Don’t get me wrong. My travel bucket list is longer than reports I have written for grad school classes. However, I can tell you that visiting Belize has always been very, very high on that list. So when my fiancé and I sat down to talk about where we could honeymoon that
- a) would mean not staying in a HUGE all-inclusive resort with only our fellow countrymen to talk to
- b) could be done in five days or less (2.5 hour flight from Houston!)
- c) didn’t break the bank (sorry, Bora Bora)
Belize fit the bill. And where to stay – the beautiful village of Placencia. Yes, it makes you think of the word “placenta,” but I promise it is amazing. So for any other potential-Placencia visitors, here is a quick recap of some day-trip options. Because, well, you have to leave time to sleep in and eat breakfast each morning on your private deck and get back for happy hour and dinner in town at Mojo’s.
Scuba Diving and Snorkeling Around the Silk Cayes
Just look at this pic of land 25 miles offshore of Belize. No need to photoshop as that is the true water color around these itty bitty islands. We signed up for a two dive, one snorkel day ($155/person with equipment) with Splash, who was conveniently located directly across the street from where we were staying, Chabil Mar Villas. The dives were great (how could it not be in the world renowned MesoAmerican reef), although I did not love the giant waves that can come with diving that far offshore. As a new diver with only eight dives under my belt, I struggled a bit with my regulator (most likely self-induced), but the dive crew was incredibly helpful and patient with me. The snorkel was a great way to end to the day – lots of nurse sharks and warm, shallow water.
Zip Lining at Bocawina Reserve
I had never been zip lining, but it seemed a really stereotypical thing for a couple to do on a tropical getaway, so what the heck… We chose Bocawina because it boasted one of the longest zip lines in Central America. And it was slow season, so they were willing to pick us up in Placencia. The Reserve is gorgeous, for any eco-travelers who may want to check it out. It was expensive, $93/person (including transportation), but zipping across the tree line was a very cool way to see the lush jungle. It was crock pot hot in August, but they serve ice cold beer in the lodge before your drive back.
Mayan Ruins and Cave Tubing
Everyone I have talked to about Belize recommended the cave tubing, so we went with a company recommended by one of my work colleagues, Vital Nature and Cave Tours. The headquarters are located in the northern part of Belize, so the drive to/from our villa in Placencia was a trek for both our tour guide and us, but they made it work. We set a pick up time for 8:30 a.m. However, one thing I noticed with our other day trips was that the drivers/guides always show up early. I don’t know why, but each day and with different companies, they would ring our room 45 minutes to 1 ½ hours early! So be prepared for that, and just ask them to wait if you need more time.
Our guide, Jose, patiently waited on us. And then we were off – across the beautiful Hummingbird Highway to the Guatemalan border. Even for a short distance mileage wise, the drive to Xunantunich took about 2 ½ hours, being as it is curvy and all single lane. Bonus for us was that our tour guide, at the ripe age of 19, had a crush on one of the girls running a local ice cream shop right off the highway. So we got to stop for ice cream (once on him, once on us) both going and coming. All the flavors we sampled were delicious, but the mango cup was my favorite.
When we finally arrived at Xunantunich, we had to wait to cross the human powered pull bridge on the Mopan River. Four cars on, four cars off and then we were on the other side on our way up to the ruins.
These beautiful Mayan ruins sit on a ridge that allows you to see into Guatemala (about 1 kilometer away) and over the beautiful forest of Belize. You are even greeted by howling monkeys (a completely new sound to me) sitting high above you as you tour the museum.
After our Mayan ruin tour, we drove back through the capital city, Belmopan, to the company headquarters for a typical lunch of chicken, rice, and beans before heading to cave tubing. We tubed in the Nohoch Che’en Caves Branch Archaeological Reserve. I had read nightmare stories of the river being so crowded with cruise ship tours and other day trippers that you had to float along at a snail pace. However, since we were there in August, we mostly had the river to ourselves throughout the afternoon. We agreed to Jose’s “optional” tour start by jumping 10 feet off a big rock into the river. He also taught overnight survival courses, so was familiar with the local vegetation and what could be eaten and what could not. I’m sure this was not part of the typical cave tubing “package,” but he got us to try a couple different kinds of seeds from various trees. He even got me to sample a termite by saying it tasted minty. I didn’t believe this, so had to try for myself. I will eat anything once, but not alive. So after smashing it between my fingers (and him making fun of me for doing so), I ate it. And guess what, that tiny little protein packed insect did taste minty!!
It was hot, but the water and caves were nice and cool. This full day tour put us back to our hotel around 8:30 p.m. (about 2 ½ hours to get back to Placencia). So if your schedule allows it, I would recommend staying the night in the jungle so you don’t have so much driving in one day, and can leave time to do the longer, eight cave, option.
Golf Carting the Peninsula
Saving the best for last. We signed up for all of these fancy day trips. And they were great – no complaints here. However, I will tell you that my favorite day was when we paid $60 and rented a golf cart for 24 hours from Captain Jak’s. The company delivered it to our villas and billed it to the room, so it literally couldn’t have been an easier transaction. As I mentioned, we were in Placencia during the ABSOLUTE slowest tourism season the country has. That being said, there were very few lodgers, meaning the hotels on the peninsula were very open to having outside visitors. So we got in the cart and stopped at EVERY hotel/villa/motel (to test our options for next time) and each abandoned building project from Placencia to Maya Beach on the peninsula. Who doesn’t like cruising around and checking out huge, half built vacation houses? We started with breakfast and rum punches at Sweet Mama’s and ended our drive at the Belize Ocean Club, the newest hotel on the peninsula. They had a lovely swim up bar in the pool, and we asked if we could “hang” out even if we weren’t staying there. Being slow season, they said, “Will you eat or drink?” Heck yes…six drinks later (you need to try the basil mojito), we were happily swimming around the near empty pool like we had been BOC residents all week.
On our way back, we took a friend’s recommendation and ate lunch at the Maya Beach Hotel and Bistro. The food was awesome; the view even better.
Drinking a Belikin on the way back, we stopped to take a picture of a neat round house on the beach. The caretaker was outside at the time and waved us over. This is another example of the incredible hospitality you get in Belize. Rather than being annoyed with another tourist taking pictures of the house, he offered to let us walk around and check out the house from the beach side. He said he loved the house and was so happy we liked it too! Then we cruised back to our side of the peninsula…watching out for the rope speed bumps and airplane crossing.