As the capital of the ancient Maya empire, Belize is a country that deserves to be indulged in, from culinary delights in the north to relaxing beach vibes in the south. And as our second port of call on our annual WTZQ Cruise to the Caribbean, we dock for a day of delight in this cultural oasis on March 4, 2020.
(You can read about our first port of call here.)
Due to the shallow waters of Belize’s harbor, we anchor a few miles offshore and take a tender to port. Belize is a small country with high poverty and looks it in some places, though it’s made great strides in the past few years and tourism dollars have played their part. With unspoiled tracts of jungle, rainforest and verdant hills, it is a nature lover’s dream. A place where they use speed bumps to enforce speed limits since there are no traffic lights.
And Belize houses one of the largest living coral reefs in the world, which attracts many divers and marine enthusiasts - the Belize Barrier Reef is part of the Mesoamerican Reef system. The reef extends from Ambergris Caye in the north to the Sapodilla Cayes in the south. The 185-mile-long reef covers an area of 237,962 acres and is protected by the UNESCO World Heritage program. The reef includes the Blue Hole - a huge marine sinkhole that lies near Lighthouse Reef and is visible from space. If you are a scuba diver, then this phenomenon is a not-to-be-missed experience.
Be sure to ask me about this experience as well as Carnival’s Shore Excursions. I consider it best to go with Carnival’s cruise excursions while on their cruise. Yes, it can be a few dollars more, but it’s a fair price to pay for peace of mind - any excursion booked through me or Carnival is guaranteed that the ship does not leave port without you!
Past and present collide on a trip to the secluded Maya site of Altun Ha, also known as “Rockstone Pond.” Delight in the hourlong journey through historic Creole villages as you learn about the local culture along the way. This is where the largest jade head - the Sun God, Kinich Ahau - was discovered, and the Mayan structures provide a tremendous view after you summit them! Enjoy a walk through the artesian village, where you can learn about the hardwood creations and arts and crafts that local villagers are selling. ($70 per person, 5 hours)
If archaeology really is your thing, venture a little farther north, about two hours away from port, to the Maya site of Lamanai. This site is accessed via a river boat ride, where spider monkeys swing to your left and right through the jungle trees. ($90 per person, 6 hours)
For nature lovers, try the Riverboat Wildlife Safari and Zoo excursion. Enjoy a wildlife experience as you board your semi-covered river boat for a scenic ride tour of Belize’s coastal area and the historic Belize River. You’ll see gentle, docile manatees, iguanas and spider monkeys as you venture through the historic Belize River. Stop along the river side for a local lunch and then off to visit the Belize Zoo, home to more than 170 native animals, even baby jaguars! The zoo focuses on educating visitors about the wildlife of Belize through encountering the animals in their natural habitat. ($80 per person, 6 hours)
Ready for shopping? The U.S. dollar is strong here: $1 equals two Belize dollars, making for an easy conversion. And while you may hear a mix of Creole, Spanish, Garifuna and Mayan, English is its official language so no need to worry about being misunderstand. Explore Belize City, where restaurants and local souvenir shops await. Stroll along its historic trails, learning about the past and the buildings that dot the landscape, such as the Museum of Belize, the Baron Bliss Lighthouse or St George’s Fort, which features the oldest Anglican church in Central America, built in the 18th century: the St. John Cathedral.
Perhaps you seek a more relaxing indulgence? A short 15-minute boat ride takes you to Carnival’s private island retreat, Starfish Island. Swim, relax, stretch out your towel, and sunbathe. Enjoy the great music and beach time. Lounge in the shade beneath the main bar. Enjoy the local Belizean lunch, rice ’n’ beans with a complimentary fruit punch, at the terrace restaurant. Refresh at the full bar where you can purchase water or imbibe in tropical drinks. ($68, 4 hours, and I highly recommend water shoes for the beach is known to have broken seashells)
Wanting to add a bit of snorkeling, then I recommend the Barrier Reef Snorkel and Starfish Island adventure. Start your snorkeling adventure on board a catamaran or trimaran. Travel through crystal clear waters to your snorkeling destination, the barrier reef, (approximately 60 minutes). Our guides will assist you with your gear and show you a few simple techniques to make your snorkeling adventure fun and exciting. See rich, pristine waters, abundant reef life and coral formations. Then sit back and enjoy our free signature rum punch while you travel to a private island getaway for some relaxation. Sunbathe, swim and enjoy the music and the amenities of the island. ($78, 4 hours)
My senses would not be truly indulged without mentioning a food tour. I love food and delight in each culture’s offerings as well as the history behind it. I say indulge your palate and eat like a local. This tour takes to the streets to sample authentic Belizean food - sweet and savory bites from Garifuna, Maya, and Mestizo cultures. Visit a neighborhood produce market to learn about the tropical fruits and vegetables used in everyday cooking. Sample the unknown or unusual, like a dash of homemade smoky salt on cubes of fruit. Then discover a tropical method of cooking as you create delicious seafood ceviche. Fresh, tangy and often spiced with habanero pepper if you’re brave, “chef your ceviche” to your taste buds delight. ($75 per person, 4 hours)
To indulge your adventurous spirt, journey with me to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize’s first and only jaguar preserve on the planet. Sightings are rare since jaguars are nocturnal animals, but you may be one of the lucky ones if there’s a bit of Irish in you—since it is the month of merriment. This is a place I’ve longed to see since I wrote a romance novel back in the day about a young female ecologist and the handsome tracker who helps her find her elusive jaguar. We travel with a local guide to the Maya Center and then 6 miles into the jungle to the Visitor’s Center, where we get our bearings and hike out into the Jaguar Preserve. About 40-minutes in we reach the river, where the wet and wild fun begins as we tube down the river. Then another 15-minute hike to the Ben’s Bluff waterfall where we can take a refreshing swim in the cooling waters before hiking back to the visitor’s center and our journey back to port. (Call me for pricing and details.)
You don’t need to reside in Hendersonville, NC, to partake of this delightful Caribbean cruise. Virago Journeys is your go-to source for all your travel needs, crafting truly carefree vacations—one call to me and I’ll take care of the rest. I invite you to sign up today for our WTZQ Western Caribbean Cruise and indulge all your senses in 2020.
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W. Anne Jones
A curious explorer, learning and growing. Join me as I travel the world one day at a time.