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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

A Quick Guide to Tikal National Park

Temple I
Temple I

If you ever find yourself in Western Guatemala then you absolutely must go to Tikal National Park! It’s like stepping back in time to an ancient civilization and seeing history unfold in front of your eyes.

Tikal National Park is located in the heart of the jungle in the Peten Department of Northwestern Guatemala. Tikal is located about 64 km (40 miles) from Flores and Santa Elena. Tikal was inhabited from the 6th century BC to the 10th century AD by the Mayan civilization. Tikal is considered the ceremonial center of the Mayan civilization because it contains numerous temples, palaces, and public squares.

Tikal is the largest excavated site in the American continent. The park comprises of 222 square miles of surrounding jungle. Tikal was declared a national park on May 26, 1955 after being originally named a national monument in 1931. The University of Pennsylvania spent 13 years from 1956 to 1970 uncovering 10 square miles of structures at Tikal. However, only about 30% of the archaeological site is uncovered today. Much of the structures are still covered by the jungle and earth.

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

Story has it that in 1848 Ambrosio Tut, a gum collector, discovered Tikal while trekking through the jungle. He saw the temples’ roof combs in the distance and ran back to Flores to inform the governor of Peten Province. There is much mystery to the Mayan civilization and Tikal in particular. At the height of their reign from AD 700-800, the area housed close to 120,000 inhabitants. In the 9th century, the Mayan civilization began to disappear rapidly. Almost overnight, the city of Tikal was abandoned. Researchers believe that overpopulation and the lack of water in the area led to the demise of the population.

Cravings on top of Temple II
Cravings on top of Temple II

After arriving at the entrance gate of Tikal National Park, you still must travel over 12 miles to the beginning of the trails to the ruins. Be prepared to walk a lot. The entrance fee for the park is Q150 or about $20 USD. You can only pay in Quetzals so make sure you exchange money prior to arriving at the park.

As you enter the park trails, you’ll be greeted by the Ceiba tree, which is Guatemala’s national tree and is probably well over 200 feet tall! The Ceiba tree was sacred to the Maya because it’s roots are believed to connect the planes of the underworld. You’ll soon arrive at a fork in the trail where you have three options. The middle trail is the shortest route to the Grand Plaza, which is probably the main focal point of the park.

Welcome to the jungle!
Welcome to the jungle!

As you make your way to the Grand Plaza, you’ll pass Group F, which served as the market place for the Maya. The structure is still mostly covered by dense jungle giving you idea of what Tikal looked like for early explorers and archaeologists.

The Grand Plaza is comprised of Temples 1 and 2, and the ball court housed between the Central and North Acropolises. Temples 1 and 2 construction was ordered by Ha Sawa Chaan-K’awil (aka Ah Cacaw or Ruler A), who brought Tikal back to wealth and power after a series of wars. Temple 2 was finished during his long life (he lived between 60-80 years old) and Temple 1 was finished by his son and served as Ha Sawa’s burial site. Temple 2 stands at 122 feet (38 m) tall and Temple 1 is 144.36 feet (45 m) tall.

Temple I through the tree
Temple I through the tree

The Maya considered Temple 1 to be the portal to the underworld. Ha Sawa was buried in the interior of the tomb, which was very untraditional as the rulers of the past 500 years were all buried in the North Acropolis. Ha Sawa was almost 6 feet tall! I overheard a tour guide tell his group that step height was determined by the tiba-fibula length of the ruler. I’m not sure if this was true or not, but I can tell you those steps were big for my little legs! Temple 1 is also known as the Temple of the Jaguar because the carvings in the lintel (door frame) show a king sitting on a jaguar throne.

Some colorful turkeys, a Ceiba tree, and scenes from the Grand Plaza
Some colorful turkeys, a Ceiba tree, and scenes from the Grand Plaza

Temple II sits directly across from Temple I. Temple II is also known as the Temple of the Masks. Tourists can climb to the top of Temple II via the wooden staircase in the back to get stunning view of Temple I and the Grand Plaza. From the top of Temple II, you can view the carvings of masks. From the top of Temple II you’ll see tour guides clapping their hands. Don’t worry, they aren’t crazy. The combs serve as ancient acoustic amplifiers! High priests could easily be heard by all during ceremonies.

Temple IV comb from Temple II
Temple IV comb from Temple II

On the ground on the plaza you’ll see giant stones. Were they seats? A Table maybe? Nope, the Mayan sacrificed people over the stones. The Acropolises are a great place to climb around and see birds. I got to see quite a few parrots up close. They aren’t very quiet either.

To the south of the Grand Plaza through the jungle sits Group G or Palacio de las Acanaladuras. The palace is the possible home to Yik’in, the son of Ha Sawa. When we were visiting in May 2014, the palace was under construction. Temple V is also not far from here and is currently under construction as well. Temple V dates back to AD 700 and is built with the architectural style of the Early Classic period. It is the second tallest temple at 187 feet (57 m) tall.

To the East of Temple II is Temple IV or Templo de la Serpiente Bicefalcia. Temple IV is the tallest temple standing at 230.98 feet or 72 meters falls. Unfortunately, Lindsay and I didn’t make it this far, which is my biggest regret at Tikal. Guess I just have to go back! Temple IV was built around AD 741 to make the reign of Yik’in Chan K’awiil. Archaeologists believe his tomb lies undiscovered somewhere underneath the temple. Tikal was made famous after George Lucas filmed a scene of Star Wars from the top of temple IV.

Temple V - Can you get an idea of the size of these temples?
Temple V – Can you get an idea of the size of these temples?

To the North of the Grand Plaza are complexes O, P, Q, and R. Over 54 species of mammals live in Tikal, including the howler monkey, spider monkey, anteaters, tree-toed sloth, and the jaguar among others. Over 333 different species of birds also make Tikal home including the ocellated turkey, red macaw, and parrots. The best times to see wildlife are at dawn or dusk when many of the animals are most active. While we were at Tikal in the morning, we heard howler monkeys, but could not see them. Boy did they may a racket!

A little bit of the wildlife and jungle growth
A little bit of the wildlife and jungle growth

Tikal National Park is a very special place. Not only is it a major historical site (it became a World Heritage site in 1979), but it is just plain cool to explore. Lindsay and I were at Tikal during the tail-end of the busy season and only saw a handful of tourists. It was truly unreal exploring the jungle ruins of Tikal. The Mayan culture and history is absolutely fascinating and to see it in person was truly a treat. I will certainly be back to see Tikal again in the future and hopefully finally be able to go on the sunrise tour!

Exploring
Exploring Palacio de las Acanaladuras

Quick Facts

How to Get There – Take a bus (tour or local) from Flores/Santa Elena for the day. You can also stay overnight at one of the park’s hotel or camp. I highly suggest this if you have the time and money! It’s about a 2 hour ride and costs about $10-15 USD. It will only cost a few dollars if you take the local bus, but will take a lot longer.

What to Wear – Wear shoes! You’ll be walking a lot and it is become slick if it rains. Hiking clothes or active clothes are best since you’ll be trekking and climbing temples. Bring a rain jacket during rainy season as you will get wet.

What to Bring – Water! You can buy water and snacks there as well, but it will be more expensive than if you bring some with you. A camera is a must and perhaps binoculars if you want to see the wildlife in the distance.

What NOT to Miss – The Grand Plaza and Temple IV

Cost – The entrance fee is Q150 and must be paid in Quetzals. If you do either the sunset or sunrise tour you must pay an additional Q100. Tour guides vary in price and are usually booked back in Flores/Santa Elena. You can do without one, but if you want to know more about the history and wildlife then they are worth the price.

What Does Buying a New Car Really Cost?

carmoneycost

Buying a new car is expensive. It is not a fun process. I recently went through this process for the second time in my life. I purchased a 2000 Hyundai Elantra in 2006 for about $4000 total. It was my first car and my mother was there to help me the entire time. She actually had to help me because at the time my stick driving abilities were not stellar and I really wanted a standard! I know, I’m weird.

This time around I was pretty much on my own. My dad helped a bit with the negotiation step. Well, actually he just sat there, made a few comments occasionally, and I did all the work. Overall, I think I got a good price on my car. I did my research and knew exactly what I wanted. I also lucked out that the dealer had exactly what I wanted as well!

Buying a car is not cheap. Car prices, especially used cars, have gone up in recent years. When most people go out to buy a car they tend only to think about the price of the actual car. They haggle on the price. Everyone wants to pay at or below factory invoice price. No one in their right mind should pay the MSRP on a new car.

A car salesman makes his profit on the difference between the MSRP and the factory invoice price. The factory invoice price is what the dealership paid for the car from the manufacturer. The MSRP price is what the manufacturer suggests the dealer sell the car for to make the maximum profit. Typically, the MSRP is between 10 and 15% higher than the invoice price.

When I was conducting my research on buying a new car, I used truecar.com to determine what the factory invoice for the cars I was interested in test driving and/or purchasing and what these cars were selling for in my area. Once you figure out the invoice price, offer 3-5%  above the invoice price. That’s a fair offer. Car dealers generally get an incentive when they sell a car. The most common incentive is called a holdback. A holdback ranges from 2-3% of the vehicle’s MSRP and is offered by every manufacturer. You can read more about it HERE. Depending on the time of year as well, dealers will also received other incentives from manufacturers to sell a car.

What is the best time of year to buy a car? Most people say the end of a month or end of a year. Both are true. Late summer or early fall is also another good time to purchase a new car because dealers are trying to make room for the next year’s models that are arriving in the lot. I  discovered through purchasing my car that late March is another perfect time to buy a car. It’s the end of the month, the end of a quarter, and the end of a fiscal year for most car manufacturers!

When negotiating a car’s price, the salesman will probably give you a monthly quote instead of the out-the-door cost of the car. My salesman did this to me and I didn’t like this. I asked for the total out-the-door cost. My biggest advice to someone looking to purchase a new car – KNOW AND STICK TO YOUR BUDGET! If you have $20,000 to purchase a new car, stick with it. It may be attempting to buy a more expensive car because you can stretch out your car payments and still stay within your monthly budget.

Additional Costs of Buying a New Car:

  1. Sales Tax – If you’re luckly to live in state with sales tax like Maine then be prepared for an additional $1000+ to be added to the price of the car. Sales tax is generally based off the price of the car before all incentives. For example, the price of my car was $15600 because of $2500 in incentives, but I was taxed 5.5% on about $18100. I ended up paying just over $1000 in sales tax.
  2. Documentation Fees – Documentation fees in Maine are $399. Elsewhere they are more or less. The “doc” fees are supposed to cover the dealers costs in filling out the paperwork for your new car including the labor of doing this process. But let’s face this, this fee is a mark-up and dealers make profit off of this so-called “fee.”
  3. Title Fee – Most dealers will charge you extra for the title. In Maine it’s $35. Plus you pay a couple of dollars for a temp plate.
  4. Excise Tax – The state of Maine has this wonderful tax (sarcasm) called excise tax that you have to pay when you register your car. The tax is a percent of the MSRP of your car when it was new. For example, if you purchased a 2014 car for $15,000 in 2014 then your excise tax is $315 (based off a theoretical 2.1% tax). In 2016, the same $15,000 car will be taxed at say a 1.5%. The tax does go down with age of the vehicle.
  5. Registration – Registration includes the plate fee ($35 for the standard Maine plate) and documentation fees if you register it in person.
  6. Gas – You can get a rough estimate of your yearly cost of fuel by calculating your average yearly miles and the estimated miles per gallon of the car. I estimate driving about 10,000 miles in 2014. My car gets about 35 mpg around town. By my calculations I will need about 286 gallons of gas in 2014. At roughly $4 a gallon, I will pay about $1143 in gas in 2014. Obviously, if you drive more or drive a gas guzzler then you’ll pay a hell of a lot more in gas.
  7. Insurance – I got insurance quotes prior to buying my car. I wanted an estimate of how much it will cost me to insurance my car for a year. The cost of insurance depends on a lot of factors, including commute to work mileage, your driving record, and what you buy for a car. If you buy a fancy sports car then don’t be surprised when you get an expensive bill!
  8. Repairs/Maintenance – Let’s face it. Cars need repairs. If you buy a new car then hopefully you won’t have any expensive repairs in the first few years of ownership. If you do, let’s hope that your warranty covers it. Oil changes, snow tires, tire rotations should all be considered as well.

As you can see, buying a new car is actually more expensive than just the price tag on the new car you’re eyeing to buy. Here is my biggest advice:

  • Do your research even before setting foot on any dealers lot.
  • Don’t feel pressured to buy the day you test drive.
  • Know your budget.
  • Don’t be fooled by the monthly payments. Ask for the out-the-door total cost of the vehicle.
  • Call around to get insurance quotes before you buy the car.
  • Consider the cost of gas for a year. Can you afford the gas?
  • Be confident and show the dealer salesman that you know what you’re talking about!

Car buying is a stressful situation. But, if done right, you can drive away with a car you purchased at a good price. Do you have any car buying advice to share?