In Belize you can participate in a "dig" at a Mayan archaeological site, usually under the direction of a university archaeological team. Sessions run only a few weeks of the year, usually in spring or summer. Archaeological digs that accept volunteer workers are mostly in Orange Walk District. Archaeological programs start at around BZ$1,440 per person for a one-week volunteer session, and BZ$2,240 to BZ$3,500 for a two-week session. Some programs offer academic college credit. Prices don't include transportation to Belize or incidental personal expenses.
Road Scholar, a division of Elderhostel, offers a 14-day program in Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras on the history of the Maya, with insight into modern-day issues affecting their community, starting at around US$3,385 per person. It also offers a 10-day Kingdoms of the Maya program, new in 2014, in Belize, Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala for US$5,399 per person, and a nine-night Mystery of the Maya Program in Belize and Guatemala that combines snorkeling and visiting Maya sites for US$2,839 per person. All the Road Scholar programs include accommodations, meals, guides, field trips, and in-country transportation, but not flights to and from Belize. The Maya Research Program, established in 1992, has two-week volunteer programs in the Blue Creek area of Orange Walk District, at US$1,750 (US$1,500 for students). The University of Texas Mesoamerican Archaeological Research Laboratory (MARL) accepts volunteers at its field station in the Rio Bravo Conservation area of Orange Walk District, located on Programme for Belize lands. Volunteers (who pay a fee of US$645 to US$1,465 to participate, which covers room and board but not air fare to and from Belize) must commit for one to three weeks. The program usually runs from February to May, with other options in summer, some for a semester of academic credit. Volunteers live in a rustic dorm setting and learn the basics of field archaeology through lectures and hands-on experience.
Elderhostel (11 Avenue de Lafayette, Boston, MA, 02111. 800/454–5768. www.roadscholar.org.)
Maya Research Program (1910 East Southeast Loop 323, #296, Tyler, TX, 75701. 817/831–9011. www.mayaresearchprogram.org.)
Road Scholar (11 Avenue de Lafayette, Boston, MA, 02111. 800/454–5768. www.roadscholar.org.)
University of Texas Mesoamerican Archaeological Research Laboratory (MARL) (J. J. Pickle Research Campus, Building 5, 10100 Burnet Rd., Austin, TX, 78712. 512/512–471–5946. www.utexas.edu/cola/orgs/mesolab/.)
Nearly 600 species of birds have been spotted in Belize, and every year five or more additional species are found in the country. Birders flock to Belize to see exciting species such as the jabiru stork, the largest flying bird in the Western Hemisphere; the harpy eagle, the scarlet macaw; the keel-billed toucan, the national bird of Belize; 21 species of hummingbirds; and endangered or rare species such as the yellow-headed parrot, ocellated turkey, orange-breasted falcon, and chestnut-breasted heron. Birding hot spots in Belize include Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, the Mountain Pine Ridge, the area around Chan Chich Lodge at Gallon Jug, and the Cockscomb Basin.
When selecting a bird-watching tour, ask questions. What species might be seen? What are the guide's qualifications? Does the operator work to protect natural habitats? How large are the birding groups? What equipment is used? (In addition to binoculars and a birding guidebook, this should include a high-powered telescope, a recorder to record and play back bird calls, and a spotlight for night viewing.) Trips can cost from BZ$1,600 per person for a six-day/five-night birding trip, including guides, lodging, and some meals. On an à la carte basis, short birding hikes with a local guide cost from BZ$30 per person, though at some jungle lodges such as Chaa Creek local birding hikes are free.
Victor Emanuel Nature Tours (VENT) has 2014 tours to Chan Chich. Wildside Nature Tours has 14-day birding trips in 2014 that visit Crooked Tree, Cockscomb, Cayo, and Tikal, from US$3,900 per person, not including airfare.
Victor Emmanuel Nature Tours (2525 Wallingwood Dr., Suite 1003, Austin, TX. 800/328–8368; 512/328–5221 in U.S. www.ventbird.com.)
Wildside Nature Tours (241 Emerald Dr., Yardley, PA. 888/875–9453 or 610/564–0941. www.wildsidenaturetours.com.)
Culture Tours and Homestays
Homestays and village guesthouse stays in Mayan villages in Toledo District are offered by Toledo Ecotourism Association and Maya Villages Homestay Program, local organizations in the Punta Gorda area. These stays are very inexpensive, typically less than BZ$100 per day including meals and activities, but accommodations are basic.
Maya Villages Homestay Program (Dem's Dats Doin', General Delivery, Punta Gorda, Toledo. 722/2470.)
Toledo Ecotourism Association (T.E.A.). Maya Villages Guesthouse Program. For information on arrival, go to the BTIA office on Front Street in Punta Gorda. TEA c/o BTIA Office, 46 Front St., Punta Gorda, Toledo. 722/2531 BTIA Office. firstname.lastname@example.org. www.teabelize.org.
The best-known fishing lodges in Belize are high-end resorts catering to affluent anglers who, after a hard day on the water, expect ice-cold cocktails, equally icy air-conditioning, and Sealy Posturepedic mattresses. El Pescador on North Ambergris Caye, two lodges on Turneffe Atoll (Turneffe Flats and Turneffe Island Lodge), and several beach resorts in Placencia and Hopkins offer fishing with a touch of luxury—everything from guides to cold drinks included. Fishing travel companies like Rod & Reel Adventures typically book with fishing lodges.
If you want a less expensive fishing vacation, you can make your own arrangements for lodging and meals and hire your own local fishing guides in San Pedro, Placencia, Hopkins, Punta Gorda, and elsewhere. Destinations Belize in Placencia is a compromise between a total package and doing it all yourself. The owner, Mary Toy, can help you arrange moderate accommodations, some meals, and guides for light-tackle or fly-fishing day trips (or for longer periods). She also puts together moderately priced packages for fishing in Placencia and elsewhere in southern Belize.
Desinations Belize (Placencia Village, Stann Creek. 523/4018. www.destinationsbelize.com.)
Rod and Reel Adventures (800/356–6982 in U.S. and Canada; 541/349–0777. www.rodreeladventures.com.)
U.S. Based Equitours offers riding tour packages in the Cayo. A six-day, five-night trip is US$950 per person. There is a maximum 200-pound weight limit.
Equitours (10 Stalnaker St., Dubois, WY, 82513. 800/545–0019. www.equitours.com.)
There are two types of kayaking trips: base kayaking and expedition kayaking. On a base kayaking trip you have a home base—usually a caye—from which you take day trips (or longer). On an expedition-style trip you travel from island to island or up mainland rivers. Typically, base kayaking is easier, but expedition kayaking is more adventurous.
G Adventures (formerly GAP Adventures) has a weeklong island-hopping kayak trip, starting and ending in Placencia, for around BUS$1,650 per person, not including air fare to Belize. You paddle for two to four hours a day, with stops at several cayes. Typically, about 10 people are on the kayak trip.
Island Expeditions does complete expedition packages, several of which combine sea and river kayaking and base and expedition aspects.
G Adventures (19 Charlotte St., Toronto, ON, M5V 2H5. 888/800–4100 or 416/260–0999. www.gadventures.com.)
Island Expeditions (4-1384 Portage Rd., Pemberton, BC, V0N 2L0. 800/667–1630 in North America; 0800/404–9535 from the U.K.; 604/894–2312. www.islandexpeditions.com.)
Multisport simply means that you can take part in a series of different activities—hiking, kayaking, cave tubing, birding, swimming, snorkeling.
Many Belize adventure trips include a bunch of different activities. For example, the eight-day Land of Belize trip offered by Adventure Center (US$1,050 per person not including meals) starts with a day in Belize City, then moves on to caving, biking, and hiking in the Cayo, followed by a visit to Tikal, and ending with snorkeling or diving off Caye Caulker. Adventure Life offers an 11-day Ultimate Adventure tour, at US$2,499 per person, with jungle hiking, paddling, snorkeling, and visits to Mayan sites. Island Expeditions' 10-night Ultimate Adventure trip (US$2,499 per person, including taxes and government fees) combines sea kayaking, snorkeling, and optional diving at Glover's Atoll with a river trip on the Moho in Toledo District.
Adventure Center (1311 63rd St., 2nd Floor, Emeryville, CA. 800/228–8747 or 510/654–1879. www.adventurecenter.com.)
Adventure Life (712 W Spruce St., Suite 1, Missoula, MT, 59802. 800/344–6118 or 406/406–541–2677. www.adventure-life.com.)
Island Expeditions 604/452– 3212, 800/667–1630 www.islandexpeditions.com.
Nature Photography Adventure runs a "Secrets of the Maya" weeklong photo safari to Belize and Tikal. The company also has a "Wild Bunch" photo-safari trip to Belize and Guatemala, with an emphasis on remote caves. You have to be reasonably physically fit to join this trip. The 2014 trip is US$3,260–US$3,560 per person, not including air travel to Belize.
Nature Photography Adventures (P. O. Box 1900, Ava, MO, 65608. 417/683–6881. www.naturephotographyadventures.com.)
International Zoological Expeditions has eight- to 10-day trips, usually with an educational component such as ethnobotanical walks or mapping an island. IZE's trips combine time inland at Blue Creek in Toledo and at South Water Caye.
International Zoological Expeditions (210 Washington St., Sherborn, MA, 01770. 508/655–1461. www.izebelize.com.)
For information on Belize, your first stop should be the official site of the Belize Tourism Board at www.travelbelize.org. Belize Explorer (www.belizeexplorer.com), formerly the ToucanTrail.com site operated by the BTB, now is a private site that provides information on budget hotels—those priced under US$70 double. The Belize Tourism Industry Association (www.btia.org) also provides visitor information, mainly through information offices and monthly publications for visitors in Placencia and Punta Gorda.
The Belize Forums (www. belizeforum.com/belize) is an active online community of Belize visitors and residents; many regulars are happy to answer questions, though occasionally discussions become heated. Also, Lan Sluder, the author of this guide and other books on Belize, has his own site called www.belizefirst.com.
Belize Bus Blog (belizebus.wordpress.com) has detailed and comprehensive information on bus, water taxi, shuttle, and other transportation in Belize.
For destination-specific information, check out Ambergriscaye.com for San Pedro; GoCayeCaulker.com, and CayeCaulker.org for Caye Caulker; BelmopanCityOnline.com for Belmopan; Belizex.com for the Cayo district and elsewhere; Placencia.com and DestinationsBelize.com for Placencia; SouthernBelize.com for Punta Gorda and southern Belize; HopkinsBelize.com and CometoHopkins.com for the Hopkins area; and NorthernBelize.com and Corozal.com for northern Belize. There also are hundreds of personal blogs on living in and visiting Belize.
For information on Guatemala, contact that country's tourist board, INGUAT.
Belize Tourism Board (64 Regent St., Belize City, Belize. 227/2420; 800/624-0686 in U.S. and Canada. www.travelbelize.org. Open Mon.–Thu. 8–5; Fri. 8–4.)
Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA) (227/1144. email@example.com. www.btia.org.)
INGUAT. INGUAT's websites are now in Spanish only. 502/2421–2800 general information; 1500 in Guatemala dial this number for tourist assistance. firstname.lastname@example.org. www.visitguatemala.com.