Yahoo! Travel, the travel section of Yahoo! has just endorsed Belize as the country to visit for an incredible surf and turf vacation.
“The same turquoise waters that lure tourists to Caribbean destinations slosh around Belize’s island chain. But tiny Belize has a major advantage in reeling in the holidaymakers”, writes Alina Hartounian who contributed the article to Yahoo! Travel.
“Belize has all the ingredients for a surf and turf vacation — at least for those who don’t mind the odd giant cockroach or neon green frog that may invade their jungle dwellings”, she adds.
Below is an excerpt of her article which was published yesterday on Yahoo! Travel:
CAVES, SKELETONS AND A SWIM
Evidence of human sacrifice in Maya times litters the floors of the Actun Tunichil Muknal caves, where the skeletons are welded in place by limestone sediment. Mayan pottery is also frozen in time there, with archaeologists opting to leave most artifacts as they were centuries ago. To get to the caves, visitors are led down a gentle jungle trail that includes several river crossings. Next comes an invigorating swim across a frigid pool of water at the cave’s mouth (which is patrolled by a resident vine snake). Water winds throughout the cave, and visitors have to squeeze through impossible-looking openings before being rewarded with the archaeological trove. But don’t expect to plaster social media with photos documenting the adventure. Clumsy tourists — including one who left a camera-sized hole in the skull of a sacrificed child — led to a ban on cameras at the site.
Just a fraction of Caracol, a once-powerful Maya city state, has been unearthed by archaeologists. Once home to 150,000 inhabitants (nearly twice the population of Belize’s current industrial center, Belize City), the site was lost until a logger stumbled upon it in the 1930s while in search of mahogany. Nearly a century later, 90% of it still belongs to the jungle. Shards of ancient pottery are scattered around the complex, which includes astronomical buildings, ball courts, palaces, and a 141-foot-tall pyramid that remains the tallest man-made structure in Belize. The guttural intonations of howler monkeys and the eerie screech of the yellow-tailed bird provide the soundtrack for those wandering through the massive archaeological site.
STONE WOMAN AND EL CASTILLO
This complex of ruins got its Maya name, Xunantunich — meaning “Stone Woman” — from a sun-soaked apparition said to haunt the site. The city was built up over millennia and its history is sketched out neatly at the newly opened visitor’s center. At the site itself, the main attraction is the ruin known as “El Castillo,” which towers above the jungle. Four elaborate stucco friezes depicting Maya gods once hugged each side of the building. Now just two remain, and they’re both covered up by fiberglass copies to preserve the originals. Despite its lofty appearance and elaborate decorations, the Castillo likely served as an administrative hub, not a temple, according to the visitor’s center.
PALACE, BALL COURT AND PLACE OF THE TICKS
Even from its perch high up on a hill, Cahal Pech lives in the shadow of its more impressive neighbors, Caracol, Xunantunich and Tikal. Cahal Pech — which unflatteringly means “Place of the Ticks” in Yucatec and Mopan Mayan — sits on the outskirts of San Ignacio, a popular base for those exploring Maya ruins. Under the cover of an encroaching jungle, visitors can get a glimpse of how the upper crust lived in Maya times through the site’s palace structures. The site is also home to a nice example of a Maya ball court.
Caye Caulker is a sandy strip of land surrounded by a bounty of sea life. The more laid-back alternative to San Pedro (immortalized by the 1987 Madonna hit “La Isla Bonita”), it provides a base for the thriftier tourist looking to explore Belize’s nearby barrier reef. The island is crowded with tour companies that ferry visitors to reef hot spots, such as the intimidating Shark Ray Alley. Nurse sharks and sting rays were originally drawn to the area by fishermen cleaning their catch, but now it’s tour boats that chum the waters. The fish expectantly clamor around any boat that arrives. Other underwater highlights include an enormous logger turtle that is blind in one eye that hovers around a conch fishermen’s boat, and a rainbow of tropical fish. Eerie night snorkeling affords an opportunity to watch the fish scurry to find a home among the reef before darkness falls. When things do turn truly nocturnal, snorkelers armed with underwater LEDs have the opportunity to spot squid, octopus, lobster, and crabs. Scuba divers can also catch a ride to Belize’s iconic Blue Hole, an underwater sinkhole that’s 1,000 feet wide and 412 feet deep.
It is interesting to note that Placencia was not mention or recommended in the article even though it is one of the top places to visit in Belize. In fact, Placencia is one of the best destinations where you go go snorkeling or diving with whale sharks as well as exploring the natural beauty of Southern Belize.
Before I even arrived in Belize I was in love with the place. Why? On sale at the airport was Goss chocolate (‘Taste the Tropics! 100% natural organically grown on the shores of the Caribbean Sea’). Oh yeah! I’m not just here for the diving, you know.
Wiping the delicious brown evidence from my upper lip, I phoned Mark from Splash, a well-run dive centre at my first Belizean destination, Placencia. Nitrox? Check. Wetsuit? ‘Oh, I dive in nothing,’ he solemnly informed me. ‘That sounds very exciting!’ I marveled. ‘No! No, I mean…!’ The man would have to get used to my sense of humour.
Placencia lies at the bottom of a long, narrow peninsular in southern Belize. I would have been happy to camp on the beach, but my digs turned out to be opulent – the upmarket Chabil Mar Villas is a beachside property set in lush, tropical gardens. And my fridge was stocked with local chocolate, so breakfast was taken care of. At 8.30am I reported to Splash where I met the warm and accommodating owner Patty Ramirez, and an associate called Marco whom she described as ‘a troublemaker’. Hah! I was going to get on with these people.
This was confirmed when boat captain Lennox told me he enjoyed a local dance called the punta. ‘What does that involve?’ I asked another crew member. ‘Oh, rubbing on each other in time to the music,’ he replied without a hint of embarrassment. ‘You try to cum the girl and she tries to cum you.’ This was a fascinating piece of education for a psychologist/ sex therapist – the word ‘cum’ actually being used as a transitive verb! I must confess I looked forward to being introduced to this dance. So let’s see: chocolate, sex and dancing already, and I haven’t even gotten wet yet (insert joke here). Belize could be my all-time favorite dive destination.
Belize lies in the Caribbean Sea, bordered by Mexico to the north and Guatemala to the west and south. Well-known for whale shark sightings, Belize boasts the longest coral reef in the northern hemisphere (185 miles), which draws more than 200,000 divers every year. The reef is home to more than 70 types of hard coral and around 500 species of fish. On my first morning, we headed out to Silk Caye North Wall. The light rain, typical for this time of year, was abating. ‘Any current?’ I asked. ‘Unlikely!’ was Mark’s reassuring reply. Not that I’ve got anything against currents; I was just a little chocolate-logged.