Magic Carpet Journals
Adventures in Belize
Lenora Hayman travels to Belize and finds unexpected luxury and adventure
The Phoenix Resort, San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize
Snorkeling, diving, wildlife, Mayan ruins and elegant accommodation in the jungle - these unforgettable experiences were offered in Belize. However, I must admit, my trip to Belize turned out to be more adventurous than I even anticipated. Belize, formerly British Honduras, is bordered by Mexico on the north, Guatemala on the west and south, and the Caribbean Sea to the east. It is the only country in the area where English is the official language.
An American Airlines flight via Dallas, took me to the Philip Goldson International Airport in Belize City, where welcoming Immigration and Customs Officers quickly checked me through to board Tropic Air for one of the frequent 15 minute flights, 57 km (36 miles) north to San Pedro in Ambergris Caye, Belize’s largest island. Years ago, whalers came here searching for the sperm whale secretion, ambergris, used as a perfume fixative, giving rise to the island’s name.
Man-made salt lake at El Secreto Resort, Ambergris Caye, Belize
Reaching San Pedro I found my accommodation was at The Phoenix, offering 1, 2, and 3 bedroom condominiums, each with verandas with a scenic view overlooking 2 pools and the ocean.
Since I arrived in the late afternoon, my friends had already sailed 6.4 km (4miles) from the town of San Pedro, to experience snorkeling and diving with docile Nurse sharks and Southern Sting Rays at Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley. They came back reporting that they had seen eels, turtles and Tangs with vibrant, electric blue bodies and black markings.
Elvi's Kitchen, San Pedro, Belize
Elvi’s Kitchen, with huge murals of the keel-billed toucan, the national bird, a jaguar and Mayan figures, was the ideal place in San Pedro, to experience Belizean cuisine. Their cuisine is an amalgamation of Central American and Mexican cooking. Appetizers of marinated conch ceviche, Jalapeno peppers stuffed with chicken and cheese and plantain chips preceded the Monday special of BBQ ribs followed by a “spider flan” with toffee tendrils. Going home after dinner, we flagged down a golf cart, the main mode of transportation along the sandy road where we passed the San Pedro Town Council and other brightly, painted buildings. Our night time tour of the town was fun.
Brightly painted San Pedro Town Council building
The next morning we were taken, by private shuttle boat, north of San Pedro, to El Secreto, a secluded, barefoot, luxury resort. The journey was a scenic 17. 7km (11 miles). The 13 exotic thatched roof villas, overlook the 297.77 km (185miles) Belizean Barrier Reef, the 2nd longest in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the largest. There are 3 sea villas, 4 tropical villas, 5 lake villas surrounding a man-made salt water lake, and a spa villa with its own private, double massage cabin, steam room, Jacuzzi and sea and fresh water pools! A wonderful breakfast awaited us, including chocolate muffins and both Fry Jacks, the crescent-shaped fried dough accompanying the bacon and eggs and Johnny cakes, the flattened dense biscuits.
Salt water pool at El Secreto Resort, Ambergris Caye, Belize
Back in town, we found the most time-efficient option for travel within Belize is by the small airplanes ,such as Tropic Air, providing frequent services to all parts of the country. We flew down the Caribbean Coast to Stann Creek District and Dangriga, the largest town in Belize, 88.5 km (55 miles) from the capital of Belmopan and 172.2 km (107 miles) from Belize City. The Garinagu of Arawak/Carib and African ancestry, live here in wooden houses, sensibly built on stilts, to catch the cooling breeze, surrounded by plantations of mahogany, their national tree, coconut and mango trees. We watched colourful little humming birds buzzing about as they pollinate the bright, red and yellow Heliconia flowers.
Garifuna Drummers "Drumming of Belize" at Hopkins Resort
Clayton, Warren, Neckenna and Leandra
We stayed at The Hopkins Bay Resort, in a fishing village, 19.3 km (12miles) from Dangriga with luxurious 2 storey beach houses, with 1,2 and 3 bedrooms, each with ensuite bathrooms.
After a refreshing drink of green coconut milk, laced with Caribbean white rum, we were driven to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, the world’s only Jaguar preserve. Since all the 5 species of cat here, Jaguar, Ocelot, Margay, Puma and Jaguarundi are nocturnal, I noticed night cameras strategically placed, to catch their movements. Lurking in the forest was the largest, land mammal in Central America, the Tapir, their national animal, related to the horse and rhinoceros, with a flexible proboscis that moves in all directions. While we were quietly tubing down the river, we kept a close lookout for Wild Boar, Armadillos, White lipped and Collared Peccary and Coati which were known to be hidden in the 3 types of forest, virgin, primary and rainforest.
During dinner at The Hopkins Bay Resort, I tasted salt fish Darasa with creole sauce. Darasa is salted, grated, green banana mixed with coconut milk. Cassava or manioc root, when dried to a starchy or pearly extract, is called tapioca. After my cassava pudding with vanilla ice cream, I tried to dance the calories off to the rhythms of the Lebeha Garifuna Drumming Group.
Caracol site viewed from Caana - largest Mayan Temple in Belize
Next morning we drove to the ATM Cave( Acton Tunichil Muknal), the Cave of the Stone Sepulcher, ranked by the National Geographic Society in 2012 as the number one sacred cave site in the world! Discovered in 1989, we viewed the large, ceramic jars and 14 human sacrifice victims including the “Crystal Maiden” whose whole, skeletal remains, glistened with calcification. It’s a wet and dry cave, 5 km in length. This proved to be most challenging and is not for the feint at heart. The tour takes 3 hours and you have to swim through a flowing river and then dry your hands so you won't slip climbing up a treacherous wall to the dry cave. This tour is not for everyone! I strongly recommend that before attempting this, a person must understand what activities are expected, and consider the risk and safety factors involved. Once into it there is no turning back and you are committed to completion.
Blancaneaux Lodge amidst foliage
After our ATM Cave adventure, we drove to Film Director Francis Ford Coppola’s Blancaneaux Lodge, a series of 20 deluxe riverfront and garden-view thatched cabanas overlooking the Privassion Creek waterfall. Dining out, under the stars, made my grilled lamb chops and the lemon grass mojito rum drink taste especially good. Of course wines from Frances Coppola’s own winery were offered as well.
Next morning, we were taken to Chiquibul National Park, within the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, to visit the Caracol site, the largest Mayan temple in Belize, known as "Caana” or “Sky Place”. The panoramic view, from 42 metres( 140 ft) above the jungle floor, was worth the climb.
Rio on Pools, Belize
On our return we had a refreshing swim in the Rio on Pools, a series of small waterfalls, cascading over large boulders. I made an effort to be very careful, as the rocks were slippery!
Salt water infinity pool at The Lodge at Chaa Creek, Belize
Our final 2 nights were at The Lodge at Chaa Creek , along the Macal River, still in the huge Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. Owners Mick and Lucy Fleming, have 23 thatched, elegant cottages, horseback riding, a butterfly farm that propagates the blue Morpho Butterfly and a huge salt water, infinity pool which merges seamlessly with the lush, tropical gardens and the sky. On our nocturnal walk we saw a Kinkajou, an animal related to a raccoon, with its 6 in. tongue collecting nectar, leaf-cutter ants and large, hairy tarantula spiders. The whistling of the Cicada crickets and the roar of the Howler monkeys woke me up next morning, to see other folk already bird watching.
Our intrepid journalist, Lenora Hayman prepares to set out on Belize's only jungle swing
However after breakfast, I took a tour to Calico Jack’s Jungle Canopy and Zip Lining to do their 2 hr. Ultimo Explorer with 9 runs, 15 platforms, a cable walk, rappelling and finally flying like superman, by zip lining upside down! I also got up my courage to try Belize’s only jungle swing El Columpio. Ascending a replica of a pyramid, I was launched from its 15.2 metres(50 ft) apex on a rope “Tarzan Style”. My adrenalin shot "sky high" as I swung out surveying the jungle, but what an awesome, aerial view!
Lenora - Sky High in Belize!
Article & photos by Lenora A. Hayman
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Last Updated on July 22, 2014 by M. Maxine George editor.