We went to the mountains of Belize near the Guatemalan border. We did not do any snorkeling or diving which is off the coast and much closer to the airport. Most people who go to Belize go to the islands on the coast to snorkel and dive; we simply do no have information on that since we did not go there. We ran out of time.
We planned to do a lot of mountain biking and canoeing or kayaking. That did not work out very well either. Even though the place we stayed said they had these activities on their web site, the places that rent the bikes are going out of business and it is hard to get a bike now. It is rumored that some lodges own their own bikes for client's use. Don't just assume there will be bikes if a place advertises on the web. Ask a LOT of questions before you book
Our one short canoe trip lasted about an hour though it was suggested it could take up to three. We did not even paddle. Taking that into account, again ask a lot of questions as to where you will be dropped off and where you will end up. Also ask if there is really a pick up at the end or will you need to go find yourself a cab. Even though you think you have answers to these questions, expect that things might not meet expectations. For example, if you love rapids, the places they drop you might be more gentle than you are used to. These are places where people who have never paddled before may go.
Also keep in mind when you go with a tour group, you may not get to spend the time to wander around on your own. This happened to us twice. Going to Tikal in Guatemala was supposed to be the highlight of our trip, but did not end up that way. For us, we enjoy freedom on vacations, so anything guided had its downside. For those who love having everything taken care of for them, guided trips or guides for the day definitely has its benefits.
The country is pretty safe. With only 250,000 citizens, most of the land is preservation land in Belize. English is spoken everywhere which makes travel to this Central American country easier for people who speak English.
Renting a vehicle is expensive, gasoline is expensive, and the drivers are crazy. We rented a diesel, which helped save money on gas. It cost us about $60 to fill up the tank.
The fixed exchange rate is 1 US dollar to 1 Beliezian dollar at the time of our visit. ATM machines do not take our cards like other countries do. Scotia Bank (from Canada) will let you do a cash advance on a credit card. We found this surprising, and wished we had taken more cash with us.
After our visit, I found this site that has lots of maps and information: http://www.belizenownetwork.com/ Buying a map that is up to date in Belize was a problem for us. it took us 5 days to even find a map to buy. The Maya Mountain Lodge did not have any maps. we thought this was strange at first, but discovered this was not unusual at all considering the accuracy of any map we did eventually find.
For people who do not rent cars, the place they stay at or the tour they are with will shuttle them around so there is no need. San Ignacio has cabs. For those who do drive, three of the four 'highways' are paved. the fourth is kind of paved. A lot of parks and ruins are just off the highway, though caves and some other ruins can be very remote. The road is rough, dusty, rutted, and sometimes washed out. We rented a truck and drove ourselves anyway.
This map is perhaps slightly accurate, but is probably not more inaccurate than any we have found to date. I made the thing but would probably not rely to heavily on it myself!
Places to Stay
We stayed at the Maya Mountain Lodge and the Aguarda. The Maya Mountain Lodge ran out of room part way though our stay (spring break) so we moved into the Aguarda. The Aguarda is also in Santa Elena, but you would want a car to stay there. The rooms were bigger than the Maya Mountain Lodge, but the water was not hot for the showers. A luxury they did have was air conditioning
The Aguarda had a nice in ground pool and a restaurant where we had breakfast once. It was inexpensive and comfortable, and we would be happy to stay there again. The woman running the business is from the US. Another place that looked OK, but we don't know much about is a place near Cahal Pech
Near Che Chem Ha, The Benque Resort and Spa has recently changed management and offers a variety of rooms and services. We have not stayed here personally, but the food on their website looks awesome and includes vegan and vegetarian options.
Places to Eat
We ate at the Maya Mountain Lodge most the time which is so convenient when you are staying there. It was very good, but rather expensive. At $18 (US) in 2004 for dinner, we got a delicious four course meal. We also had breakfast at the Aguarda. You can order off the menu. The eggs with salsa really hit the spot.
In San Ignacio, we ate out one night at Sanni's. A favorite of locals from what we gathered, the place is beautiful. Outdoor dining under a roof with little lights and cloth weaving a tent like atmosphere. The food was fabulous, but we thought 'local food' would be more like Mexican food. It was kind of like 'American food' as in what you might see in the US. Sometimes places far away are not that different after all.