Cayo District, Belize
My one tip... as far as activities in Belize, would be if you are in the Cayo District, and have enough physical stamina... make sure to do the ATM caving expeiditon!!!! It really cannot be beat, and is unlike ANYTHING you will ever do elsewhere. Yes, it has some cave formations that are spectacular, but the archeological aspect added to it, of seeing an underground site that practically takes you back in time to the Maya people.. is spectacular! If you are in the area, take the time to hire a guide (you have to go in with an approved guide) and do this trip!
One of the treasures I love is the Belize Botanic Gardens. I try to visit every time I go to Belize. The Botanic Gardens are a work of heartfelt proportions. Be sure to ask for a guided tour - and ask for Lloyd if he is available, the edibles along the tour are amazing and fun. The trees and plants are cared for like children, most are planted by the current staff and they have stories of how many of the plants have grown over the years. The family who started and maintain the garden - The duPlooys - have invested their lives in exploring, preserving, researching, and sharing Belize botanical treasures. Take time to have a drink at the lodge bar and a meal at the resturaunt. Walk out to the towering river overlook and see wildlife in the treetops.
The Belize Botanical Gardens are a precious jewel. I thank the DuPlooy family for creating and maintaining this treasure. If you love trees and plants, you will love this place. I had an outstanding tour of the gardens, lead by Lloyd. I could feel his sense of pride in his work. I loved that the tour was tactile and tasteful and aromous besides beautiful.
This is believed to be the highest waterfall in Central America and is actually over 1,500 ft to the bottom. A viewing platform overlooks the falls. There is a short scenic trail around the escarpment for taking in the valley view.
We drove up and had lunch up there (there is a little store which sells some food and souveniers). The road is unpaved (and very rough) and takes you through the Mountain Pine Ridge region - this region has pine trees and is reminiscent of Georgia.
There is a lodge up here called Blancaneaux which was built by filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. We met some folks that biked over from it. They were told it was an easy ride, but it took them 3 or 4 hours.
You can get a picture of these falls as wallpaper.
Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve is 6,700 acres in size and is home to Actun Tunichil Muknal (Cave of the Stone Sepulchre), several smaller caves and also an unexcavated Maya city (ruins) that you can explore near the cave opening (see below). Discovered only in 1998 (I believe... correct me if I'm wrong), parts of this unexcavated city have been looted, but the cave - so far - has not seen any looting. You can walk through the ball court, see walls of the ancient city protruding from the jungle that has grown over the site, and get a basic idea of what the site might have looked like 2000 years ago.
There is also a great hike up the hill to where sacrificial ceremonies used to take place. You can see the rock used for decapitating the victims and you will also see quite a few stone carvings. There are human remains buried all over the area. More than a dozen have already been excavated. Neat-o!
If you get a chance, see this before it's closed to the adventurer.
From San Ignacio, take a twenty minute walk to Branch Mouth (just ask anyone to direct you to Branch Mouth Road from downtown San Ignacio). Branch Mouth is where the Macal and Mopan rivers merge to form the Belize River. It's a beautiful place to relax. You can also walk across the "walking" bridge and explore the small village just a short walk from the bridge.
Spend some exploring the small villages surrounding San Ignacio! This small village, Cristo Rey, was very sweet. From Santa Elena (San Ignacio's sister town) -- Take Cristo Rey Road (towards San Antonio) -- many buses travel this route -- Pass Maya Mountain Lodge, and Cristo Rey is another few kilometres from here. Cristo Rey is a pretty village that sets on a high bank above the Macal River. I stayed with Orlando and Lillette Madrid (who run the Sandals Restaurant) -- they have a few very simple and inexpensive cabins. It costs $8(US). I enjoyed meandering around this place -- and enjoyed my exchanges with the locals!
In San Ignacio, I stumbled into David's Tours -- right across from where the buses park -- I was looking for someone to take me canoeing on the Macal River the next day. In chatting with the woman who helps him out, she asked me where I was staying. I hadn't found lodging yet -- she told me that David has several cabanas out at his place in the jungle - about 30 minutes outside of town. After a day of exploring local caves -- with David and a few others -- we headed out (with another couple) to his place in the jungle. Once you park, you will walk a ways down to a river -- then you cross the river (in his canoe of course!) -- then walk up a very long, steep set of wooden steps (up the side of a mountain) -- to arrive at a little piece of heaven in the middle of the jungle. Rustic cabanas -- but very nice -- great food. David lives on an unexcavated Mayan site (ask him to show you). If you arrive at night, you will be amazed with what you see come morning! This place is magical! -- It's called Guacamallo Jungle Camp (Also see my accomodation tip on this)
Santa Elena -- the sister town of San Ignacio -- is not necessarily off the beaten track (the concept of "beaten track" varies from person to person)-- but I always like to spend some time walking around the neighborhoods. I received nothing but friendly exchanges in this town. Visit the "Tortilla Factory" right off the main road -- which is a little wood house about the size of this pink one -- the Mayan women showed me how they made tortillas -- very friendly! I couldn't resist photographing this girl hanging out the window of her little pink house! (As always, please be respectful when taking photos of people and where they live!)
Belize recieves plenty of rain during the winter season, and supports 20 major river systems and smaller streams. These waterways are potential outdoor adventures for the kayak and canoe lovers. This is an excellent way to birdwatch and view wildlife along the banks.
San Ignacio ... when we were going to drive back to Belize City, we, uhh, couldn't find the bridge! It had been raining...
Not that they need to, but Ramon's Village (where we stayed) picks you up at the airport. You could actually walk there.
Big Falls...We spent over a week in that area. Wonderful scenery, great hiking. Don't miss the Butterfly farm.