Belize is a fascinating country. When I visited there, as part of a four month trip in Central America in the winter of 2018, I’d never heard of it before. Well, I’d heard of it, I just had no idea where it was! I certainly didn’t know it was a former British colony (only obtaining independence in 1981), that it has the only jaguar reserve in the world or that fry jacks (deep fried dough) are the national breakfast dish.
So, I’m still waiting to head off on my annual winter travels. It’s South America this year for three months, followed by two weeks on the Trans-Mongolian Express across Russia, culminating in a month in Mongolia. I’m very overexcited! My passport is currently with the Russia Visa Processing Centre but once it’s back (via the Mongolian Embassy) I’m booking my flight to Argentina. Meanwhile, here’s another Tor’s Traveller Tales…
You can’t really miss out Belize when you’re in Central America. It’s sitting right there, to the right of Guatemala and below the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Having flown into El Salvador (the cheapest place to fly to in the region from London), it was a natural part of a rather big figure of eight. I travelled south through El Salvador, crossed into Honduras, travelled north into Guatemala, on into the Southwest of Mexico, straight across the bottom of Mexico and finally entered Belize right at the top of the country.
My travels then took me on a direct route south through the country, exiting by sea into the east coast of Guatemala, where I took a river boat up the Rip Dulce from Livingston (no roads here!).
My Backpacking Trail
I had a very loose itinerary in Belize – essentially keep moving south in time to reach my Workaway placement at the foot of the country within ten days from crossing the Mexican border. I’d lined up a two week placement volunteering at Belize’s first earthship – to find out more about Earthships and Workaway read my blog post here.
My first stop in Belize was Orange Walk, a small town in the Land of Sugar (well, sugar cane at least). I’d crossed the Mexican border on a shuttle bus and hopped off at Corozal town for a coffee and a wander (which quickly turned into a beer or two after meeting a group of expats in a bar awaiting a morning trivia quiz). I caught a local bus down to Orange Walk and checked in at a little guesthouse, in preparation for my river trip the following day to see the famous Mayan ruins of Lamanai. Belize was once at the heart of the Mayan world, an ancient civilisation lasting hundreds of years and dying out shortly before the Spanish arrived on the continent.
After a fascinating river trip (I saw a baby crocodile!) and a ramble around the ruins, I caught the 5pm bus on to Sarteneja, a ramshackle little town on the coast which I explored by bicycle. From there I caught a sea taxi to the infamous Ambergris Caye, one of many cayes dotted along the coast of Belize. I did a fantastic snorkel safari, swimming with sharks in Shark Ray Alley, cycled the coastal path and ate a lobster burrito.
From there I went inland to San Ignacio, the jumping off point for tours of Actun Tunichil Muknal cave (better known as ATM cave). I’d read about this caving adventure and knew immediately I wanted to do it, despite it costing most of a normal weeks budget! After a short jungle trek, you swim and wade through caves full of water to reach ancient Mayan relics including the Crystal Maiden.
Then it was off to the coast again, via a hike and a dip at St Hermans Blue Hole.I checked out Dangriga and Hopkins, before it was time to head south to meet my Workaway family. I spent an enjoyable two weeks learning about earthship building and butterfly farming before it was time to cross back into Guatemala, via a very rough sea crossing in the smallest boat in the world. All five passengers got handed a tarpaulin to cower under during the crossing!
Where did I sleep?
I stayed in a mixture of accommodation, mainly booking cheap guesthouses using booking.com. On Ambergris Caye, accommodation is very pricey so I stayed at a waterfront backpackers.
How did I travel?
The bus system is dead simple in Belize, mainly because there’s just a handful of roads in the entire country! The bus schedules are all posted online and the buses tend to be on time. They are mainly old American school buses and you hop on and find a seat and wait for the bus conductor to come around and collect your fare. I found them very helpful with telling me where to get off too. In main towns there were bus stations, but otherwise you just stand by the roadside at a designated stop and wave down the bus.
What did I eat?
The Belize people love their food! Several people walk or cycle around with baskets full of homemade treats. I had a delicious bread pudding one day, from a passing girl on a bicycle. How can you say no?! Johnny cakes are a national delicacy – kind of a scone or sweet bread that you can pick up in the mornings. Many people cook out of their homes, having a little street front hatch where you queue up and they specialist in either breakfast, lunch or dinner. Fry Jacks are another breakfast staple – fried dough full of any breakfast related item you want. I tried it once or twice and didn’t feel the need to eat for the rest of the day!
My favourite memory of Belize
Well, Beliken beer comes straight to mind! I became very fond of this local beer during my travels and probably drank far too much of it! I also very much enjoyed my enormous lobster burrito in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye.
Food and drink aside though, I enjoyed learning about the fascinating history of Belize – the links to Britain, Mayan culture and the unique make-up of the country which still has English as its official language all add up to a pretty special combination. I definitely want to come back one day, hire a motorbike and go to all the remote places I didn’t get to this time.