If I had just one place to go in Belize, I’d head straight for the Cayo District. I’d skip the beaches. I’d turn my nose up at the cayes. I’d blow off the cities.
I’d head inland to the limestone maze of the Cayo District … caves, rivers, ruins, pine forests and a laid-back vibe are what you’ll get. Here’s what you shouldn’t miss.
1. I already waxed poetic in an earlier post about the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave tour. This is seriously not to be missed. If you won’t take by word for it, go back and read the earlier post. Now, doesn’t that sound mind-blowing?
2. The town of San Ignacio is a perfect launch pad for the ATM cave trip. There are plenty of restaurants and services, and hotels from bare-bones budget to luxurious. San Ignacio is big enough that you can walk all over the place and get everything from Indonesian food to a pint of the ubiquitous Bilikin stout. It’s also more friendly and genuine – not everyone here is a huckster wanted you to buy souvenirs (I’m looking at you, Caye Ambergris!).
3. Five Sisters Jungle Lodge is the place to check in after you’ve had your ATM cave trip and enjoyed hanging about the streets of San Ignacio. It’s an eco-friendly lodge powered by its own hydro-electric dam; each room is its own little cottage on a beautiful hill overlooking a river. Power is at a premium here, so you really can’t use your hair dryer. And no TVs, either, so it’s nice and peaceful out there; but you’ll get entertainment from the possibility of meeting a cute little froggy in your shower. The rains that come in sound really serene as the hit the thatched roofs of the huts. Now, you’re pretty far in the boonies, here. But no worries – Five Sisters has an on-site restaurant and bar. It also has mountain bikes for guest use, and if you’re adventurous, the front desk staff can direct you to a nearby cave – but you’ll have to ford a creek! They can also hook you up with …
4. … a guided tour to the ruins at Caracol! This is a splendid, sprawling complex of ruins from the Maya civilization. They bashed it out with those scoundrels in Tikal. Adding to the excitment will be your Belize Army escort, complete with M-16s!! See, Guatemalan bandits frequent these parts. That’s why you need the escort. The ruins themselves get frequent visits from howler monkeys, which are known as “baboons” in these parts (despite having tails and not actually being apes). You can climb all over the ruins in most spots, and even descend into creepy tombs!
5. If you’re really lucky, The Caracol King himself will be your guide. I couldn’t really understand him when he said his name because, like many Belizeans, he’s a bit of a quiet talker. I think it might’ve been Elmo. But to me, he’s The Caracol King because of the words emblazoned across the windshield of his shitty old van; he ripped out the automatic transmission and replaced it with a manual himself. He’ll likely have to stop for a repair or two along the way, but fear not! The Caracol King will get you home, and he really knows his stuff about the Cayo and Caracol. By the time you get done,
you’ll feel like you marched on Tikal yourself! He’s also fluent in Yucatec, the Mayan language. Clapped-out old van or not, he’s an awesome guide. If he takes you to Caracol, he’ll likely stop off at the Rio Frio cave, too.