My friend Jon and I had talked about going to a coveted country in the Caribbean, so we flew to Cancun with hopes of spontaneity. Unfortunately, getting last minute flights proved impossible, so we immediately hopped on a bus south to the city of Chetumal on the Mexico/Belize border. We spent an uninspiring night by the bus station with two Norweigian guys who were in their early twenties and doing their first major backpacking trip. Daniel, one of the guys, told us he brought 6 t-shirts and planned on wearing 1 shirt per week. I think he was befuddled when we told him that he could do laundry while abroad. Shortly after that conversation, he was sporting a new shirt.
We decided to head straight to Flores, Guatemala so that the majority of our distance would be covered in the first part of our trip. We got off the bus and nearly immediately jumped in the fresh water lake that surrounds the tiny island town. We jumped off the dock and watched the sun set over the lake. The next day, we went to Tikal, which is one of the largest pre-Columbian urban centers of the Mayan civilization. We sweated our way through the jungle to climb what structures we could. That evening, we happily swam in the lake again. For dinner, we ate tostadas that local women had made and were selling along the water.
The next day, we woke up early and caught a bus to the border where we transferred to a taxi and drove to the town of San Ignacio, Belize. We immediately made plans to see the ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal) cave, which was about three hours long and involved swimming and walking in a river, maneuvering through various openings and most importantly, checking out Mayan remains (both pottery and skeletons!).
The next day, we headed to Belize City to catch a water taxi to Caye Caulker. Madonna wrote the song “La Isla Bonita” about Amerbgis Caye, the island just north of Caye Caulker. This place was awesome! It reminded me a bit of Gili T, one of my favorite Indonesian islands (although more touristy and less beach areas), but the concept was the same. We managed to find accommodation with an ocean view. Towards the north end of the island, where we stayed, the island is one block wide. We watched the sun set over the ocean every night from near our lodging and sunrise could be seen over the ocean one block away. We relaxed: got massages, swam, walked around, ate ice cream, etc.
The next day, we went on a full day sailing/snorkeling trip. The highlight was swimming with (and petting) both nurse sharks and stingrays. We also saw a giant sea turtle. I always enjoy snorkeling and watching the life in the ocean and this time was no different. After another relaxing day on Caye Caulker of swimming, renting bikes, walking around, etc, we left on a ferry to Chetumal, Mexico and worked our way up to Tulum.
We spent the night in Tulum and chanced upon a Cancun-esque beach party (replete with stage and music and expensive beer), although, the crowd was 99.9% Mexicans and had 0% drunk and obnoxious American college students, so that made it more bearable. The next day, we woke up and walked down the street to roam the Mayan ruins in Tulum and then made it back to Cancun to catch our flight home.
This was my first time in Central America proper (not including Mexico) and I already can’t wait to go back! It shocked me how close it is to Denver – the flight to Cancun is the same distance as a flight home to see my parents. I want to explore more of Guatemala – the region around Antigua and am looking forward to checking out the countries further south. It is a really logical place to fly for a week or even a few days!