What comes to mind when you think of Belize? For most, this country evokes images of turquoise waters, mist-shrouded mountains, lush tropical rainforests, Mayan ruins, and vibrant colors everywhere. I recently vacationed in Belize. Having studied the Mayan culture in an archaeology class, I had long wanted to travel to this country.
I knew that the average temperature in Belize is 80°F, so I packed my coolest clothes. I planned my trip to coincide with the dry season (December through May), in order to get the most out of my trip. Belize requires that travelers’ passports be valid for at least six weeks prior to travel, so I made sure to take that into account when planning my trip.
I flew into Belize City, and spent my first evening there. I stayed in Hotel Mopan, a beautiful Belize hotel with reasonable rates. As I sat in the balcony, I was surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of this beautiful tropical country. Despite its location in Central America, Belize is the only English-speaking country in this region and I began talking to a gentleman who was also on the veranda.
He and his family were Belizeans and were taking a family trip to Belize City. When he learned that I would be spending the majority of my trip in San Ignacio, he informed me that they were from the Cayo District (where San Ignacio is located), and he recommended a few places for me to visit while I was there.
The following morning, I rented a car and travelled to San Ignacio. Known for its ruins in nearby Caracol and Actun Tunichil Muknal, a cave with Mayan artifacts, San Ignacio is far from the oceanic breezes and inviting waters of the Caribbean. However, as a history buff, there was never a question as to where I wanted to go on my first trip to Belize. There would be plenty of time for scuba diving on my next trip.
I stayed in the Casa Blanca Guest House, another inexpensive tropical hotel with a balcony that overlooks the city. On my first morning there, I awoke bright and early in order to do some early morning bird-watching with a naturalist. The variety of birds I saw was mind-boggling: the keel billed toucan, collared acari toucan, tropical kingbird, golden-fronted woodpecker, lineated woodpecker, bandedback wren, yellow-winged tanager, and melodious blackbird, just to name a few. Considering I am from the Midwest, I was very impressed with the abundance of wildlife!
Another thing that really fascinated me was the way that so many cultures were living together in peace, their lives inextricably intertwined. Belize is home to Europeans, East Indians, North Americans, Africans, Mestizos, and of course Mayans. While English is the official language, you can hear all sorts of languages being spoken here, including Kriol, which is the lingua franca of Belize and is spoken by 70% of the population.
On my third day in Belize, I embarked on my journey to Caracol, home to Caana, one of the largest man-made structures in Belize. There were only a few other people on the site when I was there, and I felt as if I had the ruins to myself. My guide, Luis Godey, was very knowledgeable, and he let me wander by myself for a little while. After having studied this culture and daydreamed about what the ruins would be like, I was like a kid in a candy store. When I reluctantly headed back to San Ignacio, I swore that I would return someday, and explore these ruins to a greater extent.
The following morning, I headed to Actun Tunichil Muknal, home of “The Crystal Maiden“, a skeleton of a teenaged girl who was probably a sacrificial victim of Mayan religious ceremonies. She is named this because her remains have calcified over the years, giving them a crystallized appearance. Walking into this cave was like travelling back in time, as there were historic artifacts strewn everywhere, and many man-made changes to the cave’s infrastructure, such as altars and carvings.
During the remaining two days I spent in San Ignacio, I tried to relax. I went canoeing on the Macal River, participated in another early morning bird-watching outing, and went mountain bike riding. I also visited a Mayan farm, where I met a nice family who described their passion and pride for their Mayan heritage and played a harp for me. I also crossed over the Macal River to visit San Ignacio’s sister-town, Santa Elena. I visited San Ignacio’s market on Saturday, where I bought some papayas in the hopes of tempting toucans when I went bird-watching.
I loved my time spent in Belize! I was only able to stay for a week, which was nowhere near enough time to do and see everything that I wanted, but I am already planning my next trip (hopefully next year). The people were very friendly, and everything was affordable. I can’t decide if I want to stay on the coast next time, in order to scuba dive and lounge on the beach; or if I want to travel to northern Belize and explore the ruins of Lamanai. What do you think?
Blake Fields has been able to travel all over the thanks to Golden Rule. The importance of saving money without sacrificing necessities like food, water, or even insurance is how I live such an exciting life.