Belize & Mayan Ruins & eco lodges

Old Oct 12th, 2010, 10:16 AM
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Belize & Mayan Ruins & eco lodges

Planning a Belize trip: We are two adults in good shape, travelling with a 15 year old, experienced traveller who likes to do things: we are hoping someone out there can make some recommendations for us!

First: we are considering going during the December school break. Is it too wet or cold? We are probably only going to do rainforest/inland activities as opposed to water things this time. We're only snorkellers, anyway...

Second: We think we are choosing between Chaa Creek and Howler Monkey lodges. We don't spend much time in the room, and we are on a budget--any thoughts? I realize it might affect the trips we're interested in taking (see below).

Next: I've visited a lot of the Mayan ruins in the Yucatan, and really appreciate the archaeology and history of that region...I know a lot of what I'm looking at. So, I would rather visit sites that are archaeologically interesting, rather than the "it's nearby, worth a look" type sites, especially as who knows if we'll get back...life's funny that way.

Anyone out there willing to help us sort through this list, or add some (we probably want to stay at whichever lodge we choose...I'm just too exhausted right now to keep changing locations, which is what I'd usually do...).. I think we'd take a guided trip rather than on our own, as, once again, I'm too tired to deal with renting a vehicle, etc. etc. etc.
Lamanai
Caracol
Cahai Pech
Altun Ha (this one sounds like it has only the amazing jade head, and is "convenient" To Belize City...)

We also enjoy caves, though we are NOT spelunkers (well, I'm not. My son might be into it.) We're in good shape, so a little rough terrain is a-ok with us, even good because there might be fewer people. So what do you think of:
AMT
Barton Creek (the canoe trip could be fun, or only fun for younger kids...we have visited an assortment of caves in the US already, so it's not "new" from that perspective.
There are soo many others...i don't know where to start...so anything else that you'd recommend?

Thank you!
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Old Oct 12th, 2010, 10:25 AM
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Hi, there -
Can you help with a little more information?
:: How many days do you plan to have?
:: What do you mean by "we are on a budget"? Chaa Creek is one of the most expensive options in Belize and there are lots of great low and mid range options.
:: Amenities level - must have private bathroom, for example?
:: Have you considered visiting Tikal in Guatemala? It's combination of enormous temples and wild jungle are tough to beat.

My photos with blog and detailed travelogue links can be found below. Give us a little more to run with and I'd be happy to give my opinions. Happy trails!
http://www.flickr.com/photos/staceyholeman/collections
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Old Oct 12th, 2010, 10:36 AM
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We stayed at Chaa Creek and really liked it. I got a great deal for us on www.luxurylink.com. Their food and service were excellent. PACZ tours is a good tour group if you're interested in doing outside activities. We did their trip to Tikal and loved it. It was about a 2 hour ride; it's definitely architecturally interesting. I think you'd enjoy it. We saw a lot of wildlife there too like spider monkeys, oscillated turkeys, and aracaris. Chaa Creek also has a tent camp - not sure if that interests you. We also did the Barton Creek Cave through Chaa and really enjoyed it. The cave and water are beautiful, and there are some cool formations, along with ancient pottery, and we saw a human skull there. ATM always gets rave reviews as well.
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Old Oct 12th, 2010, 10:38 AM
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RUINS:
Xunantunich - nice setting, nice, smallish ruins site with a nice smallish interpretive center; you cross a river on a hand-crank ferry to get there and the ruins are about a mile from the river if you just take a taxi to the ferry and not a taxi or tour clear to the ruins.

Cahal Pech - we were surprised by how much we enjoyed the little museum and the wooded, peaceful site

Caracol - haven't visited as it's a long day, mostly on bad roads and both our visits have been in the "rainy" season; our daughter visited last year and enjoyed the setting and solitude but it wasn't their favorite

Lamanai - great boat trip up the New River, nice jungly ruins with lots of temples to climb, howler monkeys in the trees. We liked it a lot but it's a bit of a challenge to get to or a REALLY long day trip.

Altun Ha - haven't been

Tikal - WOW! Have visited 3 times and see new things every time. Great wildlife spotting (spider and howler monkeys, gray foxes, coatis, toucans, parrots, oropendolas, tarantulas). The temples are huge and the jungle stretches in all directions for as far as the eye can see with just the peaks of other temples showing above it. Worth the 2 hours from western Belize to get there, especially worth an overnight trip so you can explore during the cooler evening and early morning hours when the wildlife is active and you practically have the place to yourselves.

CAVES:
ATM - amazing! we went with Pacz tours and it was a highlight of our most recent visit

Chechem Ha - nice jungle hike, interesting dry cave with artifacts, not as adventurous or impressive as ATM (no bones or river, for example), but a nice setting, good alternative for folks who don't want to be wet

Barton Creek - haven't done it - are friends liked it but didn't love it

Caves Branch - lots of caving adventures including the amazing Waterfalls Cave trip and the Black Hole Drop www.cavesbranch.com

Belize is very low lying and won't be cold though you might want a light jacket for early mornings. December is the dry season. Happy trails!
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Old Oct 12th, 2010, 11:40 AM
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Oooo - please excuse the typos, should have typed:
Its combination of enormous temples and wild jungle is tough to beat.
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Old Oct 12th, 2010, 07:11 PM
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I believe your family will be very pleased with Chaa Creek. It's not cheap but one of most memorable places we've ever stayed. Here are some things my kids loved at CClue Morpho butterfly farm, swimming & canoeing in the river, night hike, Xunantunich ruins, horseback ride.

Though we did not go, it's convenient for Tikal day trip

Enjoy!
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Old Oct 12th, 2010, 07:36 PM
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And the early morning birding tours which are free! We also did a nature hike and a night hike; the grounds are full of trails for exploring.
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Old Oct 12th, 2010, 09:04 PM
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If you prefer jungly (we saw toucans, parrots, motmots, and iguanas from our beds and hammocks) to manicured and want to save some money, consider the Jungle Camp: www.belizecamp.com We loved it there and you have access to all the tours, hiking, canoing, pool, butterflies, etc. at Chaa Creek. I believe it's still $55/pp which includes a wonderful dinner and breakfast in an open air palapa.
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Old Oct 13th, 2010, 05:59 AM
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If you're on a budget and not going to spend much time in your room, Chaa Creek is probably not the best fit (very expensive, but from all accounts worth it if you spend a lot of time on the grounds).

We stayed at the Cahal Pech Lodge in a cabana with a porch for about $90/night. It was perfect for our needs, and it was a three minute walk to the Cahal Pech ruins, which are an interesting, maze-like complex of tunnels--more intimate than grand, but worth checking out if you're there.

Caracol is probably the grandest of the Mayan sites in Belize--the Caana is amazing, and there's plenty else to study/gawk at as well. It's done almost exclusively as a day trip out of the Cayo or Mountain Pine Ridge regions over a very rough road through dense jungle--the vehicles going out travel in a caravan led by the Belize military, which is actually kind of cool.

Lamanai is also an impressive site, with magnificient pyramids and fascinating carved masks in the sides of the temples. The setting is also spectacular--right on the New River lagoon. Most people do it as a day trip--the ride down the New River to reach it is pretty fascinating (the first boat in and first to leave probably see the best wildlife on the river). We stayed right next to the ruins at the Lamanai Outpost Lodge, but that was a MAJOR splurge.

It would be tempting to say that Lamanai is Tulum as Caracol is to Chichen Itza, but that would be unfair to both Lamanai's outstanding and interesting ruins and to Caracol's lush natural setting in the jungle. Both will offer plenty of wildlife--howler monkeys, birds, etc.
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Old Oct 13th, 2010, 08:49 AM
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wow. you folks absolutely rock--and such quick responses.
We're thinking of only about 5 days. By budget, I mean we really want to keep the hotel price down--so long as it's clean and quiet (minus sounds of nature...those we WANT!) and safe, we're good. $150/night we'd consider a LOT (if that's not a "lot" for this time of year, please let me know. (if we want to spend, we'd probably try Austin Lehman!!!). I'd rather spend on better food, and more interesting trips.

Tikal worries me a bit because of the additional border crossings: I'm divorced, and my son has a different last name than mine-and my fiancee with whom we're travelling has yet another last name... I think I just want to keep it simple (this trip is to try to relax, to try to think about different things than the usual nonsense!!!, you all know what I mean!, so worrying about last names and ex's permissions...eh.)

Why a military caravan to Caracol?

And finally: end of December--are we going to be wet and cold most of the time? I just thought to look at a weather report, and December seems to be "shouldery". Thanks!
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Old Oct 13th, 2010, 08:52 AM
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oops, sorry--was reading on a small screen--I just saw the "light jacket and dry season!...thank you again.

Also, as to amenities question--unless we decide to tent it, which I hadn't caught on the Chaa creek site (what a big site...), YES, we want a private bathroom (getting older, less willing to share...). Good point to bring up, thanks for reminding me.
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Old Oct 13th, 2010, 10:03 AM
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They were having trouble with bandits on the way to Caracol at one point, so they started doing military escorts.

Regarding the Tikal crossing, our guide just took everyone's passports and got them stamped. We didn't have to present them individually or anything; it was all really easy and smooth. Just in case you're interested in going. I guess you would still need your ex's permission though.
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Old Oct 13th, 2010, 11:07 AM
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I'm guessing the only way you'll access Chaa Creek for anything close to $150/night (not counting tours!) is the Jungle Camp which is an excellent choice imo, though shared bathrooms. Chaa Creek tours get good reviews but are spendy.

Here are the other places we've stayed in the area, more budget oriented and within easier reach of tours:
www.thetrekstop.com
www.aguadahotel.com

You can read my reviews of them on www.tripadvisor.com or in my travelogues. Let me know if I can help further!
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Old Oct 13th, 2010, 11:17 AM
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Also, you can check out the Toucan Trail section of the Belize Forum for good low and mid range options: www.belizeforum.com
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Old Oct 13th, 2010, 11:55 AM
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With only five days, I would save the day trip to Tikal for another time (but be sure to get back there!). Tikal is best done as an overnight trip--most people do one night, but we were really glad we did 2 nights.

Border crossing was no problem--we just used a transfer from our hotel to get to the Tikal Inn inside the park.

There were banditos about 5 years ago or so on the road to Caracol--it is very isolated and the jungle is very dense. Now, everyone heads out together in a caravan with the Belize military for protection. No problems since then, and I would be very surprised if banditos were hanging around there now.

If you're looking for interesting food, I'd stay near San Ignacio, which has a surprisingly good restaurant scene. As I noted above, Cahal Pech Lodge was a very good deal in our opinion--emphasis on service, restaurant and bar, amazing view, two pools, proximity to ruins, lots of birds flying around. Not the fanciest place, but it doesn't seem like luxury is a priority for this trip. It's just up the hill from the town--take the cab back from dinner instead of trying to walk.
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Old Oct 13th, 2010, 01:32 PM
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As hopefulist said the Chaa Creek tours are spendy (even if they are great guides). The camp though looks great to me and I've priced out tours with PACZ instead of through Chaa Creek and it will save a bundle considering 4 tours and they will give a discount if taking multiple tours. For San Pedro we will stay at Ruby's. I travel as a solo parent with a teenager as well who looks nothing like me so we always get curious looks at checkpoints but will definitely do the overnight in Tikal. I wouldn't miss it if you're going to be so close.
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Old Oct 13th, 2010, 01:45 PM
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And PACZ will pick you up right at Chaa Creek too so it's convenient. We couldn't fit an overnight at Tikal into our schedule, and I'm still glad we did it.
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Old Oct 13th, 2010, 02:32 PM
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I would definitely recommend whatever hoops you have to go through to see Tikal if you think this might be your only chance - absolutely world class.
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