In April and May I spent about seven weeks in Belize. This was my first AfID placement and I was helping Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary with their finances. I had spent the Previous three weeks or so in Florida, two weeks working in Orlando and then about five or six days relaxing in South Beach, Miami.
Monkey Bay is on the road between Belize City and Belmopan and is in an area of pine savannah. The organisation has been going for over 30 years and Matt and Marga have built everything from scratch (the first couple of years living in a tent while they constructed the first buildings). Seeing what they have built from there is very impressive and inspiring. Monkey Bay provides study abroad programs for students mainly from US and Canada as well as accommodation options for people travelling past and there is a range of options from bunkhouse dorms to luxury cabanas with aircon.
I really enjoyed helping them and their hospitality was amazing. The site is about 23 miles from Belmopan and the nearest shops and ATMs. There are regular buses (with wannabe F1 drivers at the wheel) which are old school buses from the US and it is pretty cheap to get around. Matt and Marga often gave me lifts into town to go to the market to get food. I even bought half a barracuda from the weekend market and that was delicious, similar to hake I guess.
Belize is a great place to find adventure and I think I made the most of my time there. I visited the nearby zoo on my first weekend, which has a great selection of native animals such as spider monkeys, tapirs, toucans, macaws and of course the cats (jaguars, ocelots, jaguarundis and more). On my second weekend I went ziplining through the rainforest for a bit of an adrenaline rush and then cave tubing which was a great way to cool down and get a break from the heat and humidity.
One of the highlights was the long Easter weekend I spent in San Ignacio, not far from the border with Guatemala. While Belize in general to me has a very Caribbean feel to it, San Ignacio is slightly more Hispanic. While I was there I managed to do some great activities including an enjoyable horse ride up to Xunantunich, a Mayan site, which was very impressive. I also managed to go to Actun Tunichil Muknal, which is a cave that the Mayans used to use to make human sacrifices to appease the gods. It involves wading (sometimes up to neck deep) through three river crossings, then walking through the forest before jumping into the water at the cave entrance and swimming in and clambering up some rocks to continue into the depths of the cave. There is then quite a bit more wading and wending your way through the cave between rocks including some pretty small gaps and then scaling up to the top of the cave to see the awesome artefacts left by the Mayans. There are pots and plates and bones as well as the full skeleton of the Crystal Maiden. It is well worth reading more about this and this excursion was absolutely unique and amazingly enjoyable.
One weekend there was a Farmers Market in Belmopan which was great, with loads of market stalls, a rodeo arena and loads of places to get BBQ food. I had a delicious grilled pork loin chop and grabbed a beer or three in the area where they had a live band. I was then on my way back to the bus to head home when I bumped into Michelle (the accountant at Monkey Bay) who was there with her boyfriend. They insisted that I stay for a drink with them so I obliged. This quickly turned into several beers and quite a few rum and cokes and I was there for another 6 hours or so but it was a great evening.
On my penultimate weekend I ventured off to Tobacco Caye where Monkey Bay has a marine station for study groups to go and explore and learn about the reef. Belize has the second largest barrier reef in the world and the sea is spectactularly beautiful. Tobacco Caye is a tiny island measuring about 250 metres long and 125m wide and involves catching a boat from Dangriga on the mainland for the 30 minute ride out to the reef. The island has (I think) three or four guest house/hotel/restaurants and the people to run them and not much else except beaches a lagoon and coconut trees. I managed to do a refresher dive there which would then enable me to do more diving on my final weekend.
And so to my final weekend in Belize….
I had finished my placement at Monkey Bay and had 4 nights on Caye Caulker, I walked into my room and there was aircon!! Belize at that time of year was very hot and humid (35 degrees or more every day and very sweaty) and this was the first time since San Ignacio (a month or so earlier) that I had had the luxury of aircon. Caye Caulker is another island on the reef system but is quite big with a lot of hotels and restaurants and a cool vibe.
I had some great food here (including red snapper & lionfish) and did some spectacular diving. I arrived on a Thursday and had booked to do a dive at the Blue Hole out on Lighthouse Reef. Unfortunately they needed a minimum number of divers and we were a couple short but we dived at San Pedro instead and I was not disappointed. On the first dive we dropped down to about 25 metres and were surrounded by Nurse Sharks! Then about a minute after reaching the bottom I spotted a beautiful Caribbean Reef Shark not too far away. We were followed inquisitively by the Nurse Sharks for the rest of the dive and also spotted two more Reef Sharks, one of which came within about 10 metres of us and must have been about 2.5m long. It was hard for the rest of the dives to live up to this first one but I did enjoy all six of them* over the three days and met some interesting people on the boats. I also found a great little spot on the beach at Iguana Reef Inn. The bar there had a good happy hour from 5pm until 7pm and was a great place to relax after the day’s diving and watch the pelicans being fed and the sun setting across the sea.
*On the last day the sea was really rough by the reef and I threw up after the last dive just managing to get my tank and belt off before letting loose!
So that was that and I headed back to Monkey Bay to pick up my bags and spent my last night there. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Belize and I am sure I will go back some time in the not too distant future. You can go there for an adventure holiday or a sight seeing holiday or a luxurious beach holiday with turquoise waters and incredible white beaches or a combination of the three, definitely recommended.