We spent 10 wonderful days in friendly, little Belize – a tiny nation, which shares borders with Mexico (in the North), Guatemala (to the South and West) and the beautiful Caribbean Sea (to the East). It is so small and flat that we basically cycled through it in 4 days. The rest of the time we spent exploring the Northern towns of Sarteneja and Cerros, snorkeling off San Pedro and visiting the Belize Zoo. After nearly 4 months in Mexico, it was strange to be leaving after only 10 days, but Belize is super pricey and our budget wouldn’t allow a longer visit!
Here is an overview of our time in Belize. It’s quite detailed for our own records, so feel free to skip ahead to the photos.
Sunday 22nd March: Chetumal to Corozal
Unfortunately, at the end of our 3 week break touring around the Yucatan and Chiapas by car, my ribs were still hurting. So instead of cycling from Playa Del Carmen to Corozal along the coastal Highway as originally planned, we took an early ADO bus from Playa Del Carmen to Chetumal (Mexico) and then cycled the relatively short distance from Chetumal to Corozal in Belize.
The bus trip was relatively uneventful (although, unlike previous bus trips in Mexico, we were required to pay extra to take our bikes ). Once safely in Chetumal, we made a quick pit stop at McDonalds for lunch (we would have preferred tacos for our last meal in Mexico, but we couldn’t find any) and then rolled off towards the Mexican / Belizean border.
The border crossing was a little confusing on both sides of the border. Cycling from Chetumal, we followed the signs for “Belize”, which led us to a toll road and the border crossing for vehicles. But, as we were on bikes, we were turned away by the border official, who gestured towards another road, which led to a border town where we were able to cross the border, along with other pedestrians. We had no further trouble exiting Mexico and were not asked to pay any additional exit fees, which we understand can happen at this particular border crossing. I felt a little sad to be leaving Mexico after nearly 4 months in the country, but at the same time, I was excited to be visiting another new country. We waved good-bye to Mexico and pushed our bikes over the bridge towards Belize.
Once over the bridge, we started to look for the Belizean Immigration and Customs area. We couldn’t see any signs, but some locals directed us (in English – yeah!) to turn right, down a somewhat deserted looking road. We could see the Immigration and Customs building in the distance, although we weren’t entirely sure how to get there, as the road in front of us seemed to end and a short distance away, a new road was under construction. … Thankfully, we were able to maneuver our bikes from the old road, to the new road, and eventually we found ourselves in front of the Belizean Immigration and Customs Office! Immigration and Customs was a breeze – we got our stamps and as we didn’t have anything to declare and we were waved through, with no checks or questions asked. Super easy.
Although it wasn’t sign posted, we cycled left out of the Immigration and Customs parking area onto an unmarked road, bordered by jungle, that we hoped would lead us to Corozal. There was no shoulder and the cars seemed to drive much faster than in Mexico, but they generally made room for us on the road. The road was blessedly flat and we made good time into Corozal. It was extremely hot and humid though, and we were dripping with sweat by the time we made it to Corozal. As we cycled into town, we were joined by a number of local kids on bikes, who were all very friendly and spoke English (the official language of Belize) – yeah!!
Corozal seemed to be a laid-back little town, positioned beside picturesque Corozal Bay. After the glitz of Playa Del Carmen and Tulum, Corozal was delightfully undeveloped. I felt reasonably safe, although, it was clear from the houses that we cycled past, and the begging in the bar later that evening, that it wasn’t a wealthy town. We cycled to the end of a little jetty for some photos and then went in search of our Hotel – the Seabreeze. The Hotel was great value and the quirky owner stored our bikes and excess panniers in the Hotel for free for 4 days while we visited nearby Sarteneja and San Pedro.
After we got settled in, we went out to get some Belizean dollars and some dinner and drinks. Being a Sunday, most of the shops seemed to be closed and the place was fairly quiet. We stopped into Scotty’s Bar and Grill for dinner and happy hour beers and met a lovely American couple, Bill and Patty, who we chatted with for a couple of hours!
Monday 23rd March – Tuesday 24th March: Sarteneja
Although I managed the 30kms on the bike reasonably well, we didn’t want to rush my recovery. We planned to spend two days on one of the islands off Belize for some snorkeling. The closest and most easily accessible island seemed to be San Pedro (Ambergis Caye), which we could access via boat from Corozal. We had read about Sarteneja in the Lonely Planet, which was also accessible by the same boat from Corozal. So we decided to break up the boat trip from Corozal to San Pedro with a stop in Sarteneja.
Sarteneja is a picture perfect little fishing village in Northern Belize on the edge of Corozal Bay – a great place to slow down and chill out. It was totally undeveloped and unlike any town that I had ever been to. I fell in love with it during our stay. Little jetties line the foreshore, providing access to the clear turquoise waters – perfect for cooling off on hot afternoons. Everyone gets around town on ancient “beach cruiser” bikes or on foot and there isn’t a paved road in sight. The “town” is tiny, but friendly, with a few good dining options and cheap Cuba Libres (Rum and Cokes).
We stayed at Backpackers Paradise, which is located in the jungle on the outskirts of town. It is rustic, but adequate. We stayed in one of the little cabanas with a private bathroom. It was tiny, but clean. We recommend the breakfast at Backpackers – they are really yummy! The French owner Natalie is very friendly and hospitable. I unfortunately left my mobile phone in the cabana on the morning that we left. It was found by the cleaning lady and two days later Natalie came to the dock to give it to me when our boat from San Pedro pulled in at Sarteneja – super nice!
Over the 2 days that we were in Sarteneja, we went on two tours organized through Backpackers Paradise. On the first day, we visited a local cave (which was small, difficult to access, full of mosquitoes and not particularly interesting), a wonderful cenote in the jungle, surrounded by mangrove trees (the only problem was that the jungle was also full of mosquitoes and we were eaten alive as we got changed for swimming!) and finally WildTracks – the highlight – a fabulous NGO wildlife sanctuary for manatees and monkeys. We spent about an hour learning about the rehabilitation program for the orphaned manatees and rescued monkeys – it was just brilliant. Our tour finished at our guide’s house, with a fresh coconut each, picked straight from the tree in his front garden!
The following morning we thought we were going to visit Shipstern National Park for a jungle tour, but instead our guide took us to see some wetlands near his farm, which is home to lots of bird species. Although, we left at 6.30am, we were too late for the good bird watching. The guide then took us to see a couple of baby crocodiles … he assured us that the mother crocodile was no longer in the area, but we kept looking over our shoulders to make sure.
Visiting WildTracks was wonderful and I enjoyed the cenote (although it wasn’t as good as the cenotes in the Yucatan), but the cave, bird watching and crocodiles didn’t really live up to expectations and we wouldn’t recommend it. It is possible to visit WildTracks without a guide, although you need to have an appointment scheduled. What I really enjoyed about the tours was getting to know our guide and learning about life in Sarteneja (which apparently has the leading soccer team in Belize)!
When we got back from our “jungle tour”, we found a little snake in our luggage! It was curled up in our computer bag with our cables (perhaps it thought they were other snakes?). When David saw it he yelled “Snake” and I ran out of our little cabana with my pants only half on! :) Thankfully David (aka “The Snake Charmer”) managed to get it out of the cabana (after a bit of coaxing with a stick) and then “we” relocated it across the road from our Hostel. After that we needed a few Cuba Libres to calm the nerves!
Initially our guide thought it was a venomous coral snake, then someone else in town thought it might be a “Jumping Pit Viper”, but when we got to Cerros, we found out that it was actually a baby Cat Eyed Viper …. venomous, but only slightly!
Wednesday 25th March – Thursday 26th March: San Pedro
On Wednesday morning we hiked back into town and caught the 7.30am boat from Sarteneja to San Pedro. We had been looking forward to getting away from the tourist masses, but as soon as we got off the boat we realized that San Pedro was not the place for that (we probably should have gone to Caye Caulker). Almost every inch of San Pedro is developed. It’s busy, touristy and incredibly pricey (a large pepperoni pizza at our hostel cost US$40!!). Nevertheless, despite the suffering inflicted on our wallet, we had a really great time!
We had been warned in Corozal that San Pedro was unsafe, but we didn’t find that at all (though, of course, you need to take the usual precautions when travelling in developing countries). People were friendly and went out of their way to show us around. On two occasions locals offered us a ride on their golf cart to our hotel and they wouldn’t accept any money – it was just a friendly gesture.
While on San Pedro we went for the most AMAZING half day snorkeling tour with Seaduced by Belize in Hol Chan Reef and Shark Ray Alley. We have been snorkeling and diving at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which is very special. But, this was something else. At Hol Chan Reef we swam with schools of tropical fish, Southern Sting Rays, Nurse Sharks and my personal favourite, a giant turtle! After that amazing experience, we moved onto Shark Ray Alley, where we were snorkeling up close with 30+ Nurse Sharks and Southern Sting Rays. It was out of this world!!! Unfortunately, we left our GoPro in Corozal, so we couldn’t take any photos, but if you want to get an idea of what we saw, check out Seaduced by Belize’s website: http://seaducedbybelize.com/adventures/half-day-snorkeling/half-day-hol-chan-and-shark-ray-alley-snorkeling/
On our second day, David went for a ½ hour hover board and ½ hour fly board ride with San Pedro Water Sports. Not being a surfer or snow boarder, it was a bit tricky at first, but he soon got the hang of it! What an adrenalin rush!!
The remainder of our time was pretty much spent sipping cocktails and looking out at turquoise coloured water. What a hard life!
Friday 27th March – Saturday 28th March: Cerros
We had thought that we would be able to get a boat back to Corozal early Friday morning, which would have given us more than enough time to collect our bikes and cycle to Cerros – about 22kms from Corozal on dirt roads. Unfortunately, however, the boat schedule advertised online clearly hadn’t been updated in a while, as the boat from San Pedro to Corozal (the Thunderbolt) stopped their morning service from San Pedro to Corozal about 4 years ago! So, by the time we eventually got to Corozal it was 5pm and raining. Although we have lights on our bikes, we didn’t fancy heading off into the dark on dirt roads. Thankfully, the lovely owners of Cerros Beach Resort offer a pick up service and their pick-up truck was big enough to take our bikes as well – bonus!
Cerros Beach Resort is an absolute gem of a place and the owners, Bill and Jenny could not have been nicer! Their eco resort gets a fabulous write up in the Lonely Planet and is totally justified. Bill is a fabulous cook and the portions are generous. The meals are eaten communally, which was fun as we got to meet the other guests, as well as our hosts. We only planned to stay the one night at Cerros Beach Resort, but it was so lovely that we decided to stay for 2 nights. It was just a shame that the weather was a little dreary while we there.
On Saturday afternoon, we cycled over to the Cerros Mayan ruins and took a very quick tour around. The ruins are about 4kms from Cerros Beach Resort along a good dirt road and are situated right on Corozal Bay in the jungle. They were quite nice, but not super impressive after all the ruins that we saw in Mexico. Our visit was made even shorter due to the large swarms of mosquitoes chasing us from ruin to ruin through the jungle – we literally had a cloud of 20 mosquitoes attacking each of us. This was despite the fact that we had put insect repellent on with 20% DEET. These jungle mosquitoes seem to regard any insect repellent with less than 25% DEET as a complete joke. Needless to say, we were covered in bites by the time we got back. What was surprising, was that this was apparently the low season for mosquitoes … we can only imagine what it is like when the mosquitoes are bad! Definitely bring insect repellent if you plan to head to Cerros or Sarteneja.
We were actually offered a block of beach front land next door to Cerros Beach Resort for the bargain price of US$80K (but, don’t worry Mum, we didn’t buy it – its a bit too muggy and buggy for us!)
TIP: If you visit Cerros Beach Resort, do yourself a favour and try Bill’s amazing chocolate cake!!!
Sunday 29th March: Cerros to Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary
We set off early on Sunday morning, hoping to beat the heat and the rain. The road from Cerros to Orange Walk Town was a real treat. We cycled along a very good dirt road, which wound its way past lakes, fields of sugar cane, small villages and the occasional dead coral snake. We made excellent progress and were in Orange Walk Town by 11am.
Orange Walk Town was certainly not our favourite place in Belize. Belize, itself, is a really friendly country, but Orange Walk Town seemed to be lacking the characteristic friendliness. One young man threatened to get a bike and come after me. I laughed it off as though it was a great joke, but we quickly found a grocery store, stocked up our supplies and then got out of there. Thankfully, we didn’t see the young man again!
There wasn’t much in the way of towns between Orange Walk Town and the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. We passed lots of trucks piled high with sugar cane, but otherwise it was pretty much just us, a light headwind and the occasional car driving way too fast. A lot of people warned us about the drivers in Guatemala, but in our experience the drivers in Belize were far worse, nearly always speeding and overtaking when it wasn’t safe. It was a bit of a shock to us after the good experience that we had in general with the drivers in Mexico.
We could both feel that we had lost some fitness during the last 4 weeks. But the road was pretty flat so it wasn’t too taxing. After we had cycled approximately 85kms, we came across the turn off to the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. I was super excited until I saw the awful, muddy dirt road that we needed to take to reach the little village of Crooked Tree (a popular bird watching destination). It had clearly been raining heavily here and the pot holes were full of water. Thankfully, there was hardly any traffic, so we were able to pick and choose our path. A couple of times I was forced to dismount and push my bike through the mud, as I didn’t want to risk falling and hurting my ribs.
Eventually we made it to the end of the dirt path and we parked outside the Visitor’s Information Centre. We were about to go inside to inquire about accommodation options, when we met a delightful couple from the USA and the owner of the B&B (Robert) that they were staying at that evening. They were cyclists as well and were very interested in our travels, which they labelled as a “Quest”! They raved about Beck’s B&B (http://becksbedandbreakfast.com/home) and encouraged us to stay there too. We had been planning to stay at one of the nearby lodges, but we asked Robert how much it would be for the night. He said the B&B was a luxury B&B and that the rooms were US$95 per night. This was way more than we wanted to pay, as the rooms at the lodge were US$60 (and that was already over our daily budget!). But, listening to the Americans talk about the need to help people on Quests(!), Robert called his wife and they agreed to let us stay for US$60. So, we got back on our bikes and followed Robert along a muddy dirt road to his amazing villa. Just as we arrived, the heavens opened up and it started to pour with rain, which ended our plans to go bird watching that afternoon.
Robert and his wife Becky were honestly the nicest people imaginable – they bent over backwards to accommodate us and actually gave us their “Family Suite”, which is normally US$125 per night!!! The place was very lavish, with 3 double beds! We were totally blown away by Robert’s generosity and covered in mud and sweat from the ride, we felt quite out of place in his beautiful villa. Thank you Robert and Becky – your generosity was very touching and much appreciated!
Monday 30th March: Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary to Tropical Education Centre
We said good-bye to our wonderful hosts Robert and Becky and the friendly Americans and were on the road back to the highway by 8am. Unfortunately, it was very slow going through the mud due to all the rain the day before and I often had to get off and push. I was SO happy by the time we made it to the highway, where we could finally make some decent progress, notwithstanding the slight headwind. I will take a headwind over mud, any day.
This was another flat, easy day. We had been warned by just about everyone that we shouldn’t cycle into Belize City, as it’s dangerous and we would almost certainly get robbed. Thankfully, we were able to avoid it entirely by taking the Burrell Boom Cut, which joins up with the Western Highway at Hattieville. The Burrell Boom Cut runs past the Belize Jail, which is a bizarre little prison. Its nickname is the “Harrieville Ramada” – I guess because it’s more like a holiday camp than a prison. It certainly didn’t look like the prisons in Australia or the US (some of the inmates were gardening as we cycled past) and there was a “Prison Gift Shop”, where you can buy handicrafts made by the inmates!
Our destination on this day was the Belize Zoo, which provides accommodation at the nearby Tropical Education Centre (TEC). We reached the TEC around 1pm, just in time for a delicious lunch of chicken and rice. We had been planning to camp, but with my ribs still not 100%, we decided to stay in one of the Jungle Cabanas. But we got an upgrade to the lovely Casita Lodge – an elevated jungle cabin surrounded by forest – and we could not have been happier! The Lodge was surrounded by mesh so we could observe the birds and other animals in the surrounding trees up close and mosquito free!
We don’t really like zoos and would never have gone to the Belize Zoo if we hadn’t found out that it’s a not-for-profit animal rescue Zoo, which only houses Belizean animals. The aim of the zoo seems to be not only the rehabilitation of sick and injured animals, but also the education of the Belizean public about the wonderful array of animal, bird and reptile species that reside in Belize. The signage around the zoo was fabulous and often rhyming. The zoo has a big collection of tapir, jaguars and toucans. We especially loved the jaguars and toucans and could have watched them for hours! It really was a fantastic little zoo and totally lives up to its claim to be “The best little zoo in the world!”
Tuesday 31st March: Tropical Education Centre to The Trek Stop
After a great breakfast at the TEC, we set off towards San Ignacio, near the Belizean/Guatemalan border. Our flat ride through Belize came to an end on this day and we climbed a total of 593m over the 75kms. The terrain was generally undulating with one short, steepish climb. The terrain was very manageable, but the heat was intense. We were sweating like crazy and were happy when it started to rain.
This part of Belize was distinctly more developed than Northern Belize. We passed a lot of towns along the way, including Belmopan, the capital of Belize, as well as road-side restaurants and art galleries. I was totally sucked in by the advertising from The Orange Gallery for “Frozen Caramel Coffee” and a few kilometers later we stopped again for lunch at “Ham’s BBQ on a Bun”, which claimed to have the best burger in Belize. We didn’t think it was that great, but the chilli beans were pretty special.
Shortly after lunch we arrived in San Ignacio, which seemed to be popular with tourists. We stopped in at the local market and stocked up on fresh veggies and fruit. We met a lovely US Expat, who was very fond of cycling. She was keen to start cycle touring around Central America, so David gave her some tips while I shopped. She even went for a little ride on my bike, much to the amusement of the locals!
Our goal for the day was the Trek Stop, a jungle backpackers located 10kms outside of San Ignacio, a mere 5kms from the border. It provides basic, budget accommodation, including little cabins, a kitchen and an outdoor shower block. It was a bit more rustic than we had expected, but it was fine. We took advantage of the kitchen and made a big vegetable pasta for dinner! The Trek Stop also has a butterfly house and I enjoyed wandering around and seeing all of the brightly colored butterflies!