A Travellerspoint blog

Belize & Mexico

Don't think about the end

sunny
View South & Central America on mwalmsle's travel map.

Belize is a tiny English speaking country on the Caribbean coast known from a tourism perspective for its diving and snorkeling. It’s typically considered sensible to steer clear of Belize City itself as much as possible due to the crime and head straight for the much safer islands an hours ferry ride off the coast.

Anna, Jess and I arrived late into Belize City, spent the night and caught the first ferry the next morning out to the Cayes (islands). We didn’t have a booking when we arrived and spent the first hour and a half in the sweltering Caribbean sun looking for something suitable – well the girls did, I stayed watching the bags at a café sipping a glass of ice cold water.

Caye Caulker, Belize - Looking back at Caye Caulker

Caye Caulker, Belize - Looking back at Caye Caulker

We eventually found a really nice studio apartment, which was perfect for the three of us, we paid more than we wanted to but we even had a tiny swimming pool, which returned huge dividends over the next six days.

The garafuna / rastafarian influence is really strong in Belize and the Cayes (especially Caye Caulker) play that up for tourists. The buildings are brightly colored, the streets are paved with sand and the island’s motto is “go slow”.

Caye Caulker, Belize - Fresh juice stand

Caye Caulker, Belize - Fresh juice stand

Caye Caulker, Belize - Mainstreet

Caye Caulker, Belize - Mainstreet

The often dreadlocked locals are friendly and are constantly trying to engage you in conversation, normally to either sell you something, dive trip, pretty shell, marijuana, or to chat up the girls. Being back in a country that speaks English proved to be great for organizing but we suddenly realized that we could no longer feign ignorance of the street vendors pleas for custom.

Caye Caulker, Belize - Conch shells for sale

Caye Caulker, Belize - Conch shells for sale

Anna decided to get her PADI certification while on the island which took up most of her time during the day. Jess and I took a more relaxed approach and spent quite a bit of time lying in the sun, swimming and the obligatory snorkeling trip.

The snorkeling was definitely hands down the best we have ever done. We went with a group called Ragamuffin tours who run a full day tour sailing out to three dive sites on well loved, brightly painted yachts. They feed you decent sandwiches for lunch and provide lots of rum punch and ceviche for the journey home.

Caye Caulker, Belize - Heading out on Ragamuffin Snorkle Trip

Caye Caulker, Belize - Heading out on Ragamuffin Snorkle Trip

The great thing about snorkeling in Belize is that the reef is so shallow and the life so abundant that dive tanks are not really required to get amongst things. Over the course of the day Jess and I saw a Manatee (sea cow), nurse sharks, sting rays, eagle ray (a massive ray), grouper, moray eel, three of four turtles feeding on sea grass and of course countless schools of tropical fish. Anna saw similar things on her dive course so didn’t miss out.

Caye Caulker, Belize - Nurse sharks

Caye Caulker, Belize - Nurse sharks

After six days on the island we headed back to the mainland. We parted ways with Anna at the Belize City airport on her way back to Sydney and caught a bus towards Mexico.

Arriving in Mexico we were running out of time, our flights to New York left from Cancun in a week and seeing the whole country was obviously not an option.

After having heard rave reviews about the place (from Marzena and Kuba) we decided to spend the time we did have in Tulum, a town on the Yucatan Peninsula, south of Cancun and Playa del Carmen.

Tulum itself is really split in two, the beach with its small, boutique resorts and the town itself which is set 4km or so inland and has most of the restaurants, shops and permanent residents.

The beach itself manages to maintain a laidback feel that the Miami like tourist traps further up the coast have lost. The resorts (of which there are many) are still reasonably rustic, providing thatched roofed cabanas often without electricity. The sand is pristine and it was a delight to see scores of Pelicans feeding just outside the breaking waves.

Tulum, Mexico - Our first glimpse of Tulum beach

Tulum, Mexico - Our first glimpse of Tulum beach

We decided to stay in the town of Tulum, as sacrificing the beach front location meant we were able to get a much nicer place and be much closer to the to restaurants and shops. On reflection the decision to stay in town was a pretty good one, as we were able to access the beach easily on bicycles from our hotel and when we got there could hang at one of the beach clubs, relaxing on loungers and sipping ice cold Coronas or Dos Equis. The restaurants also turned out to be great and we were able to eat some good Argentinian steaks, some decent French food and hands down the best ceviche we have ever had.

Tulum, Mexico - Lounging in the sun

Tulum, Mexico - Lounging in the sun

The great thing about Tulum was that there were plenty of things to do other than the beach. We spent a day SCUBA diving in huge limestone cave systems called Cenotes, some of which go for kilometers underground (we went about 50 meters). Although this was really great, it was a little scary in some places and I think the consensus was afterwards that we would generally stick to the ocean in the future.

Tulum, Mexico - Underground reflections

Tulum, Mexico - Underground reflections

We also hired a car and checked out two major ruins sites in the area. The first was Chichen Itza, the biggest Mayan ruins site in Mexico. It was impressive and the huge stone temples are definitely worth seeing but overall it couldn’t quite foot it with Tikal in Guatemala. While the close press of the jungle and the accompanying wildlife at Tikal had given you a real sense of exploration the wide open spaces and completely over the top souvenir shopping at Chichen Itza prevented any real intimacy with the site. That isn’t to take anything away from the building themselves which are amazing and remarkably well preserved, it’s just that tourism seems to have a got a little out of hand.

Tulum, Mexico - Main temple at Chichen Itza

Tulum, Mexico - Main temple at Chichen Itza

The second set of ruins was in Tulum. Set right on the coast overlooking the ocean, the contrast of the ancient castle against the aqua of the ocean is truly magical, especially early in the morning with the sun rising to the east across the ocean. You can swim (and we did) at the little beach right below the old castle surrounded by cliffs and huge iguanas basking on the rocks in the morning sun – a very pleasant way to start the day.

Tulum, Mexico - The castle

Tulum, Mexico - The castle

Tulum, Mexico - Iguana in the dawn sun

Tulum, Mexico - Iguana in the dawn sun

It was with heavy hearts that we left Tulum and Central America behind and headed up the coast to catch our flight to New York. In many ways this was the end of our trip, as although we still have a week left before arriving in London New York is likely to be another beast altogether - last update from there.

Posted by mwalmsle 14:54 Archived in Belize Tagged mexico belize Comments (0)

Guatemala - Part 2

sunny 30 °C
View South & Central America on mwalmsle's travel map.

Just letting everyone know that we are still alive but updates to the blog have fallen well behind schedule. This entry finishes off Guatemala and I will go into more detail on Belize and Mexico in the next.

Our destination after Atitlan was a series of natural limestone pools in Semuc Champey near the town of Lanquin. To get there we took a 13 hour tourist shuttle from Lake Atilan, a form of transport we have only really encountered in Guatemala. Instead of battling with 3 or 4 chicken buses to get from place to place, you can almost always find a tourist shuttle running the same route. They are not expensive, but the downside is that they pack about 14 people into a toyota hi-ace van and drive at breakneck pace through some pretty atrocious roads.

On the shuttle to Lanquin we had an absolute arse-hole of a driver who put everyone's lives at risk with his stupid manoeuvres, which mostly involved overtaking everything in site, including ambulances, almost always around blind corners or directly in front of oncoming semi trailers.

Halfway to Lanquin a massive electrical storm broke out, the rain was torrential and the other shuttle in our convoy of two ran into a fallen tree. Luckily no one was hurt, and after that occurred it was decided that the remaining shuttle could not continue safely and we would need to spend the night in Coban – a decent sized city near to Lanquin.

The next day, after seeing that the weather forecast was for rain, rain and more rain we decided to temporary abandon Lanquin and head another 9 hours further north to the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal, where the weather was supposed to be a little better.

Tikal is known as perhaps the greatest of the excavated Mayan cities and it certainly lived up to its reputation. The city is set deep in the jungle and wild life abounds. We saw a whole host of different birds, including toucans, howler & spider monkeys and funny raccoon like creatures everywhere.

Tikal, Guatemala - Toucan

Tikal, Guatemala - Toucan


Tikal, Guatemala - Brilliantly coloured bird

Tikal, Guatemala - Brilliantly coloured bird


Tikal, Guatemala - Howler monkey

Tikal, Guatemala - Howler monkey

The ruined temples rise out of the jungle canopy and you can climb up to the top for an amazing view. We arrived when the park opened at 6am and spent the morning roaming jungle paths, feeling very much like intrepid explorers. The city is huge and there is a lot to see but by lunchtime we had covered everything and the every increasing heat of the jungle meant that we were ready to call it quits and head back to town.

Tikal, Guatemala - Mayan Temple

Tikal, Guatemala - Mayan Temple


Tikal, Guatemala - Templo V

Tikal, Guatemala - Templo V


Tikal, Guatemala - Jess and Anna in front of Templo V

Tikal, Guatemala - Jess and Anna in front of Templo V


Tikal, Guatemala - View over the jungle canopy

Tikal, Guatemala - View over the jungle canopy

The next day we decided to try our luck again with Semuc Champey and boarded another tourist shuttle for the 9 hour journey back. Although sick of travelling we arrived in Lanquin to perfect weather and all the trouble ended up being worth it.

Semuc Champey, Guatemala - Sunset at Zephyr Lodge

Semuc Champey, Guatemala - Sunset at Zephyr Lodge


Semuc Champey, Guatemala - Amazing looking clouds

Semuc Champey, Guatemala - Amazing looking clouds

The first morning we headed straight to Semuc Champey to take advantage of the good weather while it lasted. In the morning we explored a series of limestone caves, swimming and climbing our way through the system, while constantly trying to keep a small candle dry and alight above your head. Amazing fun and certainly not something that you would ever be allowed to do back home.

Semuc Champey, Guatemala - Cave exploring by candlelight

Semuc Champey, Guatemala - Cave exploring by candlelight

In the afternoon we went to the Semuc Champey pools which we had come so far to see, they were amazing, with crystal clear water cascading down a valley from limestone pool to limestone pool. It was almost impossible to believe that such a perfect swimming hole had been created naturally by sheer chance.

Semuc Champey, Guatemala - Semuc Champey Mirador

Semuc Champey, Guatemala - Semuc Champey Mirador


Semuc Champey, Guatemala - Pools at Semuc Champey

Semuc Champey, Guatemala - Pools at Semuc Champey


Semuc Champey, Guatemala - Sychronised Swimming

Semuc Champey, Guatemala - Sychronised Swimming


Semuc Champey, Guatemala - Super Cute Ginger Kitten at Zephyr

Semuc Champey, Guatemala - Super Cute Ginger Kitten at Zephyr

We stayed in Lanquin for several days. The hostel, Zephyr Lodge, was an amazing place and we didn't want to leave - especially after the hostel cat had kittens while we were there.

However, the beaches in Belize were calling and we headed for Rio Dulce, our final stop in Guatemala. Rio Dulce is inland but connected to the sea via a pretty sizeable river. It's a favourite place for sail boats in the Carribean to escape big storms and the river was filled with marinas holding pretty sizeable boats, owned by either foreigners or wealthy Guatemalans.

We spent a couple of nights in a place set right on the river that one could only access by water. It was very relaxed, except for when a massive snake fell out of a tree onto the thatch roof of our cabin and stayed up there sunning itself for quite some time. While in Rio Dulce we also visited Finca Paraiso, where a hot spring has created a natural hot waterfall which cascades into a river below. You can swim around under the waterfall and even cake yourself in mud from the spring, a very cheap treatment.

Rio Dulce, Guatemala - 2 meter snake on the roof of our house

Rio Dulce, Guatemala - 2 meter snake on the roof of our house


Rio Dulce, Guatemala - Jess and Anna after a thermal mudbath

Rio Dulce, Guatemala - Jess and Anna after a thermal mudbath


Rio Dulce, Guatemala - Mike, Anna and Jess

Rio Dulce, Guatemala - Mike, Anna and Jess

The next day we took a boat down the river to Livingston on the Guatemalan coast where we found a water taxi to take us across the bay to Belize. Next update from there.

Posted by mwalmsle 14:30 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Guatemala - Part 1

Antigua and Lago de Atitlan

sunny 30 °C
View South & Central America on mwalmsle's travel map.

Antigua is described by the guidebooks, and rightly so, as one of Central America's colonial gems. The city has countless ruined churches, monasteries and convents and as we discovered an abundance of good restaurants and well stocked supermarkets. As well as ticking all of these boxes we were there during the celebrations for Semana Santa (Easter) which meant the City was alive with people from all over Guatemala.

Antigua, Guatemala - Antigua and its Volcano

Antigua, Guatemala - Antigua and its Volcano


Antigua, Guatemala - The Main Plaza

Antigua, Guatemala - The Main Plaza

The celebrations were elaborate and the whole event was unlike anything we had ever seen before. Throughout the day an army of people would work to create colourful carpets on the streets out of coloured sawdust and flowers. Over these, hundreds of people in religious processions would then walk, dressed up in purple or black robes and carrying or wheeling floats depicting scenes from Christ's crucifixion. The parades continued all day and throughout the night and the sound of the brass bands and the smell of burning incense was everywhere.

Antigua, Guatemala - Semana Santa Float

Antigua, Guatemala - Semana Santa Float


Antigua, Guatemala - Watching the Parades

Antigua, Guatemala - Watching the Parades

Carly and Ben had to leave us after the first couple of days to head back to reality in the UK. However, on our way to Antigua we had stopped in Guatemala City to pick up Michael's sister so we were not quite back down to two just yet.

Antigua, Guatemala - Amazing Street Carpet

Antigua, Guatemala - Amazing Street Carpet


Antigua, Guatemala - Carpet Making

Antigua, Guatemala - Carpet Making


Antigua, Guatemala - Semana Santa Parade

Antigua, Guatemala - Semana Santa Parade

We spent the first couple of days walking around town, watching the parades, eating delicious food and taking photographs of just about everything. The weather was good and we even decided to do some souvenir shopping given that we are coming up to the end of our trip and not so adverse to carrying extra stuff on our packs.

Antigua, Guatemala - Anna Shopping

Antigua, Guatemala - Anna Shopping


Antigua, Guatemala - Local Markets

Antigua, Guatemala - Local Markets

By Saturday night the parades were mostly finished and we decided to climb Volcan Pacaya on Easter Sunday. Pacaya is an active volcano and before a reasonably violent eruption in May last year it was possible to see glowing lava flows. Following the eruption the nightly lava show has stopped, but you can still climb to the top and toast marshmallows on volcanic vents, which was a bit of a novelty.

Antigua, Guatemala - Toasted Marshmallows

Antigua, Guatemala - Toasted Marshmallows

After Antigua we jumped on a chicken bus to Lago de Atitlan, a high mountain lake ringed by volcanos. The lake is famous for its natural beauty and tranquility and is ringed with small towns of indigenous Mayan communities and expatriots running small hostels and guesthouses.

We decided to stay in San Marcos, a town known for its meditation centres and yoga classes. The choice of town turned out to be a bit of a mistake as the annual San Marcos festival was on and although we usually enjoy festivals it basically meant that everything in the village was closed and Rammstein, Guns and Roses, Metallica and pounding trance music was played through the town PA system until about 4am each night. Despite this most unrelaxing atmosphere we managed to do some yoga in the mornings, walk between some of the villages along the lake front in the afternoon and jump into the lake from a 10 meter platform.

Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala -  Sailing boats on Atilan

Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala - Sailing boats on Atilan


Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala -  Tough Mayan woman carrying wood

Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala - Tough Mayan woman carrying wood


Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala -  Anna and Lake Atilan

Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala - Anna and Lake Atilan

For our last night in Atitlan we moved to San Pedro, partly for ease of transport to our next destination and partly to get away from the San Marcos festival. San Pedro was a lot bigger, seemed to have more going on and we should have probably have spent all our time there, taking day trips out to some of the other villages. We stayed in a pretty nice place and got some fantastic views of the lake including a spectacular sunrise the morning of our departure.

Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala -  Dawn at Atitlan

Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala - Dawn at Atitlan


Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala -  Local Fisherman

Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala - Local Fisherman

Posted by mwalmsle 21:04 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 3 of 27) Page [1] 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 »