Before arriving in Belize I was a little confused about what to expect. Numerous friends had visited and only spoken good things upon return, aside from it being ‘expensive’, I had done a bit of research and seen pictures of amazing beaches, lots of Rasta’s and heard stories about the renowned Carribean style island of ‘Caye Caulker’ which offers an incredible way of life and amazing sunsets…
However, alongside this I had read up some Belizean facts and found out that, until only recently (1981) has Belize gained its own full independence. Prior to this Belize in fact was a British colony and as a result, their primary language remains as English, our Queeny is on some of their notes and although they have their own currency (Belizian $) it is locked at 2:1 agaist the USD. Therefore, we didn’t know quite what to expect, would it be Westernised? Also, Belize is the same size as our University country (Wales) and it is still suffering serious issues with corruption, a struggling economy (with very high unemployment) and crazy importation taxes (40%!!). How could so much good stuff still be packed in with these serious issues going on!?
Nonetheless, we were open minded and very excited to experience this Carribean culture, the extremely laid back lifestyle, amazingly fresh seafood and had also lined up a volunteering project at a ‘Garifuna’ drum school, helping with social media, marketing & outdoor work whilst living with a local Belizian family. Aside from this we didn’t have a strict plan.
Our 3 weeks in Belize…
We were not disappointed. We had an incredible mixture of experiences in Belize, but maybe not for the reasons we had initially expected and we changed our route plan quite considerably after learning more from locals about what was on offer. Our major highlights were our 3 day Ragamuffins sailing/waterspots/camping on beautiful desert island tour, a day exploring caves where ancient Mayan sacrifices occured and the extremely authentic and thought provoking experience we had whilst volunteering at a local drum school.
Travelling around Belize
The Belizian bus journeys were incredible and easy despite being solely on chicken buses! The views were absolutely spectucular (more greenery that I could have ever imagined) and so many incredible towns and villages to observe. Another great thing about travelling in Belize (in comparison to larger Central American countries such as Guatemala) is that bus journeys are relatively short and few major hills keep travel sickness at bay!
In areas where there is no available public transport, hitch hiking is the complete norm and regarded as perfectly safe. The only thing was I had to ensure Sam was out of eyesight if we wanted to be picked up ASAP!
On one occassion we were picked up by a lovely guy but 3 of us had to squeeze into a 1m squared space as he was transporting food produce and the trailer was completely full of grains so this was Sam and a local lady who was also hitching sitting on grains for the journey in the back of the trailer!
Volunteering at a drum school
This was the experience that exposed us the most to the real Belizian way and at times was frustrating and challenging trying to adapt to the Belizian culture as they are SO LAID BACK! We stayed for 1 week at this traditional Garifuna drum school in Punta Gorda (South Belize). Sam de-weeded a large garden and I worked on social media & helping the owner with setting up an incentive system as they really need more business (basically local businesses e.g. hotels/restaraunts who send people to the drum school will now be incentivised to do so). It was suprisingly simple and even more suprising to me that they hadn’t thought to implement anything like this yet!
I am going to write a seperate blog post delving into our experiences here as it really was something completely unique to us to be exposed to the Belizian & Garufina cultures for a length of time!
Undeniably, this place has a lot of hype, but for good reasons. I would sum it up as a ‘Carribean Island for Backpackers‘. Everyone is trying to sell you something, from lobster dinners to drugs and there are hammocks everywhere – picture below if of me sitting in one to read my book and it fell to the ground, leaving me with a very sore bum!
There isn’t that much in your face stuff to do but we actaully kept ourselves pretty busy for 6 days, cycling around the whole island, exploring different spits to jump off, snorkling galore, making friends, watching local football matches, outdoor cinema etc etc. We think back to our 6 days in Caye Caulker as our ‘holiday within our travels’ as everything was so laid back & easy.
Below is a few piccies of us with Zoe & Garth, some awesome Aussies we made friends with at the renowned ‘Spit’ where people go to drink beer, sunbath and jump in the beautiful water!
This is a day trip, leaving from San Ignacio (Western Belize, just by the Guatemala crossing) where you explore completely unexcavated Mayan ruins, but to get there you need to wade, walk and climb hours through a fragile caving system. Before booking our tour we read up numerous reviews on Trip Advisor about how physically strenuous, scary and exhausting the day would be. Fortunately we also noticed that most of this type of review was from North Americans and only took the advice with a pinch of salt!
Although it does involve a good amount of swimming, climbing and squeezing through rocks, it was perfectly achievable for anybody with even a low fitness level, unless you are fat as even we were struggling to squeeze through some of the small rocks!
Such an amazing yet harrowing experience learning about how the ancient Mayan’s brought people to the caves to sacrifice them. Information was generally not set in stone and open for interpretation as the caves had only been found relatively recently. However, this is what made the experience particularly special as none of the bodily nor artifactual remains had been excavated.
Unfortunately cameras are no longer allowed as last year a lady was photographing a skeleton and dropped her camera onto it, the result is a cranium with a camera shaped hole going right through it! Eughhhhh.
One of the peaks of my travels so far, in fact, a major peak of my entire life so far! This was a 3 day sailing trip around the Caribbean seas, spear fishing for each nights dinner, eating lobster on desert islands with our new friends, unlimited rum and incredible sunsets sounds like the dream and it 100% was!
We set sail on a beautiful Catermaran with about 18 others from around the world and 3 Belizian crew members. This is us with my favourite captain Shame who had lots of great stories, including that although he would regularly try and push off female guest that were trying it on, sometimes they would be so forceful and pin him down so he had no choice. He said this in a very serious voice but I’m not so convinced!We stopped 3 times a day to snorkel and learn about the fish & reefs. The crew prepared the most amazing meals in the tiniest kitchen on the boat too!
I had no idea how challenging spear fishing was and actually I was also surprised at how difficult normal fishing off of the back of the boat also was and believe this to be due to the overfishing/reef destruction which is happening in the Carribean sea. Very sad to learn about. Below is a picture of a massive barracuda we caught spear fishing!!
Camping in paradise was even more amazing that I had imagined. Out in these completely non polluted areas the stars shine so bright and it made it a perfect occassion to lie on the beach and watch shooting stars! Belize is also full of stray dogs and they tend to be very friendly, this is one which guarded our tent for the night!
I literally cannot fault the 3 day trip they organized, starting in Caye Caulker and ending in another beautiful place, Placencia. If you’re ever thinking of a trip to Belize then I would majorly advice looking into it!
Spending a day with a Mayan Family
If you have visited Central America you will be well aware of the Mayan traditions and history. There are still vast numbers of Mayans living in Belize and surrounding countries and they have a lot to offer in terms of educating us on the ways they live and how this is continually changing.
The family we visited in ‘Big Falls’ area (South of Belize, close to Punta Gorda) were, of course, tiny and square faced with very tanned skin and ‘built’ bodies, the traditional Mayan look! The family taught us about their instruments (how these are made, played etc), what they eat and how they cook and my favourite part, their medicinal garden. It was amazing to learn about how many different concoctions of leaves they would boil and cure nearly every ailment with such a high success rate (at least that’s what they told me). However, apparantly these medicinal herbs do not work in the same way any longer and wouldn’t have as high success rate for Westerners as diet and lifestyle would not complement.
Belize is another country which I can now admit to loving. Although being only the size of Wales, Belize has the lowest population density of any Central American country and has such a vast range of landscapes, from beautiful beaches to jungle to mountainous farm lands to caves, I really had no idea that it would be so diverse!
Despite having heard it is a very expensive country to travel in I think this is only relative to other central american countries such as Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala. In comparison to London life it is very affordable and if you stay clear from buying imported goods (e.g. crisps which are extortianate) you avoid the 40% importation tax!
Something of Belize which really amazed us is the diversity of its inhabitants. There are so, so many cultures mixing together, creating something which, like its landscapes, is so diverse and beautiful. I found the quote below in a Belizian book and think this sums up what I mean 🙂