Mexico To Belize Border Crossing
After my journey from Mexico City to Cancun – 2.5 hours on a turbulent plane journey then 6 hours on a coach with Ado bus services to Chetumal (that's the Express bus too!) I made it to Belize…
Chetumal is the gateway to the Ambergris Caye and getting there is like one big theme park ride. Check out the video for the bangs of the ocean on ‘Water Jet International' which offers an aeroplane service on the sea.
They do play a movie for the 1.5 hour journey from Chetumal to Belize to help take your mind of the bumpy sea. You also get your own ‘sea steward' and can even order cocktails (shaken not stirred of course!)
You can take a boat to both Belize islands: either San Pedro, or Caye Caulkner. The boats depart Chetumal every two days at 3pm and cost Mex$1100 for a one-way ticket. This includes a $10 docking fee. Watch out for the exit tax for ‘away without permission to engage in gainful activity' which is approx US$50 and there's no dodging the ‘fee.'
Click here for updated timetables and prices.
After a great four days on the No 1 island in the world I have transferred to Caye Caulker, off the coast of Belize. It's only thirty minutes by water taxi (boats run regularly from San Pedro) and this tiny little island has got to be the most laid back place I have ever been.
As soon as you reach the pier, you are dowsed in the ‘no worries' vibe that the island brings and if you ever wondered what San Pedro was like before tourism came onto the island just seven years previous, then this is exactly it.
There's hardly any transport on the island, being only 5 miles long by 1 mile wide and unlike the golf carts that speed around its sister island, the only way to get around here is by foot or on bike. There's accommodation to cater for everyone from hostels to the more comfortable, and little beach shacks offer freshly caught fish for your supper plus the traditional ‘rice and beans' that Belize is known for. You don't have to go far to see the fish either as there's great visibility for snorkelling off the Spit of the island.
It actually feels more like being on a Jamaican island and if you want somewhere to avoid the crowds and chill out so much that you're horizontal, then this is the place to come.
But stay too long and you may slip away from civilisation as you know it…
I could barely see my feet as I trod gingerly through the dark and into the thicket following a local Rasta whom I had just met at the Tipsy Tuna bar on the beach in Placencia. After a strong rum punch he had offered me a tour of the peninsular and who was I to turn down a locals' knowledge.
Placencia is a funky little village on the East coast of Belize. It has a nice vibe with funky signposts and nice friendly locals – meet BB from the local store who had personally escorted me to the coconut water section of the fridge without asking for anything in return.
A far cry from my Rasta who seemed to want free beers in exchange for his information about the village. Having lived here for 8 years he had seen a change in the place with more expats choosing to live here and a new sidewalk being built straight through the village with art shops, places to stay and local handicraft stalls lining the pleasant walk.
The beach is meant to be the best in Belize and you can take boat rides to the nearby cayes dotted with coconut trees and small yachts.
Just 15 minutes down the road lies ‘Roberts Grove’ a beautiful romantic property with a lagoon and apartments and its own private little island for those who desire solitude with their loved one. They have a good dive company here or you can just take one of the complimentary bikes if you prefer to discover the land instead of the water.
Placencia is a cool place to be and you can’t come here without a visit to Tuttifrutti for some fab icecream and a visit to the Barefoot Bar or Tipsy Tuna for live music. There are clubs here too that open until 5am on a saturday night.
One night definitely isn’t enough here and my only regret is not staying longer. So if you visit Placencia, don’t forget to take a walk along the sidewalk and say hello to Ras Joseph on his little stall outside the Sky Flower boutique hotel…
Rappelling the Black Hole Drop will definitely push those fears to the limits and test your boundaries. Here's my experience of the Black Hole Drop Belize
Want to experience sheer terror in Central America? Depending on your fear; of water or heights, the Waterfall Caves or Black Hole Drop in Belize will definitely push those fears to the limits and test your boundaries. Each one is so unique but you’ll need to be fit to survive.
Black Hole Drop Belize
An hour of strenuous trekking uphill before getting a glimpse of the 100m cliffs into a sinkhole that is just waiting to be repelled off (America’s word for ‘abseiling’). It’s a scary sight but once you’re walking horizontally down the side of the cliff, you can marvel at the view of the mouth of the cave as you dip down into the forest below, lowering yourself as you go.
Then it’s a tortilla lunch and a quick tour of the outskirts of the cave through a lost garden amongst giant boulders before climbing a rather shaky ladder to make your descent back to the start of the trail.
The tour leaves at 9 am and you get back at around 3 pm (depending on how fast you trek). It’s not for the faint-hearted and if you’re scared of heights, I would think twice.
Here’s my Black Hole Drop Belize experience.
If climbing waterfalls are more your thing, then you’ll love the Waterfalls Caves. Starting with a less vigorous trek than the Black Hole, you arrive at the mouth of the cave ready to begin your 4-hour tour of darkness.
The five-mile cave system consists of seven waterfalls, five relatively easy climbs and two that you need to be strapped in for. Trekking through the caves requires good shoes as the rocks are slippery. Be prepared to swim in the dark with just a miner's hat for light before encountering the biggest waterfall after your trek.
Trying to climb with the gushing water is a challenge but once you reach the top you feel invincible until the very last one where you free climb before jumping off the top.
Being afraid of water, tight spaces and the dark, I probably shouldn't have signed up for this experience and on the last waterfall, I slipped and lost my balance, falling underwater for a split second.
I lost my nerve and couldn't face jumping into a dark pool of wall of water, so if you're like me, you can repel off the largest waterfall instead. (You have to jump the very last one if you choose to climb it).
What goes in has to come out and you return the same way before stopping for an underground lunch. After four hours in a cave, I was ready to come out and get some fresh air. I have never been so thankful to see such a sight as daylight.
Want to know how challenging it really is? Check out the guest video on Caves Branch website: I stayed at Caves Branch for 3 nights which I thoroughly recommend for a solo traveller. The dining experience is really sociable and the seating arrangements make it easy to meet others whilst you're there. My extreme adventure was included within my 4-day package with accommodation ranging from jungle lodging to a luxury treehouse complete with hot tub!
Call me a land girl but the Black Hole Drop was amazing and the Waterfall Caves? Well, if I can do it, anyone can…
Getting around Belize is by bus, boat or plane. Maya Island Air or Tropic Air both fly within the Central American country and can be the quickest way to get around.
Having never been a fan of small planes, I opted for the long bus journeys; happy to sit on a chicken bus with the locals watching the world go past.
So, as the bus drove around the tiny airport field in Placencia, I looked on at the 12 seater aircraft thankful that I was catching the bus to Punta Gorda tomorrow. After experiencing a flight in the channel islands, I had sworn that I would never ever again get in one – give me a 12 hour bus journey any day.
Then, as I checked in. I received a call.
‘There's no bus tomorrow so you need to get a plane.'
I couldn't! I had just seen how small the planes were and had heard that some didn't even come with a co-pilot. Maybe it was a larger aircraft?
‘How many seats?' I asked, dreading the answer.
‘I can't.' I said, knowing that I'd have to cancel my Mayan immersion programme because of it.
‘But it's already booked and you really wanted to do the home stay.'
I thought hard. I had been challenged on so many aspects of this trip already and had survived five boat journeys on rough seas, climbing waterfalls and repelling from cliffs – did I really have to do this too? But my desire to stay with a Mayan family and go off the grid won and I agreed to the flight, feeling sick as I put down the phone…
The airport was the smallest I had ever seen, so much so that I could even access my bag after check in as it sat just feet away from me awaiting the plane’s arrival. I had arrived extra early due to the infrequency of the buses which had crawled along at 5 miles an hour and had already broken down (a replacement was on its way apparently) and now I had 90 minutes to wait and with each moment my anticipation was growing.
I had asked to sit at the front of the plane but as it was coming from Belize City, it depended how many others were on it.
There was nothing to do but just wait…
The sound of propellers indicated it had arrived and I was ushered into the cosy-looking cabin to a leather seat at the front just behind the pilot.
As we took off I barely felt a thing and the view of the Cayes below took my mind of the occasional bump in the air.
When we arrived in Punta Gorda after our twenty-five minute flight, I smiled at the pilot and walked out of the aircraft, grabbing my bag before entering the tiny shack that was the arrivals hall. Within 2 minutes of landing I was in a taxi to my destination, wondering what I had been so scared off – it was great!
Shark Ray Alley
“Sharks?” I said. “Stingrays?”
“Yes, but they won't hurt you,” answered my guide. “They're only small – no more than 6 feet.”
“Six feet,” I wanted to scream. “That's taller than me!' But I couldn't lose face and as this was a complimentary snorkel, I had to do it.
Climbing down the side of the boat, I grabbed the instructors hand (I wasn't going to let him go until I'd caught sight of my first shark) and there it was, a grey coloured nurse shark swimming past me with its baby. After my first sighting I felt the urge to see another one and let go of the safety of the instructor and began investigating the underwater world of the Belize Cayes.
Within minutes of being in the water there was commotion, a stingray had trapped another shark within the shallow waters and the shark was fighting to get out. I bobbed about watching in awe, praying for the little baby to beat the ray until another ray turned up and joined in creating a whirlpool at the bottom of the sea.
This was Shark Ray Alley named so because of the abundance of nurse sharks (and rays) that swim within the area. Hol Chan Marine Park and Shark Ray Alley are the most popular diving sites in Belize but you don't even need to dive here as much of the marine life is within a few feet and viewable with just a snorkel.
By the time we arrived at our second stop, Hol Chan, I threw myself into the water, desperate for some more Belizean marine life. I didn't have to wait long until I spotted a turtle lurking below, then another and another until there were four turtles swimming in the same sea as me, just yards away! Snapper fish swam past me (a little too close for my liking), examining me with their beady little eyes and I was truly one with the ocean.
That was until a large shadow decided to come in for the kill and wrapped itself around my legs. I spluttered gasping for air and tried to wriggle free – was it a shark, an eel or a large manta ray trying to pull me down?
Turns out it was just a young boy from the boat who thought he was a male mermaid and was manoeuvring in and out of the waves like an annoying whale! He must have been following my scent as everywhere I turned, there he was, either submerging up from the ocean floor or diving down in front of my face. Ironically out of everything I had encountered in the sea that morning, he was the one I most wanted to avoid…
Bring on snorkelling with whale sharks!