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.
After leaving Caulker, we walked around Belize city. Yet again, it absolutely chucked it down and we were soaked. Unfortunately, when we went to pick up the van, we had forgotten to wash up the meal we had the night before we went to the islands and we had flies and maggots over the sink. Disgusting. Whilst Gwyn bleached the hell out of van, I went to do the laundry.
We stopped off at the Belikin brewery and then went to Altun Ha ruins, which was absolutely packed with cruise ship tourists. We managed to get in free, as someone pushed us through as part of a cruise ship tour (lucky for us). Despite these ruins being Belize's most famous (or rather most popular due to being conveniently located to Belize City), it was the least impressive ruins we had seen. It was also rather small, consisting of two main plazas.
After, we went to the Community Baboon Sanctuary, which included a one-hour guided walk in the admission price. The guy was really knowledgeable about the flora and fauna, and the highlight was wild howler monkey's climbing over us. So cute. Warning: mind your feet as there as fire ants everywhere. We found out the hard way...
We wanted to get to Dangriga before dinner, so we took the seemingly quick route via Manatee highway, despite my reservations, given it was a rough start on the pot-hole assault course. Sod's law - we got a puncture. There was none of the 'I told you so'; we worked together, so we could get out of the jungle before it went completely pitch black. We finally made it to Dangriga, where we had dinner by the sea.