In April I travelled to Belize with my four year-old son. We drove north and on the outskirts of Sarteneja is Shipstern Nature Reserve where we spent two nights staying in the guesthouse that the reserve built in 2012. The guesthouse is clean and comfortable, the food is great and most importantly it is right next to the forest. Morning bird walks can be conducted straight from the guesthouse front door and the observation tower, that gives views from above the tree canopy, is 50 metres away. Tourism revenue helps finance the reserve and also the co-management of other protected areas in Belize that Shipstern are work in. The relative isolation of Sarteneja limits the numbers of tourists to Shipstern Nature Reserve, a shame for the reserve and also for tourists missing out on a great wildlife experience. The wonderful team of rangers and guides led by Heron Moreno, offer an array of interesting walks and tours and some exciting trips such as the night tour of the lagoon, spotting Morelet’s crocodiles by lamplight from a canoe and climbing into bat caves as the winged mammals zipped past our heads. Both father and son were enthralled.
One of the projects that the team at Shipstern are focussing on is the planting of tree species that are affected by illegal logging. The reserve has a nursery for mahogany and they plant within the reserve and at schools to raise awareness of the issue. My son had the opportunity to plant one of the saplings and a plaque now announces his contribution to the reforestation.
Luckily iguana don't snore or it would be a very noisy night's sleep in the trees. The treehouses are snug, overlooking the Mopan river (great for swimming) and your tree will be visited by not just iguanas but likely also parrots and toucans. Mayan ruins, San Ignacio and the Cave of the Crystal Maiden are all within travelling distance. Best of all, the Parrots Nest is a small independently run lodge run by an incredibly welcoming family.
Tobacco Caye is tiny though wasn't always so small, before 1961´s hurricane Hattie it had a school, church and as the name suggests grew tobacco. now its the size of a football pitch taking around eight minutes to walk all the way around with a couple of all inclusive places to stay, a bar or two and generators providing a little light and electricity for charging phones for a couple of hours each night. i stayed in a cabana at paradise lodge built over the barrier reef surrounding most of the island which was basic but where Miss Celia and Miss Junie cooked delicious meals each day catering to my allergy of fish (difficuilt on an island surrounded by them) and joined by an assortment of other guests at the shared dining room table. Spend your days snorkelling, or diving, relaxing in a hammock, sleeping off breakfast, lunch and dinner, watching the ospreys nesting near the dock or taking boat trips to other islands and seeing the rare birdlife.
Bus to dangriga on the southern coast of belize then water taxi from the dock to tobacco caye, expect to wait until the boat is full and spend around $20 for the 1 way 30 minute trip.
This is a guided tour of the Jaguar reserve by the people who used to live in it and from the beginning helped to track and record the Jaguars. We spent an exciting morning with Julio who at one point took us off the main track trying to catch a glimpse of some very noisy howler monkeys and found the remains of an armadillo (a tasty Jaguar snack). He has amazing eyesight and a feel for the forest which is essential when trying to point out the wild toucans, you would not believe how well camouflaged they are for such a bright bird. The Maya Centre Women's group next door by the entrance to the reserve is also a great place to buy crafts labelled by the crafter. You can also do a wildlife walk at night which is incredibly atmospheric. If bored of Jaguar stalking there is also a butterfly reserve there too! Then sit back with a Belikin beer (or Guinness).
Maya Centre in Belize
Right on one of the main well served bus routes around Belize or they will come to pick you up. (The bus is actually a great way to travel about the country).
This incredible three mile cave system is set in the heart of a Belizean nature reserve. You enter straight in at the deep end, immersing yourself in water and squeezing between rocks. The cave houses artefacts and skeleton remains of Mayan sacrificial ceremonies, including 'The Crystal Maiden' - a calcified skeleton of a sacrificed teenage girl sparkling away like crystals. The cave has been left exactly how it was found, the ceramics are lying on the altars just as they were. The atmosphere is thick with magic, and the Belizean Tourist Board only permits small groups from a few select guides, making it feel as if you are discovering it for the very first time!
45 minute drive from San Ignacio, then a 45 minute trek.
Can be booked through selected guides in San Ignacio, Belize.
There has been a new water taxi service between San Pedro on Ambergris Caye Belize and Chetumal in Mexico since November 2009. One thing that should be noted is that although it only runs on Friday to Monday the exit tax is only 7.50 BZE as opposed to 37.50 at the regular borders.
This offsets the price of $30 USD one way and makes getting from San Pedro to Playa del Carmen or Cancun very easy.
You can leave San Pedro at 7.15 am and be in Cancun by 4.20pm.
Belize Express Water Taxi Association
more information on www.theworldtraveller.net/belize.html
Figuring out how to find a budget place to stay on Ambergris Caye in Belize got a lot easier when I stumbled upon Pedro’s Hotel. I had already been checking out the area and was very happy to find a great budget deal that had more of the amenities than other budget rooms yet still kept to my allowance per day.
The rooms are basic but clean and sport two twin beds, air conditioning, a private bathroom and cable TV. The rest of the buildings comprise a swimming pool and sun deck, a bar, a restaurant and of course the owner Peter who is on hand to offer advice on the local area.
All in all a very good deal for those on a budget in Belize, those looking for a cheap vacation or backpackers with a splurge on!
Phone USA: (212) 796.4897
Phone Belize: (011) 501.226.3825
-or- (011) 501.206.2198
(after 4:00 pm)
Take a boat from Belize city, or Chetumal in Mexico. FLy by Tropic air direct to the San Pedro airstrip
This is a lovely small B&B with thatched cabanas right on the river. Perfect mix of jungle, nature, Maya sites, local wildlife and villagers.
Bullet Tree Falls village - three miles out of San Ignacio
Send your feedback or queries to firstname.lastname@example.org