Thursday, February 22, 2007

Need Some Books, Mon

San Pedro Town Library is located in San Pedro on the South End of Barrier Reef Drive just off the beach. It is open from 8AM-1PM and 2PM-7PM Monday-Friday and 9AM-1PM on Saturdays. Stop in and visit! It will add a new dimension to your trip! They have a continuing need for children's books in English and Spanish. Add some books to your luggage and drop them off when you visit. I promise that they will use them. It will add to your understanding of this terrific, tropical island.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Our Itinerary

This is the itinerary that we followed for our week in Belize:

Fri - 02/09/07 - Leave Denver on
Hotel is Caribbean Villas, South of airport. They will meet us at the airport and take us to the hotel after a tour of the town. Buy bottled water, rum, and drink mixer so that we will have something for breakfast.

Sat - 02/10/07 - Snorkel Trip Afternoon (Already Booked Through: Ocean Adventures Tours, 226-3228) - South: Hol-Chan and Shark Ray Alley. They will pick us up at the dock of our hotel at 2:00pm.

Sun - 02/11/07 - Beach and birding near hotel, then tour island on Golf Cart or bikes.

Mon - 02/12/07 - Lamanai Mayan Jungle River Tour 7:00am-5:30pm (Already Booked Through: Ocean Adventures 226-3228. They will pick us up at the hotel dock at 7:00 am) Dinner at Capricorn or Victoria House or or Blue Water Grill or Casa Picsso or Rojo Lounge or El Divino or Portafino or Rendezvous or Caliente Norte(great views). MUST MAKE RESERVATION FOR MOST OF THESE RESTAURANTS. Happy anniversary, Kathy and Steve.

Tue - 02/13/07 - Snorkel 9:00 am - (Already Booked Through: Ocean Adventures Tours, 226-3228) Tuffy and Mata Rocks. They will pick us up at the Caribbean Villas dock.

Wed - 02/14/07 - Snorkel 9:00 am - (Already Booked Through: Ocean Adventures Tours, 226-3228) North: Mexico Rocks and Tres Cocos. Valentines Day Sunset Sail (Seaduced-226-3221 Yacht Club. Will pick us up at hotel dock at 5:45 pm)

Thu - 02/15/07 - Open day. Night Snorkeling at Hol-Chan (Already Booked Through: Ocean Adventure Tours, 226-3228)

Fri - 02/16/07 - Pack and say goodbye to birds. Depart SanPedro on
  • Seaduced 226-3221 or 226-2254
  • Ocean Adventure Tours 226-3228
HOTEL: Caribbean Villas Hotel, 226-2715 or 1-866-522-9960(toll free)

Sam of Bomba

When we went on our Lamanai Mayan Ruins tour, in the village of Bomba (Lat=17.8833, Long=-88.2667), we saw some odd-looking pieces of flint-like rock on the side of the road. A gentleman named Sam came over and asked us if we knew what those were. We said they looked like petrified wood.

He told us that he had worked with several archaeologists on various ancient Mayan building dig sites, and that they removed the outer layers of many of the ruins to get to the older portions of the structures. He said that when the ancient Mayans built their structures, they first laid down a layer of "chippings."

These chippings came from ancient stone carvers. They would start with a large piece of flint-like stone, and chip away at it in order to create something like a bowl, a mask, or whatever. The debris from this process were called chippings.

The Mayan builders would then take these chippings and put them into the bottom layers of the foundations of their buildings, and those were what we were looking at. Finally, Sam said that he had worked on building the road through Bomba, and they had used some of the chippings from the archaeological dig site for their roadbed.

Sam was a really nice, and very articulate person. I asked if I could take his picture, and he said that would be OK, so I did. Sam said that money from the very high tourist taxes imposed by the government of Belize was not trickling back down to any of the people. Indeed, his village did seem very poor. Sam said he lived on a ranch a short ways out of the village, and he invited us to come visit.

Kathy also made friends with three children. They were using a stick trying to knock breadfruit down from a tree, and were having a lot of trouble. Each child knew exactly which piece of fruit they wanted, so Kathy used the stick and quickly knocked down a piece for each.

We wished very much that we had been given more time in the friendly village of Bomba.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


There are some pretty good maps of Ambergris Caye. Here are the ones we used to get around.

The first is a REALLY nice Google Map done by KnckrBckrNYC on

Things to Pack

As is our wont, we over-packed. Here is all you need for a happy week on Ambergris Caye:
  • Swimsuit (wives brought two or three) and swimsuit cover-up wrapper or shirt
  • Two pairs of Shorts
  • Three short sleeved shirts
  • One nice Hawaiian shirt and lightweight long pants for the guys, and a lightweight skirt and blouse for the ladies for wearing to nice restaurants
  • Flippers, mask, and snorkel
  • Small bottle of Deet or Off mosquito repellent - we worried about Malaria and took Malaria pills before we came, but in talking to people, it is not really a problem.
  • Sunscreen - lots
  • Binoculars for bird watching
  • Camera
  • Good walking shoes and socks
  • Lots of small bills, ones and fives, along with your larger tens and twenties - food is really expensive; take whatever you are budgeting for food and double it or maybe triple it - that will be just about right.
  • Ask your hotel if they provide a hair dryer and shampoo in the room. Some do and some don't. Ours didn't, and Kathy was glad that we e-mailed the hotel to ask before we came so she could bring hers.
Even in the grocery store, food prices are breathtaking. Expect to spend a LOT on food. Really. This means you.

Getting Around Town

Before we came, the hotel encouraged us to rent a golf cart for the week. Indeed they implied that if we didn't rent one at the time we booked our rooms, we might have a problem in getting one when we arrived. I'm sure that they get a bit of a referral fee, because we found that information to be inaccurate on several levels:

First, there is an abundance of golf carts to rent if you want one; there is NO shortage. Second, the streets are narrow and dusty, and the traffic is insane - tourists running golf carts as fast as they can along the streets with bikes, trucks, and pedestrians all sharing the same road; none of them looking at anything other than the vehicle in front of them. This is not our idea of fun. Also, would you rather get to town on a dusty road with other drivers blocking the way, or by way of a slow stroll down a sandy beach next to the ocean?

Our hotel was a ten minute beach walk from town. We walked along the beach, took a cross street one or two blocks, and there we were. Why encumber yourself with a ton of metal? If you are in even sort of walking condition, don't rent a golf cart - just walk. Perhaps take one of the hotel bikes or rent a bike if you want to see farther out from town one day. We pedaled bikes way South on the island, past the water tower, the road to the dump, and many lovely buildings that looked like they had been built as hotels and later abandoned. The roads are well-packed dirt, and the balloon tires of the bikes made riding easy.

There are also a lot of restaurants and bars accessible from the beach, and we felt quite safe walking to dinner at sunset, and then walking back to the hotel on the beach in the dark. There were always others walking on the beach and we were never really totally isolated.

Things to Do - It's Not Really a Wild Party Town

We found Ambergris Caye to be kind of a vacation for adults; there were not a lot of wild college-kid party spots, and the restaurants and bars were mostly quiet and peaceful. Not much loud music or other things that those of us wanting a relaxing vacation would find offensive.

Along with snorkeling and ruin trips, there are loads of other things that we did on Ambergris Caye:
  • Shopping
  • Bicycling
  • Walking
  • Birdwatching
  • Going to Church
  • Beachfront food and drink


The wildlife in Belize is amazing! The entire environment in the ocean, air, and ground is teeming with life.

The nights in our hotel room on the ocean were so quiet; the water inside the reef is protected from waves, so we really didn't hear the ocean crashing at all. Occasionally in the deep dark, we would wake to hear a "tick-tick-tick-tick" noise. We, at first, thought it might be a nocturnal bird of some sort, but one night Kathy was on the balcony enjoying the breeze at 2:00 am, and she saw that the noise came from the lizards that are all around keeping the hotel free of bugs.

Indeed, we didn't see many bugs while we were there. Very few flies, a few tiny ants in the kitchen, and of course mosquitoes, of which we saw quite a few.

Kathy collected some tiny, tiny shells from the beach, brought them into the hotel room, and before long, some of them had walked across the counter! The very small hermit crabs inside were not one bit interested in being taken back to snowy Colorado, so Kathy took them out behind the hotel where she had found some larger hermit crabs earlier, and during our entire stay, she kept those crabs well fed and happy.

We saw crocodiles, a snake, monkeys living wild in the trees around the Mayan ruins, small bats that slept on the sides of trees and blended in so completely that you couldn't see them until our guide pointed them out. The bats indignantly fluttered around us when our guide splashed a bit of water at them.


Everyone on Ambergris Caye speaks English. Many have Spanish as their first language, and many use Creole among themselves.

The Creole that we heard in Belize is a total hoot. One of our guides told us that it originated among the slaves as a way for them to communicate among themselves so that the slave owners could not understand what was being said. He told us that the Creole of Belize was a mixture of English, Spanish, and other words. The end of many words is snipped off, they are spoken quickly and kind of run together, and frequently there is a warm, humorous twist.

For example, I saw two guides saying goodbye to each other at one of the Mayan ruins. Rather than saying "See you later." or something, one guide said to the other "Don' step on no tourists, mon."

Other examples we heard were: "Bot Go" meaning "The boat is leaving." and "Dat known 'roun de worl." meaning "Everyone knows that."

After we talked to our guide about Creole, we started listening carefully, and we could indeed begin to understand what they were saying. Nevin started telling shop keepers "Hide de conch, mon. Our wives be shopping."


The government of Belize keeps posting that there is no tipping in Belize. We found this to be inaccurate. Like everywhere else, good service in a restaurant deserves a tip.

We also tipped our tour guides, but at the very least give them a sincere "thank you" at the end of the trip. One of the guides told us that when people he took out just got off of the boat and walked away, it made him feel that he had not done a good job. These guides work long and hard on designing the whole experience, and creating explanations for things that carry a Belize sense of humor along with the factual information. We really appreciated this.

Tips and Tricks for Having Fun in Belize

We learned a few lessons about Belize that we want to pass along:

1) If a restaurant/bar doesn't have tablecloths, asking for water with your meal costs you at least $2BZ for a plastic bottle of drinking water.

2) Everyone accepts US dollars. The exchange rate is two Belize dollars for one US dollar, and everyone is quite adept at making the correct transaction. No one ever tried to cheat. However, in EVERY case, when you give them US dollars, you will get Belize dollars in change, and if we asked for U.S. dollars in change at a restaurant or the hotel, they "just don't have any right now." This is no problem at all, but you have to carefully manage your Belize money collection, or you will end up with a giant load of Belize currency which you are totally stuck with if you don't spend it in Belize. TAKE LOTS OF U.S. ONE AND FIVE DOLLAR BILLS! We ended up using our Belize money as tips for the tour guides, hotel staff, and restaurant tips.

3) Take some Deet or Off insect repellent. The mosquitoes are very hungry in the early morning, early evening, and can get vicious about two days after a rain leaves puddles of water around.

4) Be a good representative of the US. Everyone we met in Belize was just great - friendly and willing to talk and explain things. However, on one of our trips a loudmouth from the East coast kept, for some not clear reason, calling on and on in a loud, obnoxious voice that he didn't like the rum punch, and he wanted "JACK DANIELS!" His poor wife was embarrassed, the tour guides were embarrassed, and we wanted to throw him overboard. The world has a bad enough opinion of the US right now, don't make it worse!

5) Wait until you get there to be sure you really need a golf cart.

6) Buy fruit from the little hole-in-the-wall places that dot the town. The very best pineapple, mango, bananas, etc. are available for not much money. We made several meals of just those fruits.

7) The tap water on Ambergris Caye seemed to be fine; we didn't need to use bottled water. Our hotel told us that it was filtered and treated. We didn't have any problems using it, and we did get ice with our drinks in most restaurants, and it also seemed to be fine.

8) The cost of food is unbelievable. Really. Unbelievable. Expect to spend a LOT on food whether you buy it in a restaurant or in the grocery store. A lot. Expect it. Big expense. No kidding!

The Mayans Aren't Dead, They Just Moved South

We were all very interested in seeing some Mayan Ruins, of which Belize has a huge number. Originally, we wanted to travel into Guatemala to see the ruins there, but that one day trip would have cost us $600US, and we didn't want to spend that much on one trip. So, we sent an e-mail to Ocean Adventures, and asked them to book us on their Lamanai Jungle/Mayan Ruins Tour, as one of the blogs we read indicated that Lamanai (Lat=17.75, Long=-88.65) was one of the best.

This is a full-day trip. It starts at 7:00 am, and we got back about 5:10 pm. They served breakfast, lunch, beer, rum punch, soft drinks, and water.

The trip was marvelous! There are three legs of travel to get to the Lamanai ruins. First is a boat trip along the reef and across the bay to the mainland. During that phase they served a breakfast of Johnny Cakes, pineapple juice, fruit, and I forget what else. This was where we saw the crocodile, and the camouflaged bats.

The second leg of the trip was a bus ride from the little town of Bomba to the start of the river trip up to Lamanai. It was a little bumpy and had lots of curves and turns. When we asked the bus driver what he did while we were visiting the ruins, he said "I recover from the drive." However, the drive was very interesting; we passed jungle, sugar cane farms, cattle ranches, and small communities that are dotted here and there about the country.

The third leg was a fantastic ride up a river. The river curves and curls, gets wide and narrow, and the trip winds its way up to the Lamanai site. On the river we saw a Mayan (yes, there are still Mayans living in Belize, they just don't live in the ruins) rowing a dugout canoe with a load of wood. There was also a large Mennonite community by which we set our engine to a slow, quiet speed and kind of tiptoed.

When we got to Lamanai, we had lunch under a roofed, open-air picnic spot. The lunch was rice-and-beans, chicken, Johnny Cakes, Belikin Beer, soft drinks, and water, chips, hummus, and salsa. We had to be careful of the salsa, it was VERY VERY hot with a type of pepper that is locally grown.

Next was a stop at the museum and a short lecture on what to expect, and then we toured the ruins.

Snorkeling at the Reef

In 1842, Charles Darwin wrote that the Belize barrier reef was "The most remarkable reef in the West Indies."

iving off of the hotel dock was really fun (see photo), but we mostly wanted to get to the reef and see the life and colors of the coral.

We went on four snorkeling trips, and we used Ocean Adventures for all of them, and I must say that they really treated us right. I'm an on-line kind of guy, and they were the only tour operator that responded promptly to my e-mail messages in the weeks prior to our arrival, and they booked us on the snorkel trips we wanted and the Mayan Ruins tour without fuss on-line, all set up, before we even arrived. The other tour operators that I e-mailed either didn't respond, or they kind of said "...well, we're not sure if we are going to do that tour, so call us when you get to town..."

The Hotel

Our hotel was Caribbean Villas in Ambergris Caye, Belize. It is right smack-dab on the beach, and it has its own dock and boat landing. There are steps leading down into the water, and you can swim and snorkel right from the dock. There is an artificial reef among which lots and lots of fish and other critters hang out. The hotel sells fish food for $1BZ ($0.50 US), and Kathy delighted in giving her finny friends an occasional snack.

The tour boats also picked us up and dropped us off right at the Caribbean Villas dock, which was GREAT!

The hotel advertises that they are situated in a bird sanctuary (which is one of the reasons that we chose it), and they are right. There are paths winding throughout the property, with a kind of jungle canopy spreading overhead. And birds, birds, birds. They also have a tall tower with steps that you can climb, and when you get to the top you are above the tops of the trees. Again, the birds are everywhere. We saw a hawk stalking his lunch, birds bringing fish that they caught back to their homes, and everywhere small birds of every kind singing how happy they are to not be in Colorado.

All in all, we chose just the right hotel for our stay. They were very nice to us. Hilda (pronounced ill-duh) took care of our room and never complained about the sand we tracked in. She was very interesting to talk to.

The Trip is the Destination

The trip to Ambergris Caye (Lat=18.00, Long=-87.91.98) from Denver, Colorado is almost a destination in itself. It took three airplanes, a golf cart, and our passports to get from Colorado to our hotel.

The last plane (shown in the picture) was ancient indeed, but it whisked us from the International Airport right to the Ambergris Caye island without mishap.

The airport on the island hearkens back to the days when not everyone wanted to blow airplanes out of the sky, and where traveling is a real adventure to a place very different from home. The minute we got off of the plane, the baggage was put in a large pile, and the baggage handlers came over to get our baggage claim tags. Everything was very noisy with lots of baggage handlers and passengers all scrabbeling for their luggage. We pointed out our bags, and the handler gave them to us. Before we got even a few paces, someone from a hotel said "Come along," and walked off with several of our bags. I followed him into the hotel right across the street. He was hurt, hurt I say, when I told him we were staying in a different hotel. The whole airport experience was so fascinating.

When it was time to go back home, we had to check out of our hotel at noon, but our plane didn't leave until 2:00 pm, so we got to the airport a couple of hours early. The airport baggage chap told us to just pile our luggage against the building and go have lunch, he said he would watch them. (He did, too. They were still there, safe and sound when we got back.)

The Plan

The Colorado winter of 2007 was brutal. The four of us, Nevin, Ginger, Kathy, and Steve needed a break from snow and shoveling same. Belize was a world away from Peso-frantic Mexico, and the same-ol' chain hotels and tourist resorts with which we are all too familiar. So, we bought ourselves four tickets from American Airlines to the Belize International Airport (BZE) for $552US each.

After much research, we chose the Caribbean Villas hotel and right before another snowstorm hit, we took off. When we arrived, it was 78 degrees F, and, even though it was February, the water was just right; we had been concerned that the ocean water would be too cold for swimming, but it wasn't.

The view from our hotel room was beautiful! What a way to start a day. This is the dawn view from our hotel room (Room 4 of Caribbean Villas):