I put 7 weeks of blood, sweat and tears, into this building. She withstood Chantel and stood proudly amongst the palms.
Has anyone been there since? I'm desperate to get some new photos of the place since we left...
Parnell is another one of Caye Caulker's popular fishing guides and lately he has taken to feeding tarpons in his backyard, and a whole bunch of them can now be seen swimming around his dock every day. Although it might be tempting, no one - I repeat, no one - is allowed to fish there! However, visitors are more than welcome to buy a pack of sardines ($5) to feed these monstrous beasts of the sea. Tarpons are generally 5 to 8 foot long, and they can weigh up to 300 pounds so it does take quite a bit of courage to hold a sardine above the water until one of them snatches it right out of your hand! You don't have to worry about getting bitten, but you might get scratched a little. It's a small price to pay for all the fun you'll have, though!
If you want to see me feed one, you can take a look at the short video I've uploaded :o)
The Mayan site of Altun Ha is located about 50 km away from Belize City and it was first explored in the 1960s by Dr. David Pendergast of the Royal Ontario Museum, the same archeologist responsible for the research conducted at Lamanai and other ancient sites in Belize. It is believed that the site was inhabited roughly from 200 BC to 900 AD, with a population of about 10,000 people at its peak. Rico told us that one of the theories that exist to explain the fall of the Mayan empire actually comes from some evidence uncovered in Altun Ha that the population might have revolted against its leaders, as shown by the looting of tombs and temples that is estimated to have taken place shortly before the site was abandoned. Then as now, knowledge was power, and once the rulers were taken down, it is believed that the uneducated population struggled to survive and eventually had to relocate to a different site.
One of the things I really enjoyed about Altun Ha is that just the right amount of excavation and restoration work has been done to give visitors a good feel of what the city looked like, without taking too much away from its natural surroundings. Also, you can climb up all the pyramids, including the 16 m high "Temple of Masonery Altars" (the one featured on Belikin bottles). It's also interesting to know that one of the biggest carved jade pieces ever uncovered, a 10-pound stone featuring the head of the Mayan sun god, was found at Altun Ha - it can be seen on the upper left-hand corner of Belizean dollar notes.
After hiking around Altun Ha for a little over an hour, we made one last stop by the (slightly tacky) Maruba Jungle Resort to enjoy a refreshing meal and some drinks - some also went for a quick dip in the pool. We then made our way back by bus and boat to Caye Caulker. All in all, I have to say that even though Altun Ha was not quite as impressive as Lamanai, I still very much enjoyed our visit, especially because Rico was such an amazing guide - if only for this reason, I would definitely recommend booking this trip with Anwar Tours!
Two years ago when we first visited Caye Caulker, we went on an amazing excursion to the Mayan ruins of Lamanai. This time, we thought we'd visit the smaller site of Altun Ha, made famous partly thanks to the fact that Belikin beer bottles feature one of its temples on their label. We decided to book this excursion through Anwar Tours, mostly because their guide Rico is known as one of the best on the island, and also because they operate their own boat, which saves the hassle of having to take a water taxi to Belize City. From Caye Caulker, we made our way directly to Northern River - that part of the excursion was somewhat similar to going up New River to Lamanai: thanks to Rico's amazing knowledge of the river, we got to see some more of Belize's exotic flora and fauna, and were even greeted by a couple of smiling crocodiles :o)
After a 45-min boat ride, we reached the small village of Bomba where a rackety bus was waiting for us. We had a bit of time to walk around the village, which is mainly known for its wood carving artists. There's about a dozen tiny huts located near the dock in which the villagers sell different types of arts and crafts, and I did end up buying a really nice bracelet. Once our shopping was done, we took a seat on the bus and enjoyed the bumpy ride to Altun Ha!
There are several archeological sites dating back to the Mayan era throughout Belize. After shopping around for a while, we decided to book a daytrip to Lamanai as this excursion also included a guided speedboat tour on New River and the site itself was described as one of the biggest and most interesting ones within easy distance of Belize City. It would have been possible - and probably less expensive - to book the tour on our own but as we didn't feel like doing much research, we decided to book it through Mario's Tours in Caye Caulker (US$125/person, includes all transportation, lunch, drinks, park access fees).
We all met at 7:00 am at Mario's and took the 7:30 watertaxi to Belize City. When we got to the terminal, our driver was waiting for us. He took a little detour to show us some of the interesting sites in Belize City (not that there is much to see there), including the Marion Jones Sports Complex. It took about 90 minutes to reach the New River, and when we got there we transferred onto a speedboat and met with our guide Carlos. Carlos is a self-taught man who became a guide after studying the region's wildlife and history, and he's amazing! As we made our way up the torturous and very confusing river, Carlos kept an eye out for crocodiles, "Jesus Christ" birds, howler monkeys and cactus trees, among other things. His knowledge of the country's flora and fauna was quite impressive, and it made for a very fun ride up New River.
Once we got to Lamanai, there was a feast of chicken, rice & beans, salad and fried plantains waiting for us. The food was delicious, and it sure was nice to eat and relax a bit before heading out into the jungle to discover the mysterious Mayan pyramids of Lamanai!
With more and more cruiseships adding Belize to their itinerary, there was an increasing need to offer more excursions and activities, and cave tubing really seems to be the new "it" thing to do in Belize. I was really curious to give it a try on this second trip to Caye Caulker since it seemed like something different from what we'd done before. We booked the half-day tour through Black Orchid Resort - for US$60 each, we were picked up at the water taxi terminal in Belize City and driven to the Caves Branch Archaeological Reserve, located about 1h away from the city. We met with our guide Luis, picked up our cave tubing gear (safety vest, frontal lamp, dry bag and tube), and set out on a 45-min hike through the jungle during which Luis described the wildlife and flora of Belize, also pointing out the damage caused by Hurricane Richard the previous fall. We also walked through a dry cave where we got so see some really cute bats and some not-so-cute spiders before reaching the river and getting on our tubes.
I can understand why so many people rave about cave tubing - paddling down the river in near complete darkness is a pretty surreal experience! I visited a few cenotes in Mexico, but the rock formations I got to see in Belize were even more impressive (take a look at my travelogue to see some examples). Luis gave us some information about the significance of the caves for Mayan people, and pointed out the most interesting stalactites and stalagmites. It took us about 45 minutes to make our way back to our starting point, getting a couple of good "butt massages" along the way as we made out way down some relatively tame rapids. We had time to stop by the Reserve's restaurant before heading back - for US$10 each, we had access to an all-you-can-eat buffet that was actually pretty good, especially after a couple hours of hiking and tubing.
All in all, going cave tubing was a really neat experience, even though coming all the way from Caye Caulker we spent more time getting to the caves than actually going through them. I was also under the impression that there would be a little bit more action involved, but it's actually a pretty relaxing activity. For those in need of adrenaline, it's always possible to go zip lining in the very same park.
With a population of about 70,000, Belize City is the country's biggest city. Unless you're flying to Caye Caulker directly from the Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport, you'll have to travel by taxi through Belize City to get to the water taxi terminal. I was curious to see a bit of the city and since we had some time to spare before getting on the water taxi, we walked around the city for a while and well, to be honest, there really isn't much to see. The area around the water taxi terminal is sort of nice since that is where cruiseship passengers arrive. Some shops, restaurants and bars have been built along the waterfront over the past few years, but they're only open when cruiseships are in town. Beyond that, it doesn't take long before the streets get a little seedy. I didn't feel unsafe as we were there in broad daylight, but there definitely isn't the same kind of laidback atmosphere there is in Caye Caulker and you do have to keep you wits about you to avoid trouble. All in all, Belize City is best admired from the water taxi!
After lunch, we followed our guide through the Belizean forest. As we walked and admired the scenery, Carlos gave us lots of information about Lamanai. Lamanai means "submerged crocodile" and it is located near the New River Lagoon, covering several square miles of tropical forest. Though it is believed that there are still dozens of structure hidden throughout the site, the excavation work undertaken in the 1970s by David M. Pendergast of the Royal Ontario Museum made it possible to reveal several minor constructions as well as three great pyramids: the Mask Temple, the Jaguar Temple and the High Temple. It is possible to climb up both the Jaguar and High Temples - the view from the 33 feet high temple is incredible! As we walked through the archeological site, Carlos informed us that Lamanai's first settlers arrived around 1,500 BC and that the city was occupied during about 3,000 years, which is more than most Mayan sites. At its peak, the city was home to about 35,000 people.
After the tour was over we had some time to check out the small souvenir shops and the museum. The museum is very interesting and has some nice artefacts, but Carlos had already provided us with most of the information that was posted on the walls. We therefore made our way back to the boat for the 26-mile ride back to the minivan, which was made very agreeable thanks to a generous cup of rum punch - because it wouldn't be a day in Belize without some rum punch!
The best time to visit Lamanai is from Friday to Monday, i.e. when the cruiseships are not in town. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Mario's Tours if you're interested in visiting some Mayan sites during your stay in Caye Caulker, the tours are safe and very well organized. Next time we'll try to make it all the way to Tikal!
The town of Caye Caulker maintains a small (2 acres) nature reserve near the airstrip. It doesn't take very long to walk up and down the paths, but it allows you to discover some of the native trees and plants of Belize (including the cocoplum, from which the name Caye Caulker was derived) since they are all identified. The reserve was set up by the Belize Tourism Industry Association in an effort to protect the environment and natural resources of Caye Caulker. It's kind of a nice change from walking up and down the beach, especially on a hot day when you're looking for shade!
It's hard to get lost in a place where the three main streets are called Front Street, Back Street, and Back Back Street!! During my stay in Caye Caulker I guess it'd be fair to say that I almost literally walked all over the island quite a few times. On every little street you'll uncover some picturesque scene that will make you reach out for your camera. Most of the restaurants and shops are found on Front Street (its real name is Avenida Hicaco), on Back Street (Avenida Langosta) you'll find a bit of everything, including most services such as convenience stores, laundrymats, the bank, school and church, while Back Back Street (Avenida Mangle) is where most of the locals live. My favorite time to explore the island was late in the afternoon, when kids were coming home from school and parents were coming home from work. That's when it was possible to get the best glimpse into day-to-day life on the island and meet smiling people everywhere :o)
After spending about a week in Caye Caulker we decided to hop on board the watertaxi to spend a day in San Pedro, the town that is rumored to have inspired Madonna's 80s hit "La Isla Bonita" (Last night I dreamed of San Pedro...). The town of San Pedro is located on Ambergris Caye, and with a population of over 8,000 people, it is much bigger than Caye Caulker. It also attracts a fairly different crowd of visitors: whereas Caye Caulker is mostly about young European backpackers, San Pedro's big resorts are mostly visited by Americans. And because tourists tend to hang out by their resort's swimming pool, the beach was practically deserted, which again was quite a change from Caye Caulker's busy "Split". There was, however, a whole lot of action on the main street: being used to the "Go Slow" pace of our small island, walking down San Pedro's main street almost felt like walking around Times Square on New Year's Eve! So after a bit of shopping and looking around, we decided to stop by Mojito Bar & Tapas for a delicious pineapple & mango mojito, and then went out for an equally delicious late lunch at Fido's (http://www.fidosbelize.com). All in all, it was fun to walk around San Pedro and see all the beautiful resorts, but I have to admit that I was happy to get back to MY island once the day was over ;o)
The Mini Reserve is a small conservation area towards the south end of the island right by the airstrip. It is home to many of the floral species commonly found in Belize. There are a few nature trails you can wander around on and some of the plants/trees are labelled with informative signs. There is a building in the reserve, but it was closed when we were there. Entrance is free.
More on conservation on Caye Caulker (and other ecotourism options): http://www.gocayecaulker.com/conserv.html
The southern end of the inhabited part of Caye Caulker consists of crocodile and bird-nesting areas that are still relatively undeveloped in comparison to the main part of town. As you leave the built up area and walk toward the Airport, you will gradually come to this part of the island, which will give you a bit of a chance to see some of the more natural appearance of the Caye.
The Caye Caulker branch of the Belize Tourism Industry Association has established a Mini-Reserve along the eastern side, near the airport. It features small signs identifying some of the different species of trees that are found on the island, such as this White Mangrove tree we came upon growing just off the beach. Mangroves are a very interesting species of tree, living in both salt and fresh water in locations where the temperatures do not drop below 19 C or fluctuate by more than 10 C within a short time period. The aerial roots that you see in the photo allow the mangroves to take root in poor soils because the trees actually absorb the required oxygen through these above water roots.
If you are really brave, the Association even says that you can try swimming at the south end of the Caye. They report that "Snorkeling among the mangrove roots there is a rewarding experience. There are many colourful anemones, sponges, gorgonians, and large numbers of fish among the mangrove roots." Humm, what about those crocodiles!?
You've come all the way to little Caye Caulker, so you should make the time to walk it's amazing beach - along the the eastern 'reef-side' of the island. With the numerous small boats bobbing on the water, the waves breaking off-shore on the reef and the many interesting buildings, there is no shortage of things to observe. It also really helps to settle you into the slow pace of life on Caulker, as both locals and tourists go about their business with no great hurry - it will only take a few days before you too can no longer remember what day of the week it is!
All the kids congregated at the basketball court and Santa handed out presents to all the kids. Every child on the island got a present. Sam was also allowed to stand in line which was very kind of them.
We were so happy with our stay at Seaside Cabanas; we've only been back for a week and we're already...more
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The sea view cabins might be a little bit of a stretch of the word "view" but it was still good...more