Most of our trip to Belize was spent relaxing on Caye Caulker. However, we also visited Ambergris Caye, our island’s northern neighbor, where we stopped for lunch during our snorkeling excursion. Given some time to explore the town of San Pedro, we found that everything was bigger, noisier, and a bit more expensive. You can drive a car there and party in late-night dance clubs.
From Caye Caulker, we booked a cave tubing excursion out of Belize City. Our driver and personal tour guide picked us up at the ferry dock in a comfortable air-conditioned car. He talked about his country’s history on the way to the caves. Once there, our driver changed hats and became our river guide. Carrying inner tubes and donning helmets with headlamps, we hiked upriver, into the jungle.
Hike to Adventure Near Belize City
The guide filled us in on flora and fauna along the way. The trek was uphill but easily manageable. Wading into the cool and slow-moving river was incredibly refreshing. Cathryn felt startled by something nipping at her legs. Apparently, they’re called Kissing Fish and are sometimes kept in tanks and used for exfoliating. Cathryn didn’t enjoy the spa treatment and was happier laying in her tube.
Cliff swallows darted in and out of the mouth of the cave. Nothing but a dark hole in the rock, we could only see with the aid of our headlamps. Floating with the current, our guide steered us around rocks and walls. To me, a cave is a cave, and I’ve seen many. But tubing on a river in the dark heightened my senses — the sound of gurgling water, dank smell of the still and cool air — it was amazing.
Fresh Out of Belize City
Being so close to the border of Guatemala, and a fan of Mayan ruins, I booked an excursion to Tikal. From the ferry dock in Belize City, we were to board a luxury bus that would take us to the border. After waiting over an hour in the sweltering heat, a chicken bus pulled to the curb. It looked nothing like the shiny new one we’d seen in the brochure. I wasn’t surprised.
It was a hot, bumpy, and grueling four-hour trip to the Guatemala border. Cathryn learned the hard way not to keep our money in a suitcase. One of the porters on the boat had ripped us off. Mobbed by currency exchange dudes, we had no cash to trade. Our driver found and rescued us from the hoard and escorted us to our private vehicle. I sighed with relief at the sight of all the new tour vans lined up in a row. Ours was not one of them.
Eduardo was our English-speaking driver. He looked to be about 30 years old, the same age as his vehicle. The A/C wasn’t working and neither was Eduardo’s English, but we shared a laugh at having similar first names. It wasn’t our last laugh. When we stopped for gas, Eduardo couldn’t get the van started again. After watching him fiddle with tools and the battery, I offered a solution. Noting our chariot was a stick-shift, and that the road ahead was downhill, I suggested that we push-start the van.
A Rolling Start To Tikal
Eduardo rounded up some help and the push was on. Being paying customers, Cathryn and I got to sit inside while the men pushed. On a good roll downhill, our driver jumped in and dropped it in gear. Eduardo turned to us and offered a big smile that was shy of a few teeth. We were off to see the wizard.
Checking into our room just outside the park gate, howler and spider monkeys greeted us, playing in the trees. We felt thrilled about staying right in the jungle, in an upscale hotel. The novelty wore off when Cathryn discovered a spider the size of her hand in the bathroom. At that moment we understood why there was netting around the bed.
Welcome to the Jungle
The ruins at Tikal are similar to others I’ve seen at Chichen Itza and Uxmal in Mexico but different in that the main plaza was tighter and more closely surrounded by jungle. My jaw dropped when I walked out from under the thick canopy. The ceremonial temples stood like ancient sentinels, their tops peeking through the treetops. The dark patina of the Mayan structures made them look mythical.
Eduardo was waiting in his Rolls Canardly (rolls downhill but can hardly make it back up) at the park exit. He drove us to the island of Flores on Lake Peten Itza, Guatemala’s second-largest lake. A causeway links the island to Santa Elena and the mainland. It was our chosen pit stop on the way back to Belize City. The town has an undeniably European flair, with pastel-colored buildings and cobbled streets.
Flores to Caye Caulker
The island is small enough that we were able to walk its circumference, seeking out especially cool little cafes and courtyards. The lake looked calm and we enjoyed a sightseeing cruise on a water taxi that was nothing more than a wooden rowboat with a trolling motor. We loved Flores so much that we extended our stay by another day.
To save time, and not endure another grueling bus ride back to Belize, we booked a flight from Flores to Caye Caulker. It was a small plane that only held a handful of passengers, but we could see right into the cockpit and had beautiful views of the Caribbean and our own Gilligan’s Island.
There are no big and fancy all-inclusive resorts on Caye Caulker in Belize. If that’s what you’re looking for, try Ambergris Caye. But if you enjoy kite-surfing, diving, snorkeling, fishing, or just plain doing nothing but laying on the beach, then this place is for you. There’s no need to bring nice clothes. In fact, with a warm climate, you don’t need many clothes at all. It’s basically barefoot in Belize.
If you want to read about any of my southeast Asian adventures take a look at the travel section of my website at www.edmondgagnon.com.