Belize/Gutemala trip report

Old Dec 16th, 2004, 01:59 PM
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Belize/Gutemala trip report

Just another long trip report, for anyone who's interested .

Just returned from a 9 day trip to Belize and Guatemala. We did 4 nights in San Pedro, 1 in Tikal, and then 3 more in San Pedro.

In both San Pedro segments, we stayed at Banana Beach - got a good airfare/room package from Travelocity. I'm happy to jump on the bandwagon for this place. It's just enough out of town to be a little quieter, but still within easy walking distance. We frequently walked up the beach to town and back. The staff was incredibly friendly and the breakfast that is included with your room is a generous one - you might not need to eat again until dinner. We booked all our snorkel outings and a Lamanai outing through the on-site travel shop, Monkey Business, and the folks there were wonderful too.

On Friday we did the 1/2 day snorkel outing to Hol Chan and shark-ray alley with Lil' Alfonse, who was a wonderful guide. We chose the afternoon outing (1 - 4) and it is apparently a lot less crowded at that time. Just amazing - the vast number of creatures that make their home on the reef and how beautiful they are. It's still a little unnerving when a nurse shark brushes against your leg though! That night we ate at the Reef, which had a great, casual atmosphere (sand floor, Bob Marley) and delicious grilled seafood platter for two (lobster, shrimp, conch, snapper, and rice and beans on the side).

On Saturday, we went with Tanisha Tours for a trip to Lamanai. I can't recommend this operation highly enough - our guides, Daniel and Abel, were so knowledgeable about wild life and the ruins. They have a real passion for what they do and for educating others. Many of the residents we talked to had mentioned Tansisha Tours as the best and that their guides are really involved in preserving the natural beauty of the country, and I can certainly agree with them. Dinner at Cocina Caramba (yummy fusion of Mexican and Caribbean cooking - try the lobster fajitas, very attentive service, and relatively

Sunday was our day entirely for relaxing on-the-beach time. Stopped in at Crazy Canuck's for drinks in the evening and met lots of interesting locals. Dinner at Casa Picasso (romantic atmosphere and the best desserts - try the Cracked Coconut or the key lime pie).

We did a "do it ourselves" excursion to Tikal on Monday and Tuesday. We flew to Flores on Monday morning and were met at the airport by the driver we'd arranged for through our hotel. We stayed at the Jaguar Inn, which is right on site in the park, near the entrance to the ruins. The inn is more rustic (the electricity and hot water are available only during certain morning and evening hours) though there are still cabins with private bathrooms. It's in a beautiful location, clean, and with good food at the restaurant and friendly service. We hired a guide at the little visitor center once we arrived at Tikal and had a fascinating 4-hour tour of the major sites. After a nice hot shower, we had dinner by candlelight at the Jaguar Inn restaurant and then fell asleep to the sounds of howler monkeys, jaguars, and other jungle creatures.

On Tuesday, we got up early to climb one of the temples and watch the sun rise. Incredible! This truly one of the most breathtaking things I've ever seen. We had arranged with the driver for our airport transfer to return and pick us up around lunch time on Tuesday and take us to Flores, and then pick us up later in the day to go to the airport. We had a great lunch at La Luna in Flores, a very cozy and atmospheric little place, and walked around a bit. Our driver met us outside the restaurant later in the afternoon and took us back to the airport, where we caught the last flights back to BC and were in San Pedro around 6pm. Then of course, we kicked back with some Belikens and listened to the local gossip at Crazy Canuck's again.

For anyone thinking about Tikal, I'd say that it's easy to arrange this trip yourselves and you end up with so much more time to see things if you're willing to stay overnight on site. There are two other inns on site with more amenities if that's your style. I have what I'd jokingly call "Sesame Street" level Spanish, but that was enough to do just fine for this short of a trip to Guatemala. I'd also recommend taking a lot of small-denomination US bills (e.g., fives and tens) - many smaller restaurants and businesses may have trouble making change for anything over a $US 20. There's also an ATM in Santa Elena, which is easy to get to in a taxi.

On Wednesday we did an all-day snorkeling (3 stops - Mexico Rocks, Tres Cocos, and another I forget) and fishing trip, including a beach bbq for our catches of the day (lots of snapper and a barracuda!). The snorkeling kept me happy and my husband was thrilled to do the fishing part. Never has food tasted so good as what we cooked up on the beach . . . That evening we hit the Pier Lounge for the infamous chicken drop and then had dinner next door at Caliente, which had a lot of Belizean and Caribbean specialties and nice beach view. Delicious. We also tried out the Belizean night-life later at Wet Willy's and Big Daddy's - lots of fun if you have the stamina to stay up late after a day out in the sun!

On Thursday, we rented a golf cart and spent a the morning exploring the north end, meeting some more San Pedro residents. We had an amazing lunch with an amazing view at Sweet Basil, did some strolling around town, and then relaxed on the beach for the rest of the day. We had incredible, fresh sushi for dinner at the Blue Water Grill, which also has a lovely beach-side location.

Some general observations we made - if you stay in and eat at only the high-end places, you'll never have any chances interact with people. Enjoy those places, but make sure you mix it up a little. Savor the fact that Belize in general and San Pedro in particular are so friendly and get out there and enjoy meeting the people who live there, as well as other visitors. It's part of the whole experience. We were also saddened to learn of (and see for ourselves) the problems with cruise trash being dumped near Belize and then washing up along the shorelines on the cayes - something to consider if you're thinking about a cruise in the area.

The only negative experience we had was with Maya Island Airways. They mistakenly triple-charged us for our roundtrip flight from Belize City to San Pedro (we ordered ours ahead of time using their Web site). When we brought to their attention the day after we arrived in San Pedro, they were very rude to us and terribly slow in correcting it. We answered the same set of questions for 4 different employees, gave them copies of our receipts and credit card statement. It's been almost 2 weeks since we first notified them and the charges still haven't been reversed, nor have they been returning our calls or emails . We've ended up just contacting our credit card company to deny the charges, so at least we won't be out the money in the end. In my opinion though, it's rather poor customer service that the airline was not responsible enough to correct their mistake in a timely fashion or to communicate with us about their progress (or lack thereof) in doing so. Based on this experience, I'd recommend using Tropic instead.
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Old Dec 16th, 2004, 02:40 PM
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Hi,

Great trip report! We just returned from Belize as well...it is a beautiful country and we'll definitely go back. Next time, we will do Tikal and Guatemala -- just as you've described!

FYI: We used Tropic Air and they were just fine....
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Old Dec 16th, 2004, 04:47 PM
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Great trip and trip report! I just booked our plane tickets (10 days in June) and am already very excited. I have a couple of questions that I hope you mind answering.

1. Do you think 6 days is enough time to spend on Ambergris Caye? (we're looking to spend 3 nts in Cayo area)
2. Other than your being charged to much money, is travel between San Pedro and Belize City pretty painless/easy (plenty of flights, flights on time, etc)?
3. How was your experience at Belize Customs (long lines, how long to get in & out of country, etc.)?

Thanks,
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Old Dec 16th, 2004, 06:04 PM
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Thanks for the trip report.

Just a word on Maya Island. I've flown them probably 50 times. Tropic too. A few less than perfect experiences but overall they're both fine. I wouldn't worry -- your overcharges will get credited eventually.

Tim and the folks at Banana Beach do a consistently fine job. Would that every tourism operation in Belize performed as well.

--Lan Sluder
www.belizefirst.com
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Old Dec 19th, 2004, 11:59 AM
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Responding to Pumpy's questions:
I think 6 days is plenty on Ambergris Caye - you'll have a couples days to do some snorkeling, outings to ruins, etc., a couple days to relax on the beach, and a day to explore the island.

Travel between San Pedro and Belize City was very easy - the flights are right on time, and you don't really need to get to the airstrips more than 1/2 an hour before. We even left early once because all the passengers were there and ready (it was a full flight).

Belize customs was very easy and fast - on the day with the longest line (perhaps about 10 to 15 people ahead of us), it sill took no more than 10 or 15 minutes to get through.
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Old Dec 19th, 2004, 02:58 PM
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More questions: Did you arrange your transfer to and from Tikal through Jaguar Inn? Also, did you shop for Guatemalan handicrafts while in Flores? I am especially interested in Guatemalen textiles.
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Old Dec 21st, 2004, 09:14 AM
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We did arrange our transfer through the Jaguar Inn - they were easy to communicate with via email. They scheduled the transfer with a local driver. We set our return trip time with him and paid him directly for both trips at the end of our visit. We did also some handicraft shopping - I picked up several woven cloth items in Flores as gifts and was pleased with the selection, the quality and the price. There are a LOT of places in Flores and near Tikal that carry textiles (even some in Belize carry them, though the textiles are not as nice as the ones in Guatemala). My understanding is that some of the other cities, like Antigua, have an even greater selection of textiles.
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Old Dec 21st, 2004, 06:22 PM
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Thanks for the reply and the great trip report!
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