Belize is a small country in size and population. It is approximately the size of Massachusetts and has a population of about 360,000. We knew our visit was going to be relatively short compared to Mexico, but we were going to make the most out of it.
After crossing the border, we couldn’t get used to all of the signs in English and speed limits, distances, etc. in standard units after being accustomed to Spanish and the metric system for two months. Additionally, it was instantly clear that the country has a unique culture as it shares borders with Mexico and Guatemala, yet has strong Caribbean influence as well.
The first major town we visited was Corozal. We found the architecture had changed significantly with mostly stick built structures as opposed to the cinder block and concrete structures of Mexico. Many houses were built up on stilts, similar to those in Florida near flood areas. We loved the bright colors among the lush vegetation.
In Baja, we intended on having our windows tinted, but never got around to it. While driving through town, we noticed a sign for window tinting and pulled right in. With increasing temperatures and the desire for a little extra security, we pulled in for what we thought would be a quick tint job, but ended up being the beginning a great friendship.
Forest and his wife, Ruby, run window tinting and ceviche businesses out of their home and we felt an instant connection with them. We must have visited for two hours while Forest casually tinted our windows and, when he was done,said they would be happy to have us park in their yard for the evening. With much more visiting to be done, we took them up on their offer, barely made it under the telephone wires and set up camp.
Forest and Ruby’s son, Josh, got out of school at 3:00 and took us across the street to cool off with a swim in the ocean. We threw the frisby and got to know each other for a while. Later that evening, he and his cousin, Naim, showed us how they fish and ended up catching two catfish in no time at all. We were impressed!
In the morning, we sipped some coffee and swapped a few more stories before it was time for us to get back on the road. Again, another incredible friendship was made on the road and is an experience we will always remember. Additionally, the window tint has been great so far!
Our next stop after leaving Corozal was Belize City. The landscape slowly changed from sugar cane fields to pine trees mixed with palm trees. It was a so strange and beautiful to see and was certainly nothing we had seen before. We arrived in Belize City and set up camp at the marina. The cool breeze made for a good night’s sleep and prepared us for the next day’s adventure, Caye Caulker.
Caye Caulker (pronouced key), is a small island off the Belizean coast where approximately 1,300 people live. It is a popular tourist destination that is much different than the previous tourist destinations we have experienced. We hopped on the 9am water taxi and 45 minutes later, arrived at the island.
Caye Caulker is famous for its laid back spirit, charismatic residents and beautiful sights. Being so small, vehicles are not allowed on the island. In fact, there are no paved roads on the entire island. Bicycling is the easiest way to get around although many residents use golf carts too. We opted to rent bikes so we could make the most of our visit.
We headed to the north side of the island to start off the morning. Looking at a map, Caye Caulker is fairly long and skinny and, many years ago, a hurricane split the island at the narrow point in the middle. The location has been dubbed “the split” and has become a popular place for tourists to sip drinks at the Lazy Lizard and watch kayaks, jet skis and boats navigate the split.
Having visited the north end of the island, we hopped on our bikes and headed south through town slowly meandering and soaking in all of the sights. The saying on the island is “go slow” so that’s what we did as we peddled as slow as we could and stopping frequently on our way. After riding for 30 minutes, we ended up on a dirt path cut through the mangroves that took us to the south point of the island.
The temperature was about 90 degrees as we began peddling back north and we needed to cool off, so we went for a swim at a small beach on northwest side of the island. We brought our snorkel gear and saw many interesting looking fish in the area. Interestingly, as we approached “the split” mentioned above, the current became very strong and we had to swim pretty hard to get back to the shallow waters.
Usually, we eat all three meals out of our camper while we are traveling. We eat out no more than once per week and it is usually something cheap. Being on Caye Caulker, we viewed our visit as a special occasion and splurged for lunch. We had a conch fritters for an appetizer, Laughlin had some awesome chicken strips and sweet potato fries and I had jerked pork tacos. Our lunch was washed down with the local Belikin stout. It was a treat we enjoyed greatly!
To finish out our visit to the island, we did as the locals do and bought some less expensive beer from a convenience store and found two hammocks where we could kick back and relax.
Initially, we intended on staying the night on the island, but we procrastinated and couldn’t find a hotel in our price range. We wish we could have seen more and visited for at least two days. It seems as though many foreigners come to the island and stay for a few weeks or months and we agreed that spending a month here in our permanent retirement years would be a lot of fun.
From Belize City, we headed inland to the Blue Hole National Park. Once again, the heat was becoming unbearable and combined with the humidity, we felt like we were in the world’s biggest sauna. We escaped from the heat by entering St. Herman’s Cave where it was dark and cool, then took a dip in the Blue Hole. The Blue Hole we visited is the one you can drive to, not “the” Blue Hole, which can only be accessed by boat. The Blue Hole we visited is a small area where the underground rivers with strong currents reach the surface and make for great swimming holes. Underground cave tubing is an activity offered here that would be so much fun, but we passed as the costs are pretty steep.
Our sixth and final full day in Belize was spent with a badly needed trip to the mountains. We left San Ignacio and headed towards 1,000 Foot Falls. About two hours of driving dusty roads, we arrived and in the distance we saw the falls. It was beautiful to see the steady flow of water sailing over the cliff and drift to the rocks below. We had a nice chat with the grounds keeper who indicated there were many other sites to see in the area including Big Rock Falls, Five Sisters Falls and Rio Frio Cave. Big Rock Falls was incredible and the large pools below it would have made for an awesome swimming hole, but we opted not to bring out swim suits with us. Rookie mistake!
As afternoon was approaching, we decided we would finish our visit to the park by checking out Rio Frio Cave. We plugged in the coordinates into Google Maps and away we went. After turning down a small two track road, we began to question whether we were on the right road as there were few tire tracks and the road was washed out in many sections. Additionally, there were game cameras along the road that indicated they were looking for Jaguars in the area. We parked the truck and began walking down a trail and after seeing what looked like large cat tracks, we turned around, hopped in the truck and began looking for a different road. Not more than a mile later, we found the real road and saw Rio Frio Cave. The cave is enormous at about 50 yards wide and equally as tall and is similar to the Tonto Natural Bridge in Arizona, only about three times larger. Arriving at the middle of the cave, we were able to see light from the upstream end and got a great panoramic photo of both ends. We were happy we were persistent in finding the cave as it was a real treat.
In Baja, we helped four vehicles escape from the sand after becoming stuck, all in one night. It was a bit ridiculous, but fun too. Driving back to San Ignacio, we made our fifth vehicle recovery, which was a box truck loaded with bags of concrete and cinder blocks that slid off the road. We pulled out the chain, hooked up our Dodge, put the truck in four low and without too much effort, pulled the truck right out of the hole and back onto the road. Fortunately, we have not been the stuck vehicle but are building up our Karma account in the event it happens to us!
Our visit to Belize was short, but also sweet and rewarding. We met some wonderful people, experienced its islands, mountains, salt water and freshwater, and dirt, gravel and paved roads. The hot weather during the day was offset by the cool evenings and strong ocean breezes. It will be missed, but our adventure continues as we head to Guatemala next!