Highlights of Belize and Guatemala

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What sorts of things do you picture when you think of Central America?

I'm asking because I didn't really know what to expect before I visited both Belize and Guatemala earlier this month on a tour with Intrepid Travel. Based on what the media had told/shown me about the region, I only thought of jungles and coffee and violence in association with Central America. And, to be fair, you WILL find those things there.

But Central America is more than what the media leads us to believe. In fact, both countries I visited were so different that it was amazing to me that they existed side-by-side within the same region.

Intrepid 1

I visited Belize and Guatemala on an 8-day trip with Intrepid Travel, and was trying to figure out how best to describe my experience to you. Should I write a review? Share photos? Just jump right into all the individual posts I wanted to write?

In the end, I settled on a highlights video, along with some of my best photos from the trip. Check out the video below, and then read on to get a preview of what I did/saw on this adventure.

Xunantunich

After a night in Belize City (which, in all honesty, isn't worth writing about), we began the real adventure with a stop at the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich, roughly 80 miles west of Belize City. Chaac, the Mayan rain god (whose image appears on some of the ruins at Xunantunich), was doing his job that day, greeting us with rain and mist at the site. This made it extra mystical, however, and we spent roughly an hour wandering around and climbing ruins. The tallest ruin here is called “El Castillo,” and is apparently the second-tallest structure in Belize. Climbing it gave us fantastic views out over the rest of Xunantunich, as well as the surrounding jungle.

Xunantunich

San Ignacio

From Xunantunich, we made our way to the town of San Ignacio. The original plan here had been for us to sign up for all sorts of adventure activities (we were all hoping to go cave tubing), but heavy rain in the area canceled most of the trips. So, instead, we explored the colorful town. Highlights of San Ignacio were the fruit market and the snack stands across the street from our hotel, where all the locals would go for tacos and panades for lunch.

San Ignacio, Belize

San Ignacio

Cahal Pech

From San Ignacio, we also walked to the Mayan ruins of Cahal Pech. This site, which dates back to roughly 1,000 BC, was very different from Xunantunich. Cahal Pech was once a hilltop residence for an elite Mayan family, and this was reflected in the various ruins to be seen and explored. There were so many narrow passages and hidden staircases here that we were all like little kids on a new playground.

Cahal Pech ruins in Belize

Cahal Pech

Flores

The next day we crossed the border into Guatemala, which was surprisingly quite a change from Belize. Even though the countries share a huge border, they are quite different — the biggest difference being that, in Belize, everyone speaks English, while Spanish is the main language of Guatemala. We stopped briefly in the small island town of Flores for lunch, where I absolutely fell in love with the colorful buildings and red tuk-tuks zipping down the narrow streets.

Flores, Guatemala

Flores

Tikal

We didn't stay longer in Flores because we were headed to the amazing Mayan ruins of Tikal. You'd think that by this point we'd be ruined-out — but not so. We picked up a guide near Tikal National Park, and spent a few hours exploring the sprawling site. At one point, Tikal was akin to the capital of the whole ancient Mayan empire, and you can tell by the tall temples and the knowledge that only a tiny, tiny fraction of this site has been uncovered — most of it has been reclaimed by the jungle. We ended our visit to the Tikal ruins by climbing Temple IV (the only ruin you are still able to climb here) at sunset.

Temple at Tikal in Guatemala

Tikal

Camping in the Jungle

That night, we camped at Tikal. Yes, camped! In the jungle! The stars above our campsite at night were phenomenal, and I stayed up late to gaze at them with the rest of the group, despite the fact that I was battling a terrible flu. The next morning, we were woken up insanely early as the jungle began to come alive. Parrots, howler monkeys, and coatimundi were our alarm clocks.

Tikal animals

Caye Caulker

After we bid our furry and feathered friends farewell, we headed back over the border into Belize and made straight for the ferry port in Belize City. Because the last portion of our trip would take place on one of Belize's islands — Caye Caulker, to be exact. This island is how I will remember Belize, I think — a strong Caribbean influence and a relaxed pace of life.

Caye Caulker, Belize

Caye Caulker

Sailing/Snorkeling

The highlight (for me, at least) of our time on Caye Caulker was the full-day sailing/snorkeling trip we did with Raggamuffin Tours. Our group had a sailboat all to itself and we spent the day alternating between swimming with fish, sharks, and turtles and jamming to reggae music and drinking rum punch on the boat. If I could do this once I week, I totally would.

Snorkeling

The Food

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the food on this trip, too. Rice and beans and seafood were the dishes of note in Belize, including tons of fresh lobster on Caye Caulker.

Food

The Group

And, lastly, this was a small-group tour (check it out here). There was a nice mix of people — a few couples, a few nationalities, and all ages. We all got along pretty well, and usually spent the evenings together grabbing drinks or chatting over dinner. This is definitely a benefit of going on a group trip as a solo traveler — you get to meet new people who love traveling and automatically have someone to hang out with if you want to.

San Ignacio

Caye Caulker

Intrepid group

Overall, I would definitely recommend this trip as a great introduction to Central America, with a focus on Belize. It's a great mix of adventure and relaxation, and having a guide is really indispensable!

Check out all the posts I wrote about this trip:

Which parts of this trip are you most interested in reading more about?

 

*Note: This was a complimentary “Land of Belize” tour with Intrepid Travel. As always, though, all opinions are 100% my own.

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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59 Comments on “Highlights of Belize and Guatemala

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  1. Sounds like a great trip! I love snorkeling and the food looks amazing. Can’t wait to read more about it!

      It was a really good trip – so much packed into just a week! The snorkeling was definitely my favorite, though. Amazing day.

    Great trip! People should come down before the word gets out how awesome Central America is.

    -Rich

      Totally agreed. I’m glad I’m getting to explore a bit of it this year!

    I loved Belize!! Also visited the big ruins, Tikal, Xunantunich, Cahal Pech.. so much fun and history. The diving and snorkeling are hands down the most amazing part of Belize. Hoping to get back down there this year and get my fix in. Looks like you had a blast.

      I definitely did have a blast. I’d love to go back to Belize soon, too! Three days on Caye Caulker simply was not enough.

    Sounds like a great trip! I’ll be visiting Guatemala this summer and am so excited about seeing Tikal!

      Tikal is amazing! And, because Guatemala isn’t necessarily a huge tourist destination, the site isn’t overrun with people (like at Chichen Itza, for example).

    Wow, this trip looks amazing. Love the video and your photos. Would love to camp a night at Tikal!

      It was definitely a good time! The camping was something different for me (I’m not really into camping at all!), but I’m glad I did it.

    Thanks for sharing that wonderful video, it looks like a great time. I’m very curious what camera you used for this video. Could you tell me?

      Glad you liked the video! I had a good time putting it together.

      And as for the camera, I have a little Kodak Playsport video camera that I use for all my footage.

    Glad you loved it! I actually spent 2 months in San Ignacio doing volunteer work in 2006 and living with a family there. Went to Tikal and Flores and all the same places you went to as well. If you ever need a tour guide in Belize, I know a really great one (he was my host dad’s brother and was super good). Belize will always have a special place in my heart. It was such a great country!

    We did a similar route last year and really enjoyed it – in fact, I think we dined at the same restaurant in the 3rd last photo – was that near the main intersection in San Ignacio?
    Glad you had a great trip! We also love Caye Caulker… loved the chilled out atmosphere!

      Well, San Ignacio isn’t very big, so chances are we did indeed eat at the same place! Haha.

      And yeah, I could have spent weeks just chilling out on Caye Caulker! Maybe next time…

    Jungles and violence come to my mind when I hear Central America… You blew my mind with this post, Amanda. Such an incredible trip and VERY inspiring video! Is it your voice in it?

      Aww thanks! I’m going to be writing a lot about this trip so that hopefully I can help disprove a lot of those misconceptions about Central America.

      And yup, that’s my voice in the video!

        Great! Thanks!
        You sound like a professional radio announcer 🙂

          Haha I don’t know about THAT (I was still slightly sick when I recorded it), but thanks!

    This trip sounds fabulous! I’ve been to Guatemala but not to Tikal, and we ended up not going to Belize after seriously considering it for a trip there, so I shall live vicariously through your posts for now.

      I would love to see more of Guatemala, since we only saw Flores and Tikal and some of the countryside on this trip. But I saw lots of Belize! Really looking forward to sharing it with all of you!

    Great recount. I am eager to rea dmore about your trip. Good to see you visited Cahal Pech (the perfect way to have some Mayan ruins to yourself). When I did a similar trip years ago, I only visited Tikal as a day trip from San Ignacio. I have to back to explore more the area and see wildlife.

      We actually had nearly all of the ruins more or less to ourselves, which was awesome.

    Amazing photos! Dying to go back to Guatemala and explore Belize. Caye Caulker is high on that list too! I did make it out to Guatemala years ago – has to be my favourite of ruins. Love that they are still discovering more all the time. I imagine it could be quite different if I went back now.

      Definitely get yourself to Caye Caulker sometime! It’s so pretty and chilled-out… I loved it!

    Looks like you had a fantastic time! I really want to visit Belize. its pretty high on my central america wish list… maybe when we move back to North America we will go since we will be much closer at that time!

      It’s worthy of being high on your Central America wish list! Hopefully you make it there soon. 🙂

    Nice little preview! I’m liking the look of the food and the snorkeling. 😉

      Thanks, Audrey! The food was yummy, for sure, and the snorkeling was probably the highlight of my trip!

    Excellent article. Glad you liked San Ignacio, it’s my home town. By the way, I included your Caye Caulker sunset photo in my latest post.

      I did indeed enjoy San Ignacio. Though, to be honest, Caye Caulker really stole the show! I’ll definitely be back.

    Beautiful!!! I can’t wait until I am able to go to Central America, especially the Cayes. They look like such a good time (and not to mention gorgeous and sunny!) I’m also kind of ruin freak so I feel like I probably would have had a little too much fun on Cahal Pech exploring every little corner hahaha!

      If you are a ruin freak, you SO need to visit Belize! There are a LOT of Mayan ruins there, and they’re all relatively close together!

      And, you just can’t beat the Cayes…

    Gorgeous pictures! So great to read about your experience sleeping at Tikal. We visited Tikal and although we got there early enough to hear the jungle wake up as we walked around in thick fog, I remember thinking it might have been nice to sleep there. After reading your post, we’ll be sure to do that next time. 🙂

      I’ll be writing a post about the camping eventually – definitely an experience!

    This is so useful as I’ll be in Belize and Guatemala in a couple of months. I was so excited about going there anyway but this has mae me more so. Thanks for sharing!

      Great to hear! If you want to know more about any of the places I visited, feel free to let me know!

    Wow looks like a great trip! Camping in the jungle must have been very cool, although I think I would have been scared too!! Were you in a tent?

      Yes we were in a tent! It was definitely an experience… I’ll be writing about it soon!

    […] Lake Peten Itza in northern Guatemala, was meant to be nothing more than a lunch stop on my recent tour with Intrepid Travel. We had just crossed the border from Belize and were on our way to the Mayan ruins of Tikal, where […]

    Would it be easy to travel around Belize and Guatemala on your own as a female?

      I would think so – though you would need a good grasp of Spanish in Guatemala, I think.

    After reading your post I am now officially adding both Belize and Guatemala to my travel wish list! Loom what you’ve done! My husband is going to kill you! Haha.

      Haha! I will accept the wrath – because both these destinations are awesome!

    Hi! Thanks for sharing a bit of your life travels. Love it! I want to go to Belize. I’ll probably use Intrepid. I’m a solo traveler.
    What do you think being vegetarian will be like there for me? Appreciate your thoughts. Thanks

      Hmm, I’m not sure what being vegetarian would be like in Belize! They eat a lot of seafood and chicken, but also a lot of rice and beans. You might just have to eat a lot of rice and beans. Haha.

        thanks. well adventure center told me that intrepid would accommodate me. we shall see. i’m confirmed!!

          Awesome! And yeah, your guide should hopefully be able to tell restaurants that you are vegetarian, or to recommend dishes for you to try. I guarantee you won’t be the first vegetarian traveler in Belize!

    Thanks for writing and creating this article. I’m going on a variation of this trip ‘Land of Belize’ with Intrepid in November. I’m very excited. I’m glad you had a enjoyed the trip. I like thr tropical rain it’s refreshing and all part of the experience, perhaps I’m saying this as her in S. CA we are stuck in a drought. Great photos. Thanks!

      The rain WAS refreshing, for the most part, since it was so warm there! I hope you enjoy the trip as much as I did!

    I’m dying to do Belize! The Blue Hole, cave tubing (is that mostly out of San Ignacio?) and Ambergris Caye! Love your article! I’ve never traveled with Intrepid. Usually go my own way, but have used G Adventures quite a few times. Will have to check them out!

      Intrepid is very similar to G – in fact, some of their itineraries are nearly identical! And yes, most of the caving happens from San Ignacio. I unfortunately missed out because I was sick and because a lot of the activities were canceled because of too much rain. San Ignacio was still cool, though!

    Beautifully written! I felt right there and then with you.

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