day 6 - Plan some more trips
It was time to initiate some help on trips. We asked the Xanadu folks to see if they come up with some trips for us. One of the trips we wanted was a day trip up north to Robles Point. The write-ups said that you snorkel and have a BBQ lunch on the beach during this all day trip. Well, many offered the trip, but no one could get the minimums to take us. So, for two reasons we scheduled another trip to Caye Caulker, this time with Amigos Del Mar. They made 4 snorkeling stops (and we came to snorkel) and we also wanted to get back to Annie's. We also had them set up a half day trip to Mexico Rocks and Tres Cocos. While they checked these out, we enjoyed the pool area, got our groceries at the local market and went into town for lunch and some shopping. We had a wonderful lunch at Estel's, right on the beach. We checked out the shops in town and bought some fresh fruit to take back to the room.
Day 7 - Return to Caye Caulker
Amigos Del Mar picked us up at the dock around 8:30. There were 3 other people on the trip with us and we sped off to our first snorkel stop, Hol Chan. While had been here before, the underwater world is forever changing. There were fewer people this time around and we really enjoyed it. Next stop was Coral Gardens. This was great. We were the only ones there and the coral and fish were outstanding. Another spotted eagle ray was the highlight of the stop. On Caye Caulker we headed off to Annie's. Chocolat was there and I learned more about manatees than I could have ever imagined. I did not realize until some time later that he has been honored for his environmental efforts. We bought some very nice clothes and headed off to lunch and returned to the boat. The next snorkel stop was Caye Caulker, North Channel. It was very close to the reef edge and the water at times got very shallow, but you really got to see a variety of sea life. Our final stop of the day was Shark Ray Alley, and there were sharks, or at least 1 or 2. The most exciting part of this stop was the Green Moray. While most of the area was a sandy and grassy bottom, a few yards away were some rocks, so I swam over to check them out. Out of the rocks comes a Green Moray. First just the head and then he swam all the way out, across some sand and into some other rocks. It was about 4-5 feet long. In a few seconds, it came out of the rocks and headed toward a stingray that was mouthing some of the fish that boats throw overboard. Well the Moray wanted the food. It went right at the ray, grabbed a mouthful and swam quickly right back into the rocks. Quite a show.
Day 8 - Heading North
Today we are going to Mexico Rocks and Tres Cocos with Searious Adventures. There were 7 of us on this trip and only one other boat at Mexico Rocks, definitely a quieter place to go. Mexico Rocks is just north of Mata Chica Resort. It was a great place to snorkel. Coral heads everywhere in just 8-10 feet of water. I hadn't mentioned in earlier comments that I had brought along an underwater case for my new digital camera. It worked great, and with the editing software, we finally have pictures of what we really saw instead of everything through a blue filter. Tres Cocos was wonderful as well, in fact both us liked it better than Mexico Rocks.
Day 9 - Fresh Fish Dinner
Our hosts at Xanadu had mentioned the previous day that people had gone fishing and if they were lucky would catch dinner and get it cooked up a local restaurant. While we were not fishermen, the idea of cooking your catch had intrigued us, so we had them set us up with a guide today to test our untapped fishing skills. So we headed down south into some mangrove areas to first catch our bait. The guide cast out his net and brought in a load of sardines, so it was off to the fish. After exhibiting our total lack of knowledge in the sport, we actually got some bites. We pulled in a few snappers, some had to go back but some were keepers. We also hauled in a couple of barracuda. So we didn't get enough to set up a fish market, but it looked like enough for dinner. The guide cleaned our catch and we went in search of a cook. One option was to cook it right there at Xanadu on the beach grill, but we opted for more experience and some side orders so we went to George's Kitchen, right down the road from Xanadu. George was the best. He took our catch, asked how we wanted it, though we left that up to him. So we had Barracuda Fingers as appetizers and Grilled Snapper as the main course. The best meal of the entire vacation.
Day 10 - Back to Snow and Ice
Our time is up, we enjoyed every minute of our stay in Belize. I strongly recommend doing the "surf and turf" option (ocean and jungle) here so that you don't miss any of what Belize has to offer.
Thanks to David for this trip report ...