Our Principal Investigator on our Frontier Belize camp in Caye Caulker gives us a rundown on everything Belize and why it should be added to your bucket list..
Why go to Belize
Aerial view of Lighthouse Reef
Visiting the second largest barrier reef, rainforests, caves and Mayan ruins are just a few of the amazing activities you can explore in Belize. Arriving late to the ecotourism business, Belize in comparison to the rest of Central America and CARICOM is still relatively untouched and pristine. With 42% of Belize being a green zone it is the perfect location for those looking to immerse themselves in the natural world. Visiting one of the nearby islands such as Caye Caulker or Ambergris Caye snorkelling and scuba-diving are the most popular activities but many people prefer to appreciate the Go Slow mentality of the islands and relax in a hammock on the beach with a Coco Loco (Belizean rum and a coconut).
Relaxing on the camp pier at the end of the day
While on the mainland tubing on rivers through long caves is one of the most breathtaking adventures you can have. The Mayans believed these were pathways to the underworld, so you can imagine how exciting it is floating through 7 miles of underground caves while swirling around stalagmites protruding from the water with brief glimpses of mist filtered light from the outside jungle to guide your way. If you prefer to get your adrenaline rush above ground there is the option of some speedy zip lining through the jungle.
Alternatively the jungle is home to a number of impressive Mayan ruins, remnants of the advanced Mayan civilization which evolved around 350 B.C in the tropical lowlands of Belize. The arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century led to the unfortunate end of the Maya civilization but their legacy has permanently marked the landscape. One of the best ruins to visit is Xunantunich, which means “maiden of the rock” in Maya. It can only be accessed via water from the village of San Jose Succotz but provides excellent views of the entire river valley and Mopan River rapids. It is the second tallest ruin in all of Belize standing 133 feet tall and occupies several square kilometres, consisting of more than 25 temples and palaces with sun god masks decorating the walls and an astronomical carved frieze on the main palace building.
Visiting Caye Caulker (Home to Frontier Belize)
Caye Caulker is a beautiful mangrove 8km long and 2km wide island just one mile from the Belize Barrier Reef. The island was formed by red mangroves in shallow waters accumulating sand and eventually land ridges allowing for the growth of the littoral forest. The Spanish name for Caye Caulker is Cayo Hicaco which means “the island of the cocoplum”. Coconuts were once exported for commercial oil production but the lethal yellowing disease and Hurricane Keith 2000 destroyed many coconut trees. Coconuts are still used extensively in the local diet. Nowadays the main export is lobsters. Commercial lobster fishing began in the 1920s when Captain Foote from Canada introduced lobster traps to Belize. It wasn’t until the 1960s that tourists began coming to Caye Caulker, since then it has become a popular backpacker vacation spot home to 80 small family-run hostels and 30 restaurants with much of the traditional culture intact. You won’t find a McDonalds on Caye Caulker.
The motto of the island is ‘Go Slow’ and you will be hard pressed to forget it. If you cycle or walk faster than the local speed you may find yourself receiving a friendly reminder by a local shouting at you on the street or kids telling you off. The hostel motto on the other hand is “one more night” as most people find themselves staying a few days or weeks longer than they expected having fallen for the slow pace of life and chilled vibe. The island is more like a Caribbean island than part of Central America, you may become a little rusty with your Spanish skills but the mix of cultures and Rastafari influence is what makes Caye Caulker a very unique destination.
Despite being a small island there is a wealth of activities to keep everyone happy, with watersports being the obvious main attraction. Snorkel tours go out a few times a day and take visitors to locations such as Shark and Ray Alley where unsurprisingly you will see seahorses…or more likely 20-30 nurse sharks and an equal numbers of stingrays. Both the nurse sharks and rays are used to tourists and you’re more than welcome to swim around with them getting some pretty incredible pictures in the process. Scuba diving locations include sites such as Esmeralda and Coral Gardens or if you fancy spending the whole day scuba diving you could venture out to the Great Blue Hole, made famous by none other than Jacques Cousteau himself and one of the top 10 dive sites in the world. The first dive of the day is the Blue Hole itself where you dive down to see the three S’s stalactites, stalagmites and sharks. The next two dives of the day, lighthouse reef and half-moon caye, are sometimes considered even better than the Blue Hole dive with words like ‘unparalleled’ and ‘exquisite’ being thrown around.
Alternatively if chilling is your aim then the Split is your destination. The Split is named for the channel that divides the island in two. Home to the Lazy Lizard bar and restaurant is has become a popular hangout to cool off, drink some ‘Lizard Juice’ and watch the sunset. You will have more sunset photos than you know what to do with by the end of your trip to Caye Caulker.
When to go
Belize is warm all year round with temperatures ranging from 26-35°C. Hurricane season is from July-November, the last hurricane hit Belize in August 2016 but prior to that it had been 6 years since a hurricane made landfall on Belize. The ‘high season’ of Belize and Caye Caulker is November-January with ‘low season’ being September-October. Prices are cheaper in low season and this time of year may appeal more to those looking to travel quietly and avoid crowds of tourists. However if you are looking for a party or to tag along with a group of fellow travellers then high season may be more for you. There really isn’t a bad time to visit Belize.
The most economical way to travel around Belize is by ‘Chicken bus’ with the trip from San Ignacio to Belize City costing 9 BZD. Although nicknamed ‘Chicken buses’ the buses are actually old US school buses that have become an efficient form of transportation in Central America. Depending on your driver you may find yourself holding on tight as you slide around tight corners and rocket down the highway or find yourself stopping every 15m to pick up passengers. It is pretty rare to find yourself sitting next to someone carrying livestock on the chicken bus, but it can happen. Despite their cons the chicken bus is still the cheapest way to travel the country and they somehow keep to on time to schedule so there isn’t any reason to hesitate hopping on one.
Getting to Caye Caulker is more expensive with the water taxi from Belize City costing 50 BZD round trip, but once you’re on the island there is no more need for public transport as everything you need is within walking distance.
Belizean Dollar (BZD) but the USD can be used everywhere with $1USD to $2BZD making the exchange math easy.
English and Creole are the main languages of Belize but many speak Spanish too. The further you move to the borders the greater the number of people who speak Spanish.