My 6-Day Belize Itinerary
Here’s what I did and what I’d do differently. As you may have noticed, my suggestions include adding 2 more days than what I had. My main regret was that I didn’t have enough time!!
My travel buddy and I arrived into Belize Intl Airport to be greeting by a massive wave of heat - hello tropics!! I had setup a shuttle in advance from William’s Belize Shuttle out to our hotel in San Ignacio ($100 one-way, no matter how many passengers). Our driver, Silvino, was happy to play tour guide the whole 2-hour ride, including a stop for our first Belikin beers. Fun fact: you’ll see a lot of unfinished homes in Belize. People rarely take out loans or mortgages due to the incredibly high interest rates. Instead, new homes or renovations will get done over the course of years as people are able to set aside time and money to slowly finish them.
Fun fact #2 - Mennonites! There’s a fairly large Mennonite community in Belize. We passes many on our drive out, either waiting at bus stops or riding in buggies back to their homes far back off the main road. Given that i was sweating in a short-sleeve shirt, they had my sympathy with their long sleeves and likely voluminous undergarments.
We checked into the Tia Maria Guesthouse ($55/night cash for a room with air conditioning). It being 4:15 pm, we opted to try and walk over to see the nearby Mayan temple of Cahal Pech before it closed at 5pm. The guidebook said it was 20 minutes ‘uphill’, but we didn’t quite realize just how uphill. Jetlagged and unused to the humidity, I almost turned back twice. We were certain we were lost most of the way, as there’s limited signage. And the the final stretch uphill is at about a 45 degree angle. Don’t be me - spend a few dollars and take a cab. Once there, though, Cahal Pech is fantastic! For $5 USD, you get to play Indiana Jones as you walk through the jungle to discover temples and ruins that you’re able to climb all over. Also, only the front office closes at 5pm - you can still continue to tour the site. An hour there is probably all you need, as it’s fairly small.
We made it back before the worst of the rain hit (it rained on us every day. Bring a poncho. And accept that you’ll be getting wet!). We ate that night at Ko-ox Han Nah, a Belizean restaurant with Indian influences, reflected by the number of curries on the menu. Great place right along the main street.
We had signed up in advance with Maya Walk for a day trip to Tikal, across the Guatamalan border. It’s a pretty lengthy bus ride to get out there, which wasn’t ideal after our 2-hour shuttle ride the day before. The tour itself was very well organized, and I talk more about it here. Tikal is massive. We walked miles through the jungle seeing the different temples and learning about the rise and fall of the Mayan community in that city. If you go, bring comfortable shoes as you’ll be walking a lot! I also made sure to get a picture on top of Temple IV, where, fellow nerds, you can look out on the scene that doubled as the rebel base planet in the original Star Wars.
At lunch, I talked with several of the other people on our town (14 of us in all) who had also done the ATM caves tour. It was praised as the best thing they’d done so far, and an absolute must-see. While I didn’t regret the decision to go to Tikal, given our short turnaround, I sort of wished we’d seen the ATM caves instead.
Once back in San Ignacio, Maya Walk sold us tickets for the Belize Express water taxi at a discount ($15 USD vs $28 online). Definitely wait to buy in-country. The tickets don’t sell out in advance.
I celebrated a rainy morning by getting fry jacks for breakfast. Fry jacks are basically fried dough stuffed with (or along with) eggs, bacon, and whatever else you want in here. It’s incredibly fattening, incredibly filling, and delicious.
After that, as it was raining out, we opted for some indoor activities. We walked uphill (fryjacks gurgling in my stomach the whole way) to Ajaw chocolate shop, where for $10 USD you get an hour-long interactive class on Mayan chocolate making. To our surprise, the class was full (rainy day and all), but we were able to get the last two seats. The instructor goes through the entire chocolate making process, starting with picking the cocoa beans. We were able to taste the bitter chocolate at several stages before it got to the recognizeable flavor towards the end. You can also go up and practice grinding the cocoa beans yourself in the traditional Mayan way, which is a lot harder than it looks! Everyone gets a small sampler of chocolate to go, and there’s more for sale in their gift shop.
After another 2-hour afternoon shuttle ride from William’s Shuttle, we got to the water taxi terminal in Belize City. There are two water taxis out to the island, Belize Water Taxi and Ocean Ferry Belize. Their terminals are down the street from each other in Belize City. Double check you have the right one! The terminal itself can be pretty overwhelming. People will come and take your luggage away right away. Don’t worry, you will see it again on the islands. There’s a long process to getting on a boat, in which I go into more detail here. In short, we made our way to the back of the terminal to wait in a long line to trade our vouchers in. I was worried we’d miss our boat, as the line for the water taxis were growing longer and I was mindful that they came only once an hour. I needn’t have been worried. Everyone waiting in line will get onto a boat. It may not be a comfortable ride. Mine certainly wasn’t. We were overloaded inside a smaller boat for the 45 minute ride out to Caye Caulker. A small window in the front of the boat was our only way of seeing the outside. At least there were no waves.
Once we picked up our luggage, we took a $5 USD golf cart ride to Colinda Cabanas, our home for the next three nights. It’s towards the south end of the island, away from the bars, restaurants, and commercial area. Our $122/night room came with air conditioning, free use of kayaks, and free bikes. It’s a great deal on the island with super-sweet managers who drew up a map for us when we arrived of all the places on the island to visit.
We took our bikes up north, following the map to Maggie’s for delicious seafood dinner and happy hour drinks. We rode around a bit more, exploring the island, ending with a beer at Barrier Reef Sports Bar - Quite the hangout for older island expats and people watching.
We booked a half day snorkel tour in advance along the nearby marine reserve with Anda de Wata tours. Most snorkel tours from the island follow roughly the same route. It’s not necessary to book in advance, but I had heard good things about this company and wanted to ensure they’d have space for us. The tour was fine, although I wish I had booked the full day - there’s so much more to see! The half day, 3-hour tour is $42.50 USD per person. While we had a great time, I had two complaints with Anda, which I have a feeling apply to all the snorkel tours in the area. The first was their insistence that we all stay very close together for most of the tour, even after it was established that none of us were new to snorkeling. It would have been nicer to have a little more free range to explore. I assume this is part of their standard practice, likely due to overconfident snorkelers wandering off in the past. Sigh… The second was there were two stops that involved handling and feeding of the animals. First the sharks and rays at the aptly named Shark & Sting Ray Alley. The second was a stop along the east side of the island to feed and check out tarpons, giant, coastal residing, tuna-like fish. I don’t think any of the fish were being mistreated. The opposite in fact, I think the guides clearly cared about the fish very much. But it still made me feel a little icky that we had changed their behavior patterns to not be scared of humans in these areas. Yes we’re feeding them, but we’re still impacting their natural habitat. As mentioned, I don’t think this was specific to my tour. We saw a lot of other boats doing the same thing. That being said, you should absolutely get out and snorkel and see both the fish and the coral while there. Make sure you have reef-safe sunscreen that won’t pollute the waters!
Post tour, several hours were spent first at the Sip & Dive, a restaurant and bar over the water that offers tables, volleyball nets, and swings in the surrounding waters for you to delightfully lounge in. This was followed by additional beers (did I mention Belikins are smaller than regular beers?), games and lounging at the enormous Lazy Lizard bar at ‘The Split’ between the south and north islands in Caye Caulker. The Split is one of the few places unaffected by the sargassum explosion, due to the lack of shoreline. It’s a great place to check out, swim at, and make new traveler friends. Unfortunately, pale skin and tropical sun don’t mix, and I headed back to the hotel to nurse my fairly nasty sunburn. Next time: rashguard bottoms!
A fantastically lazy day devoted to several hours of reading and lounging out on the dock of Colinda Cabanas - a perfect Belizean activity. Eventually we headed back to meet Anda de Wata tours for their sunset tubing experience.
For $37 USD each, seven of us were taken about a half mile out in a boat. We were lowered into inner tubes, given a large sippy cup of (watered-down) rum punch, and slowly towed by the boat through the split and around to the other side of the island. We got to wave and cheer at the people sitting along the Split as we passed through. Run punches were refilled a few times. The one downside - my rear end got up close and personal with both seaweed and occasionally the tow rope. Otherwise, it was a fun experience and highly recommended. Especially for the pale-skinned like me who appreciate late-day water activities that don’t require sunscreen, rash guards, and big hats.
They give you the option of getting out on the north side of Caulker at Koko King, where we got off. The resort-like restaurant and beach venue is one of the few developments on the north island, and is very different than anything else we experienced on Caulker. There’s a white sand beach, fire pits, VIP lounge areas, and no sargassum. Prices are higher than on the south island for both food and drinks. We immediately made friends with several Europeans looking for a team to play volleyball with. After a few rounds of both volleyball and drinks, we took the free water taxi back to the south island. FYI, supposedly you need to show that you bought at least $15USD of food or drinks to take the ferry for free. I didn’t experience that at all. Not sure if it was due to the off season or the late hour (9pm when we rode back).
We checked out of the Colinda Cabanas and got a golf cart to take us back to Belize Express dock, where we checked in our luggage. Another crowded and hectic water taxi ride, this time in the rain, took us back to Belize City, where we got a cab to the airport. As I mention here, there is no need to get to Belize Airport 2 hours ahead of time. It’s tiny. We quickly used up the rest of our Belizean dollars at one of the cafes, then hung around waiting for a flight to take us home from paradise.