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Trip Report BELIZE W/ TEENS: DARING FAMILY SURVIVES EXTREME CAVES AND BRUTAL HEAT

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Here's my tardy trip report (with apologies to momliz and hopefulist). I greatly appreciate everyone's input and hope I can help other Fodorites who are agonizing about how to put together an "unbelizable" surf/turf combo.

In spite of a few minor issues (gastrointestinal disturbances and the unforgiving weather) this was one of our favorite family trips ever and we would go back in a heartbeat.

WHO WE ARE: Two adults; two male offspring, 15 & 18. The eighteen-year-old is headed to college in the fall and we're trying to get in as many vacations as possible (using AA mileage) before he refuses to travel with us. I have lived in two Latin American countries, and we often find ourselves in Mexico or Costa Rica, as well as in more faraway destinations. Because we have good mileage karma, we have the terrible habit of planning major journeys at the last minute, as was the case with this trip.

PREVIOUS VISIT TO BELIZE:
Many decades ago, as a backpacker, my friend and I endured a dusty, windowless eight-hour bus ride from Tikal to Belize City, where we spent six days at a guest house populated by members of the local cartel, with a view of an open sewer. We finally caught the once-a-week "ferry" to Caye Caulker, where numerous other backpackers had said you could get a fifty-cent lobster dinner on an idyllic beach. But the beach had washed away in a hurricane. And the lobster season had ended the day before we arrived. That meant the only available menu item on the whole of Caye Caulker was chicken necks & backs, which we were served three times a day as we waited for the return ferry. On Day 3, the trade winds stopped and we were attacked by swarms of vicious DEET-resistant sand fleas. Covered in welts, we chartered a rickety dingy back to the mainland - a voyage of seven hours because we nearly capsized and had to be rescued by fishermen in the dark, stormy waters.

After all that, I swore I would never go back to Belize, but my kids had heard about the awesome tubing from a friend who had stayed at Chaa Creek. So when we found an AA award a month before the trip, I "caved" and said I would give it a second chance.

ITINERARY (MARCH 29-APRIL 7)
5 nights Caves Branch Jungle Lodge (near Belmopan)
4 nights Roberts Grove, Placencia

INTL. AIR: AA LAX-BZE, 30,000 points per ticket. I thought this was a fabulous coup at the time of booking because the fares were then $800+; now they are much lower.

WEATHER:
Ridiculously hot everywhere - 95+ at the beach; 105+ inland. Locals, who complained about the heat even more than the tourists, said it had been balmy and gorgeous until three days before our arrival, when the (global warming-esque) dry season officially started.

PACKING LIST:
We managed to carry on, even though we each packed every kind of footwear that REI carries: waterproof hiking boats; lightweight trail runners; Keens; Tivas; river booties, plus nice sandals. (Truly - I am not exaggerating...And the boys, mortified to be seen in any of the above, also insisted on taking their "regular" sneakers.)

If you go to Caves Branch, the outfit of choice there is lightweight convertible Ex-Officio Buzz-off pants with a soaking wet T-shirt. At Robert's Grove all the guys had Solumbra-style fishing shirts and the women wore sarongs or cargo capris with tank tops. Lightweight rash guards are a must for snorkeling. We remembered to bring flashlights, an array of natural and toxic repellants, Mexican itch cream and Pepto Bismol. But we forgot binoculars, waterproof cameras and aloe.

INSECTS:
Not a huge concern. I was panicked that I would have a second encounter with the dreaded sand fleas, but we only met up with a few pesky mosquitoes.

SNAKES/ARMED ROBBERS:
Though warned of both, we saw neither.

FOOD:
Fine...although I wouldn't head to Belize for its cuisine.

FAMILY GETS SICK OF MY BACKPACKER STORY:
About halfway through the vacation, my family forbade me from mentioning my first trip to Belize because I had been telling the tale several times a day to anyone who would listen. So if anyone asked whether I had been to Belize before, I could only say “Years ago,” and “Wow, has it changed!”

NEXT: ADVENTURES AT IAN ANDERSON’S CAVES BRANCH

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