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


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