Belize - Corozal, Sartaneja and Caye Caulker

Trip Start Jan 03, 2013
Trip End Jul 21, 2013

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Flag of Belize  , Belize Cayes,
Saturday, January 12, 2013

Leaving Mexico was a little more stressful than we had anticipated as we did not have enough cash to cover the departure tax (which we had been told had been covered in the price of our inbound flight). So Sean went on a rescue mission on a tuktuk to get cash in the free zone and it was thankfully quickly resolved.

Our first stop in Belize was in Corozal, which was quiet, but a useful stop off en-route to the quiet fishing town of Sartaneja. We stayed at the Sea Breeze Hotel overlooking the bay, welcomed by the charismatic owner Gwyn Lawrence. According to an expat we were chatting to in the bar that evening, Gwyn was former tour manager for the Rolling Stones and Sting. We had a quiet dinner and early night as we we were up early for the water taxi to Sartaneja.

We caught the 7am boat and arrived in the sleepy but picturesque village of Sartaneja. We found our hostel, the aptly named 'Backpackers Paradise', a set of a small cabanas (wooden cabins popular in Belize) located in the middle of a peaceful forest. Just what we were after! We had some breakfast at the hostel restaurant and then had a walk to explore the local forest and town. Think palm trees and idyllic settings with very friendly locals, everyone just says hi as you walk past. We had an interesting lunch (Garnachas - crispy tortillas with beans, cheese and picked onions! Not good!!) and spent the afternoon chilling in the hostel hammocks. It was great to chill out, and something we hadn't done since being away. We were soon to find out that hammocking is a favorite pastime of Belizians. Later that day we headed down to the water in the village again and found a  fallen coconut that we wanted to try and eat. We spent the next hour trying to get into it. We got the milk after smashing it on a stone at the water then got the penknife and finally got access to the flesh. It was worth the effort as it was delicious! We had dinner at the hostel restaurant and chilled in the hammocks with an English couple we met called Laura and Sam. We immediately noticed the slower pace of life and chilled vibe in Belize
and English was well spoken. We were certainly enjoying being away from the tourist hot spots, and the super friendly local people.

We slept well apart from a few 'what's that?' moments from Sean. Just the geckos! After a quick homemade breakfast of eggy bread we hired bikes from the hostel and cycled the 3 miles to Shipstern Nature Reserve, on the way out of Sartajena on a dirt road. We spent 2 hours exploring the local forest/jungle, and saw some exotic butterflies. It also had an awesome observation tower from which you could see miles in all directions. It was a good introduction to the forests and jungles of Belize, for which it is known. Back at the hostel, we then agreed with Laura and Sam to head over to see a manatee (sea elephants) rehabilitation centre. Apparently a local had recommended it. We biked a couple of miles in land towards the lagoon and came across the rehab centre, set in lush grounds overlooking the lagoon. At first they
seemed a little reluctant to let us in as it is not a place for tourists and is run purely by volunteers but they did and it was well worth it. We saw two manatees, Rosie and Duke, who had both been taken in injured and nursed back to health. They were amazing, floating around in this murky pool. The owners wife, Zoe Walker gave us a little tour and told us about the centre and its other residents, including black howler Monkeys, spider monkeys, osselot kittens, otters and other animals. We cycled back just in time to see the beautiful sunset over the peninsula and enjoyed the spectacle with a cold beer sitting on the pier - perfect!  We just relaxed that evening and cooked some food with Laura and Sam. Just before going to sleep we saw a mouse in our cabin which panicked us a bit, but we decided to ignore it and dropped off to sleep before too long.

We said goodbye to Sartaneja, and got the 7:30am boat to San Pedro, the capital of Ambergris Caye (Pronounced quay/key!). We arrived after an hour and immediately caught the water taxi to Caye Caulker. It didn't take long to experience the island's friendly vibe, as a guy called Brian took us to a lovely guest house where we had a spacious cabin and private bathroom (a luxury up to this point). We had a nice breakfast overlooking the sea and then we went to book the dive trip to the famous Blue Hole! Sean, with only 4 dives under his belt, was understandably a little apprehensive about it but was happy after chatting to the girl in the shop. We then went on a snorkeling trip for the afternoon, just out to the local reefs about 5 minutes away.Shark-ray alley was the highlight where we swam with friendly nurse sharks and a particularly friendly stingray called Steve who we could touch and stroke. We went to 2 other very shallow reefs, with average snorkeling but it was nice to get in the water and a warm up for the big dive in the morning. That evening we went to a traditional Belizian BBQ joint called Wish Willys for some beers and delicious fresh BBQ red snapper and lobster. It was yummy! We went for a cocktail at a laid back beach-side bar, before an early night as we were up at 5am the next day.

We both jumped out of bed at 5am when the alarm went off as we knew we were in for a good day! We met at the dive shop and had a quick breakfast and got our stuff ready on the boat. Due to the winds it was a very choppy boat ride out to Lighthouse Reef, where the Blue Hole
was. The big swells made the 1 hr 45 min journey challenging. We knew it was worth it though. The cloud started to break up and the sun came out as we arrived at the blue hole. It was a lovely setting but hard to make out the perimeter of the hole on a boat. The dive master
briefed us, and Sean made doubly sure he was kitted up ok. We made our way down to 10m, from where we descended to 30m quite quickly. There wasn't much marine life, but you could see the stalagmites and stalactites which were formed when the cave was above water, i.e a
long long time ago! When we hit 40m, the sharks appeared! It was pretty special, with 10ft reef sharks swimming right beneath us. After only 8 minutes at the bottom we ascended slowly and saw some more sharks. We had two more dives that day, one at Half Moon Caye and one at Long Caye Aquarium, a reef off a beautiful deserted island where we had lunch. Highlights from these dives were we seeing and filming a big reef shark swimming right past us, seeing a Hawksbill turtle feeding, and other beautiful sea life among the coral. Also on our dive was Andre, one of 5 Brazilian guys who were in the middle of a year long trip driving in their 4wd across the Americas and along much of the Pan American highway ( their blog: He is a really great guy, and we are keeping in touch as our paths are likely to cross in the coming months.

We had dinner at Frans Grill on the street and spent the evening with two other couples, one German Flo and Fran and a English couple James and Lucy. We had a lovely time chatting and swapping travel stories. Very tired after our long day so bed was very welcome as we were leaving Caye Caulker in the morning. Despite being a little touristy, we both loved Caye Caulker and were a little sad to be leaving. It has such a nice chilled Caribbean vibe, and with no cars or big hotel resorts, retains the sleepy atmosphere and 'no worries' Belizian culture. We were heading to the mainland to go south to the known Garafuna village of Hopkins where we we sure we would experience a different side of the Belizan culture.
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Fredrik on

Nice pictures! =) Enjoy your fantastic trip and take care! =)

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