Today is arrival day so there are no activities planned. You are therefore free to relax and explore the Belize City. Please try to arrive before 6pm for an important group meeting where you can meet the Chief Experience Officer (CEO) and the other group members.
For many years Belize has been a relatively unknown destination, and tourists have only recently begun to explore this fascinating country. Mention “Belize” and conjure up visions of unbelievably clear blue waters, diving and snorkelling along the barrier reef and remarkable marine life. Belize consists of massive amounts of jungle vegetation, ancient Mayan ruins, and above all, friendly, easygoing people. Belize is this and much more!
In many ways, Belize has more in common with its Caribbean rather than its Latin neighbours, although it has plenty of distinctively Central American features as well. It exhibits a unique blend of cultures that include Maya, Mestizo, African, European, Arabic and Asian. English is the first official language (as a former British Colony) and Spanish runs a close second, though the locals speak Creole the majority of the time.
Belize City straddles the estuaries of Haulover Creek, part of the Belize River, which empties into the Caribbean Sea. At 60000 inhabitants, this is a small but busy city and we recommend that you do not go wandering alone at night. With Belize's independence in the early 1980s life has changed somewhat. To get a taste of what colonial life was like "back when," visit Belize City before the old Swing Bridge is replaced and one can no longer watch the twice daily traffic jam when the bridge pivots to allow tall-masted boats to pass through and out into the sea.
You should know that Belize City is not a Caribbean "paradise." The city is aging, rustic, and although perched on the edge of the gorgeous Caribbean, has no beaches. Antiquated clapboard buildings on stilts (often unpainted, weathered, tilted or streaked with age) line the narrow streets. Such buildings are slowly being replaced by concrete structures and a few modern glitzy buildings. Residents of Belize City take pride in the local attractions. It has the oldest Protestant church in Central America, St. John's Anglican Cathedral. This lovely old building is the only typically British structure in the city and is surrounded by well kept lawns. In 1812, slaves in Belize built this graceful piece of architecture using bricks brought as ballast on sailing ships from Europe. Several Mosquito Coast Kings (from the Waiki tribe) were crowned in this Cathedral with much pomp and grandeur. The last king was crowned in 1815.
The Supreme Court Building is located across from Belize City's Central Park. The antiquated town clock sits atop the white clapboard building and shows a different time from all four sides (each wrong since it stopped running); locals nicknamed it the “four-faced liar.” The Government House is another example of colonial Caribbean architecture. Bliss Promenade meanders along the waterfront and eventually runs to the Bliss Institute, where social functions and seminars are held. This is the location of a theatre, museum and library, as well as the National Arts Council. Take a look at the display of Mayan stelae and altars retrieved from the Cayo District.
Please note: the heat and humidity of Belize may affect you upon arrival, with a general sense of lethargy and/or loss of appetite. This is no cause for alarm, it is simply your body’s reaction to the heat. Be sure to drink plenty of water (cold bottled water is available everywhere) and do not attempt too much in any given day. We prefer fan-cooled rather than air conditioned rooms to avoid having to acclimatize to the heat and humidity every time you go outside. This is also a more energy efficient method compared to air conditioning.
Depart Belize City by bus after breakfast and cross the border into Guatemala. Immediately notice the difference in culture, with the heavy Mayan influence and Spanish language. Here we have entered Guatemala’s northeast jungle Petén region. The descendants of the Maya of Chichén Itzá migrated to the Petén area several centuries after the collapse of the great Mayan cities in the Yucatán.
Visit the mysterious lost city of Tikal, buried deep in the rainforest. Tikal is probably the most impressive of all sites in the Mayan world, intensified by its secluded setting. It boasts a dense concentration of wildlife and the highest pyramids of the Mayan Civilization. The sheer scale of the ruins at Tikal is daunting. Even if you only make it to the main plaza and spend an hour relaxing in deep contemplation, you will certainly not be disappointed. The central area, with its five main temples, forms by far the most impressive section. To explore beyond this you can wander endlessly into the maze of smaller structures and outlying complexes hidden in the jungle growth. A local bilingual guide will accompany us through the site during our foray into Tikal.
On your way back from visiting the ruins of Tikal, perhaps you're interested in exploring lakeside El Remate for lunch, a swim and relaxation. El Remate is a small, relaxed little village on the east side of Lake Petén Itzá.
It was in this region of great natural beauty that their descendants founded the city of Tayasal, on an island in Lake Petén-Itzá. They lived here for about four hundred years, isolated and forgotten by the rest of the country, including the Spanish conquistadors. It was not until 1697 that this small city was finally conquered by a military expedition led by Martín de Ursúa, who stumbled upon the city by accident. The city of Tayasal was transformed into the city of Flores, officially founded by the Spanish in 1700. It remained an isolated area, relying on the subsistence farming of corn and beans and the gathering of chicle (gummy rubber obtained from trees).
Despite the recent growth in the Petén, Flores remains a small island town, with narrow, cobble-stoned streets, small, brightly painted houses and friendly people. Few modern conveniences are embraced here, and though the island is now attached to the mainland by a causeway, many of the locals still get around by cayuco (dug-out canoe). All in all, Flores remains one of the most scenic and charming towns in the Petén. It is particularly attractive to visitors because of Lake Petén-Itzá, a large lake (12 km long and 3 km wide) offering all sorts of possibilities for fun including swimming, boating, fishing, bird watching, a small zoo and a nature preserve.
The rainy season in the Petén is generally from mid-May until early January. Be prepared to get wet. Make sure you have plastic bags to wrap around the items in your daypack while hiking, and bring a good (light) waterproof jacket. Also make sure that you have strong insect repellent. The dry season runs January until mid-May. During this time you need to make sure you have adequate sunscreen.
Estimated Travel Time: 4.5 hours
Return to Belize and the town of San Ignacio, situated on the banks of the Macal River. San Ignacio is perfectly situated to visit the sites of the surrounding countryside. All activities here are optional, so the choice is yours: explore the Mayan cave of Actun Tunichil Muknal, containing relics dating back 1400 years, visit the butterfly gardens or go tubing or canoeing through the natural limestone caves of the region.
The San Ignacio/ Mountain Pine Ridge area is the highlight of the trip for some travellers to Belize. The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve covers almost 500 square kms (310 square miles) and only controlled logging is allowed. Interesting stops include Hidden Valley Falls, spectacular waterfalls dropping more than a 300 m (984 ft) over the granite edge of the jungle. Further along you will cross the Rio On, and a climb over an assortment of worn boulders and rocks will bring you to a delightful site with waterfalls and several warm water pools. The Mountain Pine Ridge area is also renowned for its system of caves, the biggest and most famous being the Rio Frio Cave. There is an enormous arched entrance into the kilometre-long cave, the largest in Belize.
Also well worth a visit, the Cave of the Stone Sepulcher, Actun Tunichil Muknal involves a 45-minute jungle hike to the opening of the cave, wading across a river three times before the adventure begins! Inside the cave, you’ll find a Mayan cermonial site. There you will be amazed by the natural museum of Mayan relics left just as it was by the Maya 1400 years ago. Ceramic pots, skulls, and calcified skeletons will enthrall even the most experienced speleologist.
Days trips can also be arranged to Xunantunich,an impressive Maya ceremonial centre located on a natural limestone ridge providing a grand view of the entire Cayo District and Guatemalan countryside. The tallest pyramid on the site, El Castillo, has been partially excavated and explored, and the east side of the structure displays a unique stucco frieze. The plaza of the ceremonial centre houses three carved stellae. You can get a group together and hire a taxi to take you to the site. Getting there includes crossing a narrow river by a hand-cranked ferry which shuttles you across! There is a small fee to enter the grounds and a guide can give you the lowdown on the site.
Estimated Travel Time: 2 hours
Enjoy the slow pace of the river as our local crew expertly guides you on the many twists and turns of the Belize River. Previous canoe experience is not required as the local expert guides know the rivers well and are happy to share their knowledge of the flora, fauna and history of the area. Spend at least half of each day canoeing, with plenty of time for swimming and enjoying the scenery. Note that we camp for the nights we are on the river. Make sure you bring waterproof bags to help keep your things dry. Please note that for the 2 nights of camping, no bathroom facilities are provided. The guides will brief you on environmentally safe practices in this regard.
After three days and two nights on the river, you will return to San Ignacio for one more night. Enjoy resting your head on a pillow after your camping trip!
This is your chance to visit a part of Belize that has not yet hit the well-trodden tourist trail. Hopkins is considered by some to be the cultural center of the Garifuna population in Belize. This town is famous for its Garifuna artists, artisans and vibrant festivals throughout the year. Located on the coast, Hopkins is an excellent hopping off point for daytrips to the nearby cayes such as Tobacco Caye, which is excellent for diving, snorkelling and fishing.
Opt to rent a bike to explore the area or enjoy talking to the locals in what some call the friendliest village in Belize. In the evenings, you might be lucky enough to search out some Garifuna drumming somewhere out and about in town.
Also located nearby are both the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, the world's first jaguar sanctuary, and the Mayflower Archeological Reserve, home to beautiful waterfalls and some ruins.
Estimated Travel Time: 4 hours
Travel to one of Belize's famed island paradises - Caye Caulker, where "Go Slow" is the island's motto. Snorkel on a full day trip out to the barrier reef where you may have the chance to view nurse sharks, stingrays, barracuda, and other marine life.
Caye Caulker is a relaxed and easy-going island with friendly and welcoming local residents. The main street is a sandy pathway through the centre of town surrounded by small bakeshops and seafood stands. There is not much to do on the island except relax and explore the reef. Snorkel and dive boats leave daily for full or half day outings to the reef, Hol Chan Marine Reserve, the Blue Hole and manatee spotting tours at Swallow Caye. These animals are gentle giants but sadly are one of the most endangered marine mammals on the planet. Enjoy an included full day snorkeling trip with your group that visits three different spots to snorkel including the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Depart late morning, enjoy lunch in between snorkels, and cruise back to Caye Caulker just before sunset with a complementary glass of rum punch in your hand.
The barrier reef is the world's second longest (after Australia’s) and offers some truly amazing sights including coral canyons and an astonishing range of tropical fish, Manta Rays, sharks and barracudas, as well as the more mundane, edible varieties of fish.
Estimated Travel Time: 4 hours
Depart at any time. This trip finishes in Caye Caulker, which is located one hour by water taxi from Belize city. There are frequent departures between 7:30am and 5pm.