BELIZE & GUATEMALA

BELIZE & GUATEMALA

Our Trip to Central America – First Part (November 2016)

There’s nowhere in the world quite like Central America. There are so many cultures—past and present—to learn about, so much good food to taste, and so many lovely scenes to enjoy. During our trip to Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico, we had the opportunity to appreciate all these things. Between beautiful beaches and ancient ruins, this was definitely a trip of a lifetime.

Belize (Inland)

Our vacation to Central American began when we touched down in Belize. After all the usual airport shenanigans—the long security lines, grabbing our bags from the carousel, admiring our freshly-minted passport stamps—we gathered ourselves together and went to hunt down our ride.

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Flying to Belize

Teddy (Teddy Bear Shuttle), a lovely patient man picked us up from the airport, and thank goodness he did! Our journey from the airport to the hotel took a few hours but it was so pleasant and relaxing. We made a few stops on the way going to get snacks and drinks. Teddy entertained us with many stories and curiosities about that beautiful country. We were staying at Black Rock Lodge, a unique eco-lodge nestled in the dense rainforest above the Macal River in the Mayan Mountains of Belize. The whole area seemed so exotic to us that it was hard to imagine how it all could seem commonplace to the locals! I guess if you live anywhere your whole life, it seems normal. As for us, we couldn’t stop staring at everything we saw and ‘Oohing” and “Ahhing” over all the interesting things outside our windows.

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Black Rock Lodge

Black River Lodge is located on a rough road, half an hour outside of San Ignacio. This city is part of a larger area, District, named “El Cayo” that was settled by the Spanish during colonial times. San Ignacio was populated by people involved in the Mahogany production business, but today it boasts a diverse population that depends quite a bit on the tourism generated by nearby Mayan sites.

We got to stay three nights at Black Rock Lodge. (We wish we could have stayed longer!) The view was incredible. Black Rock Lodge is nestled into the Mayan Mountains, and it overlooks the Macal River. The rooms look directly into the rainforest, so we could see things like toucans right from our window. If you want, the staff helps you birdwatch so you can see all the exotic species in the yard. It’s a popular activity at the lodge. The rooms are decorated to blend in a bit with the natural surroundings. We loved to lay in the hammock outside our room, reading a book or taking a nap. There are also a lot of activities that the hotel can set you up to do, and when we arrived we already had our itinerary all set up. We will always keep Black Rock Lodge in our heart, for the magical atmosphere and the lovely staff. A special thanks to Giovanni.

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Black Rock Lodge

The first thing we did was go cave tubing and zip-lining. If you’ve ever been on a lazy river ride at a theme park, you can probably imagine what cave tubing is like. Now take away all the screaming kids and sunburnt masses and add the ambiance of the tropical forest, wildlife, and mystical-looking caves. We floated though the caves on our inner tubes, wondering at the natural rock formations and interesting sights along the way. Our day of adventure ended with Zip-Lining. We can’t explain how fun and cool it was! This video we made https://youtu.be/bc9EXEhgqlM describes it better than any words.

Guatemala

During our time in Belize we took a day excursion into Guatemala. After all, if you’re going to stay that close to a Mayan ruins site like Tikal, you can’t pass it up! On the way to Tikal we stopped at two beautiful spots for pictures and videos. We couldn’t miss those beautiful landscapes. Macanché Lake and Lake Petén Itzá.

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Macanché Lake, Guatemala

After a few hours drive, crossing the Belize-Guatemala border, adding many more stamps to our passports; we finally arrived in Tikal. Tikal was as cool as we had hoped. In the heart of the jungle, surrounded by lush vegetation, lies one of the major sites of Mayan civilization, inhabited from the 6th century B.C. to the 10th century A.D. The ceremonial centre contains superb temples and palaces, and public squares accessed by means of ramps. The Tikal National Park is probably one of the most fascinating places that we have ever seen.

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Tikal, Guatemala

Tikal Temple I is the major structure at Tikal. It’s about 150 feet high and has way too many stairs. It’s amazing to think that a city could be in use for so many years and then just get abandoned like that. Tikal was one of the most important and powerful metropolitan areas for the Maya, with strong and famous kings and extravagant streets lines with beautiful architecture. Today, of course, the buildings still stand, but all the color and finery is gone. The stones are bleached gray by wind and weather, and we could only imagine what the city must have been like in its zenith, when it was teeming with life and filled with the hopes and dreams of 90,000 people.

After losing ourselves in this fascinating mystical culture it was time to leave the Central America hinterland.

Belize (Sea)

We drove back to Belize City and we took a water taxi to CAYE CAULKER. After the shade of the caves and the dampness of the rainforest, it was nice to get out into the sunshine and enjoy the sea! The island of Caye Caulker is a little slice of paradise, about 5 miles (north to sound) and by less than 1 mile (east to west). It is a small limestone coral island off the coast of Belize, about 40 miles from the Great Blue Hole. We enjoyed the warm sand and letting the surf tickle our toes. We could probably be perfectly happy laying in a hammock on the beach at Caye Caulker forever! There are no cars on the island and the motto is “Go Slow”! The food is delicious, if you love eating fish, like us, you can get a whole, fresh lobster for a few dollars! Don’t fancy fish? Try the spicy Jerk Chicken with beans and rise. Delicious!

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Caye Caulker, Belize

Speaking of ocean, Belize has a massive reef under the surface of the deep blue sea. The Belize Barrier Reef is a World Heritage Site and is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet! You have the chance to dive or snorkel in the second largest reef in the world. We were amazed by the hundreds of different kinds of colorful fish and coral we saw while snorkeling! It was pretty incredible. We were lucky to swim with turtles and sharks! It sounds pretty gutsy, but the sharks we got close to aren’t dangerous at all. Whale sharks are gentle, and we weren’t (too) nervous to get close to them. Still, it makes us sound like real daredevils to say we swam with sharks! Thanks God we had our new GoPro, we can now relive those emotions every time we want. Watch our video on YouTube. https://youtu.be/qOc66Wnc9RE

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Snorkeling, Hol Chan Reef

After our incredible time in Belize and Guatemala, it was time to head to Mexico. Keep reading our adventures on our Mexico’s post and watch our Belize & Guatemala video below. Thank you!

P.S. “Go Slow!”

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Caye Caulker, Belize

MEXICO

MEXICO

Our Trip to Central America – Second Part
(November 2016)

After our time in Belize and Guatemala, it was time to head to Mexico. If you know anything about Mexico, the northern part is totally different than the southern part. So if you’ve made it to Baja California or the other nothern states, you still have to plan a time to go see the southern states. We went first to Tulum and then we spent the last days of our trip, chilling on a beautiful white sand beach in Isla Mujeres.

Do you remember we were in Caye Caulker (Belize) swimming with turtles and sharks? Well, we decided it was time to leave and explore Mexico. From Caye Caulker we took a boat to Chetumal (Mexico) and then we drove to Tulum. It was a long journey, longer than expected but it worth it! On the way to Mexico we met two lovely guys, Vito and Jaypee and we spent the all journey with them. They had already been in Mexico so it was nice and helpful listening all their adventures and precious tips! The first thing we saw when we walked into Hotel Poc Na was a towel folded into origami the shape of a swan on the bed. You know it’s nice if they’re taking the time to make towel origami for you! Obviously, though, this wasn’t the thing we were most excited about. The location was actually the best part and it was nice to meet Jonathan at the desk, he has been always nice and helpful with us.

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Hote Pac Na, Tulum

The hotel is located right on the sea, we used to wake up very early in the morning and take long walks on the beach. There was almost nobody else on the beach at that time, it was awesome laying down on the beach admiring the sunrise and the “beginning” of a new day. We wanted to avoid the standard all-inclusive resort where you lose part of the “real” atmosphere surrounding the place where you are, at the same time we were looking for something nice and comfortable.  This place was the perfect balance! You really could just stay at the hotel the whole time and chill at the beach and never go anywhere else. Of course, we weren’t there just for the beach, so we were excited to go sightseeing once we had our fill of sand and sun.

In Tulum, you get both the beautiful white sand beach and the rainforest—when it comes to Mexico, you really can’t ask for more than that! Tulum is a really cool place to visit. People have apparently agreed with this since the 13th century, because there is a Mayan site from that era that is built on a bluff overlooking the sea. I guess it must be the old version of our hotel, since it had such wonderful ocean views! Of course, we couldn’t resist taking a trip to the ruins.

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Tulum Ruins

Each Mayan city had a specific purpose, and Tulum was no exception. It was a seaport, trading mainly in turquoise and jade. Looking at the location of the ruins, you might think that it was built for the beautiful beach at its edge, but not so. The sea was a tool in the Mayan post-classical period, not a place to vacation. Still, we couldn’t help but think that Tulum’s long-gone residents must have enjoyed the beach and the view as much as we did. One interesting thing about the city is that it is surrounded by a high wall. Apparently, most Mayan cities never had walls, so there had to be a reason why there was one here. Maybe to protect the people from invaders? We may never solve that mystery, but it’s interesting to think about. The coolest building of all is called the Castillo, or “castle,” and it’s built at the edge of the cliff looking out to sea. There are also various temples and dozens of houses sprinkled throughout the hills of the city. We could almost imagine what life must have been like for the Mayans.

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Tulum

Have you ever heard of the Cenotes? They are natural swimming holes created when a cave ceiling collapsed. If blue holes can be found in other regions of the world, the abundance in the Yucatan Peninsula and their importance in the region development make the cenotes unique. Not only are they geographically and culturally special, but they are also beautiful places that nature lovers will love to explore. Sac Actun is definitely off the beaten path and that was part of the allure to us in choosing it over some of the other more well known cenotes. Unlike some of the big name cenotes, this one is not part of a long tour. Sac Actun is perfect because you show up, swim and explore the cave system, and that’s it! Also it is cheap! Sac Actun opened in the last few years to the public so if you take a cab be sure to mention Dos Ojos, some drivers are not familiar with the other name. Spent $600 pesos (less than 30 US$) on a cab that waited for us to do our hour tour. Well worth it, as you can take a collectivo to the cenote exit, but the cave is 6 kilometers from the highway. Quite the hike!

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Sac Actun Cenote, Tulum

One of the precious tips Vito and Jaypee shared with us was: Don’t be afraid to negotiate the fare! Make sure you agree the fare before you get in the cab. Be aware that the fare is in Mexican Pesos and not US dollars-same symbol but very different value. Remember it is a good idea to get always some pesos in your pocket while you are in the country, they accept US dollars but the exchange rate will not be as good as you expect. Don’t misunderstand me. Mexican people are lovely, but don’t forget that you are a tourist!

After exploring time gone by, we headed to find something to eat. Some friends did recommend us a couple of nice restaurants. Since we love the combination between good food and beautiful location we couldn’t miss them. One was Mezzanine, a bar and restaurant on the beach. It’s a Thai place (yes, we opted for Thai instead of Mexican while in Mexico, sorry for offending you!), which was delicious. Everything about the restaurant is beautiful and the view was stunning. Hartwood was the second restaurant we loved. Its menu is more traditional to the area. The food was good, the ambience was nice, but what we really found cool was the sustainability factor. Hartwood does everything as eco-friendly as possible and even contributes to humanitarian causes. Now, that’s a place where we could feel like our money was well-spent.

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Hartwood Restaurant

The last spot we enjoyed during our Central American adventures was Isla Mujeres, a Mexican island in the Caribbean Sea, 13 kilometers off the coast from Cancún. It is very easy to reach the island, there are ferry leaving every fifteen minutes from Cancun and the journey takes only half an hour. We spent our last three days there, it was a neat pleasure swimming in that crystal clear water and walking through that tiny island-if you are lazy you can rent a golf car but we found it useless and a bit too touristic.

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Isla Mujeres, Mexico

You know that we love good food, right? Well, La Lomita is without any doubt the best place to eat local food. The owner is a very fun boisterous man and the food it’s really delicious. If you have the chance to go there, you must try the Chiles Rellenos (stuffed pepper filled with cheese or chicken) and the Enchiladas Suizas (chicken enchiladas in a creamy sauce), with a chill beer or a good margarita. This is a true gem and definitely cheaper than other touristic restaurants. It’s always nice to go where locals eat.
If you are looking for a nice beach, the best spot is Playa Norte.

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Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Although it was a bit too touristy for our tastes, it was beautiful. The sea is amazing there, and it’s a good spot to relax, play or drink a margarita while waiting for the perfect sunset.

Of course, it ended all too soon. Before we knew it, we were walking away from the beach, packing our bags, and getting ready to head to the airport.

Goodbye, Central America, until next time. We promise we will be back! You left us with too many good memories to say goodbye forever. Adios!