Best of Central America: 6. Belize
Belize is an interesting Central American country in many ways. It was once known as British Honduras and is currently part of the Commonwealth. Therefore its main language is English unlike the rest of its Spanish neighbours. The currency is the Belizean dollar which has the face of a young Queen Elizabeth II on the notes! It feels like a Caribbean island as the population is ethnically mixed and the accent has a lovely lilt to it. And finally, it is the only country in the world with people on its flag!
From Tikal in Guatemala, we travelled by bus to the border (10 quetzales exit fee) and it was free to enter Belize. They don’t like you bringing in fresh fruit from Guatemala and it will be one of the only things that they ask you about!
We continued on to San Ignacio where we spent the next 2 days. We stayed at Midas Belize which is a cool hotel featuring a pool with volleyball nets, a lively bar and plenty of reggae music! We had breakfast at the hotel which was a mix of American and Latin classics for a good price.
The main activity I did was caving in ATM cave (also known as Crystal Caves due to the shiny appearance of the rocks in “Wonderland”). It’s a whole day activity and cost $90 USD which included transport for the day, our great guide Miguel, entrance to the cave, a lovely lunch of chicken fajitas, swimming in a natural lake and plenty of rum to end the day.
This is not an activity for the faint hearted as it is quite physically demanding. Also a few areas are very tight so we were literally crawling through but it was a great experience. Our guide knew everything about Mayan history and we learnt a lot about their changing sacrificial rituals in an attempt to please their gods plus a few interesting practices such the moulding of skulls of royal babies with blocks of wood and insertion of jade teeth grills when they grow up!
If full on caving isn’t your thing then you can go tubing which is much gentler and involves being in an inflatable for most of the day as you explore. Back in town, there are a few Mayan ruins to visit, markets to explore or you can take yourself on a tour in a hired golf cart.
We visited the cool Ko-Ox Han nah restaurant in town which has ridiculously long queues to get in because their food is that good. Definitely worth the wait but I would recommend going at least an hour earlier than you’re planning to eat! I also had incredible fried chicken from Hode restaurant which offer takeout service.
For drinks, Sports bar is good as it is cheap and cheerful (as long as you stick to local brands otherwise the difference is almost 3x in price!!!).
From San Ignacio, we took a chicken bus (old American school bus) all the way to the ferry port and then set sail to actual paradise. Caye Caulker is one of the most beautiful islands that I’ve visited so far. It is a no filter kind of place where everyone is happy and chilled.
We stayed at Enjoy Hotel which is enjoyable (I couldn’t resist!). It’s in a great location with a yoga cafe on one side and Sports bar on the other side and the beach being yards away!
Another included activity in our tour which I loved was “Bike with Purpose” – a guided bike tour around the island led by the local teenagers. They all attend the only secondary school on the island (Ocean Academy) which opened in 2008. Prior to this, the kids of this age (11-17) would have to get a ferry across to Belize City to continue their schooling. It was clear that they are all talented, driven and proud of their island which was lovely to see.
Naturally there are also plenty of water activities to do here. We went on a snorkelling tour ($70USD) which was my first time ever so I was super nervous but had an amazing time. This Mesoamerican reef is the second largest in the world (behind the Australian Great Barrier Reef) which added to the experience!
We had the best day with our charismatic and talented tour guides from Raggamuffin tours. We were lucky to see turtles, nurse sharks (which I was reassured are harmless as I jumped into a crowd of them…and luckily they swam away!), as well as plenty of smaller fish. We were then treated to lunch, ceviche and nachos with rum of course!
Our tour ended at Koko King Beach which is a 10 minute boat ride from the port behind Enjoy hotel. You have to spend a minimum of $10USD at the bar then you get a wristband to board the boat back for free. (Tip: the beer buckets will help you reach this amount quickly!) This beach is definitely worth it for the volleyball and free inflatables in the sea plus chilled vibes and insane sunset views.
The Split is the main beach area on Caye Caulker. It has beautiful white sand and gets lively with music once happy hour kicks off at Lazy Lizard bar.
Food and drink highlights:
Everywhere has happy hour during the day and all Belizean food is delicious and generously portioned so it’s hard to go wrong.
Bamboozle – here is where we had our first taste of fried jack which is a huge fried tortilla filled with meat or veg. It reminded me of the batter of a Yorkshire pudding which I love!
Namaste cafe – they do delicious breakfast and drinks for a reasonable price. They also have free yoga sessions on the roof daily (including yoga mats and weights if required). Classes run at 9am most days with some afternoon sessions (up to date times are on the board outside) and you can donate a small amount after the session.
Barefoot hotel – another great place for breakfast. We also had fried jacks here which were good but less batter like compared with our first ones.
Snack N Dip – a beach bar which also does great lunch takeout deals.
Wish Willy Bar and Grill – we had a group BBQ for 30 belizean dollars each with all you eat and all you can drink rum.
Sports Bar – we loved it so much that we started ALL our 3 nights here! Each night had a different theme (the African drummers were a treat) and there is a free shots round of fireball to the sound of Pitbull’s fireball!
Reggae Bar – a great place to go once Sports Bar closes. There are swings by the bar and a couple of poles which the guys were more keen to dance on than the women.
Final words on Belize:
Prices are quoted in either Belizean or US dollars but use the same $ sign. It is a fixed rate of 2 Belizean to 1 US dollar. You can pay with either dollar and will get change in one or a mixture of both so just check your change! (although we had no bad experiences with this).
Go slow…that’s the motto we saw and heard all over Caye Caulker. Everything and everyone is relaxed and you will leave here feeling very zen.
Comment below if you’ve been to or would love to visit Belize. And stay tuned for the last in this tour’s series…the lovely country of Mexico!