It was a fairly chilled day, going between the Five Sisters waterfall, Rio on Pools and Hidden Valley (thousand feet falls). They're all in beautiful settings and we enjoyed the off-road driving, but I wouldn't stress to much if you don't have time to do these.
We headed to the Guatemala border around 4pm, after being delayed for an hour with Dougal problems (shock, horror). This time the petrol cage wasn't moving, but Gwyn fixed it…after ripping up the floor boards.
In the morning we did St Herman's caving and tubing, which is half way along Hummingbird Highway. It was alright - if you've done something like this before they tend to be all very similar. There was a few artefacts down there, but Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) is the one with loads of bones and pottery. The guide we had was nice though and we were lucky enough that the other people didn't show, so it was a private tour (without the price tag).
We then went to the Blue Hole National Park 1 mile south of St Herman's Cave. It was pretty, but with so many mossies about, we didn't stay long.
We arrived at San Ignacio for midday and in time for the market, which was in essence a car boot/food market. It's good for people travelling overland who want to stock up on fresh fruit, vegetables and meat, but I can't see the draw for other tourists. San Ignacio town itself isn't anything to write home about, but it's a good base for doing tours to the nearby Mountain Pine Ridge area and ruins. There's an iguana sanctuary that many people we met liked, but we'd seen a lot already.
Unfortunately, the raved about Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) was closed at the time for tours (you can't go independently), due to previous few weeks heavy rainfall, so we headed to Mountain Pine Ridge area. This was real off-roading and Dougal came into his own. The further into the forest we went, the worse it became, so do not attempt this if you don't have a 4x4. We saw several cars being towed back. None made it to Pine Ridge Lodge, were we got some pricey drinks after the journey before going back to the official entry gate and camping there. NB Do not camp inside the reserve at night, as you will be fined (a figure they'll no doubt conjure up according to your nationality).
We spent the morning hiking the river walk loop, filled with lots of wildlife and terrapins, and then did the Tiger Fern waterfall hike. The first hike was easy and flat, but the second hike was 4km of humid conditions as the heat of the day hit us. Swimming in the clear waters at the end was worth it. We also went to the plane wreck, which we thought was really cool and as it's only a 5 minute walk from the access road. You can also go tubing here for a small fee.
Although we didn't see the jaguars, we did see terrapins, lots of beautifully coloured birds, the 'royal rat', huge butterflies and frogs. You'll need walking boots for the hikes with any gradient and given that it often rains at night, be prepared for sloppy surfaces.
After we drove along Hummingbird highway, which is mostly paved. We camped at St Herman's cave. The workers are sound chaps and we chatted for ages about life on the road with them.
In the morning we went to Austin Rodriguez drum 'shop'. The drums start from $40usd for a small drum (he doesn't negotiate on price), so we left it. We had to get the tyre sorted, so spent some time talking to the locals (the Garifuna people). They were friendly, funny and we felt completely comfortable chatting to them. Surprisingly they didn't hesitate to talk about the government and politics. They expressed their concerns with their country: one being that with many products imported, Belize is expensive to live in, and they also stated that their own country has a lot of lazy people, who expect handouts from foreigners. We haven't really encountered that side of Belize, but have definitely noticed that most shops are run by chinese or indians immigrants, who work a lot longer hours than locals.
We went around the market, then headed to Marie Sharpe's factory, got given a 5 minute freebie tour, did lots of tasting, then purchased the 'fiery hot' sauce and some sweet jams. Worth a quick stop if you're in the area. The hottest sauce really does blow your mind, so don't put too much on your cracker like we did.
We spent the afternoon in the sleepy fishing village Hopkins, which given it wasn't meant to be touristy at all, was now clearly known to foreigners as a stop-off point. It was so relaxed here and again the locals were chatty and interesting. There isn't any particular sights to see here as such, but it's a nice place to chill out.
Later, we made the short drive to Cockscomb Basin, home to the Wildlife sanctuary. A guide let us stay on site for free (it's normally $10usd pp) and gave us the low down on the trails. We had dinner under the canopy at the back of the van whilst listening to the jungle sounds that surrounded us. Very cool experience.
Blue Hole diving day finally. We booked with Amigos del Mar, who gave us a discount because we paid in cash and then a further one, because of my powers of persuasion. Pays to be cheeky. BUT it was still a painful $260usd pp (not including the $40usd national park fee). It was an early pick-up at 5:30am, but breakfast was included. The first dive was the Blue Hole itself. No doubt it would look even more amazing from a aerial viewpoint, but you could still see the outline and the changes of colour/edge just on the boat. The dive itself, doesn't have a lot of marine life, but it's home to huge stalactites and a lot of Caribbean Reef sharks. Cool to see. AND I got narcosis for the first time (feeling drunk underwater). Loved it hehe. The second dive (Half Moon) was our favourite and apparently one of top spots in the world. In fairness, it was one of the best dives we have ever both done. The variety of hard and soft corals was unbelievable and with it came eels, barracudas, lion fish, box fish, lobster, lemon sharks, and a lot of colourful fish. We then had lunch on a deserted island, which was yummy - curried chicken, rice and beans, sweet mashed potato. Naturally, we got our monies worth…or tried to. We did a short walk across the island and saw huge iguanas and red boobie birds (Gwyn just likes the word). On the third dive (The Aquarium) was much the same as before, but not as much action going on.
The boat was really rough coming back and as I went to toilet, the boat rocked violently and the worse happened…I actually fell into the toilet. Grim.
All in all, this is not a cheap day out and if we are honest, it probably is overpriced for what you get, but we met some interesting people, had great food, awesome dives, perfect weather and it wouldn't be right coming all the way to Belize and not dive the Blue Hole. No regrets.
By the time we got back, we headed to a beach restaurant and I had the coconut couch everyone has been banging on about. It was alright, but Gwyn's snapper fish dish won this time.
We got the first boat out to Ambergris island at 8am. After an hour-ish we docked at San Pedro and headed to nearby Ruby's Hotel, which was recommended to us as being cheap and clean (two words we like). For $20usd a night for a double room, with fan, free wi-fi and located on the beach, it worked for us, especially as Belize hadn't shown to be a cheap country so far.
We ate at a beach front restaurant and had a much needed cat nap in the afternoon (the storm rained on our tropical parade). That evening we headed to Palapa Bar and Grill, which was a bit of a walk along the front (bring head-torch), but it's a relaxed bar on stilts in the sea and there's free tubing where the bar tenders hand you drinks to sup in the sea. It's a bit pricey, but you'll be stuffed. Pulled pork is a winner ;-).
We visited Corozal and Orange Walk, before reaching Lamanai. The 25km off-roading was completely worth it. Not only did we pass through strange farming villages with curious Messinite people, but there was some weird bird gathering (think Alfred Hitchcock), and finally to have ruins set by the river, deep in the rainforest, all by ourselves.
Onwards and upwards. We visited Corozal and Orange Walk, before reaching Lamanai. The 25km off-roading was completely worth it. Not only did we pass through strange farming villages with curious Messinite people, but there was some weird bird gathering (think Alfred Hitchcock), and finally to have ruins set by the river, deep in the rainforest, all by ourselves. There was a boat tour that we could've got had we been at its departure point at 9:30am, but at only $5usd entry and a whopping $90usd for a river cruise, we are glad we did it ourselves.
On our way to Belize City, the storm came and Dougal leaked. Wet feet. We headed to Princess Hotel to use their wi-fi to sort the Blue Hole out. The hotel is actually pretty cool for a night out - it has a casino, nightclub, bowling alley and cinema (although the films are a few months behind European listings). The doorman also sorted us a free secure parking spot for a few days, whilst we headed to the Cages.