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Belize and Guatemala: Ruins, Rain Forests and ReefsAuthor: soliteyah (More Trip Reviews by soliteyah)
Date of Trip: November 2008
The next day we worked off the calories with a full-day snorkeling tour. Our guide, Carlos, took us to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Shark-Ray Alley and the Coral Gardens. A friend had recommended Carlos to us and we were very pleased; he was informative, gave us a decent amount of time to snorkel at each stop, and took excellent digital photos that we were able to buy on CD at the end of the day ($15 US).
We saw sea turtles, nurse sharks, rays, an octopus, an eel, and many colorful fish. We even got to pet a shark (it felt coarse, like sandpaper) and a ray (slimy-smooth)! The water was warm and clear, and it was amazing how close we were able to get to the coral and to the animals.
For lunch, we made a pit stop at Ambergris Caye, which is the island north of Caye Caulker. We had decided not to stay there because it's more expensive and more built up than Caulker is, but I was glad we at least had a chance to visit and see what it was like. The beachfront was pretty, but San Pedro, the main town, was kind of crowded and busy (with both people and cars); we definitely preferred the vibe on Caye Caulker.
We ate at a place called Celi's, located right on the beach. It served pretty standard bar-type food -- burgers, fries, grilled chicken and seafood. Later that afternoon, Carlos gave us fresh fruit on the boat: pineapple, banana, papaya and orange slices. It was delicious after all that swimming.
We ended the day with dinner at Rainbow's, which juts out over the sea near the north end of Caye Caulker. I had lemon-butter shrimp and SO had coconut snapper, both excellent. Caye Caulker restaurants were definitely more expensive than the other places we'd been, but the fresh seafood was worth it!
On our last full day in Belize, we ate breakfast at Glenda's, a teeny little place on Back Street that serves yummy omelets and cinnamon rolls. We spent about $10.50 US on breakfast for both of us, including tip.
We rented a canoe from a place on Front Street (I believe the name was Toucan Rentals) for $10 US an hour. We went paddling through the Split and then up along the western shore of the northern half of Caye Caulker. (It all used to be one island before Hurricane Hattie; now all the development is in the southern half, while the northern part has only a few isolated houses without electricity.) Wildlife sightings included a great blue heron, some cormorants, a few huge starfish and some fish.
We ate lunch on the beach at the Barrier Reef Sports Bar and Grill, where the food was pretty average (except that there was no rice and beans!). I had a lobster "burger," which basically consisted of grilled lobster on a hamburger roll. Our every bite was avidly documented by a little Pomeranian dog, who sat at our feet, looked up beseechingly, and made an occasional asthmatic grunting sort of sound. Did he have a cold? A breathing problem? Who knows?
We didn't do much the rest of the day -- took care of some souvenir shopping, took some more photos, and had a lazy last dinner at the Sandbox, which has a nice open-air seating area with tiki torches and picnic-style tables. The portions were enormous; I couldn't finish my snapper with spinach sauce, which came with a side of beans and rice. SO had an appetizer of ceviche with conch (mmmm) and an entree of jerk chicken.
Final Thoughts and Tips
We found traveling in Belize to be very relaxing. English is the official language, and there's not a lot of the sort of aggressive hard-sell type of behavior we've experienced in other developing countries -- ie people pressuring you to buy things, take a tour, ride in their taxi, etc. There's a little bit of that in Belize, but once we said no people backed off quickly. In general the people we met were friendly, laid back, and eager to help.
A few tips:
* Bring a good supply of U.S. dollars, as there are times when Belize dollars weren't accepted (in our case, the Tikal tour and the exit tax at the Belize City airport).
* Bring bug spray, particularly if you're headed to the rain forest. There are ticks, mosquitoes and lots of other pests.
* Consider the public buses. Renting a car is very expensive, as are many hotel shuttles, and the buses are kind of fun! They're also a great place to meet locals.
* The Belize City airport has the same security rules as the U.S. does, so don't try to sneak through the checkpoint with your bottle of water or your mondo-size shampoo.
* Beware of ATM fees from Belize banks. We were expecting to pay a several-dollar fee from our own bank when we withdrew money, but the banks in Belize charged us too -- for a total of nearly $20 US per withdrawal, ugh!
* If you're trying to dine on a budget, order the beans and rice -- it's yummy, filling and cheap!
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