Tuesday, December 18, 2018

See it to Belize it!

That's the catch-phrase of the month! And it's a true story - Belize is a place that you undoubtedly need to experience firsthand, in order to appreciate its quirky awesomeness. I spent ten days soaking up as much of what the country has to offer as I could, and it didn't take long for me to realize that I was shortchanging myself. Which brings me to Cher's Share #1: Give yourself a solid two to three weeks to properly explore and enjoy this developing former British colony.

Cher's Share #2: Skip Belize City and head straight for the jungle, or for one of the cayes.

We landed at the Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport and bee-lined west to San Ignacio, via shuttle. I need to give a huge shout out to BZ Shuttle Service, as that's who I booked for both the trip out west and then back to the coast. Upon exiting the terminal at PGIA, the driver was waiting with a sign with my name on it, and his little car was older but exceptionally clean. The two-plus hour ride through the countryside went by fairly quickly (for me, anyhow!) as I bombarded the guy with question after question about everything we passed by. Arriving in San Ignacio after dark meant that we didn't stray too far from the hotel that first night, however Midas Belize was absolutely lovely and had a decent restaurant and a poolside bar.

The resort consisted of rooms in the main building as well as cool little cabanas - we had a 'king deluxe' cabana which was fantastic! And the location of the resort was perfect, with downtown only about a 10-minute walk away.

Here are some of the fun things we did with our time while in San Ignacio:

- We checked out the local outdoor market, which on Saturdays is a massive maze of vendors selling everything from fresh produce to used power tools to clothing to handmade items such as jewellery and carvings. Many of our souvenirs came from the market - the sellers are amicable without being pushy and they love to barter!

- We had a great breakfast one morning at Pops, which is off the beaten path. Ask at the visitor centre for directions - you will be shown a photo of a bright yellow storefront and told to look for it and then go around to the back of it.... I'm not gonna lie, we may have wandered aimlessly for a bit before finding it, but it was worth it, as this is where I was introduced to fry jacks. Mmmmm mmm!

- We drank Belikin by the bucket-full (7 for BZ$22, which is about $2 a bottle), as well as One Barrel rum (my new favorite!) at various establishments on our way from and to the hotel each day. Note that the Belizean-brewed Belikin is what they refer to as 'beer', so if you want a different brand you need to specify. I personally found the Landshark to be more refreshing than Belikin but did not try any of the other local options.

- We toured the Xunantunich ruins, which was one of the highlights of the whole trip for me. At the market, when I was chatting with a vendor and told him that we had plans to visit some ruins, he promptly whipped out his guide certification and said he'd be happy to take us. The next morning we hopped in a taxi (BZ$16 from the bus station in downtown SI) and met him at the hand-cranked ferry which crosses the Mopan River at San Jose Succotz. Most people take their vehicles across and drive up to the parking lot, however we walked the mile or so and it was awesome. Our guide, a local named Jaime Edito Chi (chij2407@gmail.com), traded in his accounting career this past summer to join the tourism industry, and he was fabulous - look him up if you want an incredibly informative tour of the beautiful Mayan structures.

El Castillo - 130 feet tall.

San Ignacio is truly a place not to be missed. I would've loved to have had a few more days in the Cayo region, as there are several activities that were given rave reviews by other travelers we met. I also want to give props to Julie and Gary from Wish Willy River Cabanas - they are a super fun couple from Northern Alberta who have relocated to Belize, and they have three great cabanas available for vacation rentals, on their property which is just across the river from downtown SI.

Next stop - San Pedro Town, on Ambergris Caye. The shuttle driver hurtled us back east, into the heart of Belize City, and dropped us off at the San Pedro Belize Express Water Taxi terminal. Cher's Share #3: Buy your ticket when you arrive.... online fares are, well, somewhat less of a deal shall we say!

What the....???

We made it in time for the 10:30am boat, and by lunch we were settling ourselves into our room at Ramon's Village Resort on Ambergris Caye. What a place! The staff who picked us (and our overstuffed suitcases) up at the water taxi dock quipped "Welcome to Jurassic Park 6" as we rolled via golf cart into the mighty jungle on the beach. Our room was beachfront, on the second floor, with a thatched roof and a killer view. Cher's Share #4: Thatched roofs are a novelty and are airy in the heat, however when the ocean breeze blows at night, beware.... Sleep will elude you! Ear plugs are complimentary however.....


The town and the caye definitely have a charm all their own. Between the plethora of golf carts and taxi vehicles and five-ton dump trucks, the San Pedro traffic was crazier than I anticipated. Walking through the cobblestone streets was borderline risky at times (they are narrow and without sidewalks), so the day that we rented pedal bikes, we pretty much stuck to the beach until we were well out of the main town. Speaking of which - outside of town - the terrain is incredibly swampy, and we soon understood the reason for the dump trucks. Sand (fill) by the truckload is continuously being relocated to low-lying areas in an attempt to build them up. Cher's Share #5: I would caution against buying real estate here sight unseen, as we had many a good chuckle at the 'for sale' signs which dotted the soggy, mangrove-covered landscape.

Hahaha the store's name says it all!

Me: Hey fellas, whatcha building?
Cutie Patooties: Sand!
Me: Of course! Dumb question.
Cutie Patooties: Nah, is all good lady!

Low maintenance flooring!

The sand along the oceanfront felt good between the toes, and the waters were somewhat turquoise, but I was disappointed to find that there were few places resembling the quintessential Caribbean beach image that was stuck in my head. One exception was an out-of-the-way playa called Secret Beach, which involves an incredibly bumpy journey to the west side of the island and is no longer much of a secret. The three lively beach bars, a few watersports equipment rental vendors, and some local food stands get mixed reviews on Trip Advisor, but we spent the better part of a day there and I thought it was well worth the time and golf cart maneuvering effort to see it. Cher's Share #6: If you have room, give a local a lift on your way back to town - they wait near the parking lot and count on hitching a ride home after selling their wares at the beach. We picked up a family and were treated to a non-touristy stop to see the crocodiles, complete with a very informative commentary from the cutest 8-year-old.

Food and drink.... Well the food was fantastic! In San Pedro Town, we checked out Carumba's and Pepperoni's, and we were repeat customers at Elvi's Kitchen. As well, we pedaled north of town to a taco bar called PUR one afternoon for the best burrito I've ever eaten. Beer and rum were abundant, with a couple of our fave beach bars being Crazy Canucks, Gilles Pour House, and the over-water Palapa Bar.

Did I mention we had a room with a view?
And we also had Travelers One Barrel!

You can dress me up but apparently can't take me out.... LOL....

Many visitors travel to the island for its world-famous scuba diving, as the waters off the coast of Belize contain the second largest barrier reef on the planet as well as the phenomenon called the Great Blue Hole. I don't dive but I do love to snorkel, unfortunately however the winds were not cooperating and the snorkel tours were not operating on the days we were available.

Our final destination was Belize City, which I personally did not find appealing in the least. The positive part about the stopover though was the fact that we had time to check out the Belize Zoo. Wow. It is more of a refuge for orphaned or rescued animals than a typical zoo, and it was founded in 1983 by the lovely and amazing Sharon Matola. Outside our hotel - The Great House Inn, which is a cool, big ol' Victorian-style house - we met a local (did I mention how friendly and nice the Belizean people are?!) who offered to take us out to the sanctuary, and it was a fabulous afternoon.

Odd roommates! A tapir and an iguana.

Overall, I'd give this vacation four out of five stars.... I found it to be very expensive, especially since the Belizean currency is tied directly to the US dollar, and of course our sickly, embarrassing economy means the Canadian dollar sucks. The country is predominantly English-speaking, which was handy. The cuisine is excellent and almost every meal we ate was stellar. And I am a spiced rum lover, so finding out about Travelers One Barrel was a bonus! The San Ignacio area was endless lushness with a variety of activities available, while Ambergris Caye was not what I expected. I feel like I would have been bored had we stayed there much longer, but that's just me. I definitely enjoyed the trip and more time would have been great, as that would have provided the opportunity to explore different islands as well as more of the mainland.

Now, it's back to the grind and time to shift into Christmas mode.... mid-December already.... where did this year go?? I find myself saying that a lot lately.

Anyway, cheers to everyone - be safe and have fun with your precious ones! Happy Holidays!

READERS, PLEASE NOTE: None of the businesses I've mentioned in this post are providing me with any sort of compensation.... I doubt any of them would even remember me or will ever read my blog.... The opinions are strictly mine and I wanted to share info about noteworthy places we discovered, as I know I was moderately overwhelmed while doing research prior to traveling to Belize. Take it all with a grain of salt. And perhaps a shot of tequila. Cheers!