Despite bordering major countries on the backpacking trail (Mexico in the north, Guatemala to the west and Honduras to the south) many travelers skip Belize all together because of the much higher costs involved in a trip here. With some clever planning, however, Belize is a perfect spot for water sports enthusiasts and adventure junkies alike, and can be enjoyed without going too much over a tight budget.
Ultimate Adventure Vacation
Belize is a must visit for anyone interested in Latin America, or snorkeling, diving, adventure or pure relaxation. Not many countries combine such a diversity of landscapes: mountains, jungle, white-sand beaches, coastal wetlands and islands surrounded by crystal clear water. Belize has it all, and because it only measures 174 miles north to south and 60 miles east to west, it is easy to experience all different aspects in one relatively quick visit, whether that means including the small English-speaking country on your backpacker trail, or making it your vacation location of choice for a week escape.
The easiest way to get ‘the best of both worlds’ and combine the Caribbean sea and the green jungle, is to visit the Cayes, or islands, in the crystal clear Caribbean waters off the coast of Belize, and San Ignacio, on the border to Guatemala. Although located on the exact opposite ends of the country, they are only 60 miles or a 2.5 hours bus ride apart.
The best known Cayes are Ambergris Caye and neighboring Caye Caulker. Ambergris Caye is the bigger and more developed island; Caye Caulker is known as Belize’s backpacker hangout with lower prices, cheaper accommodation and a more laid-back feel to it. However, prices are on the rise and more expensive hotels have been built.
The Cayes are great for snorkeling and diving, as they are just a boat ride away from the Mesoamerican Reef, the world’s second largest reef, and close to the famous Blue Hole – a stop on almost every diver’s bucket list. Even first time snorklers can swim with sharks, turtles, sting rays and schools of hundreds of fish. Neither Caye has a truly decent beach, a shame considering the spectacularly blue waters surrounding them, and except for diving, snorkeling and soaking up rays on a pier, there is not much to do other than sip Belizean rum punch in one of the many bars and nibble on some oven fresh banana bread.
Moving the adventure inland, San Ignacio, aka Cayo (or The Cayo District) serves as an adventure lover’s base for the area’s cave and jungle tours, kayaking or canoeing on the Macal river, zip lines, cave tubing, horse back riding and the ultimate – the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM ) tour. The ATM cave holds Mayan artifacts including several skulls and bones and even an entire skeleton of a young Mayan girl, the Crystal Maiden.
The Cayo District also holds most of Belize’s Maya ruins, such as Caracol, which is the best known site, and smaller ones like Cahal Pech and Xuchantunich.
The small size of the country means you could do both the land and water-based tours from one location, and there are tour operators on the Cayes who work together with the operators in San Ignacio, so that you can organize inland adventure tours from Caye Caulker or Ambergris Caye.
What does it cost?
There are a few hostels in Belize, and you can stay in a dorm for around BZ$25.00 / US$ 12.50, double rooms in guesthouses start at BZ$30.00 / US$15.00 for a shared bathroom or en-suite for BZ$40.00 / US$20.00 in the low season.
Main courses in restaurants start at BZ$ 8.00 /US$ 4.00 in San Ignacio, the Cayes are a little bit more expensive. A meal for two comes to around BZ$ 25.00 / US$ 12.50.
Public transport is very cheap, with buses from Belize City running to all major towns in the country for a max. The water taxi to Caye Caulker is BZ$20.00 / US$10.00 from Belize City.
Snorkeling tours start at BZ$40.00 / US$20.00 for a half day tour and a full day is BZ$80, the cave tours also start at BZ$ 40.00 / US$ 20.00, and the Actun Tunichil Muknal tour is the most expensive tour BZ$150.00 / US$ 75.00. This last tour might be the priciest, but by far the most adventurous of all the tours available to visitors in Belize. At least that is the opinion of the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, the New York Times, and, of course, the Globetrottergirls.