This year we again traveled Belize for Will’s and Eva’s school break. This time we returned to Chaa Creek
which we loved last year, and added four days at the beach in Placencia where we did some sailing, snorkeling and beach combing.
We were more adventurous this year, doing an all day cave tour at Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) and a day trip to explore the Maya ruins at Tikal in Guatemala.
Chaa Creek was as great as we remembered, and once again everyone wants to return again. If you look at the third map here (The Mountain Pine Ridge) you can see Chaa Creek toward the upper middle on the left side. The ATM cave is on the right side of the map, Barton Creek Cave where we went last year is shown, as is San Ignacio, the nearest town to Chaa Creek.
We have posted below photos of Chaa Creek, ATM, Tikal and our experiences in Placencia. Enjoy!
Cath – We stayed at Chaa Creek last year (see all posts tagged Belize) and we loved it so much that we came back. There are two sections to the resort: the palm thatched cottages and the river camp.
The cottages are beautiful and have all sorts of creature comforts. The river camp is more rustic (1 room, no a/c, no electricity, shared bath and showers) but very comfortable. The landscape is natural and wild, not so manicured as the cottage area. This is the part of the resort we love! At least I do….I do love a simple and plain vacation.At night, you go to sleep with all the jungle sounds around you and there is all kinds of wildlife to see most of the time. The camp manager, Dosio, built the camp and he and his extended family run the camp. They cook local food and bend over backward to make sure everyone has a good time and whatever they need.
It is like going to stay with family. There is enough to do at Chaa Creek just on the grounds that we didn’t feel “trapped” on the resort. We alternated an adventure day with a pool and horseride backing day (to quote Lyra) to have the perfect mix of activity and relaxation. I want to go back!
This is a black iguana that had staked out a spot above a drainage culvert across from the ridings stables at Chaa Creek. We also saw a variety of smaller lizards as well as green iguanas nearer the river. Apparently the black iguanas are known locally as wish-willys and the green iguanas are known as bamboo chicken and are now raised for food.
Most guests at Chaa Creek stay in posh air conditioned bungalows with hot and cold running water. We don’t. We stay in tent cabins in the ‘River Camp’ that have no electricity and communal facilities that you need to get up and walk to, even in the middle of the night. There is hot water, but most light at night comes from kerosene lanterns, with the exception of lights in the bathrooms, showers and dining pavilion that are powered by solar charged batteries.
This photo is taken from right outside our tent cabin. The dining pavilion is on the right, and the showers are barely visible behind the trees toward the back. This shot was taken very early in the morning so it is hard to see, but the cabins and dining pavilion are all arranged around a grassy area that the kids played in and Eva used for gymnastics practice. Animals seem to view the camp as just an open spot in the jungle, coming through without much regard to the humans. While in the camp we have seen howler monkeys, agoutis, a grey fox and many bats and birds.
Being in the midst of the jungle, the sounds at night are incredible, especially the howler monkeys. Imagine this at 3:00am every morning (except the real sound is far louder than what a PC can produce). We also had a rooster across the river than started crowing (loud) in the middle of the night every night.
Both kids loved canoeing on the Macal River. Chaa Creek provides canoes for guests to use, and the river is beautiful with lots of birds and other wildlife like iguanas on the banks.
Will also loved canoeing, though I am hoping that after camp next summer he can be more of an equal partner in paddling, especially when we are going up river. I let him sit in the back of the canoe once, and I ended up very frustrated with him. Steering from the front of the canoe is really difficult. Will loved canoeing through the ‘rapids’, e.g. the shallower faster moving water. In a couple of years we can find some real rapids.
While Lyra enjoyed the kiddie pool, she was even more enthusiastic about swimming with me in the big pool. She would hold my hands and jump into the water so I could catch her *endlessly* – I never tired her out, I always called quits first. She seems to have very little fear of the water, and occasional mishaps where she got dunked did not phase her at all.
The new pool at Chaa Creek is pretty and well designed for older and younger guests. It is also close to the bar and restaurant and has service from both (which the kids figured out very quickly). The only problem is that the limestone tile around the pool is polished and is like ice when it is wet. Chaa Creek management is aware of the issue and working to fix it, but the pool would never have been allowed to open at a US resort. Eva fell most often, but Will took the worst fall, having his feet go out from under him on the stairs and ending up with a horrible bruise on his lower back.
The new pool at Chaa Creek was a big hit with all the kids, especially Lyra. In addition to the main pool, there is a lower level ‘kiddie pool’ that is about 18″ deep. It is deep enough that Lyra can jump in knees first, but shallow enough that we did not worry too much about her while she was in the water. She loved it and played for hours.
I think Will is part water rat. He will stay in the water until his skin shrivels up. He loved the new Chaa Creek pool and played endlessly – alone, with Lyra, with other kids he met, and even occasionally with Eva.
No Belize travelogue would be complete without a discussion of Belikin. As far as I can tell, Belikin and its cousins are the only beers available in Belize. Fortunately they are very good. The most common beer is just called Belikin. There is also Belikin Stout (my favorite), Belikin Premium, Lighthouse Lager, and Guiness brewed by Belikin under license. I never saw any beer other than these in Belize.
The River Camp at Chaa Creek has no electricity and hence no electric refrigerator, but there was always a cooler full of Belikin and Belikin Stout on ice.
This is the road in to the River Camp where we stayed while at Chaa Creek. This is a big pasture, sometimes with many horse other times with just one or two. Last year there was a mare in the pasture that foaled on our last day at Chaa Creek, and now that foal is a yearling named Romeo.
Chaa Creek has 31 horses, and at least one very pregnant mare so the number should go up soon. Riding is one of the popular on site activities at Chaa Creek, and there are miles of great trails.
Chaa Creek has 70+ identified Maya archeological features, none fully excavated (most just a mound that clearly has a pyramid or other structure under it). Trail rides are a great way to see the Maya sites on the Chaa Creek property.
Roberto, who seems to be in charge of the riding program, was enthusiastic and helpful, especially for those riders seeking a more spirited riding experience.
Eva fell in love with the horse she rode at Chaa Creek, Appaloosa. She even went to visit him and say good bye on our last day at Chaa Creek.
We never figured out for certain if his name was Appaloosa or Appalooso. Since the ‘o’ ending is masculine in Spanish, we kind of think it should be Appalooso.
However you spell his name, Appaloos? was a great horse for Eva, with just the right amount of spirit and energy, but without too many bad habits.
Cath rode Survivor on her first outing. We found that each horse had a very distinct personality, and its own unique ways of misbehaving (stopping to eat during the ride, refusing to be near certain other horses, etc). I will let Cath provide a run down on Survivor, and her other more recalcitrant horse.
Cath – No, Survivor WAS the recalcitrant horse. He just wanted to do his own thing and do it slowly. That wasn’t bad the first day when we really didn’t go fast. But, I went with Eva another day (after Bill swore off horseback riding forever); Eva wanted to do a more adventurous ride and Survivor just wanted to QUIT.
Our guide, Teddy, saw I was miserable so he offered to switch horses with me. Then he had to switch saddles because he was taller and we couldn’t get the stirrups high enough for me. I felt bad for being the gringa holding up the ride.
Teddy’s horse, Lionheart, was a beautiful, young and spirited yet civilized horse. Poor Lionheart….I didn’t ever learn to ride a horse so I was pretty much holding on for dear life the whole time and I am sure he couldn’t wait to get rid of me.
Survivor was even more difficult for Teddy than he was for me. Since we were trail riding, we were supposed to be riding in a line. Survivor was not used to be a lead horse and refused to go first. Since Teddy wanted him to go first AND go fast, Survivor put his foot down. All four of them.
The horses are so funny, they are just like people with their personalities and idiosyncracies. I love animals and I love to be outdoors so I am sure could get the hang of this if I had the opportunity to ride regularly with one horse who I could get to know and love. But I am not there yet! Eva, however, appears to be a natural.
Eva LOVED the horse riding at Chaa Creek. Will and I not so much. When I took Will and Eva out riding (after popping a Claritin for my horse allergy), our guide Roberto decided to take us on a very spirited ride. I now know about trotting, cantering and galloping as well as walking. After my nether region was beaten up trotting, I was told cantering was much smoother. It was a lie.
(You have to click on this photo to enlarge it and see the expression on Will’s face.)
After one of our canoe journeys, I suggest Will swim across the river just for fun. He did, and was very proud of himself. Eva of course HAD to do the same thing. I dropped her on the east bank of the river, and she swam across to the landing for the River Camp with me following along in the canoe (as I had for Will). Both kids were very proud of their accomplishment.
Interestingly, we had been assured that there were no crocodiles in the Macal, only at lower elevations closer to the ocean. Except on our last day at Chaa Creek one of the workers mentioned seeing a five foot croc the day before, and related a legend about the relationship between dogs and crocodiles. Apparently in legend the dog borrowed the crocodile’s tongue so it could talk, and has never given it back. Now whenever a croc hears a dog bark, it chases and eats the dog to get its tongue back. Whether or not this story is true, apparently crocs are known for loving to eat dogs. We will be very careful in the future swimming in the Macal.
Cath – This is the girl who I had to haul through the water in the cave and who Bill had to force a life jacket onto during the Placencia snorkeling trip. I am hoping that Eva’s swimming skills get a big boost in camp this summer and that she learns to have her confidence in line with her ability. I am appalled about the crocodiles…..especially after getting to see one go after food Live and In Action. See post further on down.
This is a photo of Eva during breakfast at the River Camp. We loved breakfast at the River Camp, there were always a variety of birds – hummingbirds, thrushes, yellow birds, etc., and the food was great – every breakfast started with a big platter of fruit, always perfectly ripe.
I took this photo on our last morning at Chaa Creek. It is just down the hill from our tent cabin in the River Camp and the view is looking down the Macal River
toward San Ignacio. The river was incredibly peaceful in the early morning, save for the many birds and the crowing rooster, who seemed to wake up at 3:00am every night.