A Travellerspoint blog

Belize - Week 1

19th January 2020

This morning we were back Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. We had an early start as we had to make our way to Miami International airport for our flight to Belize City.

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Belize City was the capital of Belize until 1970 and is a typical Caribbean town. Parts of the town are still largely built of wood and galvanised iron, with many of the original colonial style houses in an elegant state of disrepair. There is also a canal system through the old part of town and Creole English is widely spoken. They moved the capital away from the coast due to the continuous damage from hurricanes as Belize City is at sea level. We stayed overnight at the Ramada Princess Hotel; it was right on the waterfront. This is the view from our window. We had a relaxing afternoon and just had a walk along the waterfront.

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Some of the houses in town.

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20th January

This morning we made a few stops before heading out of town. The Sugar Fix Bakery had amazing fresh baked banana bread. The best we have ever eaten.

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We then stopped at a fruit stand, where the fruit was so fresh.

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We then headed to the Maya Ruins of Altun Ha. They are located 31 miles north of Belize City on the Old Northern Highway. The site was first recognised in 1957. The earliest evidence of settlement dates to 200 BC but the first major construction took place around 100 A.D.
Altun Ha was a wealthy ceremonial centre boasting two main plazas, thirteen structures (including the Temple of Sun God or the Temple of the Masonry Altars).
Here you can see the mounds that have still not been uncovered but would have temples beneath them.

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This is the Temple of the Sun God.

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Other ruins around the plazas.

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One of the birds we saw.

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Later, we arrived at Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary on the shores of the Crooked Tree Lagoon.

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The Crooked Tree Lagoon is up to a mile wide and more than 20 miles long. Along its banks lies the village of Crooked Tree, settled in the 1750s during the early days of the logwood era. This island, surrounded by fresh water, was once accessible only by boats traveling up the Belize River and Black Creek; the waterways were used to float the logs out to the sea. It wasn’t until 1981 that the three-mile-long causeway leading into the village was built, bringing cars, buses, and other modern conveniences to the village. It was dark when we arrived so we will get to take a look around tomorrow.

21st January

We are staying at the Bird’s Eye View Lodge.

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This morning we were up at 5.30 to explore the lagoon by boat. It was a lovely morning.

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In this birdwatcher’s paradise we spotted quite a few different birds and some we were told were quite rare.

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This bird had a really long tail.

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Another iguana.

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The water looked really inviting but you cannot swim there.

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We returned to the lodge for breakfast. There were lots of hummingbirds buzzing about. We saw two different varieties. Keep in mind they are only 3 or 4 inches tall.

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We then set off by bus to the New River for the 27-mile boat ride upstream to the 2000-year-old jungle ruins of Lamanai. The banks of the river changed constantly, but there were palms, and lots of bromeliads and resting iguanas.

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It was a lovely trip and we saw more bird life.

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This was the most unusual bird we found. It had an amazing beak.

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We even saw some little bats.

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The boat trip ended in the lagoon which runs in to the New River. Once we got off the boat, we had lunch and then our first stop was at the failed Sugar Cane Refinery. It was incredible how the plants have just grown through the remains.

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Lamanai, the original name of these Maya ruins, means Submerged Crocodile. The ruins are located some distance off the beaten track, and most are still not reconstructed or cleared. We approached on foot following rough trails. The surrounding rainforest with its thick canopy of huge trees, and humid atmosphere added an aura of mystery to the scattered and overgrown relics.

This is the Jaguar Temple.

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It is said that the decorative figures look like Jaguars.

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A cache of children's bones has been unearthed from beneath one of the stelae, suggesting that the Maya practiced human sacrifice here. This is the Stelae Temple. The stelae is the big stone tablet.

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This is the ball court. It is said to be the smallest one that has been found to date.

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This is the High Temple. It is 33 metres in height and the tallest structure in Lamanai, it is also one of the largest Preclassical structures in the Mayan area.

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You can see that it used to have rows of faces on it.

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There were views of the lagoon from the top.

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Our last ruin was the Mask Temple. When this was uncovered, they discovered these amazing masks. So that they were not destroyed they used some type of adhesive over the top of them so that you can still see the details as they are underneath.

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Throughout our walk you could hear the Howler Monkeys. They were so loud, and we were lucky enough to see them. There was even a baby.

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We also saw a coati.

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After a full day we sped back the 27 miles we had travelled. This took just under an hour.

22nd January

This morning we got up early again to do a bird walk. It was surprising how much bird life was around that time of the morning. We got to see some different varieties.

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Once again, we saw some hummingbirds. They were resting on some Christmas lights which shows you how small they are.

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We then farewelled Crooked Tree.

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We then headed off to the Community Baboon Sanctuary in search of howler monkeys. It is called a Baboon Sanctuary but there are no baboons there. Here we had a chance to watch a troop of black howler monkeys swinging from the trees in their natural habitat.

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The cutter ants were everywhere, and all their activity had created actual highways.

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Our next stop was the capital of Belize which is Belmopan. We only had a short stop for lunch. There wasn’t much to see.
This is their parliament building.

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This is an independence monument.

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We then began our journey south along the scenic Hummingbird Highway, where orange and grapefruit groves are surrounded by a backdrop of lush jungle clad limestone hills - The Maya Mountains. Our day ended in the beach resort of Placencia, a town located at the end of a narrow peninsula between mangrove lagoons and the Maya Mountains and the Caribbean Sea. What a lovely spot. We are staying at the Sea Spray Hotel right on the beach.

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They have the Guinness Book of Records narrowest street.

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23rd January

Placencia is southern Belize's premier beach spot. We had the choice of going snorkelling or doing another river trip. This time to Monkey River. As we had already done some snorkelling and finish this trip off at a beach, we thought we would enjoy another river trip. So we got up early for breakfast. This is the outlook we had for breakfast.

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We both ordered a traditional Belizean breakfast of Stuffed Jack. It had scrambled egg, bacon, ham and refried beans in it, and it was deep fried in a pastry. It was yummy.

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Just outside our hotel we saw this squirrel.

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We then headed to the dock to get a boat to Monkey River which is a coastal watercourse in southern Belize that rises in the Maya Mountains and discharges to the Caribbean Sea near Monkey River. To get there we went through some mangroves.

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The scenery along the river was like a jungle.

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There was this amazing big red flower along the river and it had big seed pods hanging off too.

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We were so lucky and saw a lot of birds.

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Even some more small bats.

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There were lots of iguanas sunning their selves.

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This lizard was so well camouflaged, and its head looks like a leaf.

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We got off the boat and had a walk through the jungle.

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This was a pretty fungus.

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We got to see another troop of Howler Monkeys and got a good look at the male this time.

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There were quite a few turtles sunning their selves.

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We were even lucky enough to find a crocodile.

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We stopped at the Monkey River Community for lunch at Alice’s Restaurant.

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We had rice, chicken, plantain, coleslaw and some sort of sauce which was really tasty.

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This is the river entrance.

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On the way back we went searching for manatees. We were lucky enough to see one, although it was only quick glimpse when it came to the surface for a breath.
This is how you can see where they are. They create a bubble.

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The quick glimpse we got.

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We got back mid-afternoon so went straight to the beach. Shane had a swim.

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Nicola relaxed in her chair.

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In the evening we went for a walk down to the waterfront. Some of the fishing boats had just come in. They had a big fish.

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The birds were hanging around.

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We couldn’t help but laugh at this rum sign.

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We had a walk around and found this big chair on the beach.

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Next door was this crocodile sign.

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In case we didn’t know where we were, we found this sign.

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We had a beautiful sunset.

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24th January

We had a full day to pack in today, so we were on the road at 6am. The hotel restaurant was not open for breakfast at that time so about an hour out of Palencia we stopped for breakfast as this little family restaurant called the Southern Highway Snack and Café.

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We enjoyed tamales for breakfast. This is a traditional Mayan food. They boil them in plantain leaves. The photo doesn’t look very appetising but boy they were tasty.

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After breakfast we visited the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.

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This is the world's first and only jaguar reserve, in the heart of an important large tract of undisturbed tropical forest that is thought to have the densest population of jaguars in all the America's; the magnificent cats are a protected species here in their natural habitat and are no longer hunted as big game: however, we would have to be extremely fortunate to spot one. They can grow up to six feet in length and weigh some 159 kilograms.
The reserve is home to five species of wild cats, wild pigs, dwarf brocket and white-tailed deer’s as well as Belize's national mammal - the Tapir. The park is also home to more than 300 species of birds that can be found on an extensive network of maintained trails. We only got to see a couple of birds.

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We did an energetic hike through the rainforest.

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We hiked to the clearing of "Ben's Bluff" that offers incredible views of the forest and towards Belize's most iconic mountain - Victoria Peak at 1120m.

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This is Victoria Peak. It is the second highest peak in Belize.

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This is Out Lier.

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There was some unusual fungus.

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On the way back down, we headed to a small waterfall. The water was freezing so I didn’t go in but Shane did. He said it was very refreshing.

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This was the closest we got to seeing a jaguar.

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Just outside the park is a Mayan Chocolate shop where they make their own chocolate. The chocolate brand is Che’il which means wild Mayan. Mayans were the first known humans to cultivate Cacao.

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Leaving the Chocolate shop, we drove on towards San Ignacio on the hummingbird highway, and we stopped at an organic farm and had a wander around.

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We enjoyed a coconut.

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This is the cannon ball tree.

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We saw a couple of birds.

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This tree had an amazing massive flower.

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Our last stop for the day was at the St Herman’s Blue Hole - a collapsed limestone cavern where you could have a swim. Yet again I chickened out. Shane went in, he said the water wasn’t as cold as the waterfall.

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We finally arrived in San Ignacio where we are staying at the Cahal Pech Resort. We had dinner at the hotel restaurant. The meal was massive, tasty and very well priced. Shane decided to have an entrée of Shrimp Ceviche which came out in a shell with tortilla chips.

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He then had the hotel speciality of Pineapple chicken. It was served in an actual pineapple. It was so delicious.

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25th January

San Ignacio, a traditional Belizean town, is an ideal place to base ourselves for the next couple of days.

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Straddling the Macal River which was once a critical transportation artery for the Maya and later the European settlers the town is now a centre for many adventurous activities. Today we had a couple of things planned. First, we made a visit to the great classical Maya site of Xunantunich, Mayan for 'Stone Lady’, perhaps for phallic or fertility reasons. We had to cross the River Mopan by traditional hand-winched ferry to arrive at the site, which was fun to watch.

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Sitting on the edge of the ferry was a little Tree Swallow.

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Xunantunich is one of the largest Maya sites in the Belize River Valley.

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Some of the ruins as you enter.

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Occupied until about AD 850, the main plaza is dominated by an awesome structure called El Castillo - a massive pyramid which rises to 42 metres.

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They think that this was a throne for the high priest.

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On the top is a partially restored stucco frieze representing the Sun God and astronomical signs of the Moon and Venus. The stucco is on both sides of the El Castillo. Once again to save them, they have put an adhesive layer over the top so you can see what was found.

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These are 2 of the phallic symbols.

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As you climbed higher you went through a tunnel which had bats living in it.

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There were superb views from the summit. You can see out over the forest with the Maya mountains to the south and the lowlands of Guatemala to the west. You also get a great view of the ruins.

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As we were as high as the trees it was easier to see the White-Crowned Parrot.

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From the summit you also look over what they think was a residence. It is unusual to see round columns like this one has.

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As we climbed down there was a Black Spiny Tailed Iguana.

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This is a tomb.

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Some other birds we saw. Not sure what this one is called.

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The Great Tailed Grackle

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There was another ball court. In the interpretation centre there was a display so you could see how the ball court was set up and what the goals looked like. The game was played by two or more players who were expected to keep a hard rubber ball in play by hitting it with their arms, legs or thighs. Points were scored when the ball went through the vertical hoop. The ball wasn’t much smaller than the hoop.

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This was the Royal Palace and grounds. They suggest that sometime around 744 A.D. the palace was destroyed due to all the broken remains on the floors of the rooms.

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A view from the top looking back at El Castillo.

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After visiting Xunantunich, we returned to San Ignacio and visited a market, full of Belize's colourful cross section of diverse people and the local produce they bring to town from the surrounding hills on a Saturday.

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We then had some lunch. Shane ordered chicken fajitas which I shared with him.

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In the afternoon we went cave canoeing into the Mayan underworld at the stunning Barton Creek cave system. Barton Creek Cave is a primarily single passage resurging stream cave. Extensive looting of artefacts occurred soon after the cave was first reported, but it remains an important site for archaeologists. Evidence of cave use by the Maya exists on ten ledges within the first kilometre of cave passage. Pottery shards indicate use between the Early Classic (200 to 600 CE) to the Late Classic (600 to 900 CE) periods. The remains of at least 28 humans have been found within the cave. This was a wonderful experience and lots of fun.
First, we received our safety briefing, hard hat and life jacket. You then had someone with an oar and a person sitting in the front with a waterproof battery and a torch.
The entrance.

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Once inside there were lots of rock formation and some artefacts.

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They believe this to be a bridge the Mayans used inside the caves. There are even signs that foot holds have been carved out.

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The view as we came out of the cave.

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Posted by shaneandnicola 15:16 Archived in Belize

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