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Mayan Ruin in Belize

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We are considering visiting a Mayan ruin in Belize. The chocies are: Lamanai, Xunantunich and Altun Ha.

Has anyone been to all 3 or can anyone offer any first hand information on any of the three?

btw, for those who had read my other posts, Hawaii is out.

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    We visited Lamanai - it was interesting.

    I've visited several different Mayan Ruins in different parts of Central America and to me one is not necessarily better or worse then the other, they are just different ruins - sort of like asking whether you want your sandwich on white, whole wheat or rye bread - it's still a turkey sandwich!

    Ancient ruins are ancient ruins - "you've seen one, you've seen them all".

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    We visited both Lamanai (about 6-7 years ago)and Altun Ha (about 3 years ago) and preferred Lamanai.
    Lamanai was a longer trip, both ways by boat and the scenery was very interesting. We passed Mennonite farms along the shore. The ruins weren't totally excavated at that time and the whole area had a mysterious feel. Nice little museum too.
    Altun Ha was closer by, one way by bus, the other by boat. The area was more groomed and had more visitors.

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    With only 3 days to go, we have finally made up our mind. Lamanai will be the destination.

    By the way, our son just came back from the same cruise we are going. Rough sea, 100 knots high wind, missed port (Roatan) and fog in Houston. The ship finally docked at 11:30 am instead of 6 am. They disembarked at 1:30 pm but managed to stay in the cabin till lunch. Needless to say, a lot of missed flights and extra hotel stays. The ship while moored out side the Harbor offered free phone calls and free internet so that people can call and re-book flights etc.

    They had a few phones set up on the shore excursion desk. Each phone connected to a different airline. People passed the phone form one person to the next after they are done so that no redial is necessary (and go through the hold/call back routine). The same agent dealt with everyone in line without calling back ... great idea.

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    Eschew, 100 knots is really strong. Does that make you nervous? We have been on only four cruises, so do not have your cruise experience. All of ours were pretty smooth, but DH says winds are stronger in the gulf than in the Caribbean. Your son's experience makes me anxious.

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    Eschew,

    When you return please post back about your thoughts on Lamanai. I'm trying to decide between an excursion to Lamanai or cave tubing in Belize - I'm leaning towards Lamanai but the length of the excursion (and reports of mosquitos because I'm allergic) is making me a bit hesitant.

    We prefer to do a half day excursion (if we take one at all) in the beginning of the day and then spend the rest of the time in port walking around at our leisure.

    However, the chance to see Mayan ruins when it's not likely that I'll return to the area again is also a leading consideration (and I've done cave tubing before in New Zealand).

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    #Sass, my son showed me the ship's log which they give you a copy at the end of the cruise. It read 30 knots, 50 knots and on the day they are supposed to dock at Roatan, it was 100 knots. They heard Carnival Dream also missed the port on the same day.

    My DIL (daughter-in-law) said the ship was rocking back and forth and they can hear the "thumping" when the wave hit the bow. She jokingly said people should try to get drunk so they can walk straight. :D

    To make a long story short, this is her 2nd cruise (her first cruise was with us 2 years ago) and from what I could gather, this trip was not a very fun one with missed port, poor weather, delayed disembarkation, missed flights, etc. But, in the end, they put money down for a future cruise deposit so it hadn't scared her out of cruising yet. So Maybe the experience is not all bad.

    We have some rough cruises before and the worst we had was at the Caribbean (on the Atlantic side and not the Caribbean Sea side). It was 2009 and we can literally hear the "creaking" (from the metal stress?) and the ship was rocking pretty hard.

    I decided to go brave the element and went upstairs. I was the only one up at the top deck and everything was closed and covered. There were no staff there. I took a video of the swimming pool and the water was sloshing back and forth, up and down, and when wave of the pool hit the side of the pool, the water splashed all the way up like a reverse waterfall, maybe 15 to 20 feet high.

    The other time was in Europe and while we were in the theatre watching a show, we can feel the bow pitch up and hear the thump when it came down like the sound of a big bass drum. You can feel the rhythm. The show continued without missing a beat (pun intended) :)

    Missing a port here and there is all part of cruising. I would say we miss one port about every 4th cruise. You may find this ironic, we finally set foot on Grand Cayman 3 years ago during our third cruise going there. Our first try was 2001.

    The sea was too rough to tender ashore on our first 2 cruises that had Grand Cayman as a stop. And to top it off, we have to tender from an alternate port with no facilities. The only food services at that facility was a hot dog cart that they let into the fenced area and a couple tents pitched by the ship. We had to take a cab to get into town ($5 cab fare) But at least we finally set foot on the island.

    We were lucky in Sitka where we managed to tender ashore. But after we got back to the ship at the end of the day, we found out that tender service was suspended for most of the day as the sea was too rough. Half the people on board did not managed to go on any shore excursion as they were literally stuck on board.

    I did not know that the Gulf is more windy than the Caribbean sea. We have only cruised the Gulf once and it was fine. It was around same time of the year as it was the super bowl weekend when we left Tampa. I did hear from a few people that Houston had a lot of rain this winter and they have a lot of fog so this is not the first time this winter season that the Caribbean Princess was late getting into port. I read some reviews that blamed the ship's crew (commenting that the ship not navigating with a GPS but only on visual), It really was the local pilot and the port authority's call. If they do not to let any ship approach the harbor, there is nothing else to do.

    One thing that I know for sure, the Costa Concordia incident not withstanding, the cruise ship always put safety of the passengers first. If the sea or wind is going to put the ship at risk, the ship will leave the area unless they are caught which is highly unlikely in this day and age of weather forecast and weather manipulation.

    At a minimum, I know I will be safe. At worst, I will have 7 sea days without a port visit. With the proper frame of mind, I should be in relax mode, the food should be half decent, I should be well fed, in relatively warm climate, and not having to worry about phones, office and the like. Life is good!

    #Chepar: I will post something about Lamanai right here on this thread as I did not intend to write a TR for this cruise.

    The reason why we picked Lamanai was that this one is the most inaccessible (by boat only), the largest of the 3 listed and best preserved. The bugs didn't hit our radar screen.

    If your preference was spend half a day doing excursion and half a day walking around town, Lamanai may not be the place.

    My son went zip lining cave tubing in Belize. The cave tubing was cancelled as the caves were flooded from too much rain. I don't know id it was cancelled for the day, or for a longer period.

    If your cruise takes you to Cozumel, Cave tube at Xcaret is pretty good as well.

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    I'll look forward to your report, Eschew.

    If I recall correctly, the Lamanai excursion offered on our cruise is a full day excursion - about 8 hrs or so, so definitely no time to be walking around town if we take it.

    Have a good trip!

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    The ship will be there from 7 am to 5 pm. I think the excursion is from 8 am to 4 pm so you will have an hour walking around town.

    Altun Ha can be a half day or a full day excursion and Xunantunich is a full day. So if you want to walk around town for half a day, Altun Ha is your only choice.

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    Eschew,
    Thanks for the great reassurance. I don't mind missing ports either, of course want to be safe, but especially want this, DD and GD's first cruise to be fun and not scary.
    Also appreciate your extra info about the port pilot. I forgot about that. So many people blame the pilot of the big ship for missed ports, when it may not be his decision.
    Once again, you guys on the cruise forum are the best!

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    We have done ruin tours both times we have stopped in Belize.

    The first time we used Coral Breeze tours for a visit to Altun Ha. It was wonderful. The tour guide was fun and very knowledgeable.

    On our second visit, at the beginning of this month, we wanted to do the Lamanai ruins and as they are much further away we opted to book through the cruise line incase of any delays we did not want to be left. It is about a 1 hour bus ride from port then a 1 hour boat ride up the river which is very enjoyable. We did not see any crocs or anything as they tell you that you might still a pretty ride. The ruins are truly in the Rain Forest, there were monkeys playing in the trees and we saw a Jaguar footprint in the mud, truly beautiful and amazing piece of history. However the guide was kind of dry and hard to understand and large group tour through the cruise line was not as interesting and enjoyable as our previous experience at Altun Ha. On the way back our boat broke down and we sat on it in the rain waiting for them to fix it, luckily it only took maybe 20 minutes but by the time we got back we did not have enough time to eat the lunch you get with it so they put it in boxes for us to eat on the bus, we made it back to the port about a half an hour before the last tender.

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    #Sass, we got lucky and had decent weather for all the shore days. The first sea day was cloudy but warm. Everyone was at the top deck watching the 2 football games on the giant screen. People were even wearing their jerseys! Seriously, bringing a football jersey to a cruise? We did not encounter any bad weather until the last day. It was raining and cool. When we dock at Houston, the local weather was only around 40 F.

    The ship was fine. It was an older ship and we knew that. They had pluming problem in some public washrooms. Our cabin was fine, our steward Desmond was great. The food was typical. Same menu rotation as the last trip on their ship so everything was as expected. The entertainment was good. The new production number called Born to be Wild is quite well done featuring a lot of rock and roll songs from the 70's and 80's.

    By the way, on board the ship was the "concert at sea" tour. It was a separate group that booked up quite a few cabins on the ship and used Club Fusion for all 7 nights.

    Paul Revere and The Raiders (if you remember them, you are as old as me! :D ) were the host and organizer for the tour. This is their 15th year organizing this tour. The artists on board included BJ Thomas, Mary Wilson (The Supremes), The Cowsills, Charlie Thomas and The Drifters, Stacey Wayne (Elvis impersonator) and Big Jack Armstrong (Host of Big Jack’s 50’s and 60’s Sock Hop)

    I think we could have pay extra to the organizer and went to all the shows. We didn't but we could hear their music "leaking out" when we walk past the club and we ran into them at the buffet, the dining room, at the piazza, shore excursions and everywhere. They didn't behave like Divas and atlekd to anyone who approached them. Some of them even sang a song or two with the ship's musician on an impromptu performance during the day. Big Jack, who looked like Kenny Rogers these days sang the Gambler and someone thought it was actually Kenny on the ship. Hilarious!

    #chepar: Due to the remote location, we decided to go with the ship's tour, which turns out to be the right decision.

    Lamanai was good, but it is not a massive site in comparison to Coba or Tulum. It is unique in its location and according to the guide, it was a peaceful site and had not seen warfare. he also mentioned the other Mayan sites in Belize which there are lots.

    The tour was supposed to be from 8 am to 2:30 pm, giving us 2 hours at the end for walking around prior to the last tender at 4:45 pm. More on that later.

    Once we arrived on Belize, we met the tour guide. Since there were not too many people interested in going to Lamanai, the group was relatively small for Ship sponsored excursion, maybe 20 or so people.

    The guide managed to convince a couple of people to change their plans and go on to a different tour as they did not appeared to be physically able to do the tour. He was sincere and expressed concerns for their safety and well being, plus they would have slowed the entire group down to a crawl.

    It was an hour bus ride to the "staging area" where they are a couple local shops where you can buy local beer, pop and snacks. He allowed 15 minutes for "restroom" break before getting on the boat. He specifically told everyone not to buy any beer until the return trip, and mentioned bottled water would be provided to all.

    During the bus ride to the staging area, he did the usual city tour talk: population, industry, real estate, economy, export, tourism, politics etc. He also mentioned that we have nothing to worry about if we are going to be late getting as the ship will wait for us as we are on a ship's excursion. He said he wanted us to see as much as we can and enjoy the site as long as we can.

    It was suppose to be a 50 minutes boat ride to the lagoon where Lamanai is located. The boat ride took about an hour an d half as the captain made frequent stops to point out birds, nests, wild life and anything of interest along the way including an Amish colony where we slowed down and waved.

    Once we arrived on site, we were given time to visit the small museum display. Lunch was served in one of the open air structures, catered by a local restaurant. Food was local cuisine and was very tasty. We were given time to use the restrooms again as there will be no rest rooms along teh way for the next few hours.

    A second guide joined our group. As far as I know, he didn't do much except to keep track of our group and make sure no one wandered off. He stayed behind the group most of the time.

    There were three taller buildings and you are allowed to climb to the top on all of them. We were given amble time to do so, which was nice.

    The trail was uneven and since it had rained a fair bit prior to our arrival, it was muddy. The guide gave us warning about the "needles" on the tree, fire ants nests and poison ivies. He jokingly said that he didn't want to hill out an incidence report as it is a lot of work.

    Around 2/3 of the way in, he asked if everyone wanted to go to the Mask temple (the tallest structure) as it is a longer trek and if they wish to return to the gifts area and wait for the main group, they can do so. A handful of people took the offer and the second guide who joined us took the smaller group and head back to the museum/gift area.

    It wasn't too bad a walk to the Mask temple and we took our time climbing up to the top. The structure was suppose to be over 2000 years old so it was quite impressive. There was a rope to ensure safety and there was a "safety police" holding on to the end of the rope at he base and make sure not too many people were on the top of the structure or climbing up or down at the same time. Our guide was quite helpful to offer safety tips and mentioned various steps that are taller than usual and be extra careful.

    The view at the top of the temple was great as you can see for miles. The guide climbed to the top as well after all of us got up there and he spent more time talking about the ruins. He was the last one off the top, making sure everyone was safe.

    On the way back to the dock, we heard the howling monkeys. They are even louder than a roaring lion. Apparently, they used the howling monkey "voice" for the T-Rex's in Jurassic Park.

    Once we are at the Museum/Gift area. we were given 15 minutes to use the rest rooms, catch the exhibit again or the gift shop.

    The boat ride back was quick. The captain only made one stop and he "sped" all the way. Someone ask how fast he was going and he smiled an said "over the speed limit". It took only half the time to get back to the staging area. Let's just say he was motoring. I am guessing that we were going at least 35 to 40 mph. DW compared the ride to a James Bond movie's speed boat chase. It was a fun ride as we zig-zag through the winding river.

    We were given another 10 minutes to use the rest room and try the local beer. You can take the beer on the bus and he suggested that we should buy extra to take back to the ship.

    An uneventful bus ride took us back to Belize City and the Pier for the tender. The guide played trivia games with the group and handed out prizes (postcards) to the winners. When we arrived at the pier, it was well past 4 pm. We wandered around for a few minutes and took the second last tender back at 4:30 pm.

    All in all, not a bad excursion, the guide was knowledgeable, it appeared that he had the group's interest at heart. By the way, the guide was Ken. Ken is his last name, not first name. He said he is ethnic Mayan.

    The tour is highly recommended.

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    Eschew - thanks for the detailed report on your Lamanai excursion.

    If we do this excursion (and I'm definitely leaning that way), I will book it through the ship. Besides yours, I've read other reports on Cruise Critic that mention that their excursion took longer than the stated length, so booking through the ship sounds more prudent. As an aside, all the reports I've read also said that the tour is highly recommended.

    Besides being muddy, how was the trek through the jungle? Is it a strenuous hike? Did you notice a lot of mosquitos?

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    #chepar, our guide said it was too cold for the mosquitos as it dipped to 60F over night and he said it was freezing cold for him! LOL.

    He carried with him in his back pack insect repellent in a "wipe" form. He said he doesn't sell it but did ask for a "donation" so that he can replaces it for the next group if you get the drift.

    I usually wear a long sleeve t-shirt and long pants when venture into "jungle" or "rain forest". Leanred that when we were at Galagopas a few years back. We bought soem really light weight "cool max" long sleeve shirts and they are cool, plus no bare arms for the bugs. As to the long pants, same deal for the bugs, as well as a bit of protection (better than bare skin) for triping, puncture from vegetations or snake bites. (Just kidding about the snake bite bit, but there are snakes out there somehwere.)

    We have not encountered any mosquitoes at all for the entire trip except in Roatan at the wild life park which I got a few bites, nothing major. It is not liek it was infested and swarming.

    The trail surface is not paved, uneven, with tree roots sticking out (trip hazzard) and relatively flat. I wouldn't call it strenuous but you have to be mobile. Even if you need a cane for support but can make high steps, you should be okay. There was a small section that you have to get up a few stone steps, they put hand rails in the middle, and in reality, the sides were easier to navigate.

    The strenuous parts were climbing the temples (there were 3 that you can climb) and get up to the top and get back down quickly, and the "endurance" as it will tkae a couple of hours of relatively non-stop activities except when the guide stops and explain things. Generally, there is no place to sit and rest except at the bottom of the mask temple.

    One thing that I would caution people would be the boat ride. It was fast, at least on our way back. Face the back if you can and make sure you have nothing loose as it will flew away. Wear a wind breaker with a hood will keep you warmer. If it was cool and rainy, then the boat ride could be problematic as the boat is open air.

    By the way, which crsuie line are you going with? and what month? As weather gets warmer and wetter, you will probably see more mosquitoes.

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    Eschew, thanks so much for all of the details - it's very, very helpful.

    If the mosquitos are only occasional, that's should be ok. I'm allergic and any bites swell up into painful and gargantuan proportions, plus I seem to be a mosquito magnet on top of that.

    We're booked on the Celebrity Equinox for next January (yeah, I know it's ridiculously early, but I love to plan and I'm able to book excursions this far out already). I believe we'll be in Belize around the 20th, so close to the time frame that you were there.

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    #chepar, never hurts to plan early.

    Have you consult a physician and see if there is anything they can do about the bites? We always pack a small tube of anti-itch cream. Like I said before: long sleeve shirts.

    I want to make sure that you know that I am NOT endorsing the product or even the company mentioned below. This maybe good for a laugh, but who knows, it might work. Have you seen this or try this product?
    http://www.walmart.com/ip/Thermacell-Mosquito-Repellent-Unit-MR-TJ-Realtree-Camo/21674920?

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    Eschew - I am the queen of early planning. I think it's just as much fun to plan as it is to take the trip.

    Years ago I mentioned to a physician about the reaction I was getting from mosquito bites - basically he said to use repellant and if I did get bitten to use anti-itch cream or Benadryl.

    I'm also allergic to cold temperatures - I break out in hives. Good thing I live in Hawaii.

    >Have you seen this or try this product?<

    I haven't seen this particular product before, but I did like the option of getting it in "Realtree Camo". :D

    Usually if I know I'm going to a place with the potential of mosquitos, I'll use a repellant that contains DEET - it works pretty well and though I don't like the sticky-ish feeling on my skin, I don't need to use it too often.

    I have seen those Cool-Max shirts advertised - I will definitely check that out.

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