1st time Belize - how does this itinerary look?

Old Nov 3rd, 2008, 03:03 PM
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1st time Belize - how does this itinerary look?

Hello Fellow Fodorites,
My wife and I are thinking of a 1- week trip to Belize this winter. If we go the "turf and surf" route, we would stay in the San Ignacio area for the first 3 nights, and do something like this:
DAY 1 - fly to Belize and have the lodge's shuttle service pick us up for the 2-hour ride. Settle in, explore San Ignacio and visit Cahal Pech if there's time.
DAY 2 - visit Xunantunich on our own in the morning, and book a canoe trip through Barton Creek Cave in the afternoon.
DAY 3 - ??? Perhaps some caving or a trip to Rio Frio Cave? Perhaps Caracol or Tikal?
DAYS 4-7 - shuttle back to Belize and fly to Ambergris Caye for 4 nights and the "surf" part of our journey.
We would do some snorkeling/diving at Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley, and do some kayaking as well. We would also take a day-trip to Lamanai.
What do you think?
For those who have visited both Caracol and Tikal, which would you recommend if we decided to see one, via guided tour? How long is the ride from San Ignacio to both? How much time is typically needed/spent to visit these ruins? Which "works" better as a day-trip?
Also - has anyone stayed at the The Sunbreeze, Tides Beach or San Pedro Holiday Hotel in Ambergris Caye? How about Cahal Pech Village Resort, Maya Mountain Lodge or the San Ignacio Resort Hotel in San Ignacio?
By the way, if we decided to go the "surf" route and stay in Ambergris Caye for the week - are day trips to Lamanai and Altun Ha/Belize Zoo the main ones that folks take to sample some of the mainland?
Any and all thoughts or suggestions are greatly appreciated.
Thank you!
Larz
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Old Nov 3rd, 2008, 05:40 PM
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Sounds good to me. Tikal is the most important site in the Mayan empire. Caracol was also important and actually larger then Tikal, but not as excavated. They are about the same distance from SI, but Caracol will be less $ and you drive thru the Mtn Pine Ridge and beautiful rainforest. You might even be able to stop at the Rio Frio caves on the way back. Lamanani is an interesting site and worth seeing. I like Sun Breeze and the San Ignacio Hotel, unless you'd rather stay at a jungle lodge.
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Old Nov 4th, 2008, 02:13 AM
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I loved the Sunbreeze Hotel. The Holiday Hotel was a horror...the rooms are very old, smelly and in desperate need of a makeover.
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Old Nov 4th, 2008, 04:54 AM
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Note that you can visit the Belize Zoo while traveling to or from San Ignacio. No need to make a special day trip.
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Old Nov 4th, 2008, 06:11 AM
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You have lots of Mayan ruins tours in your week. Fine, if you're really interested, but it is a lot. For something different, but still Mayan, consider the Actun Tunichil Maknul cave tour.

The day trip to Lamanai from Ambergris is wonderful. Long day, but lots of wildlife sightings, and a great tour of the ruins.

I think Sunbreeze is probably the nicest of the places you mentioned. Great restaurant there.
For little or not much more money, you could get a full one bedroom condo at several places, Paradise Villas, Belizean Reef, Coral Bay Villas (I own a condo there.). I like the added space.

As far as hotels in San Ignacio, I don't know much, but did stay at San Ignacio Resort Hotel. It was fine, but we decided when we return to San Ignacio, we will either stay at one of the outlying jungle lodges or right in town at Martha's.

You can take day trips to the mainland for cave tubing and such from Ambergris, but it gets expensive. You can even do the above mentioned ATM tour from Ambergris, you catch the first morning flight back to Belize City and PACZ tours will pick you up at the municipal airport.
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Old Nov 6th, 2008, 01:54 PM
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Thank you all for the feedback.
I've a few more questions: Using San Ignacio as a base, how far is the Che Chem Ha Cave, and is it worth a visit(assuming we have already gone canoeing in Barton Creek Cave the day before)? Can it be done independently via public buses, or only by tour? If we decided not to see Caracol or Tikal on our 2nd and final full day in the Cayo area, would any of the following: Che Chem Ha, Rio On Pools, Rio Frio Cave, the Belize Botanical Gardens or the Butterfly Farm be good - albeit quite different - alternatives?
As for the flight from Belize to San Pedro, how much layover time do you recommend we schedule in when booking the flights on Maya or Tropic Air(It looks like both offer 11 flights daily, every hour)?
And my final question(...for now, anyway!): If you had to select your 3 most favorite, "must-see" mayan ruins in Belize - which would they be?
Thanks again.
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Old Nov 6th, 2008, 04:02 PM
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Chechem Ha is really different from Barton Creek. You hike a mile or so up through beautiful jungle and tour a cave that includes Maya pottery and ceremonial sites. The cave was discovered by a teenager on his family's property and they've developed a business that includes lodging and food as well as the tours. There's also a really beautiful waterfall on the property. The drive up might take 30-45 minutes from San Ignacio and the trip would combine well with a visit to the Xunantunich Ruins. Near the ruins there's a butterfly place and natural history museum at The Trek Stop www.thetrekstop.com that you might enjoy. The last 2 would be easy on your own but Chechem Ha isn't on regular routes and a tour might not be more expensive than hiring a taxi to take you; you'd still have to pay the fee at Chechem Ha also. ATM cave is another really popular and more adventurous caving option that is between San Ignacio and Belmopan.

Even though I prefer it as an overnighter, Tikal is AMAZING and might be a highlight - shame to miss it unless you think you'll head back to Belize or Guatemala soon.

Photos and travelogues linked below if you're interested. Happy trails!

http://flickr.com/photos/staceyholeman/collections
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Old Nov 6th, 2008, 06:26 PM
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It looks like you'll be flying to San Pedro after you've been to Cayo?

Make sure and fly from the Municipal airport in Belize City and not International. Flights are about half the price. The airlines say you should be there 30 minutes before you're flight, I've seen dozens of people arrive 10 minutes before. I would have reservations though.
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Old Nov 6th, 2008, 06:56 PM
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We took a tour to Tikal that took us to a hotel in the Belize jungle (sorry can't remember the name) and then the next day we had a full day which took us to Tikal. I found the border crossing and drive there really interesting. But some people may be a little intimidated by seeing the "emerging world". The most important advice I would give you is arrange to have your own guide and not be with a group. We are in our 50s and we were with a younger group. It was warm and everyone wanted to race around and see everything while we wanted to see less and just take in more of the atmosphere. Let's face it, you can only see so much anyway. We could never pause to look at the birds or monkeys because we were always running to the next thing to look at. My husband called it a death march. We didn't go to Caracol but Tikal is amazing and worth seeing but will take two full days because it's a distance from Belize City and then way into Guatamala. It sounds like you are pretty outdoorsy if you're booking a canoe trip so try to get out of the resorty stuff and get out to the jungle and then on to Tikal. It's a totally different world. I hear it's supposed to be a great zoo but why not skip that and get into the great outdoors and take the extra time to get into the jungle and all the way to Tikal? Belize is wonderful. You'll absolutely love it.
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Old Nov 13th, 2008, 04:23 PM
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My parents live outside of San Ignacio and I would suggest when you get there, go and see Bob the owner of EVA's restaurant and bar. Or email him ahead of time. I am heading down at the end of November for a visit. I went to Caracol though his tour and although it's a rough ride,(long and bumpy) it's worth it and the guides are super informative. The tour also stops at Rio On pools and Rio Frio cave. It's quite a bargain. Bob has other tours too, The canoe tours from the Macal River in SI are rock bottom cheap! Great guides, point out things that you would never see on your own. Here is Eva's website:
www.evasonline.com
Also if you go to Tikal, remember that you have to pay some sort of fee when you leave Belize... can't remember the price though.
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Old Nov 14th, 2008, 02:45 PM
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Thanks again for all of the tips.
Chechem Ha and Barton Creek both look very interesting. Do you recall how long the drive is from San Ignacio to Caracol, and how much time is actually spent touring the ruins? As for Lamanai (which we might consider as a day-trip from Ambergris Caye), is it true that it is nearly 5 hours total - via boat, bus, another bus and another boat up the New River - just to get there? How much time is spent at the ruins? Is there an opportunity to take a nap? (Just kidding!)
Thanks for the EVA's suggestion. I've heard good things about them.
By the way, anybody have experience with Blue Tang Inn in San Pedro?
Larz
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Old Nov 14th, 2008, 06:04 PM
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The trip from Ambergris to Lamanai does take all day. Pick up a little after 7am, and return about 6pm. I'm guessing it is four hours to get there. It's such a fun trip, I wasn't watching the clock. It's boat, bus, boat. Then lunch when you get to Lamanai.

The tour itself, maybe 2-3 hours. The trip back is faster, they really zip through the mangroves, instead of frequent stops to look at wild life.

The rum punch and/or Belikin on the way back is good as well.

We stayed at Blue Tang our first trip to Belize aboux six years ago. No complaints then, and I understand they've made some improvements. The pool is small, but a pleasant place to cool off. Location is good. We only stayed there once since we found we could get a condo with a separate bedroom for the same price.
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Old Nov 14th, 2008, 07:31 PM
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Hi Larz

We did the day trip to Lamanai. Great trip - loved the ride thru the mangroves to get there. Bring a camera (guess that's the obvious, huh?) and be prepared for mosquitoes. Once you get in the shade near the ruins, they really nail you. Light weight long sleeves/pants and spray will do the trick. Lots of howlers overhead when we were there. Comfortable shoes are a good idea. We left just after daylight and returned after dark.

There are quite a few day trips from Ambergris but once you get to the mainland, it takes awhile to get to where you are going so you may find yourself doing a little less than you anticipated.

Blue Tang looked a little spooky to me, but I only saw it from the outside and that was a number of years ago.

Try the Blue Water Grill while in San Pedro. Great food and right on the beach.
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Old Nov 15th, 2008, 08:38 AM
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When I went to Caracol from SI, I think it was like 1.5 hours or so to get there. I felt like there was sufficient time at the sites as the guide was super informative. He gave plenty of time for people to climb up the ruins, (I declined as I had too much Belikin the night before!) As I said it is a very bumpy ride lots of ruts in the road (not good if you've had too much Belikin the night before!) But it was worth the ride.
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Old Nov 16th, 2008, 04:47 AM
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This is great information - I'm heading to Belize for two weeks with my daughter in February.

Our favorite places in SI are
- Cahal Pech Village Resort - affordable and beautiful views. The staff is great, food is decent, but the sheets are a little rough (low thread count! We concidered staying at either Martha's or Cahal Pech and are glad we chose CP - the walk down to town is a bit steep, but it is very close - a cab ride back was cheap.
- Hannahs & the Cafe Cayo are right across the street from each other - good local color and I enjoyed the food. We had a terrible meal at Martha's our first night there, but who knows.

We'll be staying for a week on Caye Caulker - is the trip from Caye Caulker to Lamanai do-able?

Thanks.
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Old Nov 16th, 2008, 01:00 PM
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Lamanai from Caye Caulker is very doable. Its a long day but we had fun.

Here's a link to our trip report from that week on Caye Caulker. There's a button at the top for Lamanai.

http://www.alandsuejohnson.com/caye_caulker_2007.htm

We set it up with Tsunami tours although I'm sure others can do it as well. Water taxi to Belize City. Prearranged cab ride to Orangewalk to the river. Boat ride up the river to the ruins. Lunch was provided and was wonderful.

All in all it was fun. You get a look at the countryside too.
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Old Nov 16th, 2008, 02:38 PM
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Hi bpeluso,
At Cahal Pech Village Resort, did you stay in the cabanas or the rooms in the main building? Any preference? I understand both have great views, although the rooms are a bit newer and larger, while the cabanas have the screened-in porch and hammock. Were bugs a big problem in the Cayo area during February? For those folks who have been to both - if we only had time in our schedule to visit either Caracol or Lamanai - which would you recommend? (I realize it's a bit subjective! Having been to Mexico's Tulum, Chichen Itza and Coba ruins, I would say that they were all quite different from each other, and interesting and unique in their own way.)
Thanks.
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Old Dec 4th, 2008, 10:25 PM
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Surprisingly, bugs are not a big deal in Cayo, and in the winter, they are even more scarce.
I think the Caracol trip is nicer, and you do get to see Rio On Pools and Rio Frio cave on the trip back. And you are right in choosing Hol Chan, it's a great snorkel trip.
The evasonline page isn't really informative right now, I gotta go help Jana get that looking better. Bob is now at Pacz tours: http://pacztours.net the best tour operator in Cayo. If you plan on eating in Cayo much, check out my Best of Cayo website. http://janus.shc.edu.bz/in/marcus/co.../cayobest.html
I list the best restaurants and clubs around Cayo. Hannah's is a must.

Have a great trip!
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