An unBELIZEable Time
In March 2018 Kaitlyn traveled to Belize for a one week vacation with two girl friends. The entire time we were there, everywhere we traveled, we always felt extremely safe and welcomed by the locals. Belize is an absolutely unbelievable country. It was so great that they are an English speaking nation, and the weather while we were there (early March) was incredible. To read about my entire experience in great detail including the amazing revelations and connections that were made, click the blog here. Below, you will find a more summarized version of everything I did, where I stayed, and what I ate in Belize.
transportation from the airport to San Ignacio
Me being the hyper-organized control freak that I am, had booked a shuttle with Viator online - my intention was to make this travel as seamless as possible while we were down there and what better way to experience that than to have a driver waiting at the gate for you with your name on a sign. Unfortunately that was not the case... When we left the airport there were a ton of shuttle companies holding signs with names, as well as taxi drivers everywhere. It was hot, we were tired from travelling, we had cab drivers coming up to us every other second offering us a ride, and telling us we should have just taken a cab it's the "easiest and best way to get to San Ignacio", so our discomfort was getting to an all time high. But of course, the helpful and friendly Belizean culture was there to save the day and a kind security guard offered us his phone to try and call the local company, Belize Family Adventure (I see now that Viator just books a local company so in future I will cut out the middle man and go straight to one of the many local companies, or take a cab!). We finally got a hold of the person at the office and they informed us that they tried to reach my cell (of course Rogers doesn't have roam like home in Belize), to notify us that the driver was running late. Okay, frustrating but at least it gave us a little piece of mind. Finally, an hour after our flight had landed we are on the road (with a quick stop for beer of course).
Jose, our driver, was an absolute delight! He was so friendly and apologetic, his positive and charismatic energy instantly brightened our moods (or maybe it was the beer) and we were already feeling different vibes. During our 2 hour drive to San Ignacio (located west in the main land closer to the Guatemala border) Jose gave us an incredible history lesson on Belize and all of us were just soaking up everything he had to teach us, as well as the scenic views all around.
So beautiful and unique - I definitely really enjoyed that we stayed here two nights. One thing that was present in each destination and road traveled in Belize throughout the entire trip was the Belizean's LOVE for smiling. Smiles, happiness, and joy everywhere you go.
We stayed at the Cahal Pech Village Resort in San Ignacio and the view of the town was absolutely breathtaking. As well, the little huts themselves were adorable - cozy and quaint with actual straw roofs, the restaurant was reasonably priced, had absolutely delicious food (the shrimp curry and this shrimp tomato dish were incredible) and had a beautiful ambiance. There was also a nice pool to swim in, the staff were all very friendly, and the location was perfect. One night, we asked our kind waiter Walter where we should go hit up the town, he said Thirsty Thursday's. Kind Walter even gave us a ride to the bar and came in for a drink (which were kind of expensive, just a heads up).
Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve Tour: rio frio, rio on pools, & big rock falls
Prior to starting our trip, we had contemplated and researched the many exciting and amazing things you can do in the areas surrounding San Ignacio. Explore Mayan ruins, horseback ride through the wilderness, climb through caves, water raft down rivers, and view beautiful waterfalls. In a nut shell, so much to do and too little time. We only planned for one day of excursions, so choosing was very difficult. I wanted to hike and see Mayan ruins, Mikenna wanted to hike and explore caves, and Paula was interested in seeing the waterfalls. Luckily we are all very easy going and chose a tour that involved hiking a cave, swimming in pools, and seeing a waterfall. I didn't get my Mayan ruins, but our resort was actually a 3 minute walk from the Cahal Pech Mayan ruins so I could easily do that the morning before our departure to our next destination should it be in the cards.
Our tour guide, Cookie, from Mayawalk Tours and the driver, Israel, showed up and they both were (of course) so sweet. It was about an hour and a half drive through Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve to get to our first stop and Cookie continued to educate us the entire time as we explored and observed the new landscapes and small towns we were passing through. The roads to get there were extremely bumpy (they call it a free massage lol), but it was fine because it was just the three of us in a SUV as opposed to a big clunky tour bus. Our first stop on the tour, Rio Frio, was this incredible massive cave! Cookie showed us the different sediments part of the cave, told us the history of how the Mayan's used to use this cave for ceremonies, and took us through how the erosion over time created the landscape before us. Photos do not do this place justice, it is HUGE! After exploring and hiking a bit we hopped back in the car and proceeded back the way we came to stop at destination two, Rio on Pools. Of course this was the point of the trip where Cookie whips out the rum punch and we enjoy the tropical beverage as we float and swim around these refreshing pools, taking in the view. We then hiked to dry off quickly, up to a look out point that shows the true depth of the pools and let me tell you, it was stunning.
Moving along we head to surprise stop number 3, a picnic! Beforehand the tour company asked us what kind of meal we wanted, we all said vegetarian. The food was delicious (curry tofu and vegetables, rice and beans, and a salad), and also so cute packed up in a little tupperware containers, one for each of us. For lunch Cookie took us to a secluded stream where there was nobody else in sight, and him, Israel and us Charlie's Angels (as everyone we met in Belize called us), shared a great meal and exchanged our life stories.
After lunch we headed to the last stop (and the most anticipated) Big Rock Falls. These rushing falls definitely exceeded expectations - we could hear the falls well before they were even in sight. We began to swim and jump in the water on the lower level of the falls, when suddenly Israel (our driver) joined us. He led Mikenna and I up and over the second mini falls to swim underneath the big part of the falls. It was definitely the most exhilarating thing I have done in my life and I know I would never have done it if Israel was not there to help us (physically and mentally I am sure I would not have been able to do it). The feeling of the fresh falls pouring over us and hammering the surrounding water was intoxicating, my heart was pounding the entire time.
Saturday San Ignacio Farmer's Market
If you do go to San Ignacio, try to go on a Saturday and attend the large Farmer's Market. The infatuating reggae music bellowed throughout the streets as everyone flocked towards the tented market. We wandered through the various vendor stands, playing with the local children, petting the puppies, admiring the local artisan crafts, and drooling over the copious amounts of fresh produce.
San Pedro (Ambergris Caye)
We hadn't heard or read great things about Belize City prior to our trip, and even all of the local people we had met so far warned us to stay away from it as much as possible. We were also there during a big political time as the local elections were on their way so to be better safe then sorry. We swiftly moved from the shuttle to the ferry terminal without lingering even for a second.
Before heading to Belize, I was definitely a little confused about San Pedro and Amgergris Caye, and also even how to pronounce Caye (it's actually Key). Basically, the larger island is Ambergris Caye, and San Pedro is the main village within in. Everyone just calls it San Pedro there.
We bought our ferry tickets beforehand (we honestly had everything planned out to a T), but you would definitely have no issues purchasing them there (I don't think there is a price difference). and San Ignacio felt as if you were in two different countries, however one thing that was the same between the two - the extremely kind and happy people (for the most part - you will see why). We were a little frazzled after getting off of the boat, instantly we were struck by the smell of the ocean (aka stinky fish...) the heat, sunshine, and overall determination to drop our bags and explore this new place.
We Stayed at an Air Bnb Babylon Beach Villa, located right in between Blue Water Grill (a well known restaurant on the island) and Ramone's village. Out host let us know that he is in the midst of transforming the beautiful compound into a resort, so likely by the time we go back (lol) it will be a resort! It was stunning - absolutely loved staying here!
San Pedro has a lot of bars and restaurants! Here are my favourites:
Fido's: A huge open concept bar/restaurant that had a band playing oldies
Jaguars: Dance club bar... have a lot of rum beforehand but you'll have a good time
Sandbar: Relaxed atmosphere, completely open, friendly staff
Crock's: One word, STUNNING. A little further north of where we were staying this place is beautiful. Perfect for sunset
Palapa: Fun floating inner tubes, deck, and open concept on the water. Good food and drinks
Blue Water Grill: Phenomenal restaurant. Amazing food and great atmosphere
Other great places to hang out:
Ramon's village: Great restaurant, pool, and overall vibe
Secret Beach: Or not so secret beach, contains fun restaurants and bars, a beautiful beach, dock, and one more thing... tons of people!
Caye Caulker (pronounced Cocker) was MUCH different than San Pedro. The vibrant colourful buildings, school children in their uniforms biking and running everywhere, hammocks and swings as far as the eye can see. A lot of people there say Caye Caulker is like San Pedro 15 years ago. The much more relaxing vibe instantly made us feel a rush of tranquility.
We stayed at Anchorage Resort, located slightly south on a much quieter part of the island, and although we set our expectations low (we were not to sure about the photos online) it was actually so charming. The family that runs it are so sweet, and they have the cutest kid. He was so mobile, jogging around freely in his barefeet, following us to the beach and 'assisting' us with our luggage. Our room had a balcony overlooking the beach and water and the outside walls were the most vibrant blue. They also had free kayaks we could use and bikes to rent for $7US a day. The vibe all around was extremely relaxing, and they accommodated our need for early check in too!
The island itself is surprisingly easy to navigate and we found ourselves naturally stumbling to our correct destinations every time without even being sure if our feet were walking in the right direction.
Only a short boat ride away, Koko King has a beautiful beach, restaurant and bar, loungers, a pool, VIP beds, hammocks, and water activities. As our trip thus far had been full of adventure we were very excited to experience a relaxing day on the lounger. We had heard of a lot of people hanging out at the Lazy Lizard during the day, but we were much more in the mood for a chill beach hangout rather than inner tube drinking day, so for us at that time, Koko King was the more appealing option.
The Koko King boat comes about every 15 minutes or so, and really just transports people to and from. The only rule is that you spend $10US during your stay (and it can be on water, drinks, food, pool access, etc). Note* the water toys (bouncy castle, inner tubes water trampoline, and loungers/beach chairs are free of charge). The restaurant is amazing and extends out over the water, containing a full bar, two covered seating areas, and rooftop patio. We had another delicious meal here and indulged in some Pina Coladas.
For dinner, one of Mikenna's co-workers had recommended Pasta Per Caso in Caye Caulker. He warned that you absolutely needed a reservation in order to be seated. This restaurant is a definite MUST! As we walk by, we were immediately drawn to the contagious atmosphere; high top wood tables, quaint family style, twinkling lights, trees and plants providing privacy in the completely open breezy restaurant. Armando and Anna (husband and wife owners) brought out plate after plate of the two dishes on the menu that night and it was hands down, the best pasta of my life (followed by a scrumptious gelato dessert). Each day, Anna and Armando make the pasta fresh and pick two varieties to offer for dinner. They were so charming - they instantly brought smiles to our faces.
We woke in the morning and hopped on some bikes to get to our yoga class in time. We went to RandOM Yoga where they offer classes by donation. The studio was upstairs, completely open, and had a stunning view of the ocean and village below. The breeze in my hair and sun warming my skin it was such a lovely experience. After class was done, we grabbed breakfast at Namaste Cafe located directly down stairs. As the refreshing ginger pineapple smoothie awakened my soul, we chatted with a backpacker and discussed where they were off to next, and just sat listening to the birds chirping and kids laughing. We then biked around the island and saw the tremendous beauty it had to offer.
One thing I must note, the food in Belize is truly exquisite. Everything from the $1 tacos you purchase out of a window, to the abundance of restaurants that inhabit San Ignacio and the islands were phenomenal. The only bad meal we had all trip was at that god awful diner in the Miami airport.