Lost in Belize VII: Manatees, Sharks, and Jaguars, Oh My!

Adventure Travel, Belize, Dispatches from the Road, Hotels & Resorts, Travel Philosophy, Wildlife & Animals — By on March 22, 2010 at 6:00 am

Belize’s mix of lush rainforests, labyrinth of underground caves, and Mayan ruins make this Central American country the perfect place for adventure. For diving and seeing reef sharks, Ambergris Caye is an easy choice. But if you want to experience more of the Mayan culture, hike to ancient ruins, and encounter wildlife on land, check out the former fishing village of Placencia. Located on a peninsula that’s nestled between the Caribbean Ocean and a mangrove-fringed lagoon with the Mayan Mountains to the west, it offers the best of land and sea activities.

I’m a big fan of Adventure Life, which customizes tours throughout Central and South America using local guides. Tourist dollars go back to the local community, and a portion of proceeds also go to local causes. Adventure Life offers many different tours in Belize, and I opted to be a guest at The Inn at Robert’s Grove because you can choose your own adventure. Everything you could ever want is right on site: a PADI dive and snorkel center, fishing center, windsurfing boards, Hobie Kats, gym, beachside restaurant, spa, tennis courts roof-top Jacuzzi, bikes to cycle into town.

During my stay I opted to take the complimentary kayaks out to paddle through the lagoon in search of manatees, and snorkeled on the ocean in front of the resort. If I’d had more time, I would have went to see the jaguars in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary (75 percent of Belize is rainforest and it’s also home to five different types of wild cats).

Instead, I felt like Indian Jones when I signed up to go inland to the Mayan ruins of Lubaantun, and cave swimming in the Blue Creek. Lubaantun, or “The Place of Fallen Stones,” is actually much closer to Toledo (which I wish I’d figured out before signing up since I was headed there next). It’s unique because the stones that were cut for the temples and terraces were laid and fitted without any mortar. It’s also rumored to be the place where the famous Crystal Skull was found in 1926.

Much of Belize is made from porous karst limestone, and so it’s crisscrossed with underground caves and rivers. After getting a guided tour of the ruins, we explored stalactites and stalagmites as we swam through the Blue Creek inside the 8-mile long passages of the Hokeb Ha and Tiger Caves while wearing headlamps on so we could see. Explorers found ceremonial alters in many of the cave’s chambers, so it was probably used by the Mayans hundreds of years earlier.

An unexpected bonus during the tour was getting to see village life as we drove to the ruins and cave. Much of the country is Catholic, and on the Sunday we drove through many of the villages seemed to be having First Communion and wedding celebrations at their local church. Everyone was wearing their Sunday best and kids carried bundles of banana leaves, which I guide told us were used to wrap leftover food from the morning’s feasts.

Photo credit: Mike Bristol

Tags: , , , ,

    1 Comment