Travel Days: 15 – 19
Location: Caye Caulker, Belize
Accomodation : Blue Wave Lodges BZ$109 for five bed private room
After a four hour bus journey from Bacalar we arrived at the ferry port in Belize City, bound for Caye Caulker. Our bus driver bought the return tickets at a “discounted” rate for BZ$30. We met a Canadian girl, Amanda, traveling solo on the bus and grouped up with her on the landing in Belize.
We didn’t book a hostel before arriving. A lot of the hostels and homesteads aren’t listed on hostelworld. The island is only 500m wide in parts and is only inhabited for 7km so we took our chances! It paid off as we could take a look around a few hostels and take our pick – it also helped that it was quiet season and they speak English in Belize. We settled on the Blue Wave which was about 500m from the island hub, but still beachfront. We got a private room with a fan for BZ$109 – split between four it wasn’t half bad. It had hot showers and provided towels – we were on to a winner.
The island is very chilled out. Most vehicles are golf carts or bicycles. As it was quiet season, there was a lot of renovation and construction work going on and quite a few stalls weren’t open, but it was still bustling with people. There are signs everywhere saying “Slow down” – the locals, who are unbelievably friendly, will say the same to you if you’re walking too fast.
The first evening we spent chilling out and walking the island. We priced up snorkeling and checked out dates. Carlos’ tour came recommended, but he was booked out for a private party the following day. Keen not to lose a day, we ended up going with Marios for BZ $20 less – but, it was a speed boat rather than Carlos’ catamaran.
That night we bought a bottle of rum and had a few drinks at our hostel. We had heard of a club on the south side of the island called South Bay Beach Club that goes on for all hours and so, merrily hit the road around 12 am with a group we picked up at the hostel. Turns out we were a tad early because the place was dead! Instead, we ended up sitting beside/floating around the BBQ outside – they had mashed potato of sorts and I was the happiest drunk girl in the world with it! We didn’t stick around much longer after that. But, just as we were half way home, crowds of locals were heading to it. No harm though – we had an early day the next day anyway!
The following morning we got up early for breakfast and some snorkeling. I noticed my legs were absolutely riddled in bug bites. A quick Google brought up that Caye Caulker is notoriously bad for sand flies, and guess what – the paler your skin, the more the little feckers bite. I basically looked like I had the chicken pox. Amanda invested in camomile lotion to relieve her itches, but because I was being bitten so much, I would have had to coat myself in it. Apparently dipping in to salt water helps or putting coconut oil on your legs – I did neither and paid the price.
Two Germans from the night previous joined in our snorkeling adventure so we had a good group going. It cost BZ$120 for a full day with lunch, water and fruit included. It also included the BZ$20 entrance fee to the national coral reserve. They brought us to Shark and Sting Ray alley, where we jumped in to the water while they fed them (Needless to say, I stayed well away!) They also brought us to two parts of the world’s second largest coral reef, which was pretty cool.
We saw a few Dorys, but no Nemos and also got pretty close to a turtle floating about with a school of fish under his belly. Unfortunately, it seemed to be off season for the Manatees.
All in all, it was a pretty spectacular experience and, once again, my camera fared well! I would definitely recommend doing the full day, but pay the extra BZ$20 to do it on the catamaran. Also, watch out for the photobombing fish!
Back on dry land, we stopped for a drink at the Lazy Lizard. We had heard a lot about this bar – it’s on “the Split” between the north and south islands. The atmosphere is totally relaxed – RAG week day drinking in the sun (with beautiful tanned people) kind of feel. You can swim from their deck across to the other island where they have small Tarzan swings into the water. The current looked pretty strong when we got there and we were bate from a days snorkeling so decided against it. The drinks were pretty expensive (BZ$20 for a cocktail, BZ$6 for rum and coke) so just left it at one.
Next on the agenda was lobster dinner on the beach front in La Cubana. It was BZ$25 for a BBQ lobster with three sides (including potato!!) and four rum and mixers – sure you’re making money! It was pretty damn tasty, but I was left hungry after it -there isn’t a crazy amount of eating in those lobster. We were also joined by a little crab who ventured in off the beach and tried to climb over my foot. Probably not the smartest move on his part considering we were in a shellfish restaurant…
We finished out our night quietly with our snorkeling buddies, the Saffas and a bottle of rum for good measure. I’m not sure was it the rum or my Irish charm, but I somehow convinced our new German buddy, Mathias, that he should shorten his name to Matt, to which he obliged. I then took it a step further and said “Sure ‘Matt’ is practically ‘Carpet'”. I woke up the next morning to a Facebook friend request from, you guessed it, ‘Carpet’…!!
The next day we planned to head for San Ignacio, but dark clouds were rolling in and the heavens opened for the entire day. At one point, we thought the water was going to come in under the door. Luckily the breaks between the thunderstorms alleviated the flooding and we got away with it. It wasn’t a bad way to spend a hangover day though, the air is much cooler during the thunderstorms! Because of the constant rain threat we kept dinner as close to the hostel as possible and ended up eating in a restaurant beside La Cuban which turned out to be nicer, cheaper and more filling than the previous nights. We settled in for a night of thunderstorms and watched the season premiere of The Walking Dead and camomile lotion/fucibet application.
The next morning the sky’s were clear so we made a move for San Ignacio. We got our return ferry trip back to Belize City, where Anita and I had a tearful “See ya later” – I was full sure I’d have convinced her to stay at this point.
We walked 10 mins to the bus station where an old American school painted in rastifarian green, red and yellow was waiting to depart. It cost us BZ$8 each – a huge saving from the US$20 quoted from the ferry.
Travel Days: 19 – 21
Location: San Ignacio, Belize
Accomodation: Chaltunha Hostel, BZ$24 pp/pn
After a two hour bus ride we arrived in San Ignacio. It’s a small and compact town with a few hostels and guest houses scattered around the three or four main streets.
By the time we had settled we had time for food and planning for the next days activities. This was our first attempt at backpacker cooking. Barry went to the market for a feed of vegetables (spuds included obvs) with the intention we would go down town for a cut of meat later. Little did we know, the Belizean public (or at least San Ignacians) can’t buy fresh meat, only frozen. We settled in to a sad dinner of eggs, potatoes with onion and garlic and raw carrots – we must get better!!
The next morning we were booked in for a cave expedition in the Actun Tunichil Mucknal cave. It was a Mayan temple for human sacrifice or cemetery or both – you can read up on it on the National Geographic! Our hostel owner, Windy, organised it for us at a discount (US$75). It was a full day excursion including pick up and drop off, entrance fee to the national reserve, lunch and tour guide. They pick you up at 8 and after a 40 minute drive, mostly off road, you land in the national park. There, we were kitted out with helmets, head lights, the sexist water clogs you’ve ever laid eyes on and a life jacket – you go in fully clothed. Unfortunately for the guys, they didn’t have larger water clogs, so they went in their hiking boots.
No cameras are allowed on the tour. There reason given was because a tourist in the temple carelessly dropped their camera breaking one of the skulls. Way to go buddy!!!
There’s about a mile walk to the cave entrance, with three crossings of the Roaring Creek river through which you wade/swim (They have ropes to help you cross!).
At the caves themselves, you swim, wade and climb through relatively tight spaces to get to the tomb. Our guide was super passionate and informative about the caves and the formations the whole 2 mile trip into the cave – I’m so sad I couldn’t get photos! Depending on the water flow and minerals in the water, the stalagmites and stalagtites had different crystalline structures – some looked like diamonds, others icicles, others chocolate ice cream (that’s when I stated to get hungry)… Once at the entrance to the temple, you have to remove your shoes – socks are allowed. This is for preservation of the site and artefacts – you’re a lot more careful of your footing barefoot than in your hiking boots. The “temple” itself is just part of the cave, but because of the sheer size of it, it feels almost like a cathedral. There’s evidence of fires in the cave, so think Indiana Jones!! They found 14 human remains and over 1000 other artefacts in the temple and the surrounding caves. 95% of them remain untouched. Our guide was very knowledgeable in the stories behind the remains and the customs around human actun and just the Mayan people in general. On the way back out, we got to be a little more adventurous going through tight spaces and water holes (not obligatory).
The camp on our return had both bathroom and shower facilities that you can avail of before lunch. It was a really good set up all in all. The view of the jungle was a really pretty backdrop for our meal and the rum punch was the icing on top!
For me, it was definitely worth the money, but it’s something you would only do once. My advice would be to leave the hiking boots at home and hope they have clogs in your size or wear sandals (not flip flops!) for swimming through the cave and a pair of socks for the climbing.
The next morning we head for Guatemala. We ended up meeting the Safas and two French guys from our hostel at the bus station so got a taxi from San Ignacio to the border for BZ$20 total – BZ$5 each. From there, we walked across the border. I couldn’t find anything concrete on the Internet about border fees, but knew we had to pay something! It turned out to be BZ$40 – for anyone looking for solid evidence, here’s the itemised receipt:
And so ended our Belize experience.