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Belize Bound – What Should I See?

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Posted on / by Alex Berger

My next trip is booked. Well, the airfare and time off work is at least!  I’m now in that month(s) long stage of tantalizing anticipation as I eagerly wait to throw my gear in a backpack, fold myself into a crappy airline sardine can and kick off another adventure.

The Trip

I’ll be departing Phoenix on December 16th with a round trip ticket to Cancun, Mexico with a return date set for January 4th. Wait, why Cancun? Airfare! The cost of a round trip ticket to Cancun was some $200-$400 cheaper than airfare into Belize proper and having never been to Cancun before, I figured why not kill two birds with one stone! The unfortunate thing about travel between Dec. 15th and January 10th is that it’s holiday high season.  Which means all of the airfares skyrocket. If i’d been able to extend an extra 3 or 4 days on the front or tail end of my trip i’d have knocked some $150-$200 more off of my airfare at least.

Total cost of the airfare with insurance was $530 ($488 sticker price) for a direct flight from Phoenix->Cancun on US Airways.  Interestingly, the price for a direct flight was about $100 cheaper than a flight with a layover.  Also noteworthy – the direct flight/route prices didn’t show up in Orbitz’s general search results.  Only search results that requested direct flights only. This caught me off guard as conventional wisdom is that more layovers = cheaper airfare.  It was also peculiar, since sites like Kayak etc. missed the cheaper airfare (probably for the same reason).

The Plan

My current plan is to arrive in Cancun and bunk up in a hostel for a day or two before catching a Bus towards Belize.  I’d like to explore Cancun in greater depth but am thinking about doing it on the tail end of the trip (around new years) when I head back to Cancun to catch my flight back to the states.

This is my first trip to Central America, so i’m expecting it to be significantly different from my previous trips which have mostly focused on North America/Europe.

Tips and Suggestions

So, here’s the deal. I know a lot of you have done Cancun/Belize and the surrounding areas and have a lot of tips/tricks/warnings/suggestions to share. In an effort to centralize all of your suggestions I’ve created this post which I’ll be able to access while on the road.

So, let’s hear it! Must see/must avoid places?  Good hostels to stay in? Incredible ruins, natural wonders, or spots to see/dive/snorkel?

Please post them in a comment below! I treasure your wisdom and suggestions.

Alex Berger

I am a travel blogger and photographer. I also am involved in academic research into the study abroad and backpacker communities.

16 Comments

  • AlexBerger
    October 28, 2009

    These tips via facebook from Cody Paris: Chechen Itza, and Tulum are a must…. Day trip over to Cozumel is fun… Get out of cancun a soon as you land… Head from airport to playa del Carmen… Much better. Try to do a day or three over to Tikal in guatemeala…it's possible to fly there and back same day if time is a crunch…but it is really really impressive if you like Mayan ruins…. And belize of course lots of beach and water time on the reef!

    Reply
  • AlexBerger
    October 28, 2009

    From Ryan Mitchell:
    I spent 3 months in the Yucatan, met my wife there. The best hostel (according to some websites) in the Caribbean is on Isla Mujeras. Its called Poc-Na, you should check it out. There were around 200 people there from most everywhere but the U.S every night. I stayed for 3 weeks, and had a blast.

    You should definitely go see Chichen Itza, after all it's one of the new 7 wonders of the world.

    A heads up on the night life: Most all Cancun night clubs are a $30-$50 cover charge with free drinks all night. The big partying goes on in Playa del Carmen, like your buddy above said. There, for the most part, the bars are more traditional. You can pay a small cover, (if any) and pay for your own drinks all night.

    My favorite place I had to pay to visit was Xel-Ha. http://www.xelha.com/ Just show up and buy tickets at the door, plan to stay at least 4 or 5 hours, all drinks and food are included in the gate charge. I went there 8 or 9 years ago, and loved it so much I went again my next trip.

    If you're a scuba diver, I highly recommend any of the cave dives. The Yucatan is famous for its underwater flooded cenotes (caves). The one I went to was a hole in the ground barely big enough to crawl through. There was a steel ladder drilled into the stone that you climbed down. I was thinking, “This is it?” but as I decended, it opened up into a huge cavern that was half filled with water. It was awesome. … Read More

    I spent 3 weeks on Cozumel, and I highly recommend renting a scooter and driving around the island. On the back side you can have miles of beach all to yourself.
    BTW…Tulum is beautiful, not only because of the Mayan ruins, but the beaches are some of the best in the Yucatan.

    Reply
  • AlexBerger
    October 28, 2009

    2nd response:
    “Stupid question – but can you do assisted shallow water dives without previous dive experience?”

    Yes. They will essentially certify you for the specific dive you want to do. Its a bit more expensive, of course, but if you've never dived (dove?) you're in for a treat. Only pay to dive in Cozumel, though, its by far the best spot in Mexico.

    I've only been to Belize City, on a cruise, and it was very dirty and poor. Not even an endearing type of poor, more a 'watch out, that guy across the street is eyeing us'. … Read More

    Belize, however, has, I believe, one of the longest coral reefs in the Western Hemisphere. I can't speak to its beauty, because I've never dived there, but there is a renowned spot in Belize called the Blue Hole. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Blue_Hole I don't know how accessible it would be for a new diver, however. It would be cool just to boat out to see it.

    Reply
  • Char
    October 31, 2009

    I'll be in Belize that exact same time too!
    Add me on trav buddy if you wanna meet up 🙂

    http://www.travbuddy.com/_char_

    Reply
  • Brian Drake
    November 3, 2009

    HI Alex-

    I heard from Danielle that you are heading over to Belize. I've spent some time there and there are some incredible things to do and see. My trips were predominantly diving trips. If you have any experience or interest in diving, Belize is one of the top places in the world to go. The diving is absolutely incredible. I dove through Ramon's Village on Ambergris Caye, and I would HIGHLY recommend them.

    As for topside, there are a few things I would definitely recommend. There are a lot of ruins to see, but I found the best ones to be the ruins at Lamanai. You can book a full day with an intense boat ride through the New River to Lamanai, have lunch, and hike around the ruins. It's really worth it. Also, ziplining can also be found on the mainland, and there are some awesome experiences to be had ziplining through trees filled with wild monkeys. On the surrounding islands, I would highly recommend trying to get to Turneffe Atoll, as well as Lighthouse Caye. They are both stunning.

    While there, I would definitely check out some Belikin, their national beer. It's really tasty. And, if you're into rum, you can find a Belizian rum called 1 Barrel. It's one of my all time favorites. Also, similar to taco stands along the roadside in mexico, you can find little eateries around town that are definitely worth stopping at. I recommend that papusas. They're a Guatemalan food- somewhat similar to a quesadilla…but better.

    If you have any other questions, feel free to drop me a line. My email address is drakephoto@juno.com. I'd be more than happy to help. I hope you have a great time. No matter what you do, it's going to be a blast.

    Reply
  • AlexBerger
    November 6, 2009

    Brian, thanks for the post. Terribly sorry about the delay in getting back to you. This has been an incredibly swamped week.

    I'm not currently certified, but have been wanting to get it for years. Considering it as one possible to-do for the trip. Either way i'm hoping to do some diving, even if it's accompanied/diving-light.

    Lamani – awesome, will be looking that up for sure. Sounds like an amazing experience with the trip/hike/boat ride. Are there affordable options for getting to Turneffe Atoll and Lighthouse Caye? Boat? Plane? Bus?

    Belikin and I sound like we'll be getting to know each other very, very well. Not sure about Rum…i'll have to see if I can be converted. I'm a huge one for dive food, so can't wait to get into all sorts of cultural hangouts.

    Great comment and suggestions, really appreciate it! As well as the offer to lend a hand and help! Thanks a ton!

    Reply
  • Kara
    November 30, 2009

    This is a very popular 1/2 day snorkel tour (i.e. not off the beaten path) but I loved it for the variety of marine life you can see in short amount of time. It's of Hol Chan Marine Reserve & Shark Ray Alley – fish, turtles, rays, sharks, eels… so cool. See http://www.extremeadventures.com on Ambergris Caye. Also eat at Elvi's on Ambergris – authentic, Belizean comfort food.

    Reply
  • Kara
    November 30, 2009

    This is a very popular 1/2 day snorkel tour (i.e. not off the beaten path) but I loved it for the variety of marine life you can see in short amount of time. It's of Hol Chan Marine Reserve & Shark Ray Alley – fish, turtles, rays, sharks, eels… so cool. See http://www.extremeadventures.com on Ambergris Caye. Also eat at Elvi's on Ambergris – authentic, Belizean comfort food.

    Reply
  • AlexBerger
    November 30, 2009

    Thanks for the tips Kara! How'd all of those things line up price wise?

    Also, the Shark Ray Alley sounds amazing – swimming with Sharks is definitely way up there on my list!

    Reply
  • AlexBerger
    November 30, 2009

    Thanks for the response Melanie and plethora of information!

    Right now I've booked my first 2 nights at Playa Del Carmen, and my last 4 (including new years since hostel accommodation is already mostly booked up). So, i'll be exploring the peninsula during that window. I'll keep Isla Mujeres in mind if my reservation falls through for New Years. Is it worth it to take a day trip out?

    I'm not normally a guide person/tend to avoid it for budget reasons as well – will definitely consider making an exception though in light of your comment.

    Nance sounds delightful, as does the food. Definitely going to be diving into it whenever/wherever possible.

    On the 12-seater – is it pure transport, or do they fly extra low for sightseeing purposes?

    Reply
  • Kara
    November 30, 2009

    Sorry for duped comment!

    It's $45 for a 2.5 hour tour – guides are great. And you're right – you don't snorkel w/ sharks every day!

    Reply
  • AlexBerger
    November 30, 2009

    Good info! Thanks! The snorkeling/diving will definitely be one of the areas I intend to splurge on.

    Reply
  • Melanie@TravelsWithTwo
    November 30, 2009

    Alex, I did the Yucatan Peninsula a few years back, and I'm just back from Belize a few weeks ago. Here's what I'd love to see you do:

    Leave the Cancun airport and skip the city altogether; head directly to a ferry bound for Isla Mujeres, 8 miles offshore. Feel free to check out my post on this quiet, car-free island: http://bit.ly/5Vcwg0

    Completely agree about Tulum and Chichen Itza, but my favorite Mexican Mayan site was actually Coba — for sheer mystery. At any Mayan site, spring for the $30-some-odd bucks for a private guide.

    At the Belize City Airport, pick up the two greats of Belizean chocolate: Goss and Cotton Tree. Conduct a taste test…or three.

    I saw colorful public buses all along our journey, and who doesn't love being driven around? Here's a bus guide/schedule: http://bit.ly/6JVAty My favorite jungly/farm scenery was along the Hummingbird Highway.

    Down Placencia way, take a day's guided jungle hike/river tubing/waterfall adventure through the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary with David of Toadal Adventure http://www.toadaladventure.com/our_trips.html

    If you can swing it, hop on a 12-seater Tropic Air intra-Belizean plane ride to see miles of thick jungle, silvery-snaking rivers, and blue-green Caribbean gorgeousness peppered with colorful houses along the coast.

    Eat fresh Belizean seafood until you fall over at Elvi's Kitchen in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye.

    Listen to Kara of The Vacation Gals and venture out with Extreme Adventures — we had a spectacular time snorkeling in this clean, clear, protected swath of the Caribbean.

    Track down Belize's favorite liqueur, Nance. Brown sugar+alcohol+a steeping, indigenous berry = good times.

    Reply
  • AlexBerger
    December 9, 2009

    Great blog post with ruin to consider exploring: Xunantunich: Unearthing Beliz love it! http://www.travelswithtwo.com/index.php/2009/12

    Reply
  • AlexBerger
    December 9, 2009

    Great blog post with ruin to consider exploring: Xunantunich: Unearthing Beliz love it! http://www.travelswithtwo.com/index.php/2009/12

    Reply
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