We all have to start somewhere, so here it is. Blog post #1. Review #1… shall we call it “the one”? You Better Belize It!
The below are some great places to check out, especially if you only have a short time in Belize. I traveled both Belize and Guatemala in my 3 weeks away.
What better to start with than sun, sand and sharks. Needing to escape from the blerg of Vancouver in May, I decided to trek down south. I’ve been throughout Mexico, but I wanted something a little different. I am also quite possibly the worst Spanish speaker. So where to go when you get all the joys of tropical vacations (that isn’t Mexico or Cuba) but is a decent price (like Mexico or Cuba)? BELIZE!
Packed my backpack and prepared for my 3 weeks of rainforest, beaches and FOOD! What did I pack, didn’t need or wish I had? Scroll down for my “life out of a backpack”list.
What drew me to Belize?
First off it is an english speaking country! Now, don’t get me wrong, it is still very much a Central American country. If you want to work on your Spanish I guarantee you can with the locals, but for those of us who know our language flaws, we can stick with what
we’re confident with. Though I did pick up a couple essential Spanish phrases; Una cerveza por favor? Being able to understand the locals goes a long way with being able to explore a country, asking for directions is super easy! Downside? Any woman who has ever travelled in Central America has had to deal with the VERY forward men, but here you actually understand what they are saying to you (eye roll). At least they can’t pretend they don’t know what “no, thanks” means.
The second reason I chose Belize is how close it actually is! From Vancouver it’s about 7 hours and you can get super reasonable flights down there. Being the budget traveller I am my flight was only $500, with a couple stopovers… so it was a 12 hour trip for me.
The third? It is incredibly beautiful and safe for solo female travel (just be smart!).
All recommendations and products featured in the post are what I personally like, own and use.
As you can see from above, I travelled with my backpack. I used my Deuter Air Contact Lite 65+10L backpack (mine is old, but check the similar one out here) and easily fit in everything I needed for my 3 weeks away. I am tall (5’10”) so a longer bag is easy for me to carry and gave me a tad of space so it wasn’t jam packed into a small bag. It’s also the only one I own… and I LOVE it so won’t be replacing it anytime soon. So what did I take?
The obvious: camera, selfie stick, underwater action camera, cell phone (don’t forget all the cords), toothbrush and paste, 2 in one shampoo/conditioner, SPF 50 sunscreen and lip stuff (trust me, you need it), Venus razor with the soap attached, micro fiber towel, Benedryl, Advil and aloe. I thought about mascara then laughed and put it back, it’s too hot for makeup. Baby wipes are awesome to take also, especially when your not sure about shower situations.
- A day pack and water bottle. My daypack is SUPER light weight, compact and can hold a water bottle, camera and snacks. My wish? It was waterproof.
- Slip on sneakers. I LOVE my Native Shoes. They are elastic, lightweight and dry fast. You also don’t need socks (note below).
- 4 pairs of socks. You don’t really need many socks, and I did hike quite a bit.
- Keen water shoes! So ugly, SO functional. The best thing I took other than my bikinis! I highly recommend getting these.
- 2 dresses – wore both! One strapless sun dress and on “cover-up” style black cotton dress.
- 4 pairs “active” shorts. Basically gym shorts because I love to hike and explore. I lived in these!
- 1 pair denim shorts – wore once. Literally once. It was way too muggy for denim (48 degrees).
- 1 pair of leggings. These were only used for the plane to and from. comfort travel is key.
- 1 pair of “airy” pants. LOVED these, nice and lightweight and covers those poor, sun burnt legs.
- 6 tank tops – all needed. Putting a shirt on over your wet bikini and sweating bullets you go through them.
- 3 bikinis – nice to have a variety!
- 7 pairs of underwear. I got the Victoria Secret sport ones and they pack really well and are easy to wash by hand (dry fast).
- NO BRA! 2 bralettes (comfortable!).
- 1 t-shirt made specifically for hiking. Used it!
- 1 super duper lightweight waterproof jacket.
- 1 sweatshirt. Cute cross body one, wore it one rainy night and for travel.
- 1 baseball hat – must have!
What do I wish I took? More sunscreen is a big one! Yes you can buy it there, but it is not cheap. Expect to spend about $20 on a small bottle.
I flew into Belize City and made sure to book my hotel near where I needed to be the next morning for my boat to the islands. I DO NOT recommend staying long in Belize City. It is not a “nice” place, not somewhere you can explore safely. For example, my small hotel had an 8 foot fence with razor wire around it (eek). You can stay at the American chain hotels if you prefer, they are fully guarded and have restaurants and car services. Flying in around 2pm, the afternoon was enough time to check out the “Belize” sign and get ruthlessly cat called before I was ready to leave. The area I stayed in was a 5 min walk to the boats, so it would be a quick trek the following day. In the am I grabbed a latte and cinnamon bun at a tiny little cafe and headed to my boat.
After a very wet boat ride (it’s warm so who cares!) I arrived on the island of Caye (pronounced “key”) Caulker. Caye Caulker is more of a backpackers island compared to its very touristy sister Ambergris Key. There are no cars, only golf carts, and you can walk end to end in about 30 min.
Here you live by the saying “Go Slow”, which was also the name of my hostel! It is a small hostel and I shared a room with a slew of people but I made some great friends to spend time with! From drinking at the Split to kayaking around; Caye Caulker was amazing. There are lots of great little restaurants to try and places to get an ice cold drink.
Dog lover? For a small fee, which goes back to their care, you can take the shelter dogs for a walk! I fell in love with the dogs here and it means the world to them to get out and explore. They are always in need of food and supplies too. The shelter is across from Ice & Beans coffee shop.
Where I stayed: Go Slow Guesthouse – very basic, amazing hosts!
Must do: Snorkeling at Hol Chan Marine Reserve- petting nurse sharks, swimming with rays & turtles!
Must eat at: Enjoy Restaurant & Bar (drink on swings!!)
Must drink at: The Split
Morning coffee & breakfast: Ice & Beans
After a few days running on island time I headed back to the mainland and Belize City. From here I caught a colectivo (a shared ride) to go to San Ignacio. It was about 2 hours to get there and I got lucky with an air conditioned van! San Ignacio is a great hub for checking out Mayan Ruins (Cahal Pech,Xunantunich, or bus to Tikal in Guatemala) and the ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal) Caves.
I HIGHLY recommend doing the ATM caves. It is worth every penny, and you do not need to be athletic to do them. My group was a mix of young folks and a couple in their 60’s (you do need to be able to swim and climb however). You will need to do this with a tour company as you are not allowed to enter alone. Ask around to get the best price. There are also no cameras allowed and wear things you are ok getting soaked in (swimming in spots). This is also the perfect place to use those water shoes! Check out more info here about the ATM caves.
I explored the local Mayan Ruins, and you have optional day trips to Tikal in Guatemala. I traveled through Guatemala following San Ignacio (will do a different post!) so I just stayed local for the ruins. They are really something incredible to see, and unlike Mexico you are still able to climb and explore. While in town I made friends with a local who took us on a day trip to swim in rock pools and go cliff jumping off waterfalls in Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. I also made a special stop to support the Green Iguana Conservation Project, in the San Ignacio Hotel. You get to learn about and snuggle Iguanas.
Where I stayed: Bella’s Backpackers – clean, basic and offers private rooms and dorms.
Must do: ATM Caves, Tikal (if you are not going to Guatemala – it was mind blowing!)
Must eat at: Mincho’s – grab and go Belizean food. DELICIOUS!
Must drink at: The Stork Club
Morning coffee & breakfast: Pop’s Restaurant
What Happens Next? Eventually, Punta Gorda & Independence
I met some awesome people while here and we travelled into Guatemala where I would spend the next chunk of time. I will post about this separately! Eventually I ended up in Livingston, Guatemala and took a horribly bumpy speed boat to Punta Gorda, Belize. Punta Gorda was a short stay as I just wanted to catch a chicken bus (which has actual chickens on it) to Independence. Punta Gorda is a bit of a disheveled fishing town but it really embraces it’s Central American and Caribbean Roots. Great food and very friendly people! I wandered around a bit and grabbed some street food before grabbing my bus. Make sure you check the bus schedules for James Bus before you check out the town.
About 3 hours of riding an old school bus later I arrived in Independence. And yes, the buses make stops… lots of stops (try for an express if you can). When you arrive at the bus depot there is be tons of cabs there, but after being crammed in a bus I opted to walk. I travel often, but walking alone down the dirt roads with people starring at me from their yards made me a tad uncomfortable. I would take a cab next time. I grabbed a bite at Franz Kitchen. Good food but not the best service. They have both “American” food and Belizean food. I have grown to love chicken, rice and beans by this time. Independence is not touristy and feels very much like a Caribbean town.
After lunch I started walking again toward the Hokey Pokey Water Taxi, on Mango Creek. This is where I will take a boat back to the islands! The boat ride was beautiful through Mango Creek. It’s worth it just for the sightseeing of the mangroves and forest.
Back to the island life (well sorta – Placencia is actually connected by a single northern road)! And long overdue. Placencia is just beautiful. It is chocked full of American ex-pats so the feeling is more touristy and less local. My hostel was right on the beach and full of flowers. They only have shared accommodations in one dorm, but they have a kitchen which is very nice. Restaurants are more expensive here because there are so many tourists. I stayed in Placencia for 4 days to decompress from the rest of my trip. I could have easily stayed longer though.
I spent my days suntanning, kayaking, walking around the island, sitting at coffee shops and eating so much food. I took a bus out to Cockscomb Basin Forest Reserve to enjoy a long hike through the forest to check out waterfalls. It was beautiful and if you have the time and like to be active you should definitely make the trek. Make sure to check your bus schedules. It is a full day adventure and you take the only road in and out of Placencia.
Where I stayed: Anda Di Hows Hostel – only dorm, has a kitchen, fans and nice showers!
Must do: Kayaking was a ton of fun and you can also snorkel here. Cockscomb Basin for hiking.
Must eat at: Pickled Parrot – they have live music at night
Must drink at: Barefoot Beach Bar
Morning coffee: Above Grounds Coffee House – a treehouse!
Breakfast: The Shak Beach Cafe – breakfast and smoothies
From Placencia I caught a plane to Belize City, and caught my flight out of Belize shortly after. Flying was fantastic as I got to see all of Belize as I left, it also gave me more time without being stuck travelling place to place. It is such a beautiful country.
I hope you enjoyed my cole’s notes version of Belize and all I can really say is… GO!