This past summer, my family decided to try something brand new. In August, the four of us set off for the adventure of a lifetime to the beautiful country of Belize! This vacation was my very first time traveling somewhere extremely different than the United States and I absolutely loved it. Belize, I will be back!
Unfortunately, right before the trip, my grandmother ended up in the ICU and we were not sure if we were going to still go. Thankfully, she began to recover and we were able to take off knowing that she would be okay – but as a result, no last minute planning was completed!
GETTING TO BELIZE
Let’s just say that the first day of this trip was a borderline disaster. A quick outline the things that went wrong:
- I left my phone on the plane
- My dad’s luggage was lost
- Because we had to spend time trying to get his luggage back, we almost missed our rental car window
- Due to a recent hurricane, they did not have a rental car (with air conditioning) to give us and we had to sit outside the rental place for over an hour
- We ended up with a Honda Element which did NOT have the much needed 4-wheel drive
- As a result of the delay, we ended up having to drive in the dark with no GPS or idea of direction and we were all getting hangry
- At dinner, my mom realized that she had been giving us directions to the wrong hotel
FINALLY, after many hours of uncertainty, we arrived at our first destination – the gorgeous Cahal Pech Village Resort. My family had our own little two story hut with a bedroom on each level. The grounds were beautiful with a stunning view of San Ignacio and the resort’s two pools. This was the perfect place to relax after long days exploring!
Our resort provided a lovely traditional Belizean breakfast and after digging in, we were off. Day 1 of our trip was spent at the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich – only a short drive from our hotel thanks to our good ol’ Honda Element. These ruins are a current excavation sites, still being uncovered by various universities! We hired a local guide who gave us a tour of the grounds and told us the ruins’ history. We even saw wild monkeys! The climb up to the top of the ruins is absolutely stunning. However, there are no railings so if you’re scared of heights (Mumsy), this might not be for you! We ate lunch at Benny’s Kitchen was absolutely INCREDIBLE. It is super close to the ruins and is cheap, local, and oh so good. They even serve gibnut – a squirrel-type rodent. We spent the rest of this evening hanging out at the pool and exploring downtown San Ignacio. Dinner was at Ko-Ox Han nah. I got the lamb burger and it was fantastic.
The absolute adventure of a lifetime – the ATM Cave Tour in Cayo, Belize. In order to do this tour, you definitely have to be in good shape, not claustrophobic, and ready for an adventure! If you’re ready and willing, this will be a day you can’t forget. Remember your water shoes or tennis shoes you don’t mind ruining. Our day started early. We met the group at a gas station and then followed the van (badly) to the site. The Honda Element proved its worth and kept us safe on the rocky road, even as we went through small streams. Pro-tip: turn your air conditioning off as you go through the water so your car doesn’t suck it up. They hooked us up with helmets and life vests and we were ready to go. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take cameras so I don’t have any photos from inside the actual cave. You hike about 40 minutes to and from the cave through the Belizean jungle. This involves crossing a few small rivers where you must lay on your back and use a rope to pull yourself across. Finally, you arrive at the cave entrance!
We spent about 3.5 hours actually inside the water-filled cave. It was breathtaking. We crawled through tight spaces, floated the current, and took in the huge cave formations. You follow the guide in a line and each person relays the information back to the next person! Some parts are tricky, but you work together and get through it! By the halfway point, I was exhausted but it was SO worth. We climbed up into a dry part of the cave where there are skeletons, ceramics, and stoneware left by the Mayans, most likely from sacrifices. It is assumed that they took victims in alive and killed them there. The most incredible part was how close the artifacts were! Only a pink line of tape separates tourists from the skulls. This would never happen in America!
On day 3, we spent a bit more time in the city before heading to our next destination, a jungle treehouse style home in the Belize EcoVillage. It is DEFINITELY off the grid! Once again, the Honda Element was put to the test. This home was about 8 miles off a main road. We were bouncing all over the place. Our EcoVillage home was an absolute dream. It was basically an upscale, glorified treehouse. It used solar panels for power and recycled rain water for the water source. Because this home was so remote, we had a local woman come and cook our meals named Lucy! Lucy was the most incredible host. Her adorable daughter came with her each day and was a great helper. We woke up to fresh coffee and Belizean breakfasts and ended each day with a meal to come home to. This was such a life saver! She even packed our lunches for us. This evening was just spent relaxing at this huge 3-story home and enjoying the outdoor living space and hammocks. Lucy greeted us with juice and a snack and life was pure bliss.
Once again, this day definitely lands in the “top 10 days of my life” list thus far. Lucy’s family owns the nearby Martz farm where we spent most of our time during this part of the trip. If you visit, you MUST do the pontoon waterfall tour. You can even rent jungle lodging at the farm itself. When you drive up, an entire gorgeous pack of dogs greet you. Evan and Lucy’s sister, Millie, took us down to the water and got us set up on the boat that they built themselves. The pontoon boat travels slowly down the Macal river and you really get to relax and take in the scenery. Evan and Millie were crazy knowledgeable about the area and I loved getting to ask all of the questions I wanted to about their culture. Evan and I were the same age and got along very well! In fact, we are still in touch. We spent about 1.5 hours just touring around before the real adventure began. Evan and Millie took us to 3 different waterfalls, all of which were so different!
First, we parked the pontoon boat and hiked about a quarter mile to a gorgeous traditional waterfall. We stripped off our shoes and dove straight into the cold water. Evan taught us how to walk on the rocks behind the waterfall and swim through. While the water is strong, it is an incredible feeling! We spent about 20-30 minutes just enjoying this pool.
Next, the cliff-jump fall. I actually got to cliff jump for the first time! My dad and I were the only ones brave enough, and I’ll admit that I got quite nervous once I was up there. It was about 40 feet. Afterwards, we found a nice sunny spot for lunch.
Lastly, we climbed a granite waterfall. This one is almost impossible to explain. It had multiple levels with a small pool between each. Evan and Millie were expert guides, letting us all know where to put our feet so we wouldn’t slip. Each “level” of the waterfall had a new stunning view to take in. Definitely an experience of a lifetime!
On our final full day in Belize, Jacob and I decided to sign up for a horseback at farm at Martz farm. Evan’s Uncle, Joe Martinez, got us saddled up and we set off. We spent several hours horse backing through the gorgeous jungle and countryside of Belize. At several points, we got off the horses and just sat with quiet river views and Joe recited some poetry for us.With only 2 years of formal elementary education, Joe has helped turn Martz farm into the business it is today. He has applied building skills he learned working in the US to build all of the great buildings on the farm, and loves writing poetry. Getting to talk with Joe was such a treat, and this was yet another trip highlight! After the ride, Jacob and I hung out with Evan and Joe in the kitchen (located in its own building). I had a hard time saying goodbye!
It was officially time to head out. After checking out and saying our final goodbye to Lucy and her daughter, we headed back to the airport. Thankfully, we had time for one final stop: The Belize Zoo! This place exceeded my expectations solely because of how different it is than American zoos. You really felt like you were in the jungle as you walked around and the animals were as close to their natural habitat as possible. Fences were low and one harmless animal even escaped while we were there! This was the perfect little ending to our trip.
Although it may sound cheesy, this trip really did change my outlook on life. Their slower way of life is so appealing and the locals are so nice. I now know that the busy suburbs are not the place for me. I want to raise my kids somewhere that they can explore the outdoors and have genuine experiences with nature! I would take a smaller house and more land and outdoor space any day! Evan and his entire family also had a huge impact on me. I learned that you do not need formal education to be successful and have a happy lifestyle. There is more to life than money and a big house. Take time to be alone, do what you enjoy, and just breathe. I already can’t wait to go back!