July 9, 2015
Belize is a tiny little country on the eastern side of Central America between Mexico and Guatemala. It used to be called "British Honduras" so despite the fact that most other countries in the region speak Spanish, in Belize it’s English. For travelers who are looking for an ecotourism experience that combines both adventure as well as a healthy dose of history, look no further than San Ignacio. Nestled on the western border by the rainforest, it’s a small town with big personality.
In the heart of downtown there is a small pedestrian only street called Burns Ave where you will find all the major tour operators. When I was there on my honeymoon we used Pacz Tours exclusively and were very impressed with the quality of the guides. However, there are several more to choose from and most offer tours to the same places including: Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave, Tikal Mayan City, Caracol Temples, and Cave Tubing.
Much of the history of Belize dates back to the Mayans. Caracol, meaning snail, was once a thriving city but is now secluded in the forest. There are far less visitors here than Tikal and you can climb on pretty much all the ruins. Perhaps the most famous current residents are howler monkeys, the species whose cry was used in Jurassic Park to simulate that of dinosaurs. Tikal, which is actually across the border in Guatemala, is a much larger complex that also achieved Hollywood fame for its role as the rebel base in the first Star Wars film.
As far as Mayan society goes, one of the most interesting and strange things we learned was what the upper class did to their children in order to make them more identifiable. It was common practice to make their foreheads high and flat by pressing a board against them when they were very young. In addition, they would dangle objects in front of newborn’s eyes to cause them to permanently cross. It just makes me giggle thinking about how the upper crust were the coneheads and the cross-eyes! Also, the Mayans were big into enemas – yes, that means rectally administering stuff. They would partake in alcohol and psychoactive drugs in this fashion giving an entirely new meaning to "bottom’s up!"
Another awesome tour is ATM Cave. Bring your swimsuit since you’ll be wading through cave passageways in order to get to where they used to hold Mayan rituals. There are several well-preserved skeletons in the cave, which you are allowed to get quite close to. However, you are no longer allowed to bring cameras since a clumsy tourist dropped theirs and broke one of the skulls. If adventure caving is not really your cup of tea, there is also cave tubing available close to San Ignacio.
The last worthwhile tour I will mention is for horseback riding with Mountain Equestrian Trails. They are a little off the beaten track but will come pick you up at your hotel in San Ignacio. They have quite a few rides to choose from and just be warned, most guests are experienced riders and the horses are in tip-top shape. This means that your horse will not just be walking but also trotting and galloping (my horse’s name was Fuego which means "Fire" in spanish). We chose a full day ride that took us to a waterfall and back with lunch included. It had been raining the entire day and the path to the falls was steep with slippery rocks at the bottom. I ended up slipping on a rock and spraining my ankle pretty bad. Not wanting to hold up the group, I didn’t tell anyone and rode the whole way back bouncing around on the horse, resulting in a busted tailbone. The moral of this story is to not plan a multi-day horseback-riding trip unless you really know what you’re doing!
That’s all for now ‐ can you Belize-it?