I’ve now come to the conclusion that every new place I visit must always be prime punbait:
I mean, I had to keep up the trend, right? For this Thanksgiving, I didn’t want to be stuck in the USA. Like, what kind of pun can you make out of that?
I kid, I kid. My main motivation was not getting cabin fever due to being stuck in the ghost town that was San-Francisco-during-the-holidays, and I’m not me unless I impulsively embark on some trip to some place I’ve never been before. Enter Belize.
If you’re looking for something short and sweet, Belize does the trick. (And if you’re not, I’m sure Belize’s laid-back atmosphere might be up your alley anyway.) Case in point: I spent the first three days in the jungle and the last leg of the trip on an island, where I was swimming with sharks. Part of me is so horrifically cheesy and wants to say, “UNBELIZEABLE!!!”, except — yeah, no. However, Belize was a delightful Thanksgiving trip, especially considering that:
- The cost of going to Belize was just as much as most domestic (US) flights during the plane ticket clusterfuck that is Thanksgiving.
- Instead of eating turkey (which I frankly find abhorrently dry as a standalone meat1), I found turkeys running around like free elves on the side of the street2.
- Did I mention: I swam with sharks?
Infrequently asked questions:
WAIT BUT WHERE HAVE ALL THE CAVING PHOTOS GONE, U LIAR. Uhhhh, I was preoccupied with grabbing a cave ledge, not hitting my head, and swimming chest-deep in cool cave water? Plus it was dark, which I’m fairly sure doesn’t translate into a good photo.
WHERE ARE THE SHARKS THAT YOU SWAM WITH. No GoPro. #notsorry
OKAY SO WHAT DID U EVEN DO See below.
Cool shit I did in Belize:
Caving: Listen, caving’s great. I hate wet socks and wet shoes like the next human being, but caving in Actun Tunichil Muknal (aptly abbreviated as ATM) might be the one exception where I can tolerate soaked shoes. It’s worth it. You spend the first 45 minutes hiking to the cave entrance, where you traverse a couple creeks (yes, you’ll get wet) before leaving all of your belongings and entering the cave. There’s a wee bit of swimming involved, a whole lotta darkness, and really, really sick skeletons, ceramics, and stoneware. If you want to go full-on Indy Jones and explore some Mayan sacrificial chambers, this is it.
Mayan ruins: The area has a lot of great Mayan sites. There’s Caracol, the largest one in Belize (and the one I hit up during my trip), Tikal — if you want to venture over to Guatemala, and Xunantunich (Hanna Stables — the place where I stayed — offers horseback rides into the ruins), for starters. Caracol was a sprawling site of ruins; I’m sure the area gets enough tourists, but there’s a distinct difference between the amount of traffic Caracol gets versus that of Chichen Itza. You can even climb on the ruins in Caracol! The views are spectacular: not just the downward view (which is daunting in its own right) of the complex, but also the howler monkeys, which chill out at the very treetops.
Wildlife: Superstars include the toucan, the jaguar, the howler monkey, the Baird’s tapir, and the scarlet macaw — all of which you can find at the Belize Zoo.
Not even kidding — editing all the toucan pics suddenly gave me intense cravings for Froot Loops, which I swear I haven’t experienced since I was in middle school, what?
Swimming: I swam with nurse sharks and stingrays and sea turtles in Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley (yes, the name is accurately descriptive). The snorkeling/diving opportunities here are fantastic; just don’t be like me and not bring an underwater camera. (However, you can be like me and go with Island Divers, which was a solidly-run diving establishiment on Ambergris Caye.)
A couple tips:
- Belize is one of those places where microplanning isn’t entirely necessary. Once you’ve locked down your flights and figured out some vague general area you want to stay at (I divided my time between Ambergris Caye and the west in Cayo), it’s super easy to book all the stuff in-between, such as any flights or car rides within the country.
- I did one activity per day, and that was a good enough pace. Could I have done more? Probs. I still want to check out Tikal and Caye Caulker one of these days. But when you’re going for a breadth of activities, you don’t want to bloat yourself by jam-packing your schedule. That’s not really the thing you’d want to stress over.
- One of the things I realized that I was thankful for this Thanksgiving was the abundance of paved roads at home, and I do not take this lightly, now knowing how bumpy Belizean roads are. In addition to the constant bump-and-grind that is driving in Belize, get prepared for enough speed bumps to turn any car ride into a lowkey two-hour rollercoaster.
- When in San Pedro (Ambergris Caye), rent a golf cart. It’s not just a vehicle for rich old white men from the suburbs to drive around — it’s actually the main form of transportation. You just need a driver’s license, it’s fairly easy to operate one, and the town is small enough that you’ll familiarize with San Pedro’s streets in little time.
- …but when it comes to San Pedro geography, GOOGLE MAPS SITS ON A THRONE OF LIES. I should probably feel awful for throwing capslocked shade at a product that I normally love, but man, when you’re trudging around in the rain with nothing but a flimsy golf cart cover to shield you, because Google Maps told you that a restaurant was five blocks away from its actual location, something’s gotta give.
- Head to the Belize Zoo either after your arrival or before your departure from Belize. Driving-wise, it’s fairly close to the Belize City International Airport, and it’s the one place where you can witness all the great wildlife Belize has to offer.
- Pile on that bug repellent like it’s going out of style. Mosquitoes and sandflies here are abundant and evil. Actually, who am I even kidding. All mosquitoes and sandflies are evil incarnate.
Of course, no travel post of mine is complete without at least one food photo, so have some shots of my lunch at Elvi’s Kitchen in San Pedro:
Two words: fish tacos. The cilantro really makes it.
1 I’m still scarred by a past Thanksgiving, where my relatives prepped a big honkin’ turkey (as per tradition) prior to the actual feast, as any responsible household would. My grandmother was unfortunately not as, ah — well-versed in American Thanksgiving traditions, found a fully-cooked turkey sitting pretty in the oven, and thought, Wow, wouldn’t this make really good meat for the Chinese steamed buns tonight!. Next thing you know, the turkey that had been prepared for the stuffing became stuffing, as my grandmother mercilessly cut up the entire bird and baked it all in a series of steamed buns.
The steamed buns, by the way, were characteristically disappointing, not just because they were cooked with the shame of The Thanksgiving Dinner That Could Have Been™, but because baking an already-cooked turkey (which is dry enough) into a bun gives it the juiciness and tastiness of used sandpaper.
2 Turkeys and I have a very contentious relationship, not just because of footnote 1, but also because my kayaking group might have accidentally run over a turkey during a 2009 kayaking trip in Massachusetts. That poor thing left a pretty hefty dent in the van and a couple souvenirs in the form of feathers and smeared blood.
I re-read the grandma/turkey story like thrice and laughed just as hard each time. That. Is. GOLD.
Also, you totally DID say “UNBELIZEABLE!!!” haha. Although I’m bummed you didn’t have an underwater camera I’m kind of glad you didn’t at the same time because it leaves a little bit of mystery and I’d one day like to check out the Shark Ray Alley for myself. Plus it meant that you wouldn’t have been distracted by trying to take photos and wouldn’t have had to juggle the “experience with my eyes!”/”okay take a pic now” mindset.
The leopard “cage” thing doesn’t look particularly sturdy…
YES, you must check out Shark Ray Alley! I’m going to, uh, pretend that I left out all the photos to lowkey pressure you into going.