03 Feb

Belize smells like Crême Brulée!

It takes about 5 hours to drive across the tiny country of Belize. We stayed 3 days for good measure. Passing countless fields of sugar cane, you’ll eventually reach a processing plant or two, where the wafting smell of burnt sugar fills the air. Belize is the last Central American country we’re visiting before heading back to Mexico, kind of like dessert at the end of a long Central American meal!

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It could be argued that we missed the best parts of the country: the island Cayes. Most people traveling to Belize will vacation on Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker off the coast. They are known for having some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world. Many overlanders will leave their rigs in Sarteneja, grab a water taxi and jet over to the islands for a few days. We opted to stick with Bruno and put these Cayes on our future bucket list of island travels (FYI – this list also includes the San Blas Islands in Panama and the Bay Islands in Honduras. Sailing trip anyone?)

San Ignacio is a great town to stop in after crossing the border from Guatemala. The Mana Kai campground is frequently visited by overlanders, has strong WiFi and hammocks galore! 25 Belizean dollars for the night, which is $12.50 USD.

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There’s a bakery on the main road behind the property, so there were mouthwatering smells to wake up to. Also an extensive fruit and vegetable market within walking distance. This place really has it all.

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At Mana Kai, we met the very popular couple behind Flightless Kiwis. Emma & Ben started in Alaska 630 days ago with a 2001 Toyota 4Runner and a rooftop tent. These two New Zealanders have so far been moving through Mexico, Belize and Guatemala in a spiral-shaped pattern, leaving their trademark stickers wherever they go. They work on the road and are not missing one square inch of these countries. Check out their awesomely organized rear area! Designed by none other than Calvin at Overland Oasis outside Oaxaca, Mexico.

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Leaving San Ignacio was a wet and muddy affair. We drove through the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve in search of caves and natural pools. Unsure whether the entrance to the forest reserve should be free or not, when the friendly security guard asked for a “park donation” we gave a whopping 2 BZ ($1 USD).

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The Rio Frio Cave was hard to find (GPS 16.9795842,-89.0000421) and hard to access down a very muddy road (Bruno loved slipping & sliding). There was therefore absolutely no one around and we had the entire place to ourselves.

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It was MUCH bigger than we expected and the first of two incredible FREE sights we saw that day.

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The weather improved while we were trampling around the big, dark cave. We emerged into sunlight and took Bruno to find the Rio On pools (GPS 16.986897,-88.9773811).

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Another FREE site, completely deserted. If you only saw the Belize coast, you would miss all of this amazing nature inland.

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It’s warm enough to want to swim – we are getting IN there!

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After swimming and lounging, we had lunch on the rocks. The rest of the afternoon is reserved for finding a place to camp. We leave the pine forest reserve and set out down a very steep hill! There’s rumored to be somewhere to camp in this valley. The emergency brake is tested, while Travis jumps out for a picture.

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An oasis in the valley – Mike’s Place (GPS 17.111821, -88.928422). A large palapa restaurant with no patrons, we’re really in the middle of nowhere. Barton Creek runs along the property and with a guide you can canoe into a cave at the back of the restaurant. Having seen our own (free) cave earlier in the day,  we passed and set up camp. The restaurant employees assured us someone would be by later to collect the camping fee, but no one ever did. FREE camp! We’ve managed to really keep a lid on this Belize budget.

Two friendly dogs live on the property and spent the night with us, keeping Bruno’s tires warm.

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Accessing Mike’s Place from the south, we descended the steep hill with switchbacks. Now leaving Mike’s Place to the north has a river crossing! Not what we were expecting at 8:00 in the morning, but Bruno’s in his element.

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Crap, peer pressure from a local behind us! Go Bruno, go!

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Bruno considered it a wimpy river compared to the ones we encountered in Costa Rica.

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Let’s get off these dirt roads before it rains again!

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Bruno is dir-ty at this Belize gas station where we fill up with regular gas for $3.65 USD per gallon ($0.96 USD per liter). Kind of pricey, Belize!

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We intended to camp our third night at the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary further north, but to our surprise, this time of year the sanctuary is under water. Most of the hotels and homes along the waterway are built up on stilts, including the visitor’s center where we learned about all the wildlife you could have seen, if it wasn’t flooded.

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We crossed back over the causeway to decide what to do. The copious amounts of rain they’ve been getting have foiled our camping plans!

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We continued north to the town of Corozal, which is just before the Mexican border on Corozal Bay. It’s very pretty with shops and restaurants, but the hotels were too expensive for us. The one campsite in town wanted 40 BZ ($20 USD) for mediocre amenities, plus the guy was grumpy and not at all happy to see us. We pondered our options in the sun. We’re 12 minutes from the Mexican border.

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Yucatan, it is! We did a late afternoon border cross into Mexico and thanked Belize for all the incredible natural beauty.

  • I say you found a much more epic piece of scenery in that Rio Frio cave than you would have found in the Cayes. Beautiful white beaches with crystal clear water are all over the place in the Caribbean, but those kind of caves aren’t!

    • Travis

      We’ll be back for the Cayes someday!

  • Frugal Turtle

    Thanks for sharing! Those cave pictures look awesome. I’ll have to make it to Belize someday.

    • Travis

      Yes, Belize is waiting for you Frugal Turtle!

  • agroster

    Hmmm, I think I went to that cave in Belize in 2004 – have to dig up pictures to verify. I remember on the car ride driving through a forest that was decimated – possibly some insect infestation? In the photo that you took of driving through that wooded area the trees look very young, so perhaps the area is recovering.

    • Travis

      Duder, it seems you’ve already been almost everywhere our travels are taking us – yet I don’t recall you ever sharing stories of these places with us before we started this trip!!

  • Jay

    Great post. Love the photos.

    • Travis

      Thanks Jay!

  • How was the main highway going north through Belize? Was it just the side roads off in the national parks that were dirt, mud roads with river crossings? Do you think a smaller car would be okay (in dry season) going up the main road?

    • Amanda

      Main highway through Belize is all paved. We were there in December 2015 (dry season?) and still, any roads outside of towns or off the main highway were wet & muddy. If you don’t plan on going too far off the beaten path, you should be OK. Always a good bet to ask the locals about road conditions where you’re going.