Well, welcome back, friends!
Alright, so Belize. A place that has been on my bucket list since university. Back when I was a freshman the leadership organization I was in took a spring break trip to Belize and I was heartbroken that my parents wouldn’t let me go. Finally years later I found my way there and with a good looking guy with me 😉
Belize was both everything I expected and not what I expected. Let me just get it out of the way that this was my most expensive trip outta the recent ones (New Zealand, Peru, Tulum included). It was the most expensive, however, because of the lifestyle we chose to indulge in. We wanted a vacation. A spoiled, resort-living kinda relaxation with some rough outside adventure planned. We got just that!
Unlike my normal routine of waiting for Escape Houston or Scott’s Cheap Flight deals to pop up, this time we booked our tickets the usual way: by just looking them up on Expedia.
We prepared for this trip in different ways: Kevin stocked up on Amazon approved snorkels and bug spray and I bought a new pair of swimmies. We both made sure the sunblock we picked was eco friendly as we all know that certain sunscreens contain chemicals that are killing our reef! We chose SunBum after Kevin read many reviews online as he always does.
Soon, it was time to go!
After researching every mode of transportation, including the cheapest options (my norm), I learned there are a couple options for getting to San Ignacio (a two and a half hour drive). First, you could take a taxi which will run you a pretty penny. Secondly, you could take a taxi to the bus terminal and then take the old school yellow school buses with no air conditioning the rest of the way. This is the cheapest option, but seemed a little too uncomfortable for our vacation this time. And thirdly, you can book a shuttle/private shuttle.
Before arriving at the airport I pre-booked a shuttle to San Ignacio with William Hofman. His email confirmation had so much valuable information on what to expect for our trip to Belize. This is the website if you’re interested: Shuttle It was $100 for both of us so definitely pricey but we both agreed that it was completely worth it for the long drive.
We chatted the whole time with our driver, a local, who informed us all about his country. One of my favorite parts about Belize is hearing their people talk about Belize. It’s beautiful and heartwarming. Once we got into the town he pointed out all the places we needed to know: which ATM to use, where to catch a bus, and especially every place we should eat at.
I jotted down a few of the names: Han-nahs, Pops, and Martha’s kitchen.
“You can go everywhere in Belize and eat ride and beans and it will taste different- it makes it unique.”
So we arrived safely and comfortable at Rumors Resort ($74 a night). I chose this hotel because it wasn’t in San Ignacios center but more in the jungle. That way we could escape the noise and just relax.
(Talking to him as I write this) Kevin originally rated this hotel a 5/7. He both liked and disliked the service. He said that food took so long (we had to take breakfast to go once even though we ordered so early), but that the flapjacks were so good.
My review: overall, I would probably rate it about the same. It was more of a simple hotel than a “resort”. The front desk and bartender were ridiculously nice and caring. One night they even checked in on if we were eating dinner before the restaurant closed. So sweet! The rooms were a bit outdated and the air conditioning took forever to get cold, but I mean, you’re in another country and in the jungle- probably expected. Also, holy jeez, the flapjacks here were mind blowing. I’d go back just for them.
The first day when we arrived we explored the grounds, grabbed a few drinks, and played in the pool. And I mean, we definitely played around in the pool. We threw beach balls at each other, chased each other, flopped around. It was just like we were kids again.
That night we were scrambling for last minute plans for the infamous ATM caves. I’ve learned to trust Kevin with his searches and instinct on these kinds of things and I’m so glad that I did.
Carlos the Caveman Actun Tunichil Muknal Excursion (~$100)
“Hauntingly beautiful,” Kevin and I would say to each other within the cave as we carefully stepped over slippery rocks with only our white headlamps and tour leader, Eric, guiding us.
As we booked last minute we were the only two guests on this tour! Eric, our guide, and our driver picked us up at Rumors and we started our drive. We stopped at a small store on the way and they even purchased us a couple of Belizean beers for afterward!
The drive was…rough. It was bumpy and long but once you’re there you’re too excited for what’s to come to be sick. If you don’t know what the ATM cave let me quickly explain (a very simplified version in my own way).
SO. This was once a central key to the Mayan world. Picture this: you’re living, thriving as part of a civilization. You give blessings to your Gods in forms of rituals, sacrifices, and ceremonies. Everything is going well…until the rain stops. So you begin giving more blessings to your Gods within this cave. You pray around special ceramic pots mixed with special contents: blood, chocolate. Then you set it on fire or you break it. It doesn’t work. So you try again, this time a little further into the cave. Again, it doesn’t work. You explore further. You sacrifice those deemed worthy, the younger the more pure. But the cave is telling you things- you see things amongst the shadows made from your torch. The further you get the darker it is within this cave, but the fire is showing you images of the Gods and you hear them. You keep these rituals praying for the drought to end and for fertility to the land. You do this until you stop exploring further into the cave. And then one day…it all stops.
As we were the only two on this tour that meant we got to move fast before the other big groups started. I am so thankful for this as we saw these big groups on our way out and directions would have been hard to hear. Instead it was Eric, Kevin, and myself.
To get to the cave you have to first walk until you reach two parts of the river. There’s a rope to hold onto as you swim across the refreshing water. Then once you are at the entrance of the cave you jump in once again and begin swimming further in. I have to say, by this point this was already one of my favorite excursions ever. It was adventurous, educational, awing. I don’t think I will able to fully explain how hauntingly beautiful the whole experience was.
Because suddenly you’re standing there- in front of broken ceramic pots and next to pieces of bone left over from so long ago. You are standing next to sacrificing spots, prayer spots, and spots of exploration. Eric was so knowledgeable about every single thing in this cave and he really made sure we understood everything before moving on to the next fascinating sight.
There are many parts of the tour that leave you breathless and I don’t just mean because of the rock climbing or swimming you have to do. Or even because of the tight squeezes along sharp rock formations that you carefully navigate through. But the parts that you suddenly can imagine “Holy shit, this is what they felt.” Or you suddenly see what they saw. For me, I had this moment while looking at a skeleton of a young boy that was left alone deep in the cave to die. Eric said researchers believe in took this boy days alone in darkness before he passed away. We turned off our headlamps and with no one else around…we could picture it. Darkness consumed us, direction left us. And it was completely silent. This is the most true darkness I have ever experienced.
Eric took us a different way out of the cave. With only our small red headlamp lights on, Kevin and I were given directions to enter the narrowest pathway called “The decapitator”. We were left alone to swim along the rocks until we found another small opening that had Eric waiting for us. This moment will forever be frozen in my memory because of how special it was. I know not everyone gets to experience this way out so I’m grateful we could. With our last final look at the cave we swam out into the brightness.
I would entirely recommend the ATM cave tour. I know it seems touristic but I was so wrong to first doubt it. More so, I would whole heartedly encourage anyone to attend with Carlos the Caveman. Carlos recently passed away and his wife and daughters along with Eric and the other guides are working to continue the legacy of his tour. All I know is, Carlos would be very proud.
So, what do you need for this tour?
Excitement! Along with that, no cameras are allowed thanks to some tourists that dropped their cameras onto the remaining skulls. (Eye roll inserted here). I wore my swimsuit along with leggings and a tank top. Oh and socks- you’ll need those. I was worried about being cold inside the cave but I actually didn’t have a single problem. On my feet I (and everyone else) highly recommend water shoes. Kevin picked me out these (link included) and I adore them. We also made sure to put bug spray on before we left the hotel.
Tips: Try and book a small group/private tour if possible. It makes a world of difference! Change of clothes is necessary for afterward! Doing this with your best friend/partner…makes it even better.
Oh! I forgot to mention, they feed you, too! And offer you a cold beer! Seriously such a perfect experience!
After a shower and change of clothes we decided to continue our adventurous day with a visit to the Mayan Ruin sight so close to the center!
Alright so these are the notes I jotted down from our driver: Cahal Peche is from 1,350 years before Christ. This main trading post was once considered the Switzerland of the Mayan world because the river was so actively used for trading.
Continuing with our days trend of no crowds, we had the sight almost entirely to ourselves. It was so fun to be able to climb (yes you can still climb them!) and explore the grounds from all around! We took our time exploring, climbing, running, taking photographs around the area. We even sat on top of one of the towers for awhile and just soaked it all in.
Unfortunately, this was my grumpy pants day. I blame it on severe dehydration mixed in with steaming weather, lots of sweat, and being very, very unprepared. I wasn’t aware that if you just mention to the taxi driver “Xunatenich” they take you to the small river ferry crossing and not the actual entrance of the ruins. Therefor, Kevin and I had a long walk with a very steep incline. Now, yall know that I’ve hiked steep hikes before, but man, I was not prepared at all for this. So by the time we arrived at the real entrance…I was a sweaty, grumpypants- lame. Kevin did everything he could to cheer me up, but sometimes, the heat just overpowers you and wins. It won. Still, seeing the massiveness that is Xunatenich from below was memorable. It was a busy day with high school tour groups, but from up above, everything just felt tiny. While exploring the grounds you can even spot howler monkeys in the trees- so cute! And for as far as you can see you witness Belize’s beautiful, luscious jungle. I would re-see Xunatenich, just maybe without the sweltering heat (this was the hottest day on our trip!).
Also, shout out to Kevin for being a champ. You’re the best.
We ended up booking a last minute shuttle once again with William Hofman to the Belize City Marina. This time it cost $75 for both of us. Oh, and this time the shuttle had wifi which was a nice touch. We did some souvenir shopping while waiting for the next ferry to San Pedro through the Belize Express Water Taxi ($38 roundtrip normally but they had a promotion going on at this time). The boat ride took about 75 minutes with a stop in Caye Caulker. Tip: don’t sit so close to the front windows because it will feel as if hundreds of little needles are being stabbed into your skin (from your hair blowing around).
I believe my favorite moment of this resort was arriving to it; they set up transportation at the Ambergris dock, took care of our luggage, and greeted us with a delicious adult beverage. I was 10/10 automatically impressed. It certainly was as secluded as the reviews said it was. I’ll give you our pros and cons about the resort.
Pros: The welcome. The whole resort is set up very nicely and not overcrowded. The “heated” pool has a swim up bar. It is right by the ocean. It has two hammocks which are very relaxing. The rooms were nice, a living room, microwave, fridge, and filtered water were provided. There is a volleyball court and other games on the beach.
Cons: It was all expensive: drinks, food, the golf cart rental. The sand at the “beach” isn’t the soft sand you expect but instead is quite rocky. I’d even say maybe it was a little too secluded as it took about half an hour on the golf cart to get to town. Oh, and the water is very sea-grassy and honestly, was even a little littered.
It cost almost $600 for three nights at the resort and by the end our tab was, well, you can imagine…high. So, yeah…definitely the priciest I’ve ever gone, and honestly, the resort/food itself probably wasn’t worth it. Being with Kevin though- worth every penny.
We woke up this morning and thought, “let’s just relaaaax“. So that’s what we did! We parked ourselves by the pool, brought our own adult beverages from our rooms, and, well, drank! We did this for pretty much the entire afternoon until we fell asleep early in the evening. Oops.
So on day five of our trip to Belize we made afternoon excursion reservations to snorkel Shark Ray Alley and Hol Chan Marine Reservice. Until then, however, we thought we’d do as the locals and drive around in style. Our ride for the day? A golf cart. The biggest mode of transportation around the island. So we drove around and decided to stop by this “Secret Beach” we saw on the map. How quickly we wished we had spent all day yesterday there!
This place was, for a lack of a better word, dope. It had everything we wanted: so many beach chairs, swings, a dock, two bars, delicious food, and the ridiculously clear water we have been dreaming about!
The only thing I’ll mention that isn’t complete praise is that quite a few swimmers said they were bit my sand fleas- which I honestly didn’t know were a thing!
Tip: If in season, get the lobster bites from the bar! Holy smokes, they were so good!
Hol Chan Marine Reserve
The excursions include both the Reserve and Shark Ray Alley. We booked it through our hotel’s desk and charged it to the room, but if I remember correctly it cost around $65 per person.
Mayan for “little channel” the snorkel excursion shows you many of Belize’s underwater ecosystems. Did you know that the Belize barrier reef system is the second largest reef system in the world? Although this day was a little murky my favorite part was snorkeling up to the break in the reef- the channel- and witnessing how vast it quickly became. I have mixed feelings about both excursions overall. First, I truly just love being in the water in general so being able to snorkel somewhere new was a blast for me. Secondly, Belize’s barrier reef is indeed beautiful. But…and I hate that I feel this way, I was a little sad to see the corral appear so…brown. I’m not sure if this is how it’s supposed to look as I am no expert, but I always pictured healthy corral to be vibrant and colorful. The whole experience just made me curious if this excursion is negatively impacting the reef more than we think. I’m planning on looking further into this, but let me know what you think!
Still, we got to see so many types of fish, corral, stingrays, and even eels while snorkeling the reef system. My biggest tip would be to try and go during low seasons because man, it was packed.
Shark Ray Alley
Alright! So this was the excursion I was most excited about! I had seen perfect photos all over Pinterest of people taking neat shots with nursing shots. I was determined to do the same! That is until I was actually in the water…and fighting off the other people on our tour…and barely making it before the nursing sharks took off. To say I was a little disappointed is an understatement. But still, swimming around with sting rays was a sweet experience and a few nursing sharks stayed within close distance to watch. I just wish the tour hadn’t been so crowded.
Also, check out the video I made at the bottom of this blog post for snippets of these two excursions!
Date Night & Casino Night
Once we cleaned ourselves up we drove our fancy little golf cart down to town and looked for some good food. We found it! Elvi’s Kitchen was phenomenal! We had delicious street (deep fried) and grilled corn plus the coconut shrimp as appetizers! Then we both had the lobster special with shrimp with a fantastic mango barbecue sauce. Holy Jesus. I would go back just for this meal.
I forgot to mention that we had been to the Casino in San Ignacio and well, we didn’t do well. So after this heavenly meal we decided to roll our way to the only one on the island. This is the evening I learned I’m actually pretty good at roulette. That or it was pure beginners luck. Either way, I always have a blast when I’m with Kevin and thankfully (or unfortunately) we both enjoy casinos so you can imagine how much fun we had this evening!
And alas, our time in Belize had ended. We packed up our bags, knocked out on the ferry back to Belize City, and went on our way to the airport. I got us that first class up grade on our way back to Houston which was the perfecting ending to our time in Belize!
“They care about who I am not what I am,” our driver told us. Every Belizean we spoke to told us something similar. Belize is full of diverse individuals that truly become a community. They don’t see status, color, shapes or sizes, they only see you as who you are- a human being. A friend. Everywhere we walked on our short time in Belize we were only impacted with kindness and goodness. This was true southern hospitality.
So although I wouldn’t necessarily go back any time soon for the beaches or the price-tag (it was certainly more expensive), I would go back for the people.
General list of places to see in Belize:
- San Pedro
- Caye Caulker
- Ambergris Caye
- Caracol Mayan Ruins
- Hol Chan Marine Reserve
- Lamanai Archeological Reserve
- Xunantunich Mayan Ruins
- Actun Tunichil Muknal caves excursion
- Placencia (private island)
- San Ignacio/Cayo District
- Snorkeling shark alley
- San Ignacio farmers market
- Zip lining through jungle
- Guatemalan Tikal Mayan Ruin (so close!)
For now, that’s all, friends!
Until next time!
P.S. Check out the video I made for this trip! I’m working on becoming better at vlogging and documenting my trips so bare with me as they get a lot better with time!