Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
Crossing the border & leaving Guatemala
The journey continued onwards from Flores, Guatemala to Caye Caulker, Belize. Sticking to the theory of budget travel, we took a shuttle from Flores to the Belize border for 50Q ($6) each leaving at 5am. This time it was a larger bus with reclining chairs, though still cramped for leg space with people fully reclined. The bus was maybe half full and the journey took maybe 1.5-2hours to the border. We exchanged a majority of remaining Guatemalan Quetzals for Belize Dollars on the border. At the border, the agent tried to get 20Q ($1.20) each as an exit fee. We’d expected this and knew it wasn’t an official exit fee. We asked for documentation showing we needed to pay it and they gave up after about 1 minute. On the other side we needed to get a taxi to the next nearest town of San Ignacio. We met another couple in the lineup who were heading to the same place so we shared the cab. Total cost of BZ$30 (US$15). I’m sure we could’ve negotiated a better price, considering it was a 10 minute drive away. Borders are always tricky though since you’re a captured market.
First note on Belize; English is very widely spoken since it is the official language. There is certainly an influence of Spanish and also what is known as Creole. The Queen is still the Monarch, similar to how it operates in Australia and Canada. The country of Belize is equivalent to the size of Wales at around 290km long and 110km wide but with a lot of extra small land places parked out in the ocean.
Iguana Project at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel
The whole purpose of this border hopping was to get to the town of San Ignacio and visit the Iguana Project. We’d met someone at El Retiro in Lanquin who showed us his photos of this place and knew we had to stop as we went past. The project is focussed around an enclosure at the back of the resort which was started in 1996 to help conserve the Green Iguana. The main issue faced by these Iguana’s is overhunting. Yes, they capture them and eat them. We’d been told in Panajachel we could get it from the main market there, but never tried it. I’m quite sure now that Rodora won’t ever eat it, since she thinks they are so cute.
The project itself is focussed on raising them from birth to juveniles and releasing them into their natural habitat. They are also trying to educate local people about these reptiles to help reduce the hunting of them.
The entry cost is US$9 per person, with all money going back into the project rather than profit. We arrived just after 8am and were the only 2 people ready to go in, so we got a private tour. Once you enter the main enclosure, it’s amazing to see upwards of maybe 100 Iguanas in all shapes, sizes and colours. There wasn’t a whole lot of movement except for a few of the younger ones clambering for better spots in the sun near the roof. We were given some history of what the project was about and other things that I’d mentioned earlier. Next was the opportunity to get to hold them. Rodora was quite nervous at first, but adapted in a heartbeat when she realized they were mostly harmless. The “King” or Alpha Male of the Iguana’s is Gomez. I think he’s around 17 years old and apparently mates with about 80% of the females in the enclosure. Somehow he was lucky and born with brighter colours than most and this is the key attraction. We both got turns to hold him along with some of the other younger iguana’s hanging around. Apparently the young ones want your body heat, but after they get a few years old, they no longer care or need it. There’s a separate enclosure connected for the very young Iguana’s. The “babies” we got to play with were about 6 months old. They really love body heat and climbing to the top of your head seems the most popular spot.
The whole thing lasts around 45 minutes and the onward buses are less than a 5 minute walk away. We found it really easy to slot this into our travel plan and would recommend it for everyone who has the opportunity.
The website is here with a lot more detailed information and photos.
San Ignacio to Caye Caulker
We took the “chicken bus” from San Ignacio. I think we got lucky as we got onto one about 9.30am and it was on its way within minutes. The bus cost BZ$8 (US$4) each all the way to Belize City which was about a 2-2.5hr trip. The chicken buses are a bit more deluxe here; with cushioned seats and only expecting 2 people per seat to fit in. An extra treat was Cinnamon Buns for BZ$1. I’d go back just for the buns. Arriving in Belize City, I’ll be honest, it was a bit daunting. I’d expected more of a “city” type of feel. Later I realised the population of Belize is around 325,000 and Belize City is just over 60,000 people. There’s no tall buildings here to speak of with two story concrete box buildings being common place.
Walking straight out of the bus terminal we found taxis trying to take us to the water taxi. I don’t remember exactly, but I think they wanted around BZ$10. We knew it was only a 10 minute walk, so we continued on our way. Belize City has a bit of a reputation for being a place to travel through and not to spend any additional time in. It seemed kind of safe, but walk in the wrong direction and I’m sure you could find the rougher spots really quickly.
There are several water taxi companies. They seem to offer the same type of service, but vary slightly on frequency and timing. Perhaps double check on timings for your preferred company. They both serve Caye Caulker and the bigger San Pedro (for Ambergris Caye). Return from Belize City to Caye Caulker was BZ$25 ($US12.50) each; valid I think for 3 months.
“Caye Caulker – Go Slow” is the first slogan you’ll read when walking onto the island. The population is somewhere just over 1,000 people and seems to have the method of relaxation organised at a professional level. There are no cars here; just golf carts that move up and down the couple of pot hole covered dirt streets. The main area is more than walkable. Caye Caulker is the budget traveller’s destination as opposed to the more developed San Pedro. We walked up and down the beach front looking for somewhere within budget and still nice. December is the cusp of peak season, but we found the Barefoot Caribe Hotel for BZ$50 (US$25) per night including hot water, cable TV and internet. It was a luxury just hearing TV in English for a couple of hours. The room was large. clean and far enough away from any noisy bars that we didn’t get kept up by any noise.
First thing on the “to-do” list was searching out a snorkel trip for the next day. Most companies were offering the same mix of half day or full day trips for identical prices. We chose a full day trip with “E-Z Boy Tours” that went to Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Shark Ray Alley and then one other spot. We chose this one as there was an option for Lobster Lunch. The trip cost BZ$140 (US$70) each for a full day, lunch, fruit, water and then rum punch with ceviche on the return to Caye Caulker. The wind was a little high most of the day, so we got pushed around on the seas at each spot. I’d highly recommend a trip to Shark Ray Alley because it is an amazing spot. As soon as the boat ties up; the Nurse Sharks start to circle around waiting for food to be dropped. This is soon followed by many other smaller fish and the Sting Rays. We were snorkelling around for probably 45 minutes and never really felt like we were in danger. As you can see from some of our photos, you can get really close to these amazing creatures. At the other snorkel stop, our guide went ahead of us and he told us the names of various creatures. Our favourites were the sea turtle and the Green Moray Eel, even if it was a bit ugly and scary looking.
The weather wasn’t great in Caye Caulker and mindful of budget we moved onwards to Placencia. This was achieved by return water taxi to Belize City followed by two different chicken buses for a total cost of BZD$20 (US$10) per person. We did have one casualty on the trip. On the changeover for the buses; we were expecting to change at Dangriga but we got shuffled off at a major intersection about 10-15 minutes before arriving there. This was because the Placencia bus was already heading towards us. Anyway, in the rush and confusion, we left some of our travelling groceries on the bus overhead rack. Casualties of war included a jar of Peanut Butter, honey, bread, a packet of cookies and a granola bar. As we continue with travel, we seem to be finding some alternative ways of keeping us from getting too hungry on long travel days.
Time wise we left Placencia on the first Water Taxi at around 7am and we were in Placencia by around 1pm. We found our way to Deb & Dave’s Last Resort for a double room costing BZD$55 (US$27.50) for a night. Arriving at lunchtime with an appetite we found our way to the Barefoot Bar where I demolished a very tasty chicken, bacon, pineapple burger and had my first taste of the national beer, Belikin.
We were looking to do a snorkel trip from Placencia, but the typical cost was US$70 per person and the weather wasn’t as ideal as we were hoping for. The main option seemed to be to go to Laughing Bird Caye National Park, which was a small island where you then snorkelled off of it. In hindsight, maybe we should’ve gone for a look, but I think we will return to Belize sometime in the nearer future for more diving and snorkelling. We used the day and a half in Placencia to relax on the beach and plan out our next travel steps.
One surprise we did have in Placencia was bumping into a good friend of Ben from the Wolf Den in Algonquin from our previous home of Toronto, Canada. We are friends on Facebook and knew he was in the country when we were, but didn’t think our travel plans would meet up. We randomly bumped into him on the beach sidewalk on the first evening. We ended up spending that night catching up over several beers and dinner and the following day on our chilled day on the beach.
Did we leave Belize too soon?
Hindsight is always a tough thing with travel and I think we met with our demons in Belize. I suspect it might have been because we spent so long in Guatemala where things were so cheap and our budget was easy. It was probably the average at best weather mixed with other travellers opinions that had us moving quicker than we maybe needed to be moving. We were also very conscious that Honduras was very soon and peak season starts mid-December where prices jump quite a lot and availability is hard to find. In the end we only spent 5 days in Belize and scratched the surface of what was available. If we had our PADI diving certificates already, I’m sure we would’ve done things differently.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/