Belize: Rivers, Jungle and Mayan Cities…

What an Unbelize-able time we’ve had in Belize today! What a place and what lovely people – all so friendly and helpful, perfect English….. And such diverse flora and fauna. It reminded me of what Costa Rica would be like if you took away any high ground and swapped that for the second largest barrier reef in the world. It’s a garden of Eden in terms of growing things…..

We got the first tender ashore just after 7am. In fact, it didn’t go till about 735 but…. The ship was anchored a long way off Belize City. The bay must be very shallow. It took about 20 minutes by tender to reach the dock.

We’d booked a tour with a private company, Lamanai Belize Tours, and they were fantastic from beginning to end. Nearly half the price of the ship’s tour for a far better tour. They were waiting for us just outside the terminal and we were taken north by car, to the boat launch on the New River, in an area called Orange Walk. Our guide gave us a nice lot of info about Belize along the way and pointed out areas of interest. It took about an hour to get to the river.

At the launch spot we met the others who would be part of our tour – we were 10 in all. It was a scene out of Indiana Jones meets the Louisiana Bayoux…. dense greenery, ricketty docks, fast skiff boats….. shacks…. sugar cane. Plants growing everywhere, even up trees

I don’t know what I was expecting of the boat trip up to the site of Lamanai, the ancient Mayan city. However, when I saw the engine on the boat (200hp), I did the maths and realised that our 26 mile journey in just over an hour was going to be a thrill ride.

And it was. We whirled along, tilting left and right as we went around the bends. No other crafts or dwellings in sight. Just us, powering down the river….. The only bit of civilisation we saw in the entire journey was when we passed a Mennonite village where we could see the Amish style farms and some people in the traditional garb. There were some children sitting on a dock and they all waved to us. Apparently the Mennonites came to Belize in the 1950s.

The river was pristine and passed through undeveloped rain forest jungle on either side. Great hardwood trees right down to the water…… we saw crocodiles basking on tree trunks, turtles, kingfishers, kites, so many herons of different types – white, blue, small green…. It really is a birdspotters paradise. And many of the trees had air plants growing on them. A sort of winding cactus on many, flowers, other plants. The river was covered with water lilies in some places and there were special birds and iguanas that lived among them, called “Jesus birds” or iguanas by the locals because they walk on water using the lily pads. We whirled around the bends in the river, banking over to one side and then the other…. it was absolutely great. I loved it.

Eventually, the river entered a very large lagoon which is where the city of Lamanai was. It is the largest archaological site in Belize and the city was occupied for over 3000 years until the 17th century AD. It’s a huge site, much of it unexcavated. We saw maybe 5%. The excavated temples date from about 650 AD and consist of pyramidal structures. One of the most famous is decorated with huge masks. They sit in the dense jungle, amongst pyramids still covered by the jungle…. an amazingly romantic sight, again straight out of Indiana Jones.

It was strange…. as we landed, we could hear a strange roaring noise…… I thought that perhaps they were playing some sort of atmospheric sound track of Mayan ceremonies…. As we proceeded into the jungle, I amended this…… It was some enormous animals roaring…. “Welcome to Jurassic Park” said our guide, and I must confess, it did sound like dinosaurs roaring away.

But no….. It was actually Howler Monkeys! Now, I’d never heard of them but they are endemic in central America and they are LOUD and quite big. We could glimpse them up in the trees, yowling and roaring at each other. You would never associate the noise with a monkey.

We were so lucky with our guides. They got us to each of the temples ahead of the large cruise groups so that we saw them pretty much alone and there was time for those so inclined to climb them. Bob and I admired from below!!!

By about 1 we headed back to the river for our picnic lunch under a thatched shelter. We had rice and beans, chicken, potato salad, fried plantains, pico de gallo hot salsa…. very nice.

Then it was time to reverse our journey. Down river by boat, car back to Belize City and shuttle back to the boat. We saw dolphins on the way back to the ship. The $75 each we’d paid for the day was more than worth it. We had a phenomenal time.

Tonight was our last formal night or rather “dress to impress”. Lovely show in the theatre and then a great dinner. Will sleep well tonight.