Lori and I spent her holiday break traveling around Belize and Guatemala for 17 days with her brother, Dan. We spent the first few days in Belize on Caye Caulker (with a visit to San Pedro), before heading west — the far west — to San Ignacio town.
San Ignacio is a unique place as far as Belize cities go in the sense that it actual feels like a bustling town with some life to it (as does Dangriga), but also feels much more Guatemalan than Belizean (very likely due to its close proximity to Guatemala). This is difficult to explain if you’ve never been to either Belize or Guatemala, but the important take away point here is that San Ignacio is not like anywhere else in the rest of the country.
Monday, December 23, 2013 :: Travel Day
After grabbing breakfast at Amor y Cafe in Caye Caulker, we hopped a ferry back to the mainland, loaded up the car and headed west. A few hours later, we found ourselves staring at a flooded low-lying bridge separating us from Spanish Lookout. The old handcrank ferry was out due to the fast moving water (owing to the torrential rainfall these parts of Belize had been receiving in December), so the low-lying bridge was the only way in. About 6-8 inches of water covered the bridge, but we just weren’t sure if Big Red could do it. In hindsight, this seems ludicrous, but at the time, we had real doubts. Finally, after seeing a couple of other vehicles (and a motorcycle!) make the crossing without incident, I put the vehicle in gear and seconds later, we were on the other side headed for the Promised Land.
Spanish Lookout, for those of you who are unfamiliar, is a unique place. It’s a mostly agricultural community of moderate-leaning Mennonites that resembles something of a small town in rural Ohio. In and of itself, this isn’t strange…if you live in the Midwest U.S. (or U.S. in general), but in Belize, it might as well be the moon. What is most attractive for people in Belize is that since Spanish Lookout is essentially a small middle-America town transplanted in Belize, you can get things in SL that you just can’t get anywhere else in the country: Certain auto parts, construction materials, name brand power tools, keys copied, high end musical instruments…and at around the same price you’d expect to pay in the States. Magical? Indeed. Which is why we had to the see the place (and stock up!).
A few hours later, we arrived in San Ignacio.
New Belmoral Hotel
Our first choice of lodging in San Ignacio was the revered Casa Blanca, but as it was high season (actually, crazy-ultra-high-holiday-season), it was booked for our first two nights. Most places were booked, in fact…except for one: The [very] centrally located New Belmoral (see photo above).
New Belmoral is interesting, because despite its very central location (it lies literally in the middle of town) you won’t find it in Lonely Planet, and you’ll be hard pressed to find much online. We knew of its existence from some Hillside students who had found themselves in a similar situation and thus at New Belmoral with few other choices. Now, before I go any further, New Belmoral is not an awful place by any standard…it’s completely sufficient and certainly better than many places we’ve stayed over the years. But we knew that we could have done better for the price…maybe just one or two days prior Casa Blanca would have had space. Maybe Casa Blanca isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Enough maybes, we quickly came to terms with the idea that this lackluster budget place was where we would be spending Christmas Eve and Christmas. Luckily, we’d be away most of the day…far away, in Guatemala and down in a deep dark cave.
I do have to admit though that the large centipede residing in the shower didn’t endear us to the place…
Neither did the swinging half-door on the bathroom when you’re sharing a tiny room between three people…
Tuesday, December 24, 2013 :: Tikal
We spent Christmas Eve in Guatemala, walking around one of the Western Hemisphere’s ancient wonders of the world, the Mayan ruins of Tikal. That morning (as the evening before) we ate at Ko-Ox Han Nah, a delicious Mayan/Indian/Belizean restaurant across the street from Casa Blanca. You won’t find much more on Tikal in this post (we’ll save that for a later date), however, or our trip to ATM caves on Christmas day (cameras are no longer permitted), but don’t worry, we’ve still got more on tap from San Ignacio.
Wednesday, December 25, 2013 :: Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) caves
Like I said before, no pics from ATM here, but as a consolation gift, how about some tasty breakfast from Flava’s Bar and Grill:
Breakfast burritos and stuffed fry jacks at Flava’s.
As you may have figured, New Belmoral just wasn’t floating our boat. We made it work for two nights, but knew that Casa Blanca had a vacancy Christmas Day and were eager to treat ourselves to anywhere else to mark the occasion.
Casa Blanca managed even to exceed our expectations. Not only was it squeaky clean, we got peace and quiet AND a FULL door on the bathroom! Now THAT’s luxury.
Despite rainy weather earlier in our stay, Christmas afternoon ended up being beautiful. As such, we took a stroll up the hill to the Cahal Pech Mayan ruins. We thought we might be ruined on ruins given our long day spent at Tikal the previous day, but were pleasantly surprised to discover that Cahal Pech was absolutely 100% worth its own trip.
The best thing about Cahal Pech, in my opinion is that it is comprised of a series of multi-level structures which you can explore unencumbered.
Thursday, December 26, 2013 :: South to Hopkins!
Before leaving town, we took Dan to see the point at which the Mopan and Macal rivers form the Belize River. Three months earlier, we had visited with Lori’s predecessor and another friend and they snapped this photo of us on the hammock bridge connecting San Ignacio with communities to the north:
But in late December following the significant flooding the area had seen, the view was slightly different:
Luckily, some bridges in Belize like the Hawkesworth Bridge in San Ignacio (Belize’s only suspension bridge) are built a little more sturdily: