3 Delightful Day Trips in Belize you can’t miss!
One of the dangers of vacations is a tendency to try to cram too much in. The whole point of a holiday is to relax, isn’t it? Some of our best days away have been the ones where you wake up to a day that’s a blank canvas, and then decide how to fill it yourself.
And that’s where day trips come in, those short excursions that can be undertaken at a drop of the hat, freeing up holiday time to just lounge, talk, reconnect and recharge.
Fortunately, Belize has such a variety of awesome day trips that visitors can choose from a menu of a la carte activities and mix and match day excursions to create their own rich, totally satisfying holiday adventures.
So, in the spirit of “I’ll take one from column A, one from column B, and finish off with a treat from the desert trolley”, here are three sumptuous choices from Belize’s smorgasbord of activities.
1. Picnic at an ancient Maya temple
Belize, with its year round near perfect weather, stunning scenery and ease of getting around, is picnicker’s heaven. Enjoy your epicurean outing at an ancient Maya temple, and you’ve added a taste of exotic Indiana Jones adventure to the mix.
We’ve enjoyed picnics at several Maya sites, and the well-maintained and lovely Xunantunich stands out as among the best. This was our recipe for the day.
After a leisurely breakfast we had the kitchen at The Lodge at Chaa Creek prepare a box lunch and set off, hopping the morning transport into San Ignacio town, from where, after a bit of sightseeing and shopping, we caught a taxi to the village of Succotz, just across the Mopan River from Xunantunich. Having opted to walk up to the site, we took the charming hand cranked ferry across the river and walked uphill through the rainforest to the entrance, grabbing a cold drink from one of the vendors and checking out the informative visitors’ centre before exploring the grounds. With bird chatter and wildlife rustling around the jungle as a backdrop, we took in the ancient ball courts and other relics of the past before climbing the steep stairs to the top of “El Castillo”, the beautiful pyramid with reconstructed frescos and breathtaking views from the top.
The beautiful vistas, with huge tracts of jungle, peaceful pastures and the towns of Benque Viejo del Carmen and Melchor del Mencos sprawled along the border with Guatemala, are a fitting reward for the climb, and by the time you’re back down the appetite has kicked in and you’ve found the perfect spot to sit down and enjoy that lunch.
Xunantunich is close enough to Chaa Creek that by the time you get back there’s still plenty of daylight left to enjoy a swim, lounge around in a hammock or swap stories in the Jungle Lounge. You’ll have had a great day and really enjoy hitting the bed that night.
2. Canoe down the Macal River
Another great day trip awaits along the tranquil Macal River, which meanders from Chaa Creek down to San Ignacio Town. Experienced paddlers and novices alike will enjoy this downstream excursion through pristine forest broken here and there with homesteads, pebbly beaches and the canoe landing at the traditional village of Cristo Rey, where travellers are welcome to enjoy refreshments and the local hospitality.
You can grab a lunch at Cristo Rey, wait until you’re in San Ignacio, or, as with Xunantunich, bring one of Chef Mario’s box lunch creations from Chaa Creek to enjoy along the way on one of those beaches or rock outcroppings.
As you paddle and drift along it’s easy to picture why the Maya civilisation flourished along this river which, after it joins the Mopan and flows in the Old Belize River, goes all the way to the Caribbean coast, forming an aquatic superhighway that’s been used for trade and communication over thousands of years.
Today the river provides exquisite relaxation and photo ops galore as legions of iguanas, birds and other forest dwellers line the banks to drink, bathe and feed. It’s an experience not to be missed and, since Chaa Creek will collect you and your canoe in town and transport you back to your room, it’s another easy day trip leaving time to do other things or just catch up on relaxing.
3. Exploring San Ignacio Town
We think of this as part of the dessert menu, as it can be savoured after a canoe trip, post Maya exploration (In addition to Xunantunich, Cahal Pech, an ancient Maya royal residence is at the top of San Ignacio, and the sprawling El Pillar is just past nearby Bullet Tree Falls), or on its own.
With its close proximity to the border, San Ignacio is a multicultural feast, a harmonious mixture of Creole, Mestizo, Maya, Garifuna, European, North American, West Indian, Chinese and Mennonite influences. While not exactly bustling, San Ignacio nonetheless is a quintessential Belizean experience with enough things to do that it is definitely worth a visit. In addition to the aforementioned Cahal Pech, there are now galleries, restaurants, bars and the usual town amenities to keep one occupied. Market days are the highlight of the week, with people from surrounding communities and farms coming in to sell and shop.
Mom’s restaurant is the traditional watering hole for expat locals and backpackers, and In recent years several fine eateries have sprung up offering a range of dishes across the price spectrum. The Guava Limb, on Burns Avenue offers an eclectic and mouth-watering selection of meals and snacks in a pleasant atmosphere.
It’s a slow paced, friendly town, so don’t hesitate to ask for information or directions, and don’t be surprised if this results in more long winded, easy-going conversations – the people are like that.
There are many other day trips to be had, including excursions to Vaca Lake, river rides on the Miss Macal, a traditional Belizean johnboat, horseback or mountain bike riding along jungle trails… the list goes on.
We’ll come back with more selections, but hopefully these suggestions will whet your appetite to create your own easy adventures. Just ask around – anyone, from Chaa Creek’s naturalist guides, front desk staff, friendly bartenders and just about anyone you meet will have their own suggestions to add to your personal menu of adventure.