belize / guatemala
Hi Dreamstimers......... Recently back from a December trip to one of my favorite areas - Belize & Guatemala. Although I primarily travel for scuba diving & underwater photography, this time my traveling companions & I broke things up nicely with a couple of day trips to two of the many interesting Mayan ruins located in this Central American area. We started out by flying into Belize City, renting a car & driving inland on the Western Highway almost to the Guatemala border, to San Ignacio where we stayed at Windy Hills Resort. This is an awesome resort located in the emerald forested hills outside San Ignacio. The resort is made up of roomy individual, airconditioned cabanas which radiate around a separate bar & dining room. It has all the amenities, including infinity pool.
From here, we took a tour across the Guatemala border to visit the granddaddy of Mayan ruins - Tikal. Windy Hills set us up with a very competent English-speaking tour guide, driver & comfortable minivan for the trip. Tikal is a major tourist attraction, with many tourists flying into Flores strictly for the purpose of visiting the ruins. You can tell you're in Guatemala when the roads deteriorate, but it's a pleasant 2-hour drive from Belize, past photogenic Lake Peten Itza. Tikal is so large (with lots of areas yet to be excavated) you can only hit the highlights in one day - but it's a day loaded with photo opps!
The next day, from our base in San Ignacio, we headed south into the Maya Mountains of Belize to the ruins of Caracol. The guides in the area tend to specialize, so today we had a new guide, Lion, also very knowledgeable. Once again, a comfy minivan, but the road to Caracol is unpaved, deeply rutted & washed out in places. This is a 3 - 4 hour trip one way depending on the season & recent rainfall. You leave early & get back late, but not many tourists make the trip, so it's worth it. Once again, very photogenic with the Maya Mountains as backdrop to your photos. Turned out Lion is an avid photographer, so I have shared some shots with him via email.
Next day we made the 2-hour drive back to Belize City, in daylight this time. We turned the car in & hung out at Jet's Bar in the departure lounge until our flight to Caye Caulker. Thirty minutes after takeoff, we're in a golf cart taxi (no cars allowed) headed to our new residence, Caye Caulker Condos, overlooking the ocean. This caye offers a laid-back attitude without the hustle & bustle of Ambergris Caye, for example. My group had always stayed on Ambergris before this trip, so we got to dive some new spots this time. On our last day, we took the water taxi over to Ambergris to visit Charlie & Estel at Estel's Dine by the Sea - best conch fritters anywhere!
Most times when you go inland to visit the ruins, you should plan for hot & humid with lots of uphill / downhill walking, so it's important to dress appropriately & wear comfortable shoes. Bring plenty of bug spray with good DEET content. It's a good idea to toss a poncho in your day pack in case of showers. On the oceanfront, a constant off-shore breeze makes the weather pleasant & keeps the humidity down.
Belize is easy to get to - we fly thru Houston & from there it's a 2-hour flight to Belize City. From there you can rent a car, or puddle-jump to one of the numerous cayes. Compared to other locations in Central America & the Carribean, Belize is relatively inexpensive & a great place to get away for a week or so.
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Photo credits: Conchasdiver.