Family vacation in beautiful, blissful Belize

Old Feb 20th, 2015, 07:41 AM
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Family vacation in beautiful, blissful Belize

Thank you to everyone who posted trip reports from Belize vacations and helped us plan our itinerary. Our family of four (hubby, me, daughters 11 and 17) had a wonderful vacation in Belize. It was everything we hoped our trip would be – adventurous, active, and relaxing. We spent four nights in the Cayo District, and four nights on Caye Caulker.

Part 1: We stayed at Cahal Pech Village Resort (CPVR) in San Ignacio. It wasn’t as luxurious as many of the jungle lodges I’m sure are, but it suited our needs just fine. I researched the pricing of many of the lodges and tours extensively, and CPVR offered the best pricing for the number of tours we wanted to do, the accommodations we wanted, and all meals. We stayed in a suite with two bedrooms, my girls each had their own bed, and we had air conditioning. We didn’t get to wake up to jungle sounds, but we’ve done that in the past, and we slept much better in this location.

The staff at CPVR was outstanding, the grounds were lovely, the food was very good, the view of San Ignacio was beautiful, and the pool was pretty. The room was nothing special, but spacious, the beds comfortable, and it was clean. All of our tours were arranged through CPVR and most of the time it was just our family on the tours. There were never more than six people total. The staff did a great job of explaining what to expect on tours, what to wear, and always reminded us to bring along sunblock and insect repellent.

Day 1: We were greeted by our driver from CPVR as soon as we exited the airport in Belize City. We arrived at CPVR around 3:30. We swam in the pool, enjoyed some cold Belikins, virgin strawberry coladas for the girls, had some appetizers while watching the Super Bowl in the outdoor bar, ate dinner, and crashed after a long travel day.

Day 2: Barton Creek Cave was our first stop and a great start to our adventures in Belize. On the drive there, we saw Amish farms and it was very peaceful and picturesque. Our guide was a wonderful narrator, and the tour was very informative and felt mysterious. We all loved it when we shut off our lights and it was completely dark. It was a very cool tour.

Mountain Equestrian Trails for horseback riding was our next stop. After a bit of a drive on a scenic, but rough road, we arrived at MET’s lovely setting, and they were so welcoming. We ate our packed lunches in the open air restaurant area before our ride. When we were ready, they brought out our horses and we started out. It was just the four of us with two attentive MET guides. We rode through the jungle, stopping occasionally to learn about the different trees growing in the jungle and tasted the leaves that are used for allspice. We navigated up and down some steep terrain, but our horses were well trained, so we had no problems. Eventually, we arrived at an open area, and my husband and older daughter were able to cantor. My younger daughter and I decided to pass. Our horses were literally chomping at the bit to go, but the guide that stayed with us calmed them down with just a couple of words. We rode for 2 ½ hours, just the right amount of time.

Big Rock Falls in the Mountain Pine Ridge was our next destination. It was really fascinating to see a pine forest in a tropical location. Big Rock Falls was a beautiful waterfall, and swimming in the water was so refreshing. It was a little tricky getting into the water, but nothing we hadn’t done before. We wore our amphibious shoes, so that helped on the slippery rocks. My husband and older daughter, the more adventurous of us in our family, tried to swim right up to the falls, but had no success. It was pretty powerful. We stayed there about an hour, enjoying the peace and beauty of the location.
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Old Feb 20th, 2015, 07:43 AM
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I decided to break this up since I tend to be long-winded!

Day 3: Tikal! We were driven to the border by CPVR’s driver, and then met by our Guatemalan guide and driver who took care of the border crossing logistics. Our guide for the day, Henny, sat in the back of the van with us. He was such a nice young man, 19 years old, proud to have some Mayan in his ancestry, who was working to save money for college. He spoke fluent English because he attended school in Belize for a while, and from what I gathered, he excelled in school. We were able to talk to him the whole way, and learned so much.

The Guatemalan countryside in that area was beautiful. Most of the homes had chickens and pigs wandering around the yards. We stopped at a peaceful lake along the way. A horse was grazing by the shore, local women were out washing their clothes by hand on the stations set up in the lake, and a little pig was running around.

Tikal was amazing. We didn’t find it too crowded, even though we arrived around 10am. We loved the jungle setting, climbing all the structures, learning about the history, and seeing monkeys. Henny was a great guide, talking while we walked, not being too blabby, but informative and good at answering questions. My husband was not excited about going to Tikal when we planned the trip, but he really enjoyed it. It probably helped that he could climb-on and explore the ruins, rather than just looking at them. We would like to go back someday and spend the night in the park.

Day 4: ATM cave tour for husband and older daughter, Macal River canoeing for my younger daughter and me. She and I had a perfect morning on the Macal River. It was just the two of us with our guide, Dora, from CPVR. We saw many birds, iguanas, fruit bats, and some tadpoles. It was a very peaceful 2 hours.

We had lunch back at CPVR and swam in the pool for a bit. Then we decided to walk the short distance to the Cahal Pech Mayan Ruins. We were pleasantly surprised at how nice these compact ruins were. There were some stone tunnels to walk through, and good structures to climb. We saw an agouti scampering around in the ball court.

My husband and older daughter returned to CPVR shortly after we did. My husband said the ATM cave was the coolest thing he’s ever done. He loved the challenge and adventure of it. Daughter agreed, and said the dry chamber was awesome. Both agreed that we made the right choice not having our 11 year old go, as she would have been freaked out by the tight spaces. Guess we will have to return to I can go next time!

Day 5: Cave tubing and transfer to Caye Caulker. We were excited to have Dora as our guide and driver for the day since she was so fun to talk to. She’s had an interesting life, and was a wealth of knowledge about Belize. Her philosophies on nature and life mirrored ours.

We tubed on the Caves Branch River. After about a 45 minute hike in the jungle, we hopped on our tubes and floated downstream, going through three cave systems. Since we had already toured other caves, I don’t think we saw anything completely new, but it was relaxing float.

We had a picnic lunch when we were done, and then Dora drove us to the Municipal Airport. After hugs goodbye, we had about 30 minutes to wait for our flight on the little landing strip by the sea.
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Old Feb 20th, 2015, 07:47 AM
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Part 2: After our quick flight to Caye Caulker, we were picked up on a golf cart by the manager of Seaside Villas Condos. We rented a two bedroom, two bathroom condo on the third floor of a building right on the waterfront that was between Popeyes Beach Resort and Island Magic. It was on a quieter end of the island, but still close to everything. It had a swimming pool and on the roof, a hot tub. We utilized them both daily.

We fell in love with Caye Caulker the minute we got there! No cars, just golf carts and bikes for transportation, everything was within walking distance, it was colorful, the people were friendly, and you see blue water just about everywhere you go.

We ate dinner at Wish Willy’s backyard BBQ. Seafood dinner with coconut rice and grilled veggies for $7.50.

Day 6: We were booked to go on a full day snorkeling trip to Hol Chan and a few other stops with Caveman Tours. Caveman’s name is Harrison Cadle, but he goes by Caveman. He doesn’t have a fancy office, but works out of Jeremiah’s Inn. He is quite the guy, and I mean that in a good way.

It was very windy, so we weren’t too excited to go out. When we got to Caveman’s location, he said he wasn’t too excited about going out either, and gave us the option of postponing for a day. That was fine with us, we had two days of snorkeling booked with him, and one day with nothing scheduled. He would have taken us out if we had insisted, but he was honest about the weather conditions.

So, we had a free day. We stopped for some homemade cinnamon rolls at Glenda’s, then spent the morning swimming in the pool and soaking up the sun. We were glad to have a pool that was protected from the wind to swim in, rather than the sea. We got some takeout for lunch at what used to be Popeyes, but is now Godfrey’s, and ate poolside. We spent the rest of the day walking around the island, swimming some more, visiting the Split.

The Split is a channel through the island, and there is a bar called the Lazy Lizard with cheap drinks where people hang out on nice days. It wasn’t very crowded that day because of the wind. We ate dinner at the Rainbow Grill. It has a nice setting over the water. I was getting a little tired of rice and beans as a side dish, so was thrilled to have the special with a baked potato! Hubby had some jerk chicken that was very spicy not, even for his hot pepper loving palette.

Day 7: It was still a little breezy, but much better for snorkeling than the day before. We took a regular, rather than private, full day tour, so there were eight of us. Daniel who works part-time for Caveman, was our guide. We stopped at Shark and Ray Alley first and saw some huge rays and turtles, then Hol Chan. It was busy, but our guide did a good job of keeping us away from the crowds. Then we stopped at a sunken barge and were able to snorkel on our own at our leisure. After that, we rode through the Split and into the mangroves. Daniel found a seahorse to show us, and then we fed the tarpon. It was a full day.

We ate dinner at Syd’s that night. The Saturday night special was BBQ chicken, rice and beans, coleslaw and potato salad for $4.50. It was the best BBQ chicken I had ever eaten in my life.

Day 8: It was a calm day, and we went on a half day snorkeling tour of the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve, Coral Gardens, and Caye Caulker’s shark and ray alley. We booked a private tour so it was just the four of us, and we enjoyed that much more than having others along. Daniel was our guide once again. Part of the tour was guided through the reserve, and we were the only ones out there. I have to say that other than the sea turtles, we saw everything there that we saw at Hol Chan, and it was much closer. Plus, we saw two moray eels. We were able to swim on our own around the Coral Gardens, which was a treat. We were also the only ones at Caye Caulker’s shark and ray alley, and even though the rays are not as big, they were plentiful. They swam all around us, even through our legs. It was a great day in the water.

When we returned, we decided to get some appetizers at Sobre las Olas, and Caveman joined us while we waited for our food to arrive. He told us some very interesting stories about his childhood and his life on Caye Caulker. He was so friendly, and really wants his customers to have a good snorkeling experience.

We watched a boat of fisherman return with their catch of the day by our condo. They had a boat full of fish and lobster, a barracuda and an octopus. Well, we ended up eating two of those lobsters at Rose’s Grill and Bar that evening. You pick out your fresh seafood at the front of the restaurant, all priced based on size, then they take it to the back and cook it for you. My older daughter ate lionfish, younger daughter had red snapper. The side dishes that accompanied the seafood were very tasty. Dinner was expensive by Caye Caulker standards, but still a bargain compared to the U.S.

Day 9: Last morning. We walked around the island one last time, and the girls and I did some souvenir shopping. We ate breakfast at Glenda’s, a charming place with inexpensive, yummy food. None of us were ready to leave Caye Caulker. Some people might get bored there after a few days, but I could easily spend a couple of months there. We loved the slow pace, no cars, the ease of walking to restaurants and grocery stores, the guys peddling cashews, tortillas and breads on their bicycles. It didn’t bother me that there weren’t sandy beaches on island because I guess being surrounded by palm trees and water was enough.

We flew out of Caye Caulker straight to BZE at 11:10. Arrived at 11:20 and were checked in, through security and at our gate by 12:00 for our 1:35 departure. It was a Monday, so the airport was not too crowded. We really hope to return to Belize and specifically Caye Caulker and spend more time there next year.
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Old Feb 20th, 2015, 09:58 AM
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So glad you had a good time; it sounds like a great trip! We loved Barton Creek Cave canoeing too.
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Old Feb 20th, 2015, 12:17 PM
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Thanks for this wonderful, detailed trip report! Sounds like you did your research and know your family's travel preferences well, a good combination. I, too, always figure anything I don't do 1 trip is just an excuse to return.
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Old Feb 20th, 2015, 02:59 PM
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VG, I just noticed that I failed to explain that Barton Creek was a canoe tour. Glad you mentioned it!

Hope, I can see now why you love Belize so much! Your blog sold me on staying on Caye Caulker and we're so glad we did.
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Old Feb 20th, 2015, 11:39 PM
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We do love Belize but Guatemala s our favorite - better add that to your list.
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Old Feb 21st, 2015, 09:45 AM
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Glad you had a good time! Your trip report brings back many memories. We also stayed on the third floor of Seaside Villas and loved laid back Caulker. We stayed on Ambergris 20 years ago and it reminded us of a smaller version of Ambergris then.
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Old Mar 4th, 2015, 02:02 PM
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Oh gosh-
This trip sounds so perfect!
We just got back from Mexico and I'm ready to pack my bags again.It's been a looong winter!
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Old Mar 5th, 2015, 07:30 AM
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NGail - Yes, it WAS a perfect trip for us!

Patty - I hope that Caulker stays the same forever, but that might be wishful thinking.

Hopefulist - I would love to visit Guatemala, but until we can stay longer and add on Belize, I don't think it would give us the winter get-away beach time we crave. Unless I'm missing something?
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Old Mar 5th, 2015, 11:08 AM
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Guatemala isn't known for its beaches so we enjoy starting in Guatemala and ending in Honduras or Belize; we are not lie on the beach type folks but I'm a diver and my husband a flyfisherman.

Part of what we love about the western highlands of Guatemala is that the weather is pretty much perfect all year long: mid 70s and sunny, although during the wet season rains can start in the afternoons or evenings some days. Lake Atitlån is gorgeous - great place for a break imo. We love it so much that we've built a little home away from home there for more extended visits.
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Old Mar 6th, 2015, 06:35 AM
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Do you think Lake Atitlan would be warm enough for swimming in March? Both outside temps and water temp? We don't lie on the beach either, but like to swim, play in the water, and love the view. We spend a lot of time in lakes seeing how we live in the Land of 10,000 of them, but none of them are surrounded by palm trees! Can you fish on the lake?

I'm also looking at Roatan. You've been there and also Caye Caulker; which do you prefer?
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Old Mar 6th, 2015, 03:02 PM
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People do swim in the lake (esp local kids as their moms wash clothes on the rocks) but we just haven't chosen to. It certainly wouldn't be like swimming in the warm Caribbean on a 90 degree day. Most of the fishermen are locals, too - they head out in wooden dugouts before dawn. My husband has enjoyed learning how to fish with a handline from some of them.

We enjoy both Roatán and Caulker, really different from each other. This is over generalizing, but Caulker has a more laid back, Caribbean vibe than West End, Roatán, though they're similar in some ways. Roatán is a much bigger islands so there's lots more on offer - good hiking, snorkeling from shore all over the place, prettier beaches, and the diving is vastly cheaper, about half in my recent experience. There are some awesome mainland activities near each, too.

Maybe my most recent photos and blog posts will be of interest (we were in Belize in March including a week on Caulker, on Roatán in June, and on Lake Atitlán in June, July/August, and October/November). My photos with blog, travelogue, and review links on the main page of each collection are below in case you're interested - all my recommendations are embedded there.
Happy trails!
http://www.flickr.com/photos/staceyholeman/collections
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Old Mar 6th, 2015, 06:39 PM
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Thanks, Hopefulist. I'll have to scour your blogs again!
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