Go to Another Vacation
Belize and Guatemala
Barton Creek Cave
Che Chem Ha
Actun Tunichil Muknal
Actun Tunichil Muknal
Barton Creek Cave
Che Chem Ha
The flight to Belize is about 2 hours from Miami. It is not a bad flight at all, with sights of the Florida keys and Cuba off the left wing. The airport in Belize is small and you disembark on the tarmac and walk to the terminal.
After renting a truck from Avis, we headed out toward San Ignacio via the Western Highway. The landscape was striking along the way as we enjoyed the 80 degree temperatures and the sunshine.
We decided to stop at the Belize Zoo which we happened to spot by a painted sign on the side of the road. The visit was a short one, but well earned after spending the day on planes. we left snow in the morning, and now we were looking jaguars in the eye. We love vacation!
After the Zoo, we continued west on the Western Highway to Santa Elena, which is the sister city to San Ignacio. The are right next to each other, separated by a pair of bridges. Just take a quick left turn in Santa Elena after the Esso station at the Maya Mountain Lodge sign, then continue on the paved part until it turns to gravel. The Lodge is on the right.
We checked in, swam in the pool, and had a fabulous dinner on a deck overlooking tropical gardens before retiring to our private cabana.
A guide from the lodge was taking two couples out to Caracol for the day. We opted to follow in our truck, take the guided tour, and then hang out on our own after the tour.
We can't begin to tell you how nice it was to follow someone there. what a drive! The tour guide was great, but the tour did not have enough time to do photography or to explore the ruins on your own, so we were glad we drove ourselves.
We just wanted to mention the Ants in the Pants incident. Don't stand in an ant trail or near an ant mound. The have mandibles that are so tough they use them for sutures in the back country. We had to run up the temple stairs to get away from them, shedding clothes as we went. When I shook my pants, little ants went flying everywhere. Disentangling them from the socks was a challenge in itself. We are glad we were the only ones there when this happened.
The trip started about 6am where we were driven to the border. We then walked to the Guatemalan border (there is a no man's land between the countries here) and then got a ride from the border to Tikal. This was all arranged by the Maya Mountain Lodge for us and another family. We were nervous about crossing the border on our own, so this worked out well.
We ended up with a guide from the park itself and ended up seeing things and visiting parts that other people did not see, which was nice. We did not get free time to wander the whole park nor did we get time to go to the shops at the visitor's center, but we did get time to eat at the restaurant there. The food was great.
On the way back, the van stopped at a designated shopping place which was OK, but did not have interesting things like the shops at Tikal. It was a bit disappointing, but we never buy anything anyway!
This day was the most relaxing day. We went to Barton Creek with another family and another couple from our hotel with a guide. You are not allowed into the cave without a guide. The ride out to the cave was really nice and winds though a Mennonite settlement.
To get into the caves you paddle canoes at a very slow pace and use flashlights supplied by the owners of the cave. Several artifacts have been arranged so you can see them from the boats and there are quite a few bats in the cave.
After the cave we stopped at butterfly farm. There are a lot of butterfly farms in Belize and in the San Ignacio area, but the one near Barton Creek is rumored to be the best. You spend the time in the building with a tour guide who talks about the different species and there is no time to wander around after to take photographs so we did not end up with many. Great for eco-tourists, tougher for photo enthusiasts.
Che Chem Ha is a half day trip that includes lunch. They do a morning trip and an afternoon trip. We went by ourselves with the owner of the cave. No one can enter without the owners so that the artifacts will remain protected. The visit was amazing and we highly recommend it.
When we were leaving El Pilar, a boy who worked there (maybe about 16 years old) asked us if we would drive him into town. Of course we said yes - though please note we never recommend taking a hitch hiker and we lack common sense. He throws his bike in the back of our pickup and climbs into the extended cab as we bounce our way back to the next village.
Part way down he tells us about a traditional house he and his father are building using old fashioned methods. he is obviously very proud about this and wants to stop and show us. We get to a side road but there is a chain across the road. We would have to walk.
We walked up and up and up this road wondering if this was some elaborate plot to take tourists hostage. We finally come across his father who is digging the lime out of the side of the road. Some of the lime is hard and in other places you brush your hand against the road cut and it all falls to powder on the ground.
Further along the road we get to a path in the woods that climbs up further to a clearing. In the clearing is a round house made from lime with a thatched roof. he showed us the details of the house and how he and his father built it. it is surrounded by a forest filled with monkeys and orchids. The view over the tops of the trees is stunning and you can see as far as Guatemala. A place we will never forget.
Actun Tunichil Muknal was definitely the best for last. Three river crossings, a cave to swim though, bats, rooms and rooms of artifacts and calcified skeletons made this a trip to remember.
It is a very popular trip and the numbers of visitors are limited. it is something you should try to get into as son a you get there because it could be a few days before there is room. Bring your own dry bag so you can have your camera to access whenever you want it. The photographs may never do it justice, but the images stay fresh in our minds.