Hot on the heels of my compilation of Mexican photos I’ve bitten the bullet and managed to whittle down my Belize album to just 15.
That was no easy task. In just two weeks I managed to take so many that I’ve struggled to put just these in. But brevity must prevail…
We walked across the Mexico/Belize border in the north and travelled directly to Lamanai, with its hidden treasure of a Mayan archaeological site. We then flew to Dangriga in the south and transferred to Hopkins before relocating to Ambergris Caye (frequently called Hamburgers Caye, but only by us) at the end of our fantabulous honeymoon. Belize is a small country but it is heaving at the seams with different human cultures, past and present, and wildlife ranging from habitats as diverse as the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef to mangroves, from swamps to jungle-clad mountains. We tried to sample all this variety in just two weeks and though the small size made this a possiblity we know we fell short of seeing as much as we’d have liked so we’ll certainly be back one day.
Again, in no order:
We took a catamaran tour from San Pedro on Ambergris Caye to Caye Caulker. On the way back we stopped in Hol Chan Marine Reserve to snorkel the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. The captain of the catamaran fed the sharks, jacks, and massive stingrays as soon as we arrived. I wasn’t sure if this was either advisable or legal, especially as we were about to jump into the water ourselves. When I did take the literal plunge I marvelled at the incredible size of the rays and felt my heart thump as I remembered what they did to the late Steve Irwin. I gave them the greatest respect and kept my distance but the sharks seemed to neither care that I was there nor care if I swam quite close. On several occasions I would turn around and find myself face to face with half a dozen sharks, all of which were longer than me, and be able to tell that they were as unsure which way to swim next as I was. It was quite an exhilarating snorkel.
Our first view of Caye Caulker’s town was this, from our catamaran. It couldn’t be much more different to San Pedro, a mere ten miles north. The palm trees skirt a limited but definitely sandy and relaxable beach. Behind them the pastel coloured houses and shops retain an aura of calm far opposed to that on Ambergris Caye. It’s got more in common with Hopkins than anywhere else we explored in Belize. I enjoyed our stay in San Pedro but Caye Caulker left the distinct feeling that I would have enjoyed a stay here even more.
One of the reasons I enjoyed San Pedro was the bustle around the numerous jetties. Without any beach to speak of the locals flocked to these perfect fishing platforms and then carried out the messy work of preparing their catches on the sea grass covered beach. It was a great town to watch how differently people live their lives when tourists and their exclusive hotels can’t overwhelm and monopolise the use of the seafront.
This is the scene at the bottom of the stairs descending into St. Herman’s Cave in the Maya mountain range of central Belize. I enjoyed the discrete changes of colour in the rocks and the almost abstract forms. The cave system our tour followed lead for about a mile and involved some pretty exciting cave walking involving slippery sheer slopes and only a rope and strong hands to save you from an insurance claim. Mayan pottery is liberally scattered throughout the caves and you really get the sensation that you are seeing things pretty much left as they were. I’m sure there are plenty of treasures still to find in these caves and I just hope looters don’t get to them first.
I spotted this Magnificent Owl butterfly as we walked to the cave entrance and then snapped at my leisure, surprised that it didn’t seem to care about the seven humans gathered around it.
Whilst staying at Hopkins we took the opportunity to delve into the nearby Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. We spotted all kinds of beautiful birds, including the largest species of toucan in Belize but my shots of those are almost too far away to see, even with 12x zoom. We did find this stunning river meandering through the jungle though. A few baby turtles hid from me upon my approach and kingfishers and hummingbirds flittered above. The river level was suspiciously low considering the recent heavy rainfall but I got the feeling that this would be a little idyll even in the worst weather.
One of the main reasons for going to Cockscomb was that it is the world’s only jaguar reserve. We didn’t expect to actually see one, even though they do occasionally come out in front of people in the daytime, but I did hope to see a paw print. On one of the spur trails taking you to the Stann River we spotted two prints in some very mushy mud. Here’s Kristina’s foot beside the jaguar print, for scale purposes. It was both exciting and unnerving to know that there might easily have been one of the third largest species of cats watching us from the darkness of the surrounding jungle. I like to believe that was exactly what was happening…
Lamanai is a Mayan site with a lot of secrets still to share. Vast areas of the site are yet to be excavated, including the huge man-made hill covering the acropolis. Lamanai’s contemporary importance seems to grow with each discovery and it now appears that it might have once been the eastern centre of Mayan civilisation. It was still populated and operating beyond contact with the Spanish and even though they destroyed many written codexes of Mayan culture here there are suspicions that undisturbed chambers might yield something special. This photo is taken from the top of the largest one you can climb, the only one to poke above the jungle canopy. You can see our tiny guide far below.
Not the greatest photo in the world but it gives you a good idea of the scale of Lamanai. We climbed two other temples which were smaller than this one, and our guide informed us in detail about the sequence of building and re-building that occurred here. I’m so glad that we made paid the effort and expense of staying at Lamanai now because over the next few years it’s bound to change immeasurably.
We went on a spotlight boat tour of the mangroves and marshes around the lake beside Lamanai. Along with a dozen exotic birds our guide caught this green iguana for us and gently displayed him for our cameras.
Jungle = hard work. Farming on the outskirts of the jungle must be extremely hard work. I snapped this local man as he walked home around dusk, as we took a leisurely nature walk around the vicinity of the Lamanai Outpost Lodge.
As well as toucans I spotted this Tyrannosaurus Rex marauding through the jungle canopy beside our nature walk.
You could choose to reach Lamanai by pot-holed road, 35 miles of it. Or you could do as most people do and take a speedboat 26 miles up the New River from the boat landing just south of Orange Walk and take in the gorgeous scenery in relative comfort. I count myself pretty lucky to have encountered these fishermen as they hoisted up their catch for us to see.
Of the wildlife along the New River these tree cacti surprised me the most. They look like gargantuan snakes throttling the trees and at a glance they catch you off guard even after finding out what they are, especially at night. On the left is a termite mound, and I kept mistaking those for howler monkeys…
Please excuse the soft focus, this was shot through a mesh from my bed in the Lamanai Outpost Lodge. This family of howler monkeys paraded across the view pretty much as soon as we checked in and I was overjoyed to be able to snap the infant as it mimicked its parents. Apart from this I rarely saw the monkeys but we regularly heard them roaring through the canopy. Probably what put the T-Rex into my subconscious.
So there you go; 15 from 848 pictures in Belize. An amazing country which I hope expands its tourist industry responsibly and carefully. The signs are promising though. Everywhere we went people were so proud of what they had around them and the local knowledge is being appropriately mined to provide the very best guidance for visitors. With Mexico’s Quintana Roo taking a softly-softly approach to new development precisely to fend off the sprawl of towns like Playa del Carmen, Belize seems to following suit but adapting that approach to their own context. I can’t recommend Belize highly enough and can’t wait to see what happens in the next few years.