Below are some stories, tips and advice from our four days in Belize & four days in Guatemala. As a heads up, if you’re not in an organized tour, you would definitely need more time, especially for transport and logistics.
Crossing the border from Mexico to Belize was an adventure in itself. When our tour guide told us we would be going on a chicken bus we thought he was joking but it is in fact an actual term used for the buses to transport people around in Central America, due to cramming people on like chickens.
The buses varied slightly among countries but generally looked and operated the same as they were retired North Americans school buses. Whatever one we ended up on, it was a fun way to get around Central America.
Not only were the buses themselves quite interesting, we also enjoyed observing all of the locals living their everyday lives. We were able to see how they lived, the different types of people that were hopping on and off & the kids before and after school. One thing that we had to laugh at was the non-consistency to when or where the bus stopped or if it even stopped before throwing people out the door. There are rarely dedicated bus stops along the way so people were getting on and off all along the road. We would pick someone up from somewhere and just 10m down the road drop another off!
Caye Caulker, Belize
Getting to our first stop in Belize, we were able to see first hand how the chicken buses operated. Our bags were thrown in the back, on top of the seats (& sometimes people), the heat in the bus was outrageous, the seats were barely attached and there were numerous poles poking around in the bus. 2 buses, 3 taxis & 1 ferry later we reached the heavenly island of Caye Caulker, 45 minutes north-north east of Belize City.
Note: If you plan to head to Belize from Chetumal in Mexico, do yourself a favor and take the Belize Water Taxi directly to Caye Caulker and you will avoid 4 hours of transport for a slight increase in cost. Unfortunately, our tour didn’t include this so we went the long way around, though it was an experience.
Caye Caulker was the absolute best and exactly what we felt like. It had been quite go, go, go the last few weeks so it was a welcoming change of pace.
Our time on the island, even though it was nowhere near long enough, was spent purely relaxing along side the very relaxed Belizean locals. There was nowhere we had to be or anything we had to see.
The Belizean people are so chilled and friendly, the roads were made from sand, there were no cars in sight, only golf buggys or bicycles, there were more people without shoes on than you saw with, the houses, restaurants and bars were so colorful and of course there was a decent amount of places to eat and drink… what more could you want? Ah, beautiful crystal clear water surrounding the island, you got that too!
Belizean’s love to BBQ, a lot of the restaurants will have a decent selection of meats, varieties of seafood and grilled vegetables. One of our favourite meals in Caye Caulker was at Wish Willy’s. Set in the backyard of a couple’s home, you will find a few dozen communal picnic tables scattered across the sand and it seemed there were no proper servers, however, our glasses were always refilled with the delicious rum punch. We were served a buffet style dinner with lobster, chicken, steak and veggies. Delish! If they aren’t busy at this restaurant, you are can also bring your own fish that you caught and they will cook it up for you!
A perfect afternoon on Caye Caulker isn’t complete unless you spend it at the Lazy Lizard. The bar is located on furthest point of the island and by furthest its really not that far considering the island measures about 8km from north to south and less than 1.6 km east to west.
The bar directly on the water has a large selection of drinks for very reasonable prices, great snorkeling, bar games and a jetty to jump straight in the water. If you plan to head out in the evening, Caye Caulker has 2 fun bars, the Barrier Reef Sports Bar and the I & I Reggae Bar and first thing in the morning to nurse yourself, head directly to breakfast at Cafe y Amor.
FYI, if you hear a certain song at the sports bar and you notice everyone jumping on their chairs… get up there too, it’s free shots for everyone!
If doing nothing on the island doesn’t appeal there are also options for off-island tours such as diving, snorkeling or catamaran tours. Caye Caulker is very famous for its Great Blue Hole. A very large sinkhole in the middle of the ocean. If you want to dive this site it will set you back almost $350+ USD so be prepared to pay up! Other options are full day catamaran/snorkeling tour for $70 USD. Raggamuffin Tours is a well established tour company on the island and one of the only ones who runs the Catamaran tours.
We had done so much touring in Mexico that we decided we wanted to spend the one day we had there exploring the island and doing a big fat nothing. One of our favorite days yet 😉
Unfortunately, after only 2 nights we had to pack up and hop on another chicken bus to the next Belizean town, San Ignacio.
San Ignacio is known to be the ‘adventure’ and ‘nature’ capital of Belize but to be perfectly honest it was the most underwhelming town yet. There were 2 or 3 places to eat and a street that was barely 500m long. Although some will say the surrounding jungle, wildlife, waterfalls, rivers and caves create the ideal location for many other activities, be prepared to pay up 3-5 times the cost of any other Central American country. $85 for a kayak? Please!
The most popular reason people visit San Ignacio is to go on the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) tour, which is where they found untouched Mayan ceremonial and sacrificial remains within a large cave. If you do choose to head out on this activity, Mayawalk is another well known company in this area.
Although we heard great things about the ATM tour it wasn’t something of interest to us and the $100 per person price tag wasn’t persuading us any further. Instead we took full advantage of some down time and used our day to catch up on work, photos and blog posts. To our luck, we also heard the tour was canceled on that day anyway due to high rains/flooding. Ah what a shame !
We are both very lucky to celebrate our birthdays in different countries this year and for Emily, it was in Guatemala. Unfortunately or (fortunately to have a long birthday) we had an early start of 5:45am and it was to visit Emily’s favorite place… ruins (pick up the sarcasm there?).
Exploring the Mayan ruins of Tikal would have been OK if it had been our first or second visit but if you haven’t already noticed, this would make it our 6th ruin visit. Yes, we know, they are all slightly different and the history behind them is always very interesting but with any overdo of any activity, they soon become repetitive.
Instead, our tour leader let us skip the bulk of the tour and we sat in hammocks in the jungle and ate a typical Guatemalan breakfast. Although slightly apprehensive, we did join in with our tour group to check out the “best” part of the ruins and finished off with a soaking wet jungle walk back to our bus. The rain did however bring out some interesting animals, such as the noisy howler monkeys and pizotes (a racoon-like animal).
The most tranquil part of the day was our lunch break at El Muelle on Lake Peten Itza (see photo below). The lake was incredible and it felt like a photo out of a book. Sometimes we have to pinch ourselves at the views we are so lucky to witness and this was one of them. There are so many places in this world you don’t even realize exist, until you find yourself standing right in front of them.
Moving on, we drove a short drive to the small Guatemalan town of Flores. Flores was the last town to be conquered by the Spanish and situated in the center of Lake Peten Itzá. The thing that strikes us about these towns is the common theme of colourful buildings and small houses – something that never gets old to look at. It’s as though they just decide to paint one wall green, one blue and then a pole yellow! It is so much more fun! We immediately noticed many more backpackers here and there were many small hotels/hostels and cute water front bars. For more detailed travel information on Flores, check out this Flores Travel Guide.
It wouldn’t be a proper birthday if happy hour was not apart of it so we ventured to a recommend roof top terrace, San Telmo for 2 for 1 drinks. Worth a visit if you ever make it to this town! Our group leader organized a big birthday dinner at La Luna for Emily and surprised her with a giant cake. It is such a humbling feeling for both of us that people you just meet from all different nationalities can make a day feel so special. Emily was given gifts, bought drinks, sung too and treated to the best room at our hotel.
We would have to say, the highlight of the day was at the end of a fun night. Jacob attempted to push Emily in the pool with someone else, but it immediately backfired and in Jacob went. Fortunately it was caught on camera. Check it out below. Happy Birthday Emily!
Rio Dulce is a river running from Lake Izabal, in the eastern part of Guatemala, to the Caribbean. The river itself is exquisite, with a tone of birds and tall cliffs overflowing with lush flora and many houses directly on the water. We were pretty lucky to stay at Hotel Catarmaran which had a range of bungalows directly on the water, only accessible by boat.
For the best views of the lake we took an afternoon boat tour along the 23 kilometer stretch of waterway all the way to Livingston. The drive was stunning but was also masked by torrential rain accompanied by gale force winds. Being in a boat with no sides and a tarp for a roof, we were absolutely drenched from head to toe but we made the most of it snapping photos when we could and using garbage bags as blankets.
Livingston is a small town situated at the mouth of the Rio Dulce, where it joins the Bay of Amatique, and is inhabited by the Garifuna people. This lively little town has a Caribbean atmosphere different to the rest of Guatemala and is a great place to try the delicious local specialty tapado (seafood coconut soup) and listen to the local African-style punta music.
Along the way back to our hotel after the rain had mildly stopped, it was very fascinating to see all of the houses on the water. It never gets old to see how other people in this world live. Their houses & lives were so simple. During our ride home, we stopped by a small little village and within 5 minutes we had small children rowing up to us at 50 miles an hour to sell us their handmade crafts. It was so hard to see their desperate faces and choose which child we gave the money too, if at all. Not to mention you always wonder where that money actually goes? Sometimes things like this really put your own life into perspective.
A 5 hour bus ride from Flores brought us to Antigua, a delightful colonial town and UNESCO World Heritage Site and culture center of Guatemala. Antigua reminded us of San Cristobal in Mexico, just slightly larger and is also the home town of our tour leader. There were many local indigenous selling their colorful crafts and textiles along the cobble stone streets. The area was rich in ornate churches, parks, plazas and cafes and the surrounding volcanoes made for a very awe-inspiring experience.
Volcanoes – Unfortunately, due to heavy rain in Antigua we were unable to hike the volcanoes but for those who have better luck be sure to check out Pacaya volcano or the Acatenango overnight volcano trek. Be warned the Acatenango trek is very challenging but we have heard it was absolutely worth it. Due to rain and time constraints we were unable to do this trek.
Choco Museum – Mmm so when it rains, what better activity to do than visit the Choco Museum! Apart from buying numerous chocolate goods, we signed up for the chocolate work shop where we learnt how chocolate is made and made some of it for ourselves.
We peeled the coco beans, roasted them, manually ground them and then poured the mixture into shapes that we chose such as sport themed chocolate lollipops and shells. We also got to make a variety of chocolate teas & chocolate milk drinks too and learned how the Mayans first discovered chocolate and how it has become to what it is today.
Eating – Antigua had a lot of awesome restaurant options so below we wanted to give you our favourites from the time spent there.
Rainbow Cafe is the place to go for its nightly live music, Pitaya Juice bar for healthy fresh salads, wraps, fresh juices. The Bagel Barn for delicious bagels (brings us right back to NYC living) or if you want to eat a good meal and then show off your salsa moves head to Las Palmas and before you ask, no unfortunately no one was able to see our salsa moves that night. Maybe next time!
Handicraft Markets – Antigua is very well known for its handicrafts and artworks. This was the largest handicraft market so far on our trip and although a lot of them sell very similar things, the work that goes into the small bits and bobs is still very interesting. Don’t forget to bargain down before you buy!
Another border crossing, another chicken bus and we will arrive in yet another stunning Central American country, Honduras! Stay tuned for our continued adventures.
Married days survived: 244