Belize - Hopkins and San Ignacio

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

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Flag of Belize  , Cayo,
Friday, January 18, 2013

After a 45 minute boat taxi from Caye Caulker, we made our way by taxi to the bus station for the journey to Dangriga. Late morning we were on a 'chicken bus' to Dangriga, a old US school bus, stopping when requested, and a great way to experience the local culture. The journey went via the capital, Belmopan, a bit of a nothing place and only made capital city because of the damage caused to Belize City by the Hurricane in the 80's. The Hummingbird Highway took us to Dangriga, a beautiful stretch through lush rainforests and mountains. We spent the afternoon in Dangriga as the connecting bus to our destination Hopkins was not leaving until late afternoon. While relaxing in the shade at the beach front, we ended up chatting to a local reggae artist and his label/management who were doing a video shoot, Belizian style. They were friendly and persuaded Alexa to appear in the video! We'll see what comes of it. Our bus to Hopkins was interesting, we stood all the way in the aisle and endured some off road bumps. We arrived in Hopkins in the dark, but immediately it seemed our kind of place - a small fishing village with a splattering of tourist hotels and guesthouses. We checked in to the Funky Dodo Hostel and looked forward to spending the next few days exploring the area. 

It had been raining heavily during the night and there were dark clouds hanging around the next morning. Kayaking was the chosen activity for the day and we walked to Palmento Grove 'resort' to hire some kayaks to explore the local mangrove, lagoons and coast. We shared an unusual double kayak (not really suited for 2 people) and it meant that Alexa was almost in the water at the back as we paddled off. Not ideal as crocs roamed the waters! We stopped at the coast and Alexa adjusted the seats to improve the balance in the kayak, but it made things a little uncomfortable and tempers frayed somewhat! The alternative name for double kayaks are divorce makers and we can now see why! Despite this, it was a great experience and we saw lots of mangrove crabs and nice birds, but not the crocodiles that we were hoping for. We arrived back with sunburnt legs and not really speaking to each other!

After lunch by the sea, we walked down to a recommended beach bar called Driftwood Lodge and had a drink in the hammocks which improved our mood dramatically. The rest of the day was quiet - a nice walk down the beach, a couple of beers at the hostel bar and dinner at a local restaurant on the beach. One thing worth noting were 2 very annoying American guys who we nicknamed Beavis and Butthead. We did our best to avoid them for the rest of the stay.

We were up at 6am for a trip to Mayflower Bocawina National Park for some jungle trekking! The chicken bus to Dangriga stopped on request and was full to bursting as it was 'rush' hour. People were in the aisle and hanging out of the door. After the bus dropped us off, it was a 4 mile walk so we were hoping to get a lift, and luckily after walking 1km, a van picked us up and took us the rest of the way. We arrived at 8am, before the ranger was there so we set off on a trail. We soon noticed the muddy terrain after the recent rain and it made it a challenge, but it was a nice walk, through rainforest and we ended up at Bocawina falls. By 11.30am we were back at the main ranger's office and after a quick drink and some fruit we were off on the Antelope trail, the most popular route. It started off straightforward, but the second half was steep and tough, clambering over tree roots and having to deal with the slippy mud. There were ropes to assist with the climb, as it was described as 'not for the unfit'. Finally we made it to the view point, which overlooked the lush rainforest and you could see as far as Hopkins and the sea. We enjoyed the view before attempting the last push to a waterfall and an emerald pool for swimming, and it didn't disappoint! It was so welcoming with both of us dripping in sweat. We got straight in there and cooled off, before having lunch. After descending the slippery trail, we shared a lift back to Hopkins with a Canadian couple, and chilled at the hostel for the rest of the day. We got chatting to some interesting travellers that day, one couple who had cycled from Alaska and were ending in Panama, and a guy from the UK who had been travelling for 26 years. He said 'he had caught the travel bug'! It was our last night in Hopkins before heading to San Ignacio in Western Belize, on the border of Guatemala.

Our journey to San Ignacio was via 3 different chicken buses (Hopkins - Dangriga - Belmopan - San Ignacio) and it was fairly smooth. We arrived just before midday, and after a couple of minutes we were approached by a tour guide called Feliz, who recommended some hotels, restaurants and trips we could do. One of the main attractions in this area is Tubing through Mayan caves and the rivers in the surrounding jungle, and Feliz offered us a good deal. After sorting out a hotel, run by a really nice old couple called Mrs and Mr Guerra, and speaking with other tour operators, we decided to go with Feliz the following day. After lunch, we went to get some more insect repellant as Alexa had been bitten over 30 times the previous day. Whilst we were in the pharmacy - it started to rain and didn't stop for the next 3 hours which scuppered our plans for the afternoon. So we just chilled in the hotel room until the rain stopped and headed out for dinner at a place Feliz recommended which was really great and so cheap. Starter, 2 large mains and 3 beers for less than Ģ10! So delicious as well. We headed back to the hotel for a chilled evening before a day of cave tubing with Feliz tomorrow.

It was an early start for tubing and we headed to Mikes, a shack near the market and enjoyed breakfast whilst waiting for Feliz. Unfortunately, he didn't have good news.due to the recent heavy rain the caves were shut today which meant we couldnīt go tubing. We discussed the options and decided it would be best to postpone the tubing until tomorrow and catch the bus in the afternoon to Flores and Guatemala rather than the morning which we had originally planned.

We decided to go to the Mayan ruins of Xunantanich instead. So we hopped on a local bus to the 'ferry' to cross the river and walked the mile to the ruins. The site was more impressive than we thought and it was really well excavated and preserved, with plenty of other mounds around that hadn't been excavated yet which made it intriguing. The highlight was the Castillo and we climbed all the way to the top and enjoyed fabulous views of the surrounding area, including over into Guatemala. We were also lucky enough to see some black howler monkeys, with the help of the local guards who pointed them out to us. We wandered around the rest of the site before heading back on the bus to San Ignacio. Sean wasn't feeling that great so he slept and we relaxed for rest of the afternoon. We headed out for dinner and had an early night hoping Sean would feel back to his normal self tomorrow.

We woke early, Sean felt better after 10 hours sleep! We had breakfast at Mike's again. Feliz met us and we set off to the caves which were about an hour away. Angel was our taxi driver so we had happy (Feliz in Spanish) and angel looking after us! A good sign. We arrived at the caves before most groups and other tourists, and got ready for some tubing and caving action. The weather was cool, but no rain meant all was good to go. After spotting a Toucan ( national bird of belize and our first sighting) thanks to Feliz, we headed off with our tubes and head torches. Feliz has been a tour guide at these Caves for nearly 30 years so we were in good hands and he had lots to say. While we were walking to the caves, Feliz was pointing out trees and which ones were used for traditional Belizian medicines and remedies. The caves were cool, lots of stalactites and stalagmites, some of them sparkly with crystals, bats, Mayan pottery including one with painting on it. We enjoyed seeing the caves while tubing down the river, and making stops to explore the caves further. We also spotted an orange and black iguana! 

The whole experience lasted about 3 hours and we then made our way back to San Ignacio. It was worth it and good fun. We arranged for Angel to take us to the border as we were leaving for Guatemala, so after picking up our bags we made our way to the Belizian border control. It was goodbye to Belize - what a great time we have had in this wonderful country, only just bigger than Wales, but with a population the size of Norwich! Certainly somewhere we'd like to return to for a holiday. Next, we were heading to the unknown country of Guatemala, and the apparently spectacular ruins at Tikal. 

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