By the time our honeymoon rolled around, we were more than ready to switch our snow boots for sandals. Even though we got married in August, we had to delay our honeymoon until winter, which gave us the perfect excuse to go somewhere warm and sunny. We settled on Belize, a small country in Central America with plenty of unique experiences to offer. We fell in love with Belize and the people we met along the way. Belize is a country that truly has something for everyone. Whether you want to relax on a beach at an all-inclusive resort or trek through the jungle and crawl through Mayan caves, you can find what you’re looking for in Belize.
Krissy and I are active and adventurous travelers who value good food and unique experiences. We are mindful about our travel budget and prioritize adventure over luxury. We tend to stray from the beaten path, and here are some Belizean treasures we discovered along the way.
Belize is split up into different districts, each with a unique atmosphere. Although tourists often spend most of their time on the islands (Cayes) of Belize, the mainland districts have plenty of adventures to offer. Two hours mainland, located in the Cayo District, San Ignacio is a bustling little town that serves as a cultural and local hub for tourists and locals. We split our two-week trip evenly between the Cayo District and the islands, giving us the perfect balance of adventure and relaxation time.
No matter what area of Belize you’re in, it is easy to get around and do business with the locals. Most Belizeans speak English and Spanish to tourists, but they will converse with each other in laid-back Kriol. The Belizean dollar is kept at a 2:1 exchange rate with the American dollar, so payment is a breeze.
Although homosexuality is banned and punishable by law in Belize, the locals assured us that the law was rarely enacted. There are several well-known GLBT-friendly and GLBT-run businesses in both the Cayo District and on the islands. During our travels, we ran into several GLBT couples—all of whom flocked to us because my equality tattoo acted as a homing device—and we shared our travel stories. Our experiences were all similar: none of us had experienced any discrimination, though we were all very aware of not being too overt in public. We all felt welcomed and safe as GLBT tourists.
There are plenty of transportation options available to get you safely around the country. We relied on William’s Shuttle Company to travel between San Ignacio and Belize City. William and his crew shared their knowledge of Belize with us during the two-hour trek. If you want to travel like the locals, you can take the crowded buses between the cities, or you can rent a car if you’re feeling particularly adventurous. The roads are not in the best of shape, and many roads to tourist attractions are downright treacherous. The islands can easily be reached by water taxi or by a short flight in a propeller plane.
While in the Cayo District, we stayed at Parrot Nest Lodge, a small bed and breakfast in the jungle near Bullet Tree village. Guests at Parrot Nest can choose to stay in private cabins or tree houses. Breakfast and dinner were fresh, hot, and served at communal tables where we bonded with other guests over the day’s adventures. The lodge manager, Marcus, was able to set up last-minute excursions for us and made us feel at home. When we weren’t off on our adventures, we enjoyed tubing down the river behind the lodge with our new friends and the dogs of Parrot Nest leading our way.
Though many travelers choose to cross into Guatemala to visit the awe-inspiring Tikal, there are several Mayan sites in Belize that are just as amazing and not as crowded. John, the owner of K’iin Winik Jungle Tours, transported us through the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve and to the ancient Mayan site, Caracol. Only 10% of Caracol is excavated, so the site seems more sacred and private. In addition to explaining the significance of his Mayan heritage, John shared some of the wisdom he learned from his grandfather, a Mayan medicine man, by pointing out the jungle’s medicinal plants.
For adventurers who love the outdoors, Mountain Pine Ridge offers excellent hiking trails and horseback riding near Barton Creek Cave. Cliff jumpers can plummet into the clear waters beneath Big Rock Falls. We spent some time exploring Rio On Pools, a set of small waterfalls that collect in dozens of pools. The serene, cool waters were the perfect place to wash off the grime collected from the day’s explorations.
The highlight of our time in the Cayo District was our experience at Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave. Though we visited several other cave systems, we both agree that ATM is by far the best. Not for the faint of heart, the strenuous trip to reach ATM requires a 45-minute jungle hike, crossing three rivers ranging from two to five feet deep. Once at the cave, explorers swim into the mouth of the cave, tracing the route the Mayans used to take during religious rituals and sacrifices.
After wading through dark waters, shimmying through narrow passageways, and scurrying up boulders, visitors are required to remove their shoes in order to enter the main dry chamber full of Mayan pottery and skeletons from sacrifices. The trip climaxes 1000 meters into the cave, in the Chamber of the Crystal Maiden, where the calcified skeleton of a young girl sparkles in the light of the headlamps. Nothing could have prepared us for the surreal eeriness of the cave. Simultaneously sublime and haunting, the ATM Cave is one attraction that must not be missed.
If you don’t find crawling around in dark caves as enticing as we did, there are several other options for more low-key adventuring. Take a day trip to see the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich and Cahal Pech, or get up close and personal with iguanas at the Green Iguana Conservation Project in San Ignacio.
After all of our adventuring in the jungle, we were excited to get to the island for some ultimate relaxation. We stayed in San Pedro, the main city on Ambergris Caye, known for its amazing food and non-stop nightlife. Our bed and breakfast, Changes in Latitude, was conveniently located within walking distance of the finest restaurants and beaches in San Pedro. After a tasty breakfast and a swim off the docks each morning, we set out to meander around the city and enjoy the sun. Although San Pedro is easily accessible by foot, many tourists choose to rent golf carts or bikes to explore the island more thoroughly. We borrowed bikes one day and spent a morning chasing the sunrise along the beach.
Our favorite thing about San Pedro was the abundance of delicious food. From Jamaican cuisine to fresh seafood, from the national dish of rice and beans with stew chicken to steaming hot pizza pies, there were enough impressive dining options to keep us satisfied. Our favorite restaurant on the island was El Fogon, a small open-air restaurant serving up hot salbutes and traditional Belizean dishes. After our third visit, the waiters knew us by name and hugged us when we waddled out of there with full tummies for the last time.
Other standout restaurants include Waraguma, where fresh papusas are lovingly made; Blue Water Grill, an upscale eatery with killer drinks; and Elvi’s, where $20 US can get a feast of barbecued ribs, chicken, and sausage fresh off the barbecue. Between meals, we snagged fresh coconut water and coconut ice cream, a much-needed treat after being in the sun all day.
Belize is a mecca for divers and snorkelers, due to its location along the Belize Barrier Reef and its close proximity to Blue Hole. Companies offering dive and snorkel trips abound, but we chose to snorkel with Ecologic Divers because of their commitment to respecting and protecting the reef. Our guide took us to Hol Chan Marine Reserve, where we swam with fish and turtles at Hol Chan Cut before swimming with sharks and stingrays at Shark Ray Alley.
When we wanted a more laid-back island feel, we visited Caye Caulker, a nearby island easily accessible by water taxi. Known for the excellent swimming at The Split, Caye Caulker has a completely different vibe from the hustle and bustle of San Pedro. We spent a day strolling around the island and reading at The Split, where locals sell homemade meat pies and feed the seagulls by hand.
Our trip wouldn’t have been complete without our sunset cruise on Ecologic Divers’ 50-foot catamaran. Watching the sun set over the sparkling blue waters—rum punch in one hand and Krissy’s hand in the other—was a perfect way to end the honeymoon of a lifetime.
Belize is the perfect honeymoon destination for any couple that wants to experience something completely different. Whether you want to relish in luxury at all-inclusive resorts or test your new marriage by going on thrill-seeking adventures, Belize is the perfect country to celebrate love and life. To start planning your dream vacation in Belize, visit www.travelbelize.org.