Jungle and coast in Belize and Guatemala - 'Mother Nature's best kept secret'
Belize takes its motto to heart; no shirt, no shoes, no problem! This is a laid-back country with a lively soul. On this action-packed adventure we visit a 'Mayan underworld' cave system, swim in sapphire sinkholes and don snorkels to discover a myriad of underwater colour - manatees, Nurse sharks, stingrays and turtles share the turquoise water. We also cross into Guatemala to visit two of the world's most important and impressive Mayan ruins, Tikal and Uaxactun.
11 breakfasts, 3 lunches and 2 dinners included. Breakfast is always provided in hotels and generally consists of bread, eggs, ham, fruit, juice and coffee. Whilst at the tented camp in Uaxactun, our camp staff prepare hearty breakfasts and dinners (usually a real highlight!), and packed lunches are provided. Although meat plays a key part in many Central American dishes, vegetarians can be well catered for. Please advise us on booking of any special dietary requirements you may have.
Clients on the group flight will arrive in Belize City today. Land only clients should be at Belize City airport by the specified meeting time in order to join the rest of the group. Together we will transfer (approx. 1hour) to the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, our base for the next two nights. Known for being a great destination for birds, the wildlife sanctuary gets its name from the 'crooked' cashew trees that grow around the lagoon. Wetland areas weave through the sanctuary, providing habitat for some 286 species of birds, the migratory Jabiru stork being the most famous of these. Crocodiles, monkeys, otters and freshwater turtles also reside in the sanctuary. It's a peaceful destination with an interesting community and history; the village of Crooked Tree is thought to be the earliest European settlement in Belize. *Comfortable Hotel*
Wake up fresh this morning to beautiful bird songs! In the morning we join a 3 hour guided boat trip on the lagoon in search of wildlife. Migratory birds tend to flock to the area between December and May, but plenty of resident species can be seen throughout the year. From our small boat it's easy to appreciate the tranquillity of the sanctuary. You can then spend the afternoon at your leisure getting to know the area, or join an optional excursion to the Community Baboon Sanctuary. This grassroots project is actually a reserve for the endangered Black Howler monkey (there are no baboons in Belize but this is the name used in the local Creole dialect), providing them with 20 square miles of forest to roam freely in. It is estimated that there are now 2,000 Black Howler monkeys living in this area - you'll certainly hear their calls as you enter the reserve! *Comfortable Hotel*
After breakfast we begin our journey (approx. 6-7 hours) to Guatemala and the archaelogical ruins of Uaxactun (pronounced wash-ak-toon), which lies within the boundaries of Tikal National Park. Uaxactun is a remote Mayan site set amongst 47 hectares of dense tropical forest in the lowlands of Guatemala. The alignment of the temples has been found to have important astrological connections, with the 3 smaller pyramids marking the equinox and the summer and winter solstice when sunrise hits the large temple on these important days. In order to fully appreciate the beauty and remoteness of Uaxactun we camp overnight near the ruins. Tonight we'll enjoy sunset at the site, after which candles will likely be lit to illuminate the ruins. *Comfortable Camping*
The calls of Howler monkeys in the jungle canopy are likely to wake us up this morning. We start early for a sunrise tour of Uaxactun, which gives us a chance to have the site to ourselves before the park is officially open. Afterwards we have a tour the Uaxactun Community, where we learn about the various ways they make a living from the rainforest whilst also protecting it for future generations. Nowadays many of Uaxactún's residents make their living from gathering forest products such as chicle (gum exported to Japan), allspice and xate palm leaves (ornamental plant exported to the US and used for floral arrangements). Afterwards, we return to our campsite at Uaxactun for another chance to gaze at the stars! *Comfortable Camping*
In the morning, we transfer (approx. 45 minutes) to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tikal. Tikal is the most famous and probably the most impressive of all Mayan sites; nearly 20 square miles of classic ruins are surrounded by the dense jungle of Petén. We take a tour of the city, visiting the main temples, palaces, squares, tombs, residences and religious monuments. The area was thought to support a population of 90,000 Mayans at its peak and there are some 3,000 separate buildings to be explored. Tikal is also a superb area for observing wildlife in the jungle environment and visitors regularly see Howler monkeys, Spider monkeys, toucans, Weaver birds, coatimundis and even tarantulas (if you know where to look and wish to find one!). We leave Guatemala behind this afternoon, as our journey heads back to Belize to the small town of San Ignacio. Sometimes known locally as 'Cayo', which means island in Spanish, the town was given this name for its location on the west bank of the Macal River. Before the arrival of roads in the area, like many small towns, San Ignacio was only accessible by boat. This laid back town, with its mixed population of Mestizo, Creole, Lebanese, Chinese and Mennonites, is a great example of multicultural Belize. *Standard Hotel*
Today we venture into the Mayan underworld at the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave. A 45 minute journey from San Ignacio brings us to the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve, in which the caves are located. They were discovered only very recently, in 1989, at which point archaeologists began exploring the site, before officially opening it to visitors in the late 90s. The intention has been to preserve the area as much as possible; the majority of cultural artefacts found in the caves are still in their original position and only a select number of guides have permits to lead excursions in this area. The ATM cave was a sacred site to the Mayan people during the Classic period (AD250 - 909). They are thought to have believed that gods resided in the cave and that its chambers led directly to the underworld. Human sacrifices took place in the caves as a way of appeasing the gods, with the hope of creating a more fertile land. We'll hike through sticky jungle to reach the entrance to the cave, which is partially hidden by leaves and branches but opens like a keyhole, allowing a stream to pass through the entrance. Prepare to wade or swim through water to enter the cave! Once inside, our guide will explain their history and we'll see some of the famous artefacts that have been discovered, such as the 'The Crystal Maiden', the crystalised skeleton of a young woman whose bones have calcified and taken on a sparkling appearance. *Standard Hotel*
We leave San Ignacio behind this morning and start our journey to Dangriga. En route we will visit Maya Cocoa, a family run cacao farm, where we will see how chocolate is made, from picking the fruit through to sampling the final product! After this visit, we make a stop at the Blue Hole National Park, just off the Hummingbird Highway. The park is famous for its large, sapphire sinkhole, which came about after the collapse of an underground river. The cool waters of the sinkhole make for a refreshing dip on a hot day! Several caves can also be found in the park and there are steps leading down to the 25ft deep pool, which is surrounded by hanging foliage and vegetation. After a refreshing swim we continue towards Dangriga, located on the southern coast of Belize at the mouth of the North Stann Creek River. Dangriga was settled before 1832 by Garinagu (Black Caribs, as they were known to the British) from Honduras, considered for years the second largest population centre in the country behind Belize City. Since the early 1980s Garífuna culture has undergone a revival, so part of the town was renamed Dangriga, a Garífuna word meaning 'standing waters'. *Standard Hotel*
Today we have a free day to enjoy Dangriga and the surrounding area. There is a choice of several optional activities including a visit the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary: a nature reserve in south central Belize established to protect the forests, fauna and watersheds of an approximately 400 square kilometre area of the eastern slopes of the Maya Mountains. The reserve was founded in 1990 as the first wilderness sanctuary for the jaguar and is regarded as the premier site for jaguar preservation in the world. *Standard Hotel*
This morning we head to Caye Caulker or 'Cayo Hicaco' (in Spanish) referring to Hicaco Plum (Coco Plum) which grows in the island and was gathered by Spanish seafarers to combat scurvy. Our journey takes us to the Belize City Water Taxi Station where we take a boat towards Caye Caulker. Caye Caulker is an island paradise in the Caribbean Sea. The delicate coral of the Belize Barrier Reef provide food and shelter to a dizzying number of tropical fish, with manatees, Nurse sharks, stingrays and turtles sharing the warm turquoise waters. *Standard Hotel*
Just off the southern part of Ambergris Caye, the largest island in Belize and a few minutes boat ride from Caye Caulker, is the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, meaning 'Little Channel' in Mayan, because of a natural break in the reef. This area is now an important marine habitat providing refuge for a huge number of fish, coral, several species of sea turtle, the West Indian manatee and two species of dolphin. Nurse sharks also congregate in an area called 'Shark Ray Alley', now a popular dive site. We join a snorkelling tour in the reserve to see a selection of the marine life living in these tropical waters. *Standard Hotel*
Today has been left free as there are many excursions available to match different interests. If you're a diver we recommend taking an optional excursion to the Great Blue Hole on the Belize Barrier Reef. Not to be confused with the sinkhole located inland, the Great Blue Hole is 60 miles out to sea within the Lighthouse Reef System. This perfectly circular limestone sinkhole drops to a depth of 124m and is fringed by coral reef, a perfect environment for divers (Jacques Cousteau declared it one of the top 10 dive sites in the world) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Please note that you will have to add an extra night's accommodation to the end of your trip if you plan on going scuba diving, as you cannot fly for 24 hours after diving. *Standard Hotel*
This morning we wave goodbye to our island paradise and return to Belize City by water taxi. Those on the group flights will be transferred to the airport in time for their return flight. Land only clients will leave the trip in Belize City. **
* 11 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 2 dinners * All accommodation * All transport and listed activities * Tour leader throughout * Flights from London (if booking incl. flights)
A great mix of culture, landscape,animals birds and of course the snorkelling was 5 star. On one boat trip we saw manatees, sting rays, nurse sharks, dolphins and everything in between.
I thought this an excellent holiday. There was a good combination of activities: bird watching, snorkelling, hiking, swimming and sight seeing, (Mayan remains), a lot of travelling, but it was not too much. We also visited two small factories, so good to see a little of how people lived. Our guide, Fidelio was excellent. His knowledge of birds was amazing, he was very friendly and dealt with problems calmly and efficiently. He was also prepared to organise activities for our free days, eg a trip on a sailing yacht the last day. He organised a wonderful canoeing in caves trip for 5 of us, (I was the oldest in the group) who didn't feel up to the ATM cave trip. This was not included in the holiday which was very kind. I would have liked dinner the first day to have been included as a welcome start to holiday. The buses were reasonably comfortable, but I am glad I took a blow up cushion! I found a pair of walking poles to tramp round Mayan sites a great help. Take plenty of insect repellent.
This trip surely has so much diversity that it would appeal to all Exodus travellers,whether first timers or more seasoned adventurers.The moment you land in Belize you know and feel, its different,from the wonderful welcome ,to the first place you stay at which has so much wildlife,and even a very cute police station called ,Crooked Police Station,Crooked Tree...........now if that doesn't tell you about your next 10days nothing will. The time in Guatemala is fascinating ,from the comfortable camping at our very own Mayan ruins,in the jungle with locals cooking us an evening meal over looking this wonderful site.The visit to Tikal is mind blowing,its size and history....oh and the lunch provided is great too. The ATM caves are amazing and untouch since discovery in 1989,so get in soon,it feels like your the first visitor,interesting walk/swim through the caves.The Caye Caulker island is wonderful,it was 84 here when Devon was closed due to snow,so felt even better to me.The Marine reserve is so full of colourful marine life and yes we did actually swim with sharks,up to six feet,about twenty of them and yes they were "Friendly" and interested in us. Much more could be said...........but really its for you to discover
Picked this trip because I'd loved a previous visit to Costa Rica and Belize and Guatamala seemed to offer something similar, but with Tikal and the world's 2nd largest barrier reef for good measure. Good decision! While I think CR has the edge for wildlife, Tikal surpassed all expectations, the reef experience knocked the socks off Australia's and Belize was beautiful, diverse, interesting and easy for non-Spanish speakers. The trip itinerary was varied and mostly very successful.
A well balance exploration of what Belize & Guatemala has to offer. We had an amazing guide who had a vaste knowledge of the countries, their history, culture and wildlife. The trip was organised at a good pace, the Mayan culture was fascinating as was the wildlife -birds in particular. Snorkelling was great, imagine swimming within 3m of a manatee. Then there are the rays, nurse sharks and all the varied species of fish. A thoroughly active and worthwhile holiday.
Belize is like a hidden gem - very few tourists, stunning Caribbean beaches and incredible Mayan relics. It is a small country so you see a lot of it, but there is loads to do, and dipping into Guatemala for 2 days is also a treat to see the mighty Tikal and Uaxactun ruins. You get a mixture of beaches, culture, water-activities and sight-seeing on this trip, and was a wonderful trip.
A fantastic holiday with a really good mixture of culture, adventure and wildlife.
Simply splendid!! I took advantage of the many optional extras (not listed in the trip notes) and had a full on 2 weeks with great food (mmmm those fry jacks!) great activities (you have to do the tube rafting!), and a wonderful introduction to Belize and Guatemalan communities .... Friendliest of smiling people. From jungle to paradise island seeing amazing wildlife wherever we went, and marvelling at the remains of an epic Mayan civilisation.
A varied and interesting trip which was well organised. I thoroughly enjoyed it. There were a couple of free days in places with not a lot to do, but I'm not sure if the schedule would work otherwise as I enjoyed the relaxed approach. I thought it was a good mixture of fun activities with some R&R time.
A great trip with lots of variation from culture and history to wildlife to beaches.
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