Category Archives: backpacking

Day 7: Exploring the Laid-Back Island of Caye Caulker

Mangroves of the shores of Caye Caulker
Mangroves off the shores of Caye Caulker

We woke up to another hot, blue sky day in Caye Caulker. We ate breakfast at Amor Y Cafe with its fresh squeezed juice. Yum! Fresh squeezed tropical juice is one of my favorite things about traveling in Central America! We walked over to Mario’s office nearby for our half-day snorkeling tour of the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve. It was another amazing day of experiencing the natural beauty of Belize.

Our snorkeling tour ended around 1pm and we walked back to Bella’s for a quick shower and some reading in the hammock. After a couple of hours we walked around town to grab some ice cream to cool down and to check out the local craftsmen and shops. We stopped at a British woman’s jewelry table and admired her artwork. Lindsay bought a lovely pair of earrings.

Handcrafted jewelery
Handcrafted jewelry

I ended up buying a Panama hat to help stay out of the sun. Lindsay and I both wore t-shirts while snorkeling today so we didn’t get sunburnt! But, beware! That fine white sand reflects the sun and you burn easily on the islands (even when you rub half a bottle of sunscreen on your skin)! After wandering around town for a bit, we headed back to Bella’s to take out one of the free canoes. We paddled over towards the split and enjoyed a beautiful view of the shoreline of Caye Caulker. There were a few sailboats out utilizing the brisk winds coming out of the East. I was a bit jealous. Raggamuffin Tours offers both a sunset cruise and a 3-day sailboat tour that finishes in Placenia in southern Belize. If we had more time I would have loved to have done the sailboat tour down to Placenia. I miss sailing!

The shoreline of Caye Caulker
The shoreline of Caye Caulker

After canoeing to the split and back, Lindsay and I grabbed our cameras and headed to the split on foot to hopefully get some sunset pictures. Unfortunately, the skies haven’t been very cooperative over the past few nights and the sky was cloudy. It was still a pretty sunset, but not the amazing pinks, reds, and oranges that I was hoping for. While watching the sun set in the West, a dread-locked local came over and asked us if we would like some brownies to enjoy with the sunset. We kindly declined his offer knowing what was really in the brownies.

The open sea from the canoe
The open sea from the canoe

As the final rays of the sun set over the horizon, our stomachs were grumbling with hunger. We decided on eating dinner at Habanero’s Restaurant. It was a little more than I wanted to spend, but Lindsay had her heart set of it after reading about it in her Lonely Planet guide. And I must say the food was fabulous! Everything sounded amazing on the menu, I opted for a grilled chicken salad. It was yummy! We enjoyed our meal on the patio overlooking Front Street. Since it was off-season, it was quiet.

Sunset over Caye Caulker on my last night
Sunset over Caye Caulker on my last night

After dinner, Lindsay and I spent my last night at Bambooze bar where we sat and had drinks at the bar on giant swings! The bartender was quite friendly and funny. He was not from Belize and he had us guess where he was from. If we were right, he would give us a free shot of Green Elephant Juice. We never did find out where he was from, but he gave us a free shot. It was some concoction of rum punch. Lindsay and I both sipped on local beers. It was a fun atmosphere.

Dinner at Habnero's
Dinner at Habanero’s

After a couple of drinks we started heading back to Bella’s. We stopped at the Toucan Gift Shop where I purchased a couple of souvenirs and some sample hot sauce for my father. Belize is famous for their hot sauce. Interesting enough, it’s also illegal to carry-on hot sauce on the plane. Opps! 🙂

Daily Expenses:

  • Breakfast – $8 USD
  • Panama Hat – $15 USD
  • Ice cream – $2 USD
  • Dinner – $15 USD
  • Drinks – $6 USD
  • Souvenirs – $30 USD
  • Total = $76 USD

In Case You Missed It:

Day 1: From Belize City to Flores, Guatemala

Day 2: Flores to Tikal

Los Amigos Hostel – Flores, Guatemala

A Quick Guide to Tikal National Park

Day 3: Tikal, Guatemala to Belize City

Cave Tubing in Belize

Day 4: Welcome to San Pedro, Belize

Day 5: Discovering the Beauty of San Pedro, Belize

Snorkeling Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Belize

Day 6: Island Hopping from San Pedro to Caye Caulker, Belize

 

Day 5: Discovering the Beauty of San Pedro, Belize

SanPedroPalmTree
Welcome to beautiful San Pedro, Belize!

We woke up early for our big day of snorkeling. Yesterday was rainy and the weather forecast wasn’t really in our favor, but when we opened our eyes the sun was shining! We had to be at the Searious Adventures boat dock by 7:45am. Lindsay and I both slathered sun screen on and walked down to the beach to Estel’s Dine by The Sea for breakfast. Estel’s is pretty much the only place open at 6am. The menu had traditional Belizean foods for a decent price. You order off of their chalkboard menu, which was different. I ordered the fruit with yogurt and water. It only cost me about $5 USD.

Searious Adventures office located right on the beach!
Searious Adventures office located right on the beach!

After a quick breakfast we walked the two minutes down to the boat dock to begin our snorkeling tour. I will go into a more in-depth post about the snorkeling tour because it was awesome! This was my first time ever snorkeling so I was stroked to do this. I’m a water person so if there is water around I want to be in it. Our snorkeling trip brought us to Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley. I was super excited to snorkel up close and personal with sharks and sting rays. Lindsay, however, was not. But, she willingly (or maybe unwillingly) tried to get over her fears and hopped into the water. 🙂

Here’s a few pictures as a sneak peek of what’s to come:

Sting rays up close and personal :-)
Sting rays up close and personal 🙂
Hello my friend!
Hello my friend!

We got back from our morning snorkeling tour around 1pm. I was hungry! We went back to our hostel to change clothes and grab our books so we could lay on the beach after a quick-lunch. We went back to Lick’s since it was right on the beach and the smoothie I had yesterday was delicious. I ordered a plate of the conch fritters, which is a traditional Belizean dish of fried conch. They tastes similar to fired clams. While sitting and eating at our table right on the beach, we enjoyed spending time with Patch, the very friendly dog that belongs to the owner of Lick’s (that Lindsay and I wanted to take home).

L to R: Lick's Beachfront Cafe, Patch the dog!, Conch Fritters, a perfect beach read - How to Travel the World on $50 a Day
L to R: Lick’s Beachfront Cafe, Patch the dog!, Conch Fritters, a perfect beach read – How to Travel the World on $50 a Day

After lunch, Lindsay and I migrated down the beach to find a spot to lay out and read. We found a little place near some palm trees and little kids playing in the water. I enjoyed a few hours reading Nomadic Matt’s How to Travel the World on $50 a Day on the beach. However, after a little bit I realized that my skin was on fire and I needed to seek shade or else I would have a monster sunburn!

One of the pools at Pedro's Inn
One of the pools at Pedro’s Inn

We packed up our stuff and headed back to the hostel. Yup, I definitely got sunburn. Lindsay and I spent another hour or so hanging out in one of the pools at the hostel. Pedro’s Inn has two pools. One pool was filled with a bunch of drunk 20-something trying to funnel beers through the pool cleaning hose. We chose the pool with the two older ladies from upstate New York.

Around 7ish we headed out for dinner. We chose to walk further into town to check out the restaurant scene there. We decided on Caramba! Restaurant since they had AC! As we were walking downtown I was starting to feel really dizzy and nauseous. I ended up not eating and just ordered a cold water and watermelon smoothie. The thought of eating made me want to barf whatever food I had in my stomach. Clearly, I got too much sun that day. After Lindsay quickly ate dinner we walked back to the hostel to cover our bodies with aloe vera.  Sun – 1; Lindsay and Katelyn – 0.

Chilren playing in the water
Children playing in the water on the beach in San Pedro

Daily Expenses

  • Breakfast – $5 USD
  • Snorkeling Tour Tip – $ 2.50 USD
  • Lunch – $24.20 (included Lindsay’s beer)
  • Dinner – $10 USD (water and a smoothie)
  • Total – $41.70

In case you missed it:

Day 1: From Belize City to Flores, Guatemala

Day 2: Flores to Tikal

Los Amigos Hostel – Flores, Guatemala

Day 3: Tikal, Guatemala to Belize City

A Quick Guide to Tikal National Park

Cave Tubing in Belize

Day 4: Welcome to San Pedro, Belize

Day 3: Tikal, Guatemala to Belize City

My alarm went off at 3:40am to prepare for the sunrise tour of Tikal that left our hotel, the Tikal Inn, at 4:00am. However, when I rolled over to shut off my alarm, I realized that it was pouring buckets out. I got up and put my contacts in while Lindsay’s alarm went off about 10 minutes later. We decided to skip the tour because of the rain. It broke my heart a bit because I was hoping to see an amazing sunrise over the tops of the temples and capture them on my camera. But, alas, I will have to do it another time. The downfalls of traveling in the almost official rainy season.

The view of the Grand Plaza from Temple II
The view of the Grand Plaza from Temple II

The park officially opens to normal tourists at 6:00am so we went back to sleep for a couple more hours. The sounds of the rain and the jungle coupled with travel exhaustion from the previous two days led to a great night’s sleep. We soon set out on the short walk from the hotel to the trail entrance where we paid another Q150 to enter the park. If we  had waited and not used our ticket from yesterday then we could have saved Q150. Personally, it was worth the expense in my opinion. Instead of wandering around the trails and taking the long way to the Grand Plaza like the day before, we took the direct trail right to the Grand Plaza. As we started walking up the trail we suddenly heard this racket. It sounded like a mix of dying cows and mating gorillas. Not that I know what that sounds like… We both looked at each other and all I could think of was we were on the Lost island with the polar bear!

One of the best shows ever!
One of the best shows ever!

Actually, it was a group of howler monkeys! Unfortunately, we could not see them from the trail. They carried on for at least an hour as we wandering around the Grand Plaza. Around 8:00am Lindsay and I headed back towards our Hotel for breakfast and packing. Our taxi was arriving to pick us up at 10:00am. Breakfast at the hotel was delicious. I had the pancakes with fresh fruit and papaya juice. Our taxi driver arrived sharply at 10:00am and we were off for our 2 hour nerve-wrecking drive from Tikal National Park to the border of Guatemala (Melchor de Mencos) and Belize.

Scenes from the road
Scenes from the road

Getting over the border was fun. There was some confusion between our Spanish-speaking driver and our limited Spanish-speaking abilities. He pulled over and locked our packs in his car while he went to look for his amigo on the Belize side to drive us to San Ignacio. Lindsay and I went through the Guatemala border crossing/customs, which is just a line at a desk. We paid our $3 USD departure tax and got our passports stamped. We were done in less than 5 minutes and spent about 25 minutes looking for our driver. Finally he came back and told us it would cost about $25 USD each for his amigo to drive us from the border to San Ignacio. We told him no and that we would find our way. I gave him a $2 USD tip and we grabbed our bags and went through Belize’s border crossing. Again, super easy.

We got a taxi for $5 USD from the border to Benque Viejo del Carmen, the closest Belize town to the border (about 2 miles away). He dropped us off at the “bus station,” which is really just a stop in front of a shop. We hopped on the old yellow school bus for the 1 hour or so ride to Belmopan. The bus ride cost us $2.50 USD each. WAY cheaper than the $25 each taxi ride! The bus stopped every once in a while to pick people up and drop them off, but it moved quicker than I thought it would. The bus dropped us off at the main bus station.

Happy to ride the $2.50 USD bus from Benque to Belmopan!
Happy to ride the $2.50 USD bus from Benque to Belmopan!

Once we were off the bus we headed straight to Scotiabank to get more cash. I was a complete idiot when budgeting my cash. I had budgeted $325 in cash based on my last trip to Central America (Costa Rica and Nicaragua), but I forgot that everything except dinner was pre-paid. I only brought my credit card so I had to take a cash advance, which cost me a few extra at the end. So make sure you either bring your debt card or enough cash! Lesson learned.

We had time before the guide from the cave tubing company was going to pick us up at the bus station. We grabbed a quick dinner at Caladium Restaurant across from the bus station. We both had the special – jerk chicken, coconut milk rice and beans, and fried plantains. The rice and beans were to die for. I wanted just a plate of that!

Walter, our guide from Cave Tubing Belize, met us at the bus station right on time and we drove in the van to their headquarters at Cave Branch located at Mile 37 on the Western Highway. After paying $75 USD each for our 2-person tour (which includes the tour, all the gear, dinner, rum punch, and transportation from Belmopan to Belize City), we hopped in the van for the 10 minute drive down the road to the river. I will have a separate post next week on just our cave tubing experience. But, I will say, if you are ever in Belize you NEED to go cave tubing! And go with Cave Tubing Belize. They are the best!

Cave tubing with Cave Tubing Belize!
Cave tubing with Cave Tubing Belize!

Our cave tubing adventure took a few hours and it was absolutely amazing. Worth every penny in my mind and I would do it again in a heartbeat! After the cave tubing we changed and hopped in a brand new truck with Vitalino Junior. Honestly, I think the ride was one of the highlights of the trip. Junior told us a lot of the country and culture of Belize and also about his life. They gave us our dinners to-go with rum punch in sippy cups. Over the hour and 15 minutes of the drive back to Belize City, I succeed to get quite tipsy! That stuff was good!

Junior dropped us off at the Sea Breeze Guesthouse. I had made the reservations prior to leaving the states. The hostel came recommended by Lonely Planet and it was one of the cheaper hostels/hotels in Belize City. The place is also surrounded by barbed wire so you knew you were safe – for anything! We checked in around 9ish and were shown to our room. It was simple and clean. We even had a tv with satellite! Since I had just drank an entire sippy cup of rum punch, I had to pee like no tomorrow. I opened the bathroom door, turned on the light, and watched a giant cockroach crawl through the sink. I immediately shut the door, walked back to tell Lindsay, and then went back and peed. I never saw the cockroach again.

I passed out early and slept like a baby all night. Stay tuned for a more detailed post on cave tubing next week!

Daily Expenses:

  • Tikal National Park entrance fee – Q150 (~$20 USD)
  • Taxi driver tip – $2 USD
  • Bus tickets (including Lindsay) – $5 USD
  • Lunch – $15 USD
  • Sea Breeze Guesthouse – $15 USD
  • Cave Tubing – $75 USD
  • Total – $127 USD

In Case You Missed It:

 

Day 1: From Belize City to Flores, Guatemala

Why is it that travel days always seem to last the longest? Day 1 of the trip began before the sun even woke up – 3:00am. My flight left Boston-Logan Airport (BOS) at 6am. Luckily I had a very generous college friend who hosted me the night before and drove me to the airport for 4am. Thanks Greg! It saved me close to $300 for an airport hotel or spending the night in the airport (which I have done before and it’s not fun!).

Getting ready for take-off
Getting ready for take-off

I made it without much wait time through security sans any snafus. I was a bit worried that someone might yell at me about my backpack size, but rest-assured it easily fit in the carry-on luggage test device (ok, perhaps with a little manipulation). The only place in the airport opened at 4:30am was Dunkin Donuts, so I waited until Starbucks opened at 5am. Sorry America, America doesn’t run on Dunkin! 

The first leg of my flight was from BOS to Atlanta (ATL). The flight was uneventful. We hit a few rough patches of air, which caused a little bit of anxiety. The older I get the more nervous of a flyer I become. I used to love flying, but now every little bump in air causes my heart to jump and instant thoughts of we’re going to die. I seriously think I need some medication. It’s actually rather pathetic.

My layover in ATL was less than an hour and thus it was a run to the next gate. Thankfully the gate was nearby and I just went plane to plane. The downfall was not being able to grab a snack in the airport. We soon left ATL for Belize City. The flight was a little less than 3 hours long, meaning no lunch was going to be served. Originally my plane ticket said lunch, but it magically disappeared when I checked it. Well played Delta, well-played. I ended up shelling out $9 for a Delta snack. It was good, but obviously not worth $9. The leg from ATL to Belize was rough. At this point I relaxed a bit and was able to read a good portion of my book.

We arrived in Belize a little early. My friend landed shortly before us. Well, actually three planes landed within minutes of each other creating a bit of a long wait to get through immigration and customs (especially when you really had to pee!). I got stamped and met Lindsay on the other side. We grabbed a taxi to the bus/water taxi station to take the express bus from Belize City to Flores, Guatemala.

We ended waiting about an hour or so until the bus showed up. The express bus left around 1:30pm and we got to the station way before either of us had originally thought. We chatted with a Belizean local from the Southern part of the country about Southern Belize and the Belizean culture. Finally the bus arrived.

Now, based on the pictures on the sign and what the ticket agent told us, we thought the bus was going to be an air-conditioned custom coach bus with a bathroom. Nope, it was an old mini-bus from the 90s. No A/C. No bathroom. At least it wasn’t crowded and the windows opened. It wasn’t bad, but I expected something more. The bus ride took us from Belize City over the Western Highway to the border of Belize/Guatemala. The ride was uneventful for a “normal” Central American bus/taxi/car ride. If you’ve never taken road transportation in Central America than you’re certainly in for a surprise. There is a lot of honking and passing (sometimes with oncoming traffic, blindly, and on sharp turns and hills). Generally it’s just best to close your eyes and hope for the best.

A collection of photos taken from the bus ride to Guatemala
A collection of photos taken from the bus ride to Guatemala

The border crossing was rather simple once we figured what our Spanish-speaking driver told us to do. Get off. Walk through Belize Immigration. Pay $15 USD exit tax (we paid slightly less because we just arrived in Belize that day). Walk to customs and get passport stamp. Walk across river-bridge to Guatemala. Walk up to Guatemala immigrations and customs to pay the $3 entrance fee and get passport stamped. Find bus driver and bus.

We found our bus and driver plus 2 new additional passengers. One was a really nice Guatemalan woman who spoke English. The second was a really stinky shirtless man who was going all the way to Guatemala City. Lindsay and I both checked our packs in the back of the bus because our lovely bus driver walked away from the bus and left our stuff unattended. Everything was just dandy though.

After all the passengers returned to the bus, we were on our way again. The highway in Guatemala from the border to Flores was paved in the recent years making the ride smooth and fast. The landscape was beginning to turn into more farmlands and jungles. Surprisingly, the ride was quite hilly. There was one big hill that I thought we were all going to have to push the bus up because it was so steep.

Bienvenidos!
Bienvenidos!

The bus ride from Belize City to Flores took about 5 hours. One-way tickets cost about $25 USD. We could have taken the normal buses from Belize City to Benque Viejo del Carmen (the last town in Belize) for about $5 USD, a $5 USD taxi from Benque to the border, and then take another bus from Melchor de Mencos (Guatemalan border town) to Flores for a few US dollars as well. However, we were looking at about 7-8 hours travel time. The $25 for the express bus was worth it in my opinion.

The bus driver dropped us off at our destination of Flores, Guatemala. Lindsay and I pre-booked our beds at Los Amigos Hostel prior to leaving the US. On the short walk to the hostel we picked up a fellow bus passenger from England after he asked us where we were staying. Turns out he had spent the month of March in Hollis, Maine! That’s about 2 towns over from where I live and I regularly ride my bike through the town. This was the first incidence of a small world.

The entrance to Los Amigos Hostel in Flores, Guatemala
The entrance to Los Amigos Hostel in Flores, Guatemala

Los Amigos is by far the best hostel I’ve stayed in during this trip and all the others I have stayed in on previous trips. I plan on doing a separate post about the hostel, but in a nutshell, if you’re going to Flores then you must stay here. It’s about $9 a night for a bed and the atmosphere is very friendly and fun. Lindsay and I had dinner with our new friend Ben (English-boy) and talked Maine and travel. We ordered dinner and drinks from the restaurant. The bartender/waitress did not like me for some reason and I got yelled at and I had to ask twice for my drink order. One of the reasons I need to learn Spanish. Good thing I’m signed up for Spanish lessons at The Language Exchange in Portland starting in July!

The Guatemala national beer... Gallo
The Guatemala national beer… Gallo

I tried the local brew, Gallo Cerveza, and it was quite good. I thought it was similar to a Newcastle in taste. For dinner I had the fish, which was excellent. If it was socially acceptable I probably would have licked my plate. After a very long day of travel and a 2 hour time change for me, we called it a night and hit our bunk beds.

Next up: Day 2 – Flores to Tikal National Park