Trip Report for Belize and Guatemala, February 2010

Feb 28th, 2010, 03:29 PM
  #1  
RAC
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Trip Report for Belize and Guatemala, February 2010

We just got back from 8 days in this part of the world (should have been 9, but a missed connection meant one night in Charlotte, grrrrr).

Here's our report in three sections:

1) Cayo

We spent two nights at Cahal Pech Lodge, which was a great choice for us. With the great view, screen porches, access to the Cahal Pech ruins, and bird life buzzing about it was a bargain. The service was also outstanding--they were very accomodating to us even though we had to cancel tours because of the delay in arriving. We ate dinner one night there--can't go wrong with the pineapple chicken. The pools are also nice and refreshing. Our second night's dinner was at Hanna's, and the food there is every bit as good as you read in the Guidebooks. Highly recommended.

Our one tour while in the Cayo region was the Caracol/Rio Frio cave/Rio On pools tour. This was a lot of fun--it combined ruins, jungle, and Mountain Pine Ridge. Wading in the pools was a great way to cool off and refresh. Caracol itself was the feature attraction, and it didn't disappoint--the Caana is amazing. It's also kind of cool to be part of a miltary convoy, though the road there is kind of brutal.

2) Guatemala

We arranged our transfer to Guatemala through Cahal Pech, and they did a fabulous job of seeing us to our final destination, the Tikal Inn. While you're hardly roughing it by staying there inside the park, those who are foodies (not a lot of great food inside the park--decent is what you can hope for) or who can't deal without electricity at night may have issues. But, we thought it was absolutely the right call. The archaeological reserve itself is its most magical and the surrounding forest is the most alive during early morning and late afternoon--the exact times missed by the day trippers.

If you like monkeys, Tikal is an incredible place to see Spider Monkeys. All over the place and very active, provided you're in the reserve at the right time.Howlers were easier to hear, but harder to see. The bird spotting and photography was also amazing. Trogons and toucans and parrots were everywhere. Collared aracaris flew right over our heads while we were in the pool at the Tikal Inn. There are also crocodiles near the visitors center and down the road from the old air strip.

Just an amazing time, and an overnight is a must if you have the time or if you're into nature.

The Tikal Inn was a perfectly nice place to stay, and quite reasonably priced by the standards of anywhere but Guatemala. It wasn't particularly hot while we were there, but the pool was still a nice luxury. They also set us up with a good local guide for the sunrise tour (it wasn't Roxy, but he was still good--he spotted an Orange Breasted Falcon for us). We were on the breakfast/dinner included plan, and the dinner choices were pretty limited--if we go back we'll probably opt out of that plan. Breakfast was pretty good, and I don't mind being limited to pancakes.

We spent our last full day in Guatemala doing the Tikal Canopy tour, exploring the grounds of the park a little more, and then traveling to Flores, where we spent one night before flying out the next morning. The Hotel Santana gave us a room with a great view of the lake for an extremely reasonable price, and Flores itself is a nice little town much more reasonably priced shopping than inside Tikal, and we had GREAT pizza and Pizzeria Picasso. The town itself is pretty buggy, however.

3) Lamanai.

The next morning, we flew out of the Flores airport back to Belize City on TropicAir. At Belize City, we waited at the private lounge area of our next destination, the Lamanai Outpost Lodge. Once our ride was ready, we headed out by van for about 1 hour and then took an unbelievably fantastic boat ride to the lodge for about 90 minutes. Not only was the ride itself beautiful and fun, but the wildlife itself was incredible. We saw dozens of species of birds, and got within 4 feet of a 10 foot long Morelet's crocodile. I would rank it right up there with the Cano Negro and Tarcoles boat tours we had in Costa Rica.

And this was just the transportation to our lodge.

When we arrived, someone from the lodge's front desk was waiting for us. They had someone take our bags to our cabana while we were told that lunch was waiting for us. That kind of service was typical for our stay there. The LOL was easily the most expensive place we've ever stayed, but we have ZERO doubt we got our money's worth. The food was fantastic (if you have any food issues or preferences, let them know in advance and you'll be taken care of) and the service was even better. The tours/experiences that were included in our package included tours of the ruins, a nighttime boat safari with a spotlight, sunrise canoeing, and a sunset birding/booze cruise aboard their pontoon. The wildlife spotting was remarkable, with howler monkeys EVERYWHERE, and all kinds of cool birds (we saw an Agami heron and several red-capped manakins, in addition to the toucans and parrots and trogons. Someone saw a lovely cotinga the next day at the ruins). Toss in some beautiful grounds, a serene setting on the New River lagoon, and you've got an extraordinary experience.

Our final morning, we woke up to a glorious sunrise, and after one last fantastic breakfast, we took the boat ride back and enjoyed the wildlife and scenery one more time. And, just to top things off, on the van ride back to the airport, we stopped to check out a couple of nesting Jabiru storks! It was the most fun we've ever had ending a vacation.

You can find pictures of our trip here:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?ai...2&l=3dcbd61a49

or here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/3126735...7623505110930/
RAC is offline  
Feb 28th, 2010, 03:39 PM
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Great report - thanks so much for taking the time to share with us! I enjoyed your photos, too - motmots are my favorite.
hopefulist is offline  
Feb 28th, 2010, 03:41 PM
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RAC
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This was the first time I could take a decent picture of a Blue Crowned Mot Mot--I've come within feet of them twice before--but either I didn't have my camera or there simply wasn't enough light.

Very cool birds.
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Feb 28th, 2010, 07:41 PM
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We stayed at Macal River Jungle Camp, Chaa Creek's jungly cousin and they were all over the place, good memories. Low light, though:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/staceyh...7600099592149/

Thanks again!
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Mar 1st, 2010, 05:33 PM
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Fabulous report, RAC. Loved every bit of it--makes me want to go back! You saw some really cool birds. . .especially the jabirus! Thanks for sharing. I'm off to check out the photos!
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Mar 1st, 2010, 05:48 PM
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Wow--loved the bird set. Awesome!

Your motmot, too, hopefulist. He's one of my favorites, also.

Those turkeys are gorgeous--amazing colors.

Also liked the croc photos--nice teeth!
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Mar 2nd, 2010, 07:43 AM
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Thanks for sharing. Photos are amazing. Bookmarking...
plumboy is offline  
Mar 2nd, 2010, 08:28 AM
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Sounds wonderful - thanks for sharing, RAC!
volcanogirl is offline  
Mar 2nd, 2010, 10:40 AM
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Glad to hear you enjoyed LOL! Thanks for your report and photos. Brought back many nice memories.
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Jul 27th, 2010, 11:24 AM
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RAC -- Great report! I wonder if you considered Macal River Camp at all in your planning and if so, what were the deciding factors of choosing Lamanai Outpost Lodge? I'm just in the beginning stages of planning so still getting my bearings for where everything is located and what's to do from where.
hipvirgochick is offline  
Jul 28th, 2010, 11:05 AM
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I'm not RAC but have stayed at LOL and twice in Cayo (but not at MRJC). Cayo is a better base for adventure activities and access to more ruins but LOL holds a special place in my heart. The boat ride in looking for wildlife along the way is fantastic. The ruins are right there and in addition to the guided tour you can walk there via a jungly path (good wildlife spotting opportunities here too) any time and visit for just the entrance fee. Early morning canoeing across the lagoon and up through a creek on the other side was so serene and magical (you can do this guided or unguided, we just went by ourselves). The wildlife viewing is better than in Cayo and I think it would be very unusual not to see monkeys (we saw howlers and spiders). There aren't any other lodges nearby so it's very quiet. There are day trippers at the ruins but that's about it. The food is excellent, the staff are wonderful and the guides are great. I can't say enough about this place! But it's a totally different experience from staying in Cayo so if you have time, I'd do both. If you click on my screen name, you can see my report and pics from LOL. Good luck with your decision!
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Jul 28th, 2010, 01:39 PM
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RAC
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The big attraction for the Lamanai Outpost Lodge was (1) its proximity to the Lamanai Ruins--literally across the road; and (2) the fantastic eco activities, including the boat ride in (think Cano Negro but you're the only ones on the river at that point, so all the wildlife is out). LOL is also in a different kind of ecosystem--it's on a lagoon so it offers crocodile and river animals as well as monkeys. It didn't disappoint, as you can tell from our pictures.

For the Cayo region, we chose Cahal Pech because it seemed to offer the best combination of value, service, and location (right in town, whereas MRJC is way out there). We were spending most of our time on day trips, so we didn't really need a jungle lodge for that leg--we were going to stay inside Tikal National Park and at the LOL, so we would get that experience elsewhere.

My brother had also stayed at Cahal Pech and recommended it.

Just to put things in perspective--our three days and two nights at Tikal cost less than one night at the Lamanai Outpost Lodge.
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Jul 28th, 2010, 01:45 PM
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Lamanai Outpost Lodge sounds very cool. I like the sound of all that wildlife.
volcanogirl is offline  
Jul 28th, 2010, 02:05 PM
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RAC
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More monkeys than anywhere we've been. At the lodge, there were some that would eat leaves within 18 inches of us--we could have reached out and touched them. And, one afternoon we walked on our own through the Archaeological reserve and saw 3-4 different troops. They gathered on all sides of a clearing and did their business--which made a very loud 'thud' as it landed about ten feet away from us.

It was just right--they didn't fear us at all, but at the same time they didn't try to beg or steal from us like the monos cariblancos in Manuel Antonio.
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Jul 28th, 2010, 03:16 PM
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It reminds me a little bit of Tortuguero from the pictures. Is it near Chan Chich? That's another spot that seems to be wildlife intensive.
volcanogirl is offline  
Jul 28th, 2010, 03:33 PM
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RAC - I missed your pics before so I'll have to go check those out. You are really enticing me with the wildlife opportunities I love so much. At Lamanai did you choose one of the packages to enjoy the things you did or just the nightly rate and add stuff when you got there?
hipvirgochick is offline  
Jul 28th, 2010, 04:18 PM
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Chan Chich and LOL are both in Orange Walk district. Chan Chich is about 2 hours drive inland (very close to the Guatemala border) from LOL. We did LOL, then Chan Chich and arranged a road transfer in between. The two locations have different ecosystems so you'll see somewhat different wildlife. Very good chance of seeing cats at Chan Chich. We saw an ocelot on a night walk. Guests earlier in the week saw a puma. Both are excellent lodges. Chan Chich is more upscale and has much more extensive grounds for hiking but I personally slightly prefer the lagoon setting of LOL. You can't go wrong with either though. To get to/from Belize City and Chan Chich requires a 4 hour drive or charter flight.
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Jul 28th, 2010, 04:39 PM
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RAC
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We chose the all-inclusive package--free transportation, all meals included, plus two activities per day.

I'll defer to Patty on the distance between LOL and Chan Chich--we looked at Chan Chich as well but decided for LOL because (1) better ruins (2) more varied wildlife activities and (3) it wound up being substantially cheaper--LOL was easily the most expensive place we've ever stayed (totally worth every penny though).
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Jul 28th, 2010, 04:42 PM
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RAC
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Hip; My flickr account changed for some reason--here are the two wildlife photo pages:

Birds:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/3126735...7623505118620/

Monkeys and crocs:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/3126735...7623505136530/
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Jul 28th, 2010, 06:03 PM
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I think they both look awesome. hip, I can't wait to see where you end up.
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