Arriving in Belize in the town of San Ignacio we experienced a completly different country to the rest of Central America: it is English speaking and more a Caribbean nation than Latin. On the other hand, it has plenty of distinctively Central American characteristics. It offers a unique blend of cultures that includes, in a tiny population, people of Maya, Mestizo, African, European, Asian and Arab descent. Aside from the local Creole, Spanish is also spoken throughout the country.
We stayed in a very basic Ecolodge with dumping toilets and a lot of “small scale” animals (see below). Again Niels and I were lucky because we had a bathroom in our small house which originally was a honey moon suit and further in the forest than the rest of the houses.
Belize is famous for cave adventures, therefore we singned in for the most extreme one in Belize, the Crystal Cave: a challenge for our physical fitness and our spirit of adventure. From the Ecolodge it’s a 1 ½ drive to the Blue Hole National Park. After arriving there the tour starts with a 50 minute hike through lush rainforest and steep terrain which was considered challenging by most already. Arriving at the entrance of the cave it’s a 15-foot steep climb down into the mouth of the Crystal Cave where we entered the underworld of Xibalba (what the ancient Mayas believed to be the domain of their gods).
The expedition took us through narrow passages to magnificent cathedral-like caverns. Along the way we have seen shimmering stalactites & stalagmites, massive crystal formations, ancient ceremonial fire pits, charcoal and ash, pottery, and other remainings of the Mayan sacrificial victims. After a two hours hike through the cave we had to decide to go further into the stunning wonderland of the underworld or go back. All of us were haven’t had enough of caving yet and decided to go further. The so called “Wonderland” was worth every step we made. It’s a huge hall were we had to walk barefoot or only with socks because of untouched beauty of the white crystals.
After our adventure in the Crystal Cave we had dirt all over, hiked back to the park facilities and took a refreshing swim in the cool waters of the inland Blue Hole.
Our little friends walking around
Skull at Crystal Cave
We stayed in Flores for a night. Flores is a picturesque town with narrow, cobble-stoned streets, small, brightly painted houses, and surrounded by Lake Petén Itzá. The island is now attached to the mainland by a causeway, but many of the local inhabitants still get around by cayuco, or dugout canoe.
Our next excursion took us to Tikal which lies around 60 km north from Flores (northern Guatemala). The spiritual centre of Tikal boasts the Mayan’s highest pyramids, and abundant flora and fauna in the surrounding jungle. It’s one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centres of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. The site is part of Guatemala’s Tikal National Park which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979.
The central area, with its five main temples, forms by far the most impressive section. We explored the surrounding and found smaller structures and outlying complexes hidden in the jungle. Temple IV is the highest building at Tikal and the tallest in the entire Maya region. At 64 m (212 feet) high, it towers over the Peten jungle. Getting to the top of Temple lV was exhausting but the spectacular views of the surrounding jungle canopy compensated the hike.
One night out in Flores (thx for the pic John)
Entering Tikal The view from tempel IV
On top of tempel IV On the way down Weird creature…
The Robster with Eva and me
Chicken busses again, 4 in a row. The first drive was very bumpy through some small villages (each seat filled with at least 3 persons instead of 2), the second one was hilly, the third driver though he is a Formula 1 driver (going down the slops with maximum speed) and the last one nearly fall a sleep while driving. But in the end we reached the shores of Lake Atitlán. Lake Atitlán is one of the most beautiful spots in Guatemala. Twelve native villages, blue-grey mountains and three volcanoes line the shores of this lake resulting in a wonderful combination of unusual natural beauty and traditional culture.
The first night we stayed in Panajachel, which is a relatively modern town with paved streets in its centre and in our opinion only made for tourists. There are streets with only shops and restaurants next to each other. But you get spectacular views of the surrounding volcanoes.
The next day in the afternoon we took a boat to cross the lake for the small town of San Juan la Laguna, which is home to 3000 inhabitants, mostly Mayas. Once more we stayed in the house of a local family to support the Planetera Project (for further informations about that see Ometepe). We walked around the small village and had dinner with the whole family consists of the parents and 3 boys in the age of 15-20. The communication worked with just a few Spanish words and we also learned some words in the Maya language. Unfortunately, they had a big Christian festival going on, which included ridiculously loud fireworks (more bombs than fireworks) and music. No one of our group did sleep a lot this night. On top our room was next to the fire place of t he family, meaning that we smelled like small incenses. However, the family was very nice therefore making our stay an unforgettable experience.
The next morning on our way back to Antigua we had breakfast at a hotel in the hills at the Lake Atitlan with an amazing view over the lake and the surrounding volcanos (Casa del Mundo). Definitely a place one could stay for 5-7 days!
In the afternoon the surrounding is covered in clouds
Our suite in the local house
We forgot to take pictures of the whole family therefore its just us and our host mother
During rainy season the water level of the lake rises and the houses nearby are flooded
View from the Casa del Mundo