"Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world." - Gustave FlaubertBelize is one of those countries you hear so much about. The beaches are beautiful, the water is exquisite, and the jungle is enchanting. Yet, you hear the bad as well. Belize is one of the most dangerous countries. It has one of the highest murder rates in the Americas, a high level of gang violence, and assaults. Before I went to Belize, and even while I was there, I talked with Canadians and Americans who warned me not to walk anywhere at night, not to go in small tour groups, not to take taxis that were from the street, and not to go off the beaten path.
So, I land in Belize, meet my sister in Belize City, and early the next morning we are jetting off on a boat to the island of Caye Caulker. The locals were beyond friendly. Everyone treated us like we have been friends for years. It was safe to walk around at night, locals would give us directions if needed, no one bothered us, and everyone was eager to let us know where to find the best snorkelling spot, where to go paddle boarding, where to eat, and where to find reasonably priced massages. After a few days of soaking up the sun and enjoying the scrumptious eats, we boarded Tropic Air‘s Cessna plane and flew west to the quiet town of San Ignacio.
You would think flying 1500- 4000 feet above the dense jungle in a six seater plane would be a little scary, yet it was anything but scary. It was exhilarating being so close to the ground. Our friendly pilot, Ernesto, let me sit beside him in the co-pilot seat. He showed me villages, orange groves, farming lands, and where certain communities like the Mennonites and Amish lived. As we descended down to San Ignacio, I could not see the runway. All I could see was a field. Then we were coming in for a landing. It wasn’t a runway we were landing on, more of a lightly paved landing strip in the middle of a bean field. Ernesto landed perfectly! After saying getting our backpacks and saying good-bye, my sister and I headed into the town of San Ignacio.
San Ignacio is not the cutest town. It was pretty run down actually, but it was interesting. There were local Mayan ruins just up the road from our hotel. If you head out-of-town about an hour, there is a lot of outdoor adventures available. We floated down a jungle river and through enormous caves. The caves are so deep, that once we were inside, we were completely immersed in darkness. It was incredible. Sitting on our tubes and wearing headlamps, we could see the stalagmite and stalactite formations all around us. These caves were amazing but they had nothing on the A.T.M. cave (Actun Tunichil Muknal).
A.T.M cave is a Maya archeological site that contains Mayan ceramics and human sacrifices. With our guide, we hiked through the jungle for an hour, until we reached the cave entrance. A river runs through the cave, so the whole time we are inside, we have water anywhere between our ankles and our shoulders. At times we are climbing rocks, slipping through tight areas, and swimming through the cave. This cave is where the Mayan leaders would perform sacrifices to the gods. Archeologists discovered fourteen bodies in the cave and have left behind approximately five. Going back into the cave about a half mile, we climbed up in the dry chambers. There lies a young women sacrifice; the bones have been calcified, giving off an appearance of a crystallized skeleton.
The ruins, the jungle, and the caves were stunning. The people were friendly and the food was ridiculously good (tamales and burritos, yes please!). Belize is a country rich in history and culture. It is a place I am glad I visited and would love to return.
If you decide to go, dive in and enjoy everything the country has to offer.