Beautiful Belize

This week doesn’t mark our first request to the unspoiled Belize, here is a look at excursions and lodging. Tropical reefs and rain forests with world class fishing, hiking, caving and Mayan sites.

The Cayo / Mountain Pine region offers a variety of high end deluxe accommodations including one of our favorites owned by Francis Ford Coppola – Blancaneaux Lodge is a great choice with good service and staff. We especially like  a couple of specific rooms: The Enchanted Cottage is a little more remotely located in terms of the rest of the property, and this accommodation includes a golf cart for guests to move between their room and the main area of the lodge. Also recommend Francis Ford Coppola’s two bedroom villa.

Blancaneaux Lodge has a private helipad and is also located opposite a private landing strip which means we can offer the option of arriving via helicopter (direct flight or with sightseeing included) or via private charter flight.

Optional Excursions ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal) – cave adventure.

This is one of the highlights in the Cayo District area; transfer time from Blancaneaux Lodge to the cave is about 1hr 30 mins each way; we might be able to offer as a day trip with helicopter flights.

Description: Actun Tunichil Muknal “Cave of the Stone Sepulcher” is one of the most impressive caves in the Maya lowland. Located in the heart of the Belizean Rain forest, this cave was a sacred place to the prehispanic Mayas of Belize, who first began to use the entrance during the early classic period (300-600AD). The cave system consists of a series of chambers, ending in a 300 by 50 meter Cathedral where sacrificial ceremonies once took place. Visitors to this cave have the opportunity to travel into the Maya past and witness a living museum where the human sacrifices and artifacts can be viewed in their original context. On the tour guests will drive to the trail head and trek for 45 minutes through dense Jungle in the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve, wading across three streams and learning about the plants and animals of the Jungle. At the entrance of the Cave guests are outfitted in the necessary equipment. Some swimming will be required and also climbing and caving activity. Guests will spend 3 hours in the cave after which they may also visit a nearby dry cave to see ancient inscriptions and hand-prints of which the origins are unknown. This is a first class caving and archaeological experience. Time inside the cave is about 3hrs.  It is completely dark and the only light comes from each visitors headlamp.

Belize’s most popular on-shore activity for cruise ships while visiting the country. In order to miss the crowds for this amazing experience, Blancaneaux Lodge offers an early morning option for all guests who wish to do this tour as a full day activity. After a 2 hour drive you stop at the Nohoch Che’en Reserve for an hour’s float along the Caves Branch River and a gentle 45 minutes jungle walk to reach the starting point for cave tubing. Each participant has a special ‘tube’ for the float, a headlamp, life vest and ‘water shoes.’ The float goes through a series of huge inter-connection caves separated by open sections where the river is flanked by high jungle.

Perhaps the most visually stunning of all Maya sites, Tikal’s five monolithic temples pierce the jungle canopy (Temple IV reaching a height of almost 230 feet) and ancient plazas, stelae and ball courts tell of a rich and powerful history when Tikal’s population reached almost 100,000. By the beginning of the Classic Period (AD 250) Tikal was competing for regional domination with Uaxactun and Calakmul and later Tikal was briefly dominated by a powerful alliance of Caracol and Calakmul from AD 562 until AD 682. From AD 682 onward Tikal flourished again under Lord Ah Cacau and continued to dominate the region into the 9th Century. Today the site is justifiably recognized as one of the archeological wonders of the Americas. Its unspoiled jungle setting within the Tikal National Park makes it a paradise for birders, nature lovers and amateur archaeologists. This tour takes an entire day, leaving the Lodge after a quick Continental breakfast and returning around 5 – 6 pm in the evening. On the return trip, you have the chance to do some shopping in the Guatemalan town of Melchor.

Add a few days visit to nearby San Pedro Island

We have a few recommendations on San Pedro Island after you fly or travel by water ferry to the island. Victoria House is a great high-end property, a larger hotel offering individual rooms as well as several villas, some with private pools.  They have a couple of swimming pools, restaurant & bar, dive shop.

Another hotel that we really like is Matachica; this is a more adult oriented property (they don’t accept children under 14yrs) and is a popular choice for honeymoons and romantic getaways.  The property comprises 31 individual thatch cabanas and one two-bedroom villa and offers a high level of service.

Important to note is that although there is a great restaurant and several easily accessible restaurants close to Matachica, the transfer into town takes about 20 mins and is by water taxi. Victoria House on the other hand is a comfortable walk, bicycle or golf cart ride away from the small island town of San Pedro.

Another attractive alternative is Cayo Espanto. Cayo Espanto is an exclusive, villa only property on a small, private island close to Ambergris Caye. Guests can choose from 7 different 1 or 2 bedroom villas – all but one have a private splash pool. Guests are given  very personalized service and privacy is of the utmost importance. All activities and meals are arranged so that guests do not come into contact with one another. All meals and drinks (except wine & champagne) are included in the rate for this property and guests are given a radio so that they can access staff.  This property is for couples that want complete isolation and tranquility. Guests can fly to Ambergris Caye and transfer to the island by boat or arrive directly to the island by helicopter.

Facilities: 7 villas, most with splash pools. Fully catered meal service and bar. Helipad Location: 20min flight from Belize City to Ambergris Caye and 20min boat ride. 30min helicopter flight. The property is designed so that you don’t see anyone else on the island. The island has no main common areas such as lounge, bar, restaurant so clients mingle with your own group.

The pools in the villas are tiny – just splash pools really and there is not good swimming from the island as it is surrounded by very shallow water for a long way out and it is very silty so you come up to your shins in silt when you walk out.

Activities: Snorkeling from Cayo Espanto and San Pedro, in general we can offer snorkeling trips, most of which are half day.  Ambergris Caye runs parallel to the magnificent Belize Barrier Reef, part of the second largest reef system in the world.  Belize is home to the northern hemisphere’s largest barrier reef system and the enormous kaleidoscope of fish, sponges, crustaceans, and plants that inhabit it.

Snorkel trips are usually half day activities which can be arranged on private basis – a couple of the most popular excursions include: Hol Chan Marine Park & Shark Ray Alley, where guests will have the chance to swim alongside harmless nurse sharks and appreciate a myriad of colorful fish and coral formations.

Mexico Rocks, which is often described as a similar experience to swimming in an aquarium – this less visited site also offers the chance to see amazing coral formations, many tropical fish, nurse sharks and sting rays.

Blue Hole – Day trips to the Blue Hole are possible although they are mainly recommended for divers.  The day trip is usually taken by boat and is a trip that departs around 6am from Ambergris Caye hotels, returning around 5:30pm so it’s a long day.  Transfer time to the Blue Hole takes roughly 2 – 2.5hrs depending on whether conditions, and a minimum of 10 divers is required in order to confirm a collective departure.  The trip is usually  recommended for divers, as the amazing creatures that live within its depths can only truly be appreciated by going deep.  Snorkelers will be hard pushed to appreciate all that is on offer at the Blue Hole as they stay just below the surface of the water.

We have the option to organize day trips via boat transfers on group or private basis with dive master or with a snorkel guide.  Other options include helicopter day trips – either to simply fly over the Blue Hole or to land on a nearby caye and further explore the Blue Hole by boat (for snorkeling or diving).

The third option, if you wish to only see the Blue Hole from the air, we can arrange a private charter flight over the Blue Hole.

Trekking / Jaguar Jaguar sightings are the most sought-out of the large cats for visitors to Belize.  Although jaguar sightings are extremely rare as these creatures are not in captivity we can never make any guarantees.

A few options that we can offer: Cockscomb Jaguar Reserve, noted as the first jaguar reserve in the world this national park offers the chance for hikes in search of these elusive creatures.  The park is open from 8am – 4:30pm although the ideal time to go in search of jaguars is the early morning and evening, as they are mainly nocturnal creatures and most active during the night and early / late hours – they have a tendency to sleep through the heat of the day.  It may be possible to offer a night tour.

Chan Chich Lodge, located in northern Belize and accessible via private charter flights. Chan Chich / Gallon Jug Estate is located within the largest contiguous forest north of the Amazon basin. Conservation efforts to sustain and preserve the tri-national Maya Forest (“La Selva Maya”) are underway with collaborative efforts undertaken in Belize, Guatemala and Mexico. Gallon Jug Estate enjoys a fortunate location at the heart of La Selva Maya, buffered on all sides by forest and/or protected areas. Thanks to the efforts of owner, Barry Bowen, to control hunting and other illegal activities over the past 20+ years, wildlife has thrived.

Gallon Jug Estate is also an important component in the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, a regional conservation effort that seeks to link green areas throughout the region to promote biological and genetic diversity as well as healthy ecosystems. With its excellent diversity and species numbers, Wildlife Conservation Society scientists believe that the Gallon Jug Estate provides a safe haven for “source” populations to disperse to outlying areas in La Selva Maya that are more impacted by human activities.

Blancaneaux Lodge offers a “Moonlight Jaguar Quest”: As darkness covers the rain-forest, the predators start to roam their kingdom in search of prey. As most of Belize’s large mammals are nocturnal, this is your best chance to actually see them in their natural habitat. After a short drive from the lodge, our guided walk begins along the edge of the pine forest and into the jungle. At a slow and quiet pace, we search the forest for gibnuts, armadillos, peccaries, and other wildlife, including the elusive jaguar.

 Weather July to November is considered to be the rainy season in Belize when the possibility or tropical storms, hurricanes and tropical depressions exists.  The worst time is not until end of September / beginning of October and some hotels, particularly on the coast and the cayes, take the opportunity to close for 2 – 3 weeks in order to undertake maintenance, etc.One thing to note, as we can never predict the weather, is that in the event of heavy rains, some excursions such as cave adventures, may not be possible if the level of the water is too high.  Another thing to bear in mind is that helicopter flights are also weather dependent.  July / August is still a good time to visit.