Tag Archives: Belize

Hidden Valley Day 4

Our last day at the Hidden Valley Inn, we woke up to find this outside our door.

Everything was covered in a misty fog. It was beautiful, but I was a little worried about our plans for the day. It was chilly, and we had reserved a waterfall for the day. That’s right, our own private waterfall, how cool is  that? There was nothing we could do about the weather, so we decided to just go and make the best of it. Here is the trail leading down to Secret Pools and Falls.

There was even a “do not disturb” sign stretched across the trail.

When we got to the bottom, we were greeted by a little thatched roof shelter set up with chilled champagne and lunch in a cooler.

Our waterfall:

It was too cold for swimming, so we hung out in these cool chairs for a while.

Then we popped open the champagne.

I wanted to get an artsy shot of the glass with the waterfall in the background. Cheesy, no?

We enjoyed a tasty lunch of meatballs, pitas, salads, and fruit.

After lunch it was raining quite a bit, so we lounged in the hammock and actually took a little nap too.

Obviously the weather could have been better, but we made the best of it and still had a very enjoyable day. It was a nice relaxing way to end our trip. The next morning we had to leave pretty early to make the drive back to Belize City and catch our flight home.

We thought that 9 nights was a perfect length for the trip. We were able to stay in two totally different areas, which was cool, and we had enough time in each place. Seven nights would have been way too rushed for us to enjoy everything that we did. I would definitely recommend Belize for an active adventure type vacation, which was perfect for us. There is a lot to do, and the people of Belize are very friendly. It is definitely not very budget-friendly though, so I would recommend planning this as a “big” trip, for an anniversary or something like that. I am glad we got to go all out for our honeymoon, because it will probably be quite some time before we are able to take another huge trip like that. Would I love to go back someday? As the locals say, “You better Belize it!”

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Hidden Valley Day 3 – Caracol

Our third day at Hidden Valley, we decided to pay a visit to the ancient Mayan city of Caracol. It was a 30 mile drive from the inn, and we had a guide with us named Rick. Since Caracol is so close to the Guatemalan border (about 4 miles), we had to sign in at a military check point, and join a convoy to the ruins. Several years ago, there was a problem with Guatemalan rebels coming over the border and robbing tourists, so though the machine guns were a little unnerving, I was kind of glad that we were guarded by the military. It sounds more dramatic than it really was, but it was nice to be safe anyways.

Caracol is much different than some of the other, more famous Mayan ruin sites. It is largely un-excavated, so you can kind of get an idea of the massive amount of work the archaeologists go through to uncover the ruins. Here we are with our awesome tour guide Rick.

Rick is part Mayan, and he was such a wealth of information. A good tour guide always makes the difference, and he made this day one of our favorite experiences of the trip. We walked through some wooded areas before we got to the actual ruins.

Some of the trees were amazingly huge, and they have crazy huge roots because of the shallow ground.

Then we got to see some actual ruins. This would have been the base to a Mayan house.

Soon we started to see the taller buildings.

We were able to climb up on the buildings, which was really cool.

It is really amazing to think about the fact that these structures were built by hand, much of it BC.

Then we came to the mother load. This baby took 600 years to build, and to this day is the tallest man-made structure in Belize.

You can’t even see half of the building from here. Once you climb up to the top of what you see here, you encounter this.

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It was like another structure on top of the structure. And just for reference on the size of this, can you spot us standing on the steps?

The view from the top was pretty nice too. We could see into Guatemala.

As we were climbing back down, the highlight of the whole trip for me happened. Before we left for Belize, I told Steve countless times that I really really hoped we could see some monkeys. We could hear some howlers off in the distance, but Rick didn’t seem to think it was likely that we would actually see any in the area. Then he spotted what he thought was a tail in the trees, and sure enough, it was a whole family of howler monkeys, including a baby. Steve and I hurried down to the ledge, which was about even with some of the treetops, and there they were. At first, they were a little far away.

This little baby was very curious. She kept coming closer and closer to us, until she was literally within 5 feet. So cute.

As she got to close for comfort, the adults would get closer and make a noise to call her back.

This one was keeping a stern eye on the baby.

The huge male that was the leader of the family kept a watchful eye from a distance.

The baby was so cute and playful, I swear if the adults hadn’t been there she would have come right up to us and sat on our shoulders.

I could have stayed there and watched them all day, but it was time to go. We ate lunch at a pavilion in the park, and headed back. On the way, we stopped to look at another waterfall.

I liked the sign they had as you walked down towards the falls.

We had rick take this photo of us. Notice my right foot.

As we were waiting for him to snap the photo, I felt a fiery stinging itch on my foot. I was trying not to move for the picture, but as soon as he took it, I looked down, and my whole foot was being swarmed by fire ants. I freaked out and ripped off my shoes, and Steve had to carry me to safety.

We headed back to the inn and did our usual hot tub, dinner, fire in the cottage routine. All in all it was a great day, and it remains one of my favorite experiences of the trip.

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Hidden Valley Day 2

On our first full day at Hidden Valley, we decided to check out some mountain bikes from the inn and go exploring. The Hidden Valley Inn property is 7200 acres, and there are extensive hiking and mountain biking trails.

The mountain bikes were very old school, and a few minutes into the ride both Steve and I were missing the comfy rock shox on our Gary Fischers. Unfortunately, the biking turned out to be almost a total bust. Steve’s bike wouldn’t shift into any of the low gears, so every time we hit a big hill, we had to walk. We finally made it to the hiking trail and left the bikes at the trail head. (The other nice thing about Hidden Valley is that they equip you with two-way radios in case you need anything while you are out on the property. So they will pick you up, pick your bikes up, whatever you need). Here I am at the trail head to Butterfly Falls, armed and ready with my hiking stick.

A guy named Peter does an amazing job at maintaining all of the trails year-round. There were tons of bridges and ladders all over the place, making for a fun hike.

In talking to Peter, we learned that the wood they use to make all of these bridges, ladders, and steps only lasts a year to a year and a half before it starts to rot and needs to be replaced. I can’t believe his crew is able to keep up with all of the maintenance, but somehow they do it. After about 45 minutes, we came to Butterfly Falls.

It was really beautiful. This was one of the taller water falls that you could hike to.

After admiring the falls, we pressed on and did some more hiking. I couldn’t get over how awesome and fun the trails were.

The bottom of this ladder ended up right in one of the waterfall pools. The pictures we got with the disposable camera are really sucky, but this is to prove that I did actually get in the water. And it was so cold.

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After our little swim, we decided to stop for lunch on one of the trails. They had packed us bag lunches before we left so we wouldn’t have to worry about getting back. While we were eating, we ran into Peter the grounds keeper, and he offered to give us a ride in his truck over to another trail so we wouldn’t have to deal with the bikes. In talking to him, we found out that a few weeks before we were there, Bear Grylls was there filming an episode of Man vs. Wild for the Discovery channel. Pretty cool! We stopped at a lookout point for some awesome views.

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After that stop, Peter dropped us off at the lookout point for King Vulture Falls. This waterfall was huge, but it was hard to get a good picture because it was so far away.

Apparently Bear Grylls was dropped by helicopter at the top of this waterfall, and he somehow climbed down and into the jungle. I will definitely be watching for that episode to air on the Discovery Channel.

After looking at the falls for a while, we hiked back to the inn and hit the outdoor hot tub (as we did every night we were there). Then it was time for dinner, and of course after that we had a fire back in our room.

Such a nice relaxing end to the day.

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Hidden Valley Day 1

Now that the Holidays are over and the year is winding down, I thought I’d better finish up my honeymoon recap before we aren’t even in the same year anymore. After spending 5 nights on Ambergris Caye, we rented a car and headed inland for the last 4 nights of our trip. I had come across the Hidden Valley Inn duringmy online research, and it looked amazing. It is situated in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Preserve, about a 3 hour drive from Belize City. Here is our pimp car:

It’s a Suzuki Jimny, and it was about the puniest little thing I have ever seen. It was a tough little guy though, and it could take a beating. We asked for directions at the rental company, and the lady behind the counter produced a map. She highlighted the roads we were to take, and showed us the road not to take to the inn. She told us she had just heard from some travellers that the one particular “road” was in really bad shape, and we should take an alternate route. There is a reason that the word “road” is in quotation marks, and the term will be used loosely from here on out. So you can get an idea of where we were, here is a map:

You can see Belize City on the coast, and Hidden Valley Inn just to the left of center. The black lines are actual highways, much like here, except that every time you go through a town there are massive speed bumps every hundred yards or so. Apparently they are serious about speed control, but really it’s necessary for safety, as many of the locals get around on foot or by bike. To get an idea of the distance, it took about an hour and a half to get from Belize City to San Ignacio. It took us that same amount of time to get from San Ignacio to the Inn on those little brown “roads” you see on the map.

We knew from the get go that we would have a bumpy ride, as we were advised that a four wheel drive vehicle was a necessity. We soon learned that “bumpy” didn’t quite cover it. The roads were unpaved, narrow, and sometimes steep. Here is a shot of a pretty good section of the road, before we really got up into the forest:

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It’s hard to see, but there are giant potholes everywhere, and the only way to drive is just to go wherever it looks best and not worry about whether you are on your own side or not. This shot was taken higher up into the forest on an amazingly smooth section of road that had just been graded:

You may find it odd to see so many pine trees, as most people think of Belize as more of a tropical rain forest type climate. The very unique thing about this area is that it has both. If you notice the redness of the road here, that is because it is limestone clay. The Caribbean pine trees grow really well in it. As you will see later, much of the area is also broad leaf jungle, which grows best in the granite clay that is also present in the area. (End geology lesson).

We got to the inn around 3 in the afternoon, and were greeted by the friendliest staff I have encountered anywhere. We were given fresh limeade and face towels while we sat on the couch in the main lodge area and were told about what to expect during our stay. Turns out that the first few nights, it was just us and one other couple (also on their honeymoon) staying there. They have 12 cottages in all, so this was a nice surprise. We went to our cottage and just relaxed for a while before dinner. Here is our cozy little cottage:

We headed over to the main building before dinner and sat at the bar for a while, chatting with the bartender and the managers. Everyone was so nice, and they gave us ideas and suggestions for our next day’s adventure. By 7pm when dinner started, we were starving because we hadn’t eaten lunch. There were always three choices for dinner, and a different menu each day. The tables were set up all cute with candles and flowers:

My dinner the first night was shrimp with veggies and rice – yum!

After dinner we went back to our cottage and made a fire. It was unseasonably cold during our stay, so the fireplace came in very handy.

We got to bed fairly early to rest up for our big day of hiking. Since this already turned into a rather lengthy post, I am going to separate our time at Hidden Valley into posts for each day. We did a lot while we were there, and I have tons of pictures, so stay tuned!

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SCUBA in Belize

The main reason we chose Belize for our honeymoon was for the SCUBA diving. Off the coast of Belize is the second largest barrier reef in the world, topped only by the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Also on our list of places to dive was the Blue Hole, located about 60 miles off of the mainland. We could see the reef from the plane, and it just seemed to go on forever and ever.

We decided to do 2 afternoon dives on our first day there. The nice thing about Ambergris Caye is that no matter where you are staying, any of the dive shops will come and pick you up on the pier outside of your hotel. It was so nice not to have to schlep all of our gear into a taxi every day. The reef is just a 5 minute boat ride from the shore, so we were there in no time. The first dive was an 80 foot reef dive with some swim-throughs called Tacklebox. It was just us and a  dive master, which was really nice. Since we were too deep for my crappy disposable camera, I didn’t get photos on this dive. Here we are on a different dive, so we’ll just pretend for now.

After the first dive we headed back to the dive shop for a 45 minute surface interval, and snapped this photo.

 

For the record, this is the last time I am buying one of those craptastic disposable underwater cameras. Half the time it wouldn’t take pictures underwater, even though it said it was rated to 50 feet. When it did work, the pictures pretty much sucked, so it wasn’t worth the money. Next time we want to get an underwater casing for Steve’s digital camera, which should work much better. Problem being they go for around $200, but I think it would be worth it.

Moving on.

The second dive of the day was awesome. Our dive master told us we would probably see some nurse sharks, and threw some fish in the water before we dove in to attract them. I am still kicking myself for not having the camera on this dive, because what happened next was incredible. As we got down to around 50 feet, I looked down and there were big nurse sharks everywhere. They look like this:

 

At first I was a bit nervous to get near them, but then I saw our dive master start grabbing and petting them. They were so friendly, it was almost like they were playing with him. I got down deeper and grabbed one by the fin. It turned around and came right next to me so I could pet it. We got to stay there and play with them for about 5 or 10 minutes, which was so cool. We also got to see a moray eel on this dive, as well as a spotted eagle ray. Overall a fantastic dive.

We were dropped off back at our hotel, and planned to get picked up the next day at 8:30 am for 2 morning dives.

We woke up the next day and saw that the weather had changed dramatically overnight. The first day it was hot and sunny, perfect. Now we woke up to an overcast, cool, windy day. Not ideal, but it doesn’t matter too much for diving, because you are underwater anyways. We got picked up and went to the dive shop, where we met up with the rest of the divers. There were 5 of us in all, and we took off for the reef. The water was much rougher today, and the waves breaking on the reef were pretty big. We did the dive, didn’t see much, and decided not to go for a second dive. I was freezing and a bit queasy from the waves, and visibility underwater was not great. The other 3 divers decided to scrap the second dive as well.

For our last day on the island, we scheduled a trip to the Blue Hole.

 

It is a limestone sinkhole about 1000 feet across and 480 feet deep. The day before we went there, Matt Lauer was at the Blue Hole filming a segment for the Today Show. Since it takes so long to get there, we had to be picked up at 5:30 am to go to the dive shop. Don’t I look chipper?

 

Ok, not really I guess, but at least I am smiling. The trip to get to the Blue Hole was long. And rough. And long. Especially when you are feeling green and queasy. Once we got out of the calm area that was protected by the reef, the swells were big. There were two deep sea crossings that took over an hour each, separated by another calm reef area. I started to feel sick and was worried that my dives would be ruined if I didn’t start to feel better. I moved to an area of the boat that was out in the open air, and I felt a lot better. We made it there and were ready to dive. The dive into the Blue Hole is very unique. It is also very deep. Because of the depth, our bottom time was very limited. We were told that if we couldn’t make it down to 130 feet in 2 minutes, we would be sent back up to the boat so as not to limit anyone else’s dive.

With that, we went down fast. I was a little bit nervous about the depth, as the deepest I had ever been before was 85 feet. I made it down without a problem and it was surreal. It was pretty dark, and there were gigantic stalactites left over from when it was an extensive cave system. These pictures were taken 130 feet underwater:

 

After 6 minutes of swimming around down there, it was time to go back up. That was the longest we could stay at that depth without having to decompress. On the way back up we saw several black-tip reef sharks. They were quite a ways underneath us, but still a bit unnerving. Overall the dive was awesome, but it went by really fast, and I think since I was concentrating on not messing anything up at that depth, I didn’t look around as much as I could have. I am really glad we have these pictures to remember it. Here we are back on the boat:

Next we headed on to the second dive of the day. Because of the depth of the first dive, we were instructed to stay above 60 feet. I brought my camera, but it malfunctioned. I got a few shots, but they were all pretty disappointing. This picture was taken by the photographer that was with us all day.

After the second dive we stopped at a small island called Half Moon Caye for lunch. This trail led to the red-footed booby bird sanctuary on the island. Yes, I said booby.

We climbed up an observation tower and saw this:

You can’t really tell from the picture, but these birds were huge. It was the wierdest thing to see them all hanging out in the tree tops. The also made some of the craziest noises I have ever heard. After lunch we headed back to the boat for our third and final dive of the day. It was another reef wall dive, and just as awesome as the rest of our dives. We saw a gigantic crab, I am talking huge. I tried taking a picture of it, and here are the results:

Can you spot it on the left? Now you can see what I mean about the camera. We also saw some big sting rays and warm water lobster. And now for our cute but dorky pose:

After the last dive we got on the boat and prepared for the long trip back to the island. I sat in the correct spot this time with the wind in my face, and I felt ok the whole way. Overall I rate the diving in Belize as the best I have ever done. Of course, I have not done much, but it was truly amazing. If you love to dive, a trip to Belize is a must.

After our time on the island, we headed inland to spend some time in the Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, so stay tuned for my next post.

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Ambergris Caye

This is the first instalment of my Belize honeymoon recap. I will probably do this in 3 or 4 parts, as I have lots of pictures. We spent the first 5 nights of our honeymoon on Ambergris Caye, an island which is about a 15 min flight from Belize City International Airport. This photo was taken as we began our descent into Belize City:

The airport in Belize is very small, and they have a welcome bridge where people can stand to watch the arrivals:

We had a little snafu upon our arrival. Apparently a representative from a tour company was supposed to “meet and greet” us and send us on our way to the correct airline that would fly us to Ambergris Caye. No one met us, and the airline we thought we were supposed to be on did not have our names. We ended up spending $130 for two one way tickets since the flight was leaving in 10 minutes and we didn’t want to miss it. Hopefully we will be refunded for that, since it wasn’t really our fault.

Here we are on the tiny plane that took us over there:

Aerial view of the reef:

We landed in San Pedro and waited for our bags at the most hilarious “baggage claim” ever:

We took a short cab ride to our hotel, and by the time we checked in and got settled, it was dark. We sat out on the balcony and tried to get some shots of the moon illuminating the ocean.

Now, our hotel room here was a one bedroom apartment with a kitchen, which we thought would come in handy for saving some cash, not having to eat out all of the time. We quickly learned that nothing in Belize is cheap. In fact, we seriously thought we were ripped off at the first grocery store we went to. We bought a 1 liter bottle of Smirnoff vodka, a 1 liter bottle of local coconut rum, 2 containers of “juice,” and a bag of ice. The total, you may wonder? $74 US. Nothing had prices on it, so we paid, left, and figured the cashier was laughing all the way to the bank. Mwahaha, stupid Americans. It wasn’t until later in the week when we went to a more traditional grocery store, the kind with price tags, when we realized that no, we were not ripped off. A 1 liter bottle of Smirnoff is indeed $40 US. In fact, in our attempt to save money and cook spaghetti in our room, we spent $75 US, not really much of a savings at all.

The currency in Belize is just called “Belize.” $1 US = $2 BZ. US currency is accepted everywhere, but you will get your change in Belize. Here I am with some of their colorful money:

There is really only one kind of beer available in Belize (there are a few more choices if you are at a bar), and it is called Belikin. It is brewed right in Belize, and is one of the only things actually produced in the country, hence the outrageous prices on almost everything else. It was actually pretty tasty, and became my beverage of choice due to my its cheapness.

The choice method of transportation on the island is golf cart. We rented one to go to dinner one night, and though pricey, it was quite fun.

Here we are at dinner one night at the hotel restaurant:

This post has already become quite lengthy, and I haven’t even touched on the actual reason we were in Ambergris Caye to begin with - the diving! I also don’t have the pictures from my underwater camera developed yet, so I think I will cover our dive expeditions in another post. Here is a teaser from the professional underwater photographer that was with us one day:

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Back from beautiful Belize

We returned late Sunday night from our honeymoon in Belize, where we had an amazing time. I am just now starting to sort through the hundreds of pictures we took, so stay tuned over the next few days. I am planning to do seperate posts for each section of our trip so it is not as overwhelming. Here are some teasers of just a few of the things we saw.

View from our oceanfront suite on Ambergris Caye:

Arial view of the world’s second largest barrier reef:

Baby howler monkey:

Mayan Ruins at Caracol:

Beautiful waterfalls in the jungle:

Stay tuned for many more photos and a recap of the whole trip.

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