Welcome to the last post about our Belize trip. This post may look super long, but don't you worry, it's mostly pictures, as th...

Unbelizeable Part 4: San Ignacio, Xunantunich, & Cahal Pech


Welcome to the last post about our Belize trip. This post may look super long, but don't you worry, it's mostly pictures, as they really are worth a thousand words, especially when we're talking ruins. After our amazing time at Caracol, we were excited to check out the ruins that were close to San Ignacio. First we headed into town for breakfast, at a local diner called Pop's Restaurant, which did not disappoint as it was delicious. One of the waitresses had a shirt on advertising organic Belizean dark chocolate, and being the addict that I am, we had to ask her about it. The place was super close by so we walked the neighborhood until we found it, a place called AJAW Chocolate. We were running low on cash at that point, otherwise I would've bought a ton of it. It's a good thing I didn't though since it would've all melted before I could've eaten or brought it home. But man was it good! They had a farm nearby where you can take tours and see the elaborate process that is chocolate making, but unfortunately we didn't have time. Next trip for sure. :)

Next we headed west out of town for about a half hour to Xunantunich. We were not expecting much from the sites on our list that day since we'd read and heard they were quite a bit smaller than the others we'd seen, but they did not disappoint in the least. They were still well excavated and impressive. 


While on top of the above structure we looked in the tree behind it and were greeted by an adorable group of Howler Monkeys. They keep their distance but we got a pretty good look. At least they didn't sling any snickers bars!

Howler Monkeys
Xunantunich boasts the second tallest building in Belize, "El Castillo", at 130 feet tall, second only to Canaa at Caracol. I didn't notice the 10 feet of difference though. Canaa was a massively large structure, tall and wide and really deep, so when you're at the top you don't feel like you're looking down a cliff as you have lots of space to walk around. El Castillo on the other hand is a bit narrower at the top, so it feels a lot more like you're standing on the edge of a cliff. For those who share my fear of heights, you'll understand the significant difference.

El Castillo front view
Side view of El Castillo
Other side view of El Castillo
All fears aside, it was awesome. You really feel like you're on top of the world up there. Brian was of course fascinated by the acoustics and wasn't afraid to sing both while he was in the center of the plaza and I was on top of the structures, and vice versa. He's convinced they were stages instead of the more popular theories of a nice place to chop off heads and chuck them off the side. I'd have to agree the music idea sounds a hell of a lot nicer than human sacrifice. But the more they decipher of their hieroglyphs, the more it sounds like, at least some of the Mayans, weren't very nice. But for a civilization that lasted about 3,000 years, they couldn't have been killing each other in mass quantities that entire time and survived that long, so I'm still holding out hope that they weren't always sacrificing each other. Or at least that it wasn't as gruesome as Apocalypto made it look. Either way, they accomplished some brilliant things.

View of the site from the top of El Castillo
White road in the distance is Guatemala border
We were so close to the border here, I really wanted to go the rest of the way and jump the fence just so I could say I made it to Guatemala too. But as Brian so nicely pointed out, I'd likely come back with a bullet in my ass. I laughed and said it's not the US/Mexico border! Anyways Guatemala is its own trip for us to make someday, as they also have a ton of Mayan ruins and rainforest to see.

Happy on top of the world
We finished the exploration with some iguanas and a quick walk through their museum. 


1300 year old skeleton
After this adventure, we headed back to San Ignacio for lunch. We'd passed a place the night before that had looked promising and while googling around for good food spots I happened upon it. It was called Guava Limb Cafe. The menu was the kind that you simply cannot make up your mind because everything sounded amazing. It was our kinda place too with lots organic and local ingredients. It was so good we both agreed before we were even done eating that we were coming back for dinner. And we did. And it was just as good the second time. Perhaps better because we had some amazing cocktails then. If you find yourself in San Ignacio, Belize, eat here. You will not be disappointed.

Next we headed to Cahal Pech, a ruin that is literally in the city limits. We weren't sure what to expect here, but it turned out to be really fascinating. Instead of super tall structures, they were elaborate, labyrinth-like houses. We also went through the museum which had a lot of good history to read. This site is one of the oldest in Belize, dating back to 1200 BC.









Then we headed back the the cabin and cooled off in the river, hung out with the host's friendly cats, and wished we weren't leaving the next day. It was a really good day. The kind of day that had us both saying to each other...why don't we live here? :D



Read the rest of the trip here!

Part 1: Orange Walk & Lamanai
Part 2: Beach Life in Sittee Point
Part 3: Caracol

0 comments:

Well I meant to have this posted last week, but I came down with a terrible cold. Oscar started preschool so of course he caught somethi...

Unbelizeable Part 3: Caracol


Well I meant to have this posted last week, but I came down with a terrible cold. Oscar started preschool so of course he caught something his first week and passed it on to me. Such is life.

Hummingbird Highway
So to continue where we left off last post, we, reluctantly, left the beach on May 10th and headed in-land to our next destination outside San Ignancio. One of the highways that takes you there is called the Hummingbird Highway, and as you can see, it was just stunning. Some small mountains, farms, and plenty of green make it a very pleasant and scenic drive. Don't take your eyes off the road too much however. As you pass through many small villages, there are a ton of dogs, none of which are leashed and many of which wander right into the road. We had more than one close call that scared the crap out of us. Not to mention the usual potholes and speed bumps, so be on your toes. On our way, we passed through the capital city of Belmopan, right at 5pm and were surprised to see actual traffic. We only saw one stoplight in the entire country, so not traffic like we're used to in the states, but enough cars to make getting through town slow-going.


By the time we hit San Ignacio, it was getting dark. We stopped somewhere to grab a quick dinner and use their WiFi to take a few screenshots of what the place looked like where we were headed, since we were worried about finding it in the dark. We had directions from the host of course, but she warned us there were no street signs where she was at, about 5 miles from San Ignacio, outside the village of Bullet Tree Falls. We ended up having no problems finding it, but were thankful we'd refreshed our memories of what the entrance to the property looked like. Once again we were delighted to find ourselves in yet another awesome Airbnb place. A cute little 1 bedroom cabin on beautifully landscaped grounds next to the Mopan river.

Mopan River
The purpose of this leg of our journey was to hit up as many Mayan Ruins as we could. First on the list was Caracol, the largest site in Belize. I had originally intended on following the tour guide to the ruins (the main reason we rented a 4WD), so I could drive and not get carsick as a passenger. But after seeing what the roads were like in Belize, I quickly changed my mind on that one. Instead I downed a Dramamine with breakfast and we headed back into San Ignacio to attempt to find the tour guide office. Like a dork I'd forgotten to ask for directions and didn't realize google maps was showing us the wrong place. Of course the road it was on had a very old street sign that was almost unreadable, so we totally missed it. In one of those happy coincidences, we stopped at a gas station to ask for directions, and the customer at the pump next to us just happen to be a tour guide from a different company, but he knew where ours was. He gave us directions, and at the confused looks on our faces, happily offered to drive there so we could follow him and not get lost. Seriously, nicest people ever in Belize.

We get to the tour company (we used Cayo Adventure Tours) late and worried we missed our tour. Thankfully we didn't, and even better we find out that we were the only people signed up for that particular day, so we ended up with a private tour! Our guide Hue, was again, nicest guy ever and we had a wonderful time getting to know him on the long drive to Caracol. I was thankful I wasn't driving, pretty much instantly when we hit the crazy dirt road, and many more times throughout the drive. It was quite the bumpy ride. But an awesome one as it went through Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. So crazy to watch city turn into jungle, jungle into a pine forest, and then back to jungle. Such an amazing ecosystem in Central America.

Did you know bananas grow upside down?! Total mind blow, I had no idea!
We arrived at Caracol about the same time as a few school buses. So we hurried to the largest ruin (Canaa) first so we could explore before it was overrun with kids. We got there just in time as they were flooding up when we were coming down. Seeing Canaa was truly breath taking. Such a massive structure, not just tall but wide and deep too. The next several pictures were all taken from either part-way up or from the top.

Partially excavated ruin
Trees growing out the top give you an idea how much work excavation is



Canaa (Sky Place)
Still the tallest building in Belize at 140 ft. tall
Canaa is so massive it took awhile to explore it all and the surrounding structures. Crazy to think that the Lidar surveying they've done of Caracol has revealed thousands of undiscovered structures buried beneath the jungle. Hearing what a small percentage has been excavated of many of these Mayan sites made me want to take up grant writing someday. They think 100,000-150,000 people lived in Caracol at its peak (about twice the size of Belize City today), with the city having stretched 68 square miles. Just imagine if they could uncover most of that! It was an eye-opening experience to realize how big some ancient civilizations really were. Really puts things in perspective.

Only Brian smiles while he's in a tomb


Mayans were really short
Even I had to duck through some of their doorways

One of the few ruins we saw with a roof
We also thoroughly enjoyed the surrounding jungle. I'm always impressed by the abundant diversity of plant and animal life the rainforest has to offer. When I get organized someday soon hopefully, I'll have to upload all our pictures somewhere for everyone's perusal.

Tree with green flowers!
Hummingbird nest!
See those things hanging down in the tree that look like saggy balls?
Those are bird nests!
Me holding one of those saggy balls
After this wonderful exploration, we ate a delicious homemade lunch the tour company provided of grilled chicken sandwich with lots of veggies, and another wonderful Belizean coca cola. Then we started the trip back. But on the way, we stopped off at the Rio on Pools (gotta love how everything is named in Spanglish haha) for a wonderful dip in the perfectly cool water after our hot, sweaty journey through the jungle.

Rio on Pools
We also saw an amazing amount of butterflies on the road home. But the coolest was this one spot by a creek where they were gathered all over the ground.


As far as I'm concerned, Caracol is a must-see for anyone visiting Belize. It's quite a trek but well worth the journey. We arrived back in San Ignacio with enough time to go back to our place, shower and change, and back into town for dinner.

Next up, the rest of our trip, including two more Mayan Ruins, exploring San Ignacio, and finding a restaurant so good we went to it twice in one day.

Read the rest of the trip here!

Part 1: Orange Walk & Lamanai
Part 2: Beach Life in Sittee Point
Part 4: San Ignacio, Xunantunich, & Cahal Pech

0 comments:

This is part 2 of our unbelizeable adventures in Belize. You can read part 1 here . No tropical vacation is complete without a few days...

Unbelizeable Part 2: Beach Life in Sittee Point


This is part 2 of our unbelizeable adventures in Belize. You can read part 1 here.

No tropical vacation is complete without a few days relaxing on a beautiful beach. With that in mind, we scheduled in a few days in Sittee Point, a few miles outside Hopkins, Belize. We arrived in Hopkins after dark after a 3 hour drive straight from the dock outside Orange Walk where our Lamanai boat tour ended. We stopped at a store for a few necessities (water, tea, and oats so I didn't have to eat out for breakfast) and a small restaurant to grab some dinner, which ended up being a not as good version of what we had for lunch that day (coconut rice & beans and chicken stew). I don't usually eat a lot of meat, so I was sick of chicken by then having eaten it every meal since we'd arrived in Belize. Thankfully the rest of our trip I was able to fill my belly with delicious seafood. Our short drive through Hopkins showed lots of bars, live music, and fun people. We'd fully intended on making it back into town at some point to catch more music, but sadly we did not make time.

The road from Hopkins to Sittee Point had patches that looked like someone had paved it once, long, long ago. Then even that little bit of pavement ended and it was basically washboard the rest of the way. We were thankful it hadn't rained, as I can only image what a mess that drive would've been if it had. We arrived at our little cabana and met our host. Again we had an awesome host, adorable and clean house with a working A.C. (yes!), and this one had a complete kitchen. We headed to bed and enjoyed a wonderful nights sleep knowing we didn't have to wake up early for any reason.


Sand crabs building nests under the trees
Every parent knows what I mean when I say a dream vacation includes sleeping in and days with absolutely no schedule at all. That is what we thoroughly enjoyed for the next 2 days. We relaxed on the beach and read or just stared at the gorgeous surroundings, went for swims in the way too warm ocean (it's still off-putting to me after years of swimming on the Oregon coast!), went for short bike rides or walks down the road (we weren't far from the resort area) to restaurants and bars, and soaked up all the sun we could. This also included a few patches of sunburns (my legs are still peeling) and way more bug bites than we saw bugs. Still trying to figure that one out. Chiggers or clever mosquitoes? Who knows. Oh well, was totally worth it. Lunch even included some karaoke. Because of course there was a Filipino karaoke bar in Belize called "Bahay Fiesta". I seriously love how multi-cultural that country is.


Being near the equator is always a little weird to adjust to the fact that sunset is pretty early year round (6:15pm compared to 8:30pm or later in Oregon this time of year). We opted to walk to dinner that night since we didn't want to ride bikes in the dark, and there was a restaurant a short walk away. Dinner was great, but that meant by the time we finished it was very dark. Our walk back was a little spooky. Our host had warned us not to go wandering into the jungle as there are crocodiles there. Yep, that's right, crocodiles. The jungle comes right to the beach in Belize, so the road we were walking on had jungle on both sides, except where there's a house. I won't lie, I was more than a little afraid of not only crocodiles, but all the awesome, poisonous snakes I read live in Belize. They have no less than 8 very poisonous snakes, several of which are deadly, and one that's aggressive and even sneaks up behind you to attack! I may have turned the flashlight on my phone on to scan the road for creatures before each step. Thankfully, the walk was uneventful, besides the amazing full moon.

Creepy, moonlit walks on the beach anyone?
The next day was more of the same wonderful relaxation on the beach and bike rides to excellent food. For lunch we ate at a place called The Paddle House. I'd never had yucca fries before but oh man were they good! Especially since they came with avocado dip instead of ketchup, and I frickin' love avocados. I also enjoyed delicious seafood and amazing tropical drinks. Seriously best piña colada of my life, hands down. I will be attempting to recreate that as well, although I'm positive it was the fresh pineapple juice and coconut milk that made it so good, so I probably won't come close. But I will still try. Or I'll move somewhere tropical. Seriously, how bad could it be living somewhere that naturally grows amazing food? More than once while we were there we said to each other, "so why don't we live here?!"



Couldn't get enough of that view
Our hosts beautiful yard
Nothing helped my recovery more than these days on the beach. I don't remember the last time I was so relaxed for so long. My appetite returned, I ate food that would normally make me sick without issue, I drank a little alcohol without any repercussions, and I spent ZERO time feeling stressed. I quit worrying at each meal and simply reminded myself I was on vacation... from everything included my illness and restrictive diets of late. Before I left home, my naturopath recommended I take Hydrozyme with every meal while on my trip, a digestive supplement that contains hydrochloric acid (stomach acid). This was to help kill any bugs (bacteria or parasites) that could be in food or drinks when you're traveling to new places and eating foreign food. Normally I would have just had a few extra immunizations before we went, but seeing as my immune system was already a wreck, we didn't want to bombard it with immunizations too. So the supplement was my fail-safe. There's a large percentage of people with SIBO and IBS that have low stomach acid, and it's one of the things that is worsened by stress as well. So taking this supplement may very well have added to my recovery. Either way, it didn't hurt, I didn't get sick once on my trip, and I still can't believe how much better I feel still.

The sun was so damn bright!
If you ever make it to Belize, definitely spend a few days on the beach. If you're in need of some serious stress relief like I was, there is no better place. It's so laid back, everyone we met was very friendly, and everywhere you looks is beautiful. Next time we'll make time to check out some of the over 200 islands off the coast of Belize. I feared the boat ride (motion sickness) but now I know it would be worth a groggy day from Dramamine to be snorkeling out there in that amazingly warm and clear water.

My new happy place

Read the rest of the trip here!

Part 1: Orange Walk & Lamanai
Part 3: Caracol
Part 4: San Ignacio, Xunantunich, & Cahal Pech

0 comments:

Ahhh vacation! It's been 5 long years since I had a vacation that relaxing. It was perfect, and exactly what I needed when I needed i...

Unbelizeable Part 1: Orange Walk & Lamanai


Ahhh vacation! It's been 5 long years since I had a vacation that relaxing. It was perfect, and exactly what I needed when I needed it most. I was honestly afraid of going because of how sick I've been. Thankfully, I finally started to feel a little better right before I left. And then wouldn't you know, relaxing helped me feel 100 times better! Stressing less is truly the answer for getting and staying in good health.

So our awesome trip started with a not-so-awesome beginning. We missed our first flight! It was an early morning flight so we tried cutting it close in the interest of sleep, and we cut it too close. Leaving late, a stop at the ATM, construction, and the then unknown-to-me fact that you have to check bags at least 1 hour before an international flight, meant that they would not even let us check our bags or try to make it to our gate. Lame town. Instead we spent our first day of vacation hanging out in the airport and flying to multiple cities, having an overnight layover, and finally making it to Belize a full day late. Luckily having to change all of our plans by a day didn't cost us much. Southwest never asked us for money for re-booking our flight (score!), the place we booked (we used Airbnb) was awesome enough to give us a refund for that night, and the tour we had scheduled hadn't asked for money in advance so they rescheduled for the next day without an problem. We quickly realized that this weird day was still mostly relaxing since everything worked out and we didn't have the kids with us! Whew! Huge thank yous to my amazing mother-in-law and our friend Lindsay who watched our kids for us and made it all possible!

So onto the rest of the trip and all the good stuff. We landed at the airport outside Belize City the afternoon of Sunday May 7th. We got through the tiny airport and customs without issue. We stepped outside to see the car rental place was exactly where they said they would be, a very short walk directly across the street. We even got the exact car we requested, a 4WD Jeep (you'll hear why later). And they exchanged some money for us for free! Don't waste your money paying to exchange it, most places you go in Belize will except U.S. dollars or Belize dollars (the exchange rate is always half of our dollar so super easy to remember). Just make sure you have small bills on you, no $50 or $100 U.S. bills as smaller businesses may not have enough cash to give you change. Then we checked our printed directions (no international phone bill for us, thank you very much), and headed out!

It didn't take much driving to realize everything we'd read about driving in Belize was totally true. The roads are terrible. Only the major roads are paved and even those are paved poorly with many, very large potholes, nobody follows any real traffic laws, there are very few posted speed limit signs, and even less marked road signs. There are random speed bumps in the highway, not all of which are clearly marked, and many will surprise you. They call them "sleeping policemen". Aha! Lucky for me, Brian loves that sort of chaos and he had a blast trying to drive like a local, except speeding. We never went over 55mph (the max speed limit) as we did not want to get pulled over. But we saw countless people hauling serious ass, even though we saw a surprising amount of police, considering how few people there are (population around 375,000).

It's a big part of the culture in Belize for people to hitch-hike. Cars and gas are super expensive (over $5 USD per gallon!) so not a lot of people have cars, and the public transportation system is not very good or offered everywhere. So mostly people walk, ride a bike, or hitch-hike! After not even an hour in the country, Brian made friends with some guys where we stopped to buy water and one guy asked for a ride a few miles down the road. He seemed cool, so we gave him one. He was super nice and we just talked about our kids and made small talk. Plus he lived in Crooked Tree which is in the midst of wildlife sanctuary. There were a ton of birds all over (hard to tell in the picture since they were far away, but every black or white spot you see is a bird). It was really beautiful. Since it was the end of the dry season, the water level of the lagoon was low, but during the wet season it rises over 7 feet and floods the road. They have to use a boat to get out! It was a great detour we wouldn't have taken otherwise.
Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary
So after about an hour drive, we made it to Orange Walk town in Northern Belize. We got checked into our first ever Airbnb place, and simply loved the little house we had booked. Our hosts were super friendly and helpful, the place was clean, and the AC worked very well (it's frickin' hot in Belize dudes). Their yard even had mango trees! As you can imagine, they smell and look so much better than anything we've ever seen in a grocery store in the US. The town of Orange Walk is small but quite lively. It seemed everyone was very active at night. My guess was because that's the only time it's not sweltering hot. Sunday night dinner wasn't very good since the only places open were Chinese restaurants (yep, so weird). But breakfast the next morning was so great. One of our tour guides, Antonio (who happened to be next door neighbors to our hosts) took us to a little tiny restaurant a short walk away where we had Fry Jack's. It's like what we would call Indian Fry Bread, with refried beans, cheese, and shredded chicken in some sort of amazing sauce. I've been craving them ever since and will be attempting to make these bad boys very soon.

Our main purpose in this part of Belize was to see the nearby Mayan ruin called Lamanai. So we'd signed up for a tour with a company called Jungle River Tours. Antonio road with us to the dock where we joined a larger group. The tour included a boat ride down the New River, about an hour one-way to the ruins. It was filled with more birds than you can imagine, gorgeous views of the surrounding jungle, enormous termite nests, giant snake cacti, teeny tiny bats, and one adorable monkey. Antonio's brother, Hilberto, was our guide and he was very knowledgeable about all the plants and wildlife along the river.

Snack Cactus
This rehabilitated spider monkey is by himself and out of his natural environment,
so all the guides feed him bananas.
Brian even got to feed him!
The river suddenly gets miles wide right before you get to Lamanai
Once we arrived, they fed us lunch of more delicious homemade, local fare. Coconut rice & beans, chicken stew (Hilberto called it "mystery meat" as a joke, but it was actually really good), fried plantains, and a Belizean coca-cola. That's right, I drank a soda for the first time in about 4 years. I had no tea or coffee that day which meant I had a raging caffeine headache. So I had a sip of Brian's coke and was shocked! It was so delicious I drank a whole one myself. Must've been the fact that it was made with real, probably fresh, sugar (considering all the sugar cane we saw growing in Belize) instead of high-fructose corn syrup! Seriously, wish we had that version here in the US. During lunch we heard our first Howler monkeys of the trip. So glad we were with a guide to tell us what that scary ass sound was. Would have been truly terrifying to hear that for the first time if you were alone in the jungle!

Next was a quick pass through the small museum there and then a short walk through the jungle to Lamanai. We saw some Howler monkeys way up in the trees in a few places, but none of the pictures turned out well. They're good at blending. Hilberto reminded us all to not look up at the trees with our mouths open, especially when passing under monkeys, as they like to throw unwrapped snickers bars at tourists. 😆

It was monkey nap time
The first ruin I saw in person, and many others after as well, literally took my breath away. I had never been in the presence of anything that old before. It was truly awe-inspiring. We learned a ton of information about Lamanai and the Mayans in general. The most interesting thing was how little of the site (and all the sites we saw on our trip) have actually been excavated. As you walk around these places, you realize every mound you see, even every place you walk, has history underneath it. It's best to show you the rest with pictures instead of words.

Mask Temple
Close-up of one of the Masks
High Temple, 108ft tall
Panorama from High Temple
On top of High Temple
I don't like heights, but I forced myself to climb all the ruins.
Totally worth it
Jaguar Temple
Close-up of one of the Jaguar faces


Stay tuned for 3 more posts about the rest of our trip, coming soon!

Part 2: Beach Life in Sittee Point
Part 3: Caracol
Part 4: San Ignacio, Xunantunich, & Cahal Pech

8 comments: