Jamie and I made our way to Belize City from El Remate via tourist transport. We were relatively sure we wouldn’t be put on a local bus as we were going all the way to Belize City and had to navigate the border. Belize had the simplest border crossing, hop off the bus go through Guatemalan and Belize Customs and then get on another bus. Easy!
Once in Belize City we got money from a dodgy ATM and made our way to the port to catch a water taxi to Caye Caulker. We stayed at the very end of town on the South side in Ignacio’s Beach Cabins. We had a waterfront cabin on stilts with a private bathroom for $25 per night!
Caye Caulker is a small island but it has a lot of hotels, bars and dive shops crammed into a small area. Ignacio’s is a good choice for accommodation if you want to stay somewhere quite. Although Caye Caulker has a few small beaches most of the island is surrounded by mangroves and so “beachfront” is not really a thing.
Belize is a diverse country, you’ll find Spanish speaking Mestizos inland and English speaking Creoles and Garifunas on the coast. The cultural mix is different to most other countries in Central America and Belize has a lot of that laid-back Caribbean vibe. Caye Caulker definitely has its own cultural institutions like The Cake Lady who sets up her cart of homemade cakes and pies everyday on the main drag. Fresh seafood, especially Caribbean spiny lobster, is hauled up by the bag full and grilled in restaurants and food carts along the main waterfront area. Fresh juice packed into reused water bottles is sold all over town.
Caye Caulker draws in a lot of people that want to learn to scuba dive and we took advantage of the dive shops and competitive prices by signing up for a class with Belize Diving Services. The Meso-American Barrier reef, the second longest in the world, sits just off the shore of the island. Inside the reef is calm and clear water with a sandy bottom, a perfect place to learning diving basics. As we got our certification we did a couple of dives in and around the reef and it was spectacular. We went to Shark Ray Alley, an area inside the reef where fisherman have been cleaning their catch for decades. The sound of the boat motors draws in sharks by the dozens! The day we went I was the first in the water and came face to face with a 7 foot barracuda! We saw loads of small reef sharks and a couple rays as well.
After getting our open water certification we took a trip to Turneffe Atoll for a day of diving. The trip from Caye Caulker to the atoll was basically in a skiff with a good sized outboard, the totally open boat gave us good views and we saw a large school of flying fish leaping through the swells. Turneffe Atoll was probably one of my favorite diving destinations ever. The water was clear, the coral in excellent health and the were a lot of fish. We saw huge sponges we could stick our entire heads in and giant clams all over the place. The highlight of our diving there was seeing so many Spotted Eagle Rays come out of the blue water.
We also took a manatee tour out of Caye Caulker. Manatees are pretty boring to watch from the surface and in Belize they are well protected so swimming with them is not allowed (that’s great conservation).
After nearly two weeks on Caye Caulker we caught a water taxi back to Belize City and hopped on a bus to the capitol at Belmopan. The buses in Belize were not nearly as crowded as the ones in Guatemala so they are a great cheap option for getting around. While in Belmopan we went to Belize Zoo which is famous for having a jaguar and harpy eagle breeding program.
After visiting the zoo we made our way to Dangriga on the coast and stayed the night at a small family run hostel. The owner was really sweet and the breakfast was amazing but there were definitely animals (probably rats) living in the walls and the smell was not good, we didn’t complain because the hospitality was outstanding. We wandered around town and were given oranges as we walked. We also arranged a stay at the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, one of the best places to look for jaguars in Central America. The Sanctuary had really simple accommodation and a cooking area, but we had to bring all of our food and enough cash to pay for everything as they didn’t take credit card. They also didn’t have any transport so the next day we got let off the bus at the road leading to the sanctuary and walked up to the nearest house behind a banana plantation to try to get a ride. Fortunately for us someone was home and we paid cash for the 20 minute drive up to the Jaguar Reserve Nature Center. The accommodation was really basic, just bunk beds in a screened in building, with a separate building for cooking and eating. The main reason to make the journey to Cockscomb Basin was to hike and look for wildlife!
We walked around on the nearby trails the first day and went out again with our headlamps as night.
We also saw a type of large rodent called a Paca in the underbrush. It pretty quickly dawned on us that maybe we shouldn’t be walking around in jaguar country at night and we went back to our room.
We did more hiking the next day on some longer trails.
There was another small group staying at the nature center and they invited us to join them on a night walk they had hired a guide for. We figured there was safety in numbers and set out at dark. Our guide was awesome, he got everyone to shut off their headlamps and listen to the sounds of the forest at night. There were a while different group of animals and insects active in the dark. We saw fishing bats gaffing small fish out of the streams right away. Somehow our guide was able to hear animals way up in the canopy and spotlight them so we saw our first ant-eater and kinkajou. No sign of jaguars or any smaller cats for us though they have been seen before. Regardless of the lack of jaguars we loved Cockscomb Basin and would definitely go back.
After we returned to the main highway we hoped on a bus bound for Placencia on the coast. Twice a week there was a ferry from Placencia in Belize to Puerto Cortes in Honduras and so we decided to take the ferry. We were in Placencia two nights and the first night we had our first shower after the wildlife sanctuary where we found we had a bunch of ticks! Ticks are non-existent in Alaska and uncommon but large in Montana so they weren’t really on our radar. We both had several attached to us and so got them off by heating up safety pins and burning them (Note: this is not the best way to remove ticks, use gasoline to smother them). Fortunately we didn’t come down with any illness.
We met the ferry after a couple of days and realized that ferry was not really the right work for the boat we were taking. It was packed with people and pretty small, especially considering the open water crossing we were doing. We had heard the water can be rough so Jamie and I loaded up on Dramamine and put our iPods on to drown out the sound of a dozen people throwing up. Once we arrived in Puerto Cortes our passports were taken to customs which was a couple miles from where the boat unloads. The cabbies on scene tried to offer us rides for a crazy amount of money, we just walked to the main road and caught a cab for a reasonable rate. We were reunited with our passports after going through customs and hopped a bus to La Ceiba.