Belize - Ambergris Caye and Cayo District

Old Dec 29th, 2017, 02:31 PM
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Belize - Ambergris Caye and Cayo District

December 15-23

I spent 4 nights on the beach in Ambergris Caye and 4 nights in the jungle outside of San Ignacio (Cayo district).

Day 0 - Arrival to Ambergris Caye
Day 1-5 Matachica Resort (north of San Pedro)
Day 5: Travel from Ambergris Caye to San Ignacio
Day 5-8 The Lodge at Chaa Creek (near San Ignacio)

Day 0 - Friday
American Airlines SMF-DFW-BZE
Tropic Air: BZE-SPR
Immigration upon arriving at the airport was very slow. It took us 90 minutes to get through passport control and customs. We were traveling there during peak travel season. We had booked our Tropic Air flight in advance, but they simply put us onto the next one - we missed ours by about 15 minutes.

The Tropic Air flight takes about 15 minutes. The flight to San Pedro was on the smallest plane I've ever been on 12 passengers plus one pilot. Gorgeous views of Caribbean on the flight.

We were met at the airport by a guide/boat captain from Matachica Resort. We had a short golf cart ride through San Pedro to the pier, where we took a 10-minute boat ride to Matachica. Our coconut mojitos were waiting for us at check-in.

We stayed in a Reef View Suite, Dragonfruit. This is one row back from the beachfront suites, but we had a clear view of the ocean and sunrises in the morning. It can get quite windy at times, so this suited us perfectly. We were pampered from start to finish while at Matachica. No children, so reasonably quiet adults having a good time. We met lots of honeymooners, and other couples our age and older. There are regular boat rides into town. If these times don't work for you, you can pay for a water taxi ($10 each U.S.)

Day 1 - Saturday
Belize Food Tours in San Pedro - Breakfast
We had a food tour through San Pedro in which we were introduced to local breakfast/lunch foods in San Pedro. We had tostadas, fry jacks, meat pies, creole bread, fresh-squeezed orange juice (Belize has the sweetest oranges - Florida imports them to sweeten orange juice), tacos, rum tasting (coconut cream, coffee, and chocolate-infused rum), powder bun, Johnny cakes, and chocolate. Highly recommended - bring an empty stomach. I only wish we could have done the dinner tour!

Day 2 - Sunday

Day 3 - Monday

Day 4 - Tuesday - Travel from Matachica to our next hotel, The Lodge at Chaa Creek in San Ignacio
Guided car with stop at Belize Zoo.
If you have the time on your way to the western side of Belize, the zoo is worth a stop. It's not particularly large, but it does house the five big cats in Belize, tapirs, and spider and howler monkeys. You can see the zoo comfortably in one hour. I would recommend getting there early. We arrived just ahead of a tour from a cruise ship.

We were greeted at The Lodge at Chaa Creek with a welcome drink (a yummy hibiscus drink) and settled in for the evening. We purchased the Winter Solstice package, which includes several day trips and all meals. Since this resort is isolated, I recommended paying for meals in advance - it is a 30 minute drive to get to San Ignacio.

The lodge is fabulous. It is located in the Chaa Creek Reserve which has hiking trails and has the Macal River running through it. Chaa Creek has a lot of activities on site. The big drawback is that it is full of families. We got to enjoy the pool only once - it was usually overrun with children.

Day 5 - Wednesday - Barton Creek Cave and San Antonio Women's Group
We went on a guided canoe into Barton Creek Cave. This is a pretty chill, easy outing. We got there early, so we had the cave to ourselves. I highly recommend going first thing in the morning. There are a few Mayan relics there, but mostly you go to enjoy the cave formations and hear about Mayan history from the guide. On our way in/out, we drove through the Amish farms.

We then traveled to a nearby Mayan village, San Antonio to visit a women's cooperative there. We made our own corn tortillas from scratch, and enjoyed them with some coconut oil and salt. Best tortilla I've ever had. It was serve with some corn porridge which was also super yummy. We also learned about Mayan pottery techniques and they served us a delicious lunch of tomales, potatoes, and salad with habanero salsa.

We returned to Chaa Creek in time to visit the Butterfly Garden and museum on site. Later on, we went on the night walk where we saw lots of spiders and sleeping birds.

Day 6 - Thursday - Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave - Winter Solstice
We did the ATM cave. This is an experience that is not to be missed. I was a little intimidated by what I had read online, but it's doable unless you have significant mobility issues. Each guide is allowed a maximum of 8 people. Again, arrive early to beat the crowds. We were the second group in. By the time we were going out, there were A LOT of people in the cave.

It starts with a 1.25 mile hike to the cave entrance. It's level ground, very easy, but involves three river crossings. The first river crossing required that we swim across with a rope. So you get soaking wet right away. The other two required balancing in slippery river rocks about halfway up my calves. You bring water on the hike - there is a place to hang your water bottle outside of the cave entrance. You can't bring anything into the cave.

At the cave entrance, you swim in, then the hiking, swimming, scrambling, and a little bouldering begins. Our guide from Chaa Creek was phenomenal, we would occasionally stop and learn about Mayan spirituality and history. You step around Mayan artifacts left in the cave between 800-1000 AD. There are clearly marked paths to keep tourists from accidentally stepping on something - the artifacts are everywhere.

Once you get into the dry part of the cave, you reach the deepest part of the cave where the Maya engaged in human sacrifices. There are skulls, and an entire skeleton calcified. It's a truly holy place.

When we came out of the cave, we got a snack from our guide, and then headed back on the short hike out. There are showers and changing rooms at the trailhead. Be sure to bring a change of clothes and a towel (our guide provided towels). Our guide provided a huge lunch.

When we returned to Chaa Creek, we got a 90-minute massage as part of our package. It was well-earned! The resort had a Mayan buffet that was fabulous.

Day 7 - Friday - Xunantunich and AJAW Chocolates
We visited Xunantunich which is near the border with Guatemala, about 20 minutes from Chaa Creek. It's still under excavation, but there is plenty to see. We had another excellent guide who filled us in on Mayan history, which we were anxious to learn more about after the past two days. The site is small and requires about half of a day. There are archaeologists still excavating the site, making new discoveries. Walking to the top of El Castillo gives beautiful views of the area - it's the second highest structure behind Caracol.

We then traveled back into town to visit AJAW Chocolates. They walk you through the processing of cacao beans, the way the Maya did, and let you sample 100% cacao (served as a hot drink), as well as other chocolates that have cacao butter and sugar additives to bind the chocolate into a bar. All of the beans come from indigenous (and organic) farming techniques. If you're in San Ignacio, it's an inexpensive, quick, and informative tour of the process.

When we got back to Chaa Creek, we went on a sunset canoe trip, upriver. Unless you're an expert, I wouldn't recommend it. We were unable to get past one of the rapids, and the guide wasn't very good at showing us what to do. We turned back early. Good thing we did - another family on the tour flipped their canoe!

Day 8: Saturday - Guided stop at San Ignacio Market (Saturday) on our way back to the airport.
On our way back to the international airport, we stopped at the San Ignacio Market . This is where everyone comes to get their produce - fresh and organic from local farms. It was great to walk among the local. There is plenty to eat too.

We had a long travel day home: BZE-DFW-PHX-SMF

Some notes:
1. We never had to change money while in Belize. U.S. dollars were accepted everywhere we went.
2. Most Belizeans seem to speak three languages: English, Spanish, and Creole - some even speak Mayan languages. Everyone has their own accent (from my novice ear) and everyone is super friendly.
3. While I am prone to mosquito bites in general I had some pretty nasty reactions to the bites I got both in Ambergris Caye and Cayo District. The worst bites I got were at the Belize Zoo, but I got bitten everywhere, despite using copious amounts of bug spray. The mosquitos here are sneaky - you don't hear them the way you do here in the U.S. There are also lots of sandflies that will bite you in Ambergris Caye. When we went, Belize was on the Zika cautionary list from the CDC, so take precautions.
4. We booked out Tropic Air flights in advance, but you can buy them at the airport. It might actually be a little cheaper this way. Of course, if you're on a tight schedule, you might want a reservation. When you're coming into Belize, be prepared for possible long waits at immigration - this was among the longer waits I've experienced, but it was peak travel season.
5. If you have a chance to do the ATM cave, then do it. I am overweight and in ok-ish shape, but if you have a good guide, he can walk you through it. I was on the fence, and decided to go for it. I'm so glad that I did. Be sure to wear socks - they are required in the dry part of the cave to avoid damage to the artifacts. We wore water shoes -- mine were Chaco sneakers, my husband's were Anhu sneakers.
HisGirlFriday is offline  
Old Dec 29th, 2017, 02:54 PM
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Sorry I forgot the details for Days 2-3

Day 2 - Sunday
We went back into San Pedro to do some shopping and to eat lunch at Elvi's. Delicious!

We did a sunset tour to Mexico Rock. Just as we arrived, everyone else was leaving. Once things quieted down, we saw a lot of sea animals - stingrays, nurse sharks, beautiful fish, and the amazing eagle ray. Once we got back onto the boat, we were served cold beers and delicious ceviche. The seafood and fish in San Pedro is the freshest I've had since the Tokyo fish market. Amazing. The ceviche has snapper, lobster, shrimp and conch all served with delicious pico de gallo.

Day 3 - Monday
We went out to Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley. Compared with Mexico Rock, there were a lot more people there, so it felt a little more hectic. That being said, there is a lot more coral, opportunities to free dive, and more wildlife to see.
HisGirlFriday is offline  
Old Dec 29th, 2017, 07:39 PM
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Wow - thanks for taking the time to post! We're heading back in a few weeks.
hopefulist is offline  
Old Dec 30th, 2017, 03:01 AM
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Great trip report; thanks for posting it. We stayed at Chaa Creek too and enjoyed it.
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Old Dec 30th, 2017, 04:45 AM
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Ah, grt, I love both places and areas you stayed. On my way to Chaa today to spend the NYE weekend.
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Old Dec 31st, 2017, 12:10 PM
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Really enjoyed your report, thanks!
Patty is offline  
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