Series – Belize Family Adventures 2015
Belize is a wonderful little Central American country. It’s also a fab vacation destination that offers something for practically everyone. From shimmering sandy beaches to extreme jungle adventures, from snorkeling along barrier reefs to exploring Mayan ruins buried deep in the rainforest, you’ll find plenty of adventure – and plenty of rest and relaxation here!
Belize is where we recently found ourselves, primed for an adventurous family vacation. Check out all the action as we spend four days exploring deep in the Belize rainforest, and four days relaxing along the Belize’s Caribbean coast. Let’s get going, shall we?
Ancient Mayan Ruins & Rainforest Hikes
Our adventures for the first four days of this Belize vacation? To explore an ancient civilization long since abandoned to the surrounding rainforest. To climb temples and gaze out upon those below as Mayan royalty might once have done. To stand in the middle of an ancient ball court where warriors once stood. To go underground for a glimpse into a dark ceremonial world left over a 1ooo years ago. Here we go!
An Adventure to Tikal National Park
Buried deep within the steamy jungle, surrounded by dense, lush vegetation, is an ancient civilization long ago left behind. It’s name is Tikal, and it’s importance to the Mayan world was tremendous. Tikal was inhabited from the 6th century B.C. to the 10th century A.D. It was a ceremonial center with towering temples and palaces, ball courts, and public squares. Oh the stories this place could tell, though most remain secret.
Today, one can walk among these towering temples, meander through ancient squares, imagining life in this once immense city-state. This impressive UNESCO World Heritage Site is not actually in Belize, though, but in neighboring Guatemala. For most Belize vacationers, Tikal is day trip. Plan ahead, and plan to leave early to get the most out of a day at Tikal.
Exploring the Caracol Mayan Ruins
Next up on our Mayan ruins adventure is the immense archeological site of Caracol. Caracol is considered to be the largest Mayan ruins in Belize, and one of the largest in the world. At it’s peak, it is thought that about 120,000 Mayans lived at Caracol. Much like Tikal, Caracol was abandoned to the jungle over a 1000 years ago for reasons still mysterious today.
Also like Tikal, these ruins can be extensively explored on foot. Unlike Tikal, you probably won’t have any crowds to contend with. Caracol is located deep within the Cayo District’s Mountain Pine region, and is an adventure in itself to get to. The reward at the end of the road? Ruins relatively void of other visitors. Don’t miss the Rio On Pools on the way out!
Going Underground at Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave
Time for some underground action! The Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave, also known as ATM Cave, doesn’t disappoint. Once an ancient Mayan ceremonial site, today this water-filled cave is an incredible rush of adventure into the underground world of the ancient Mayans. Artifacts from ancient sacred ceremonies can still be seen today, including ceramics, stoneware, and skeletal remains. Perhaps most famous is the Crystal Maiden, a near-complete skeleton of who is thought to be an ancient Mayan sacrifice.
An ATM adventure combines swimming, manipulating oneself through narrow passages, and hiking into a labyrinth of caves. Due to it’s archeological importance, one cannot enter ATM Cave without a specially licensed guide. There are a limited number of guides, so if ATM Cave is on your must-do list, book your tour early, especially in peak season!
Adventure and Relaxation At Mystic River Resort
Set deep within a nearby rainforest of the Cayo District, yet not far from town, the Mystic River Resort is more than “just” a room in which to end a day of rainforest adventures. Do nothing at all, or fill a day with hiking into the surrounding rainforest. Relax in a hammock overlooking the Macal River, or go for a canoe ride down the river. Whatever your pleasure, it’s all located mere steps away from Mystic River’s cozy cabins.
This eco-friendly resort is small on size, and long on quaint, comfortable ambiance and friendly service. Located seven miles from San Ignacio, it makes for a serene oasis to unwind after a day full of adventure, or to be an adventure of it’s own. And the food is awesome!
Reef Explorations & Beach Relaxations
Jungle adventures complete. It’s time to head to the beach! Our home away from home for the next four days is the quirky, fun town of Placencia along the Caribbean coast. It’s where ocean-front rest and relaxation awaits, with just a bit of adventure mixed in.
Relaxing Ride on a Monkey River Cruise
Keep a keen eye open for iguanas, tropical birds, and the occasional crocodile lazing nearby as the Monkey River Cruise heads up the Monkey River. Stop and explore along a jungle trail, where howler monkeys are frequently spotted high above. Be prepared for their deafening howls – loud enough to be heard over a mile away. On the return back to Placencia, be on the watch for manatees who frequent the nearby mangroves and open waters.
This not-to-be-missed cruise is not a typical cruise filled with people. Quite the opposite. The Monkey River Cruise is all about a personal experience with a guide from the local community and a river not yet overrun with gobs of big tourist-filled boats.
Snorkeling Along Belize’s Barrier Reef
Located between Placencia’s shoreline and Belize’s Barrier Reef is 20 miles of underwater adventures just waiting to be explored. What better way to see beneath the surface than to spend the day snorkeling along the reef. Swim past coral gardens in search of trumpet fish, angelfish, rays, and more, as they dart in and out of the nearby reef.
No experience required for this adventure! The guides swim along with you, helping to find those hidden treasures beneath the ocean’s surface. Top it off with a refreshing lunch on a “deserted” island. Sit beneath a palm tree, watching pelicans flying overhead.
Scuba diving more your style? No worries! Whether it’s by snorkeling or by scuba diving the barrier reef just off the Placencia coast is something not to be missed.
Meandering Around Placencia Town
Time to unwind, and the cute and quirky little beach town of Placencia is just the place. Whether on foot, or on bike, it’s fun to roam around town on a sunny afternoon. Be sure to enjoy a tasty meal or scoop of ice cream while here, and soak in the local Garufina vibe.
There’s plenty of lodging options in and around Placencia. From beach-front villas outside of town to budget-friendly in-town hotels, Placencia has an accommodation to suite your style. With 16 miles of beach, no matter where you stay, you’ll not be far from the water. Choose an in-town lodge, if nightlife is a must!
Where Are You Vacationing Next?
This was our second family adventure in this small Central American country. Our first adventure had us falling in love with this tropical destination. This time, with our children older and more capable of longer, more thrill-packed adventures, we expanded our horizons, and expanded our adventure. Was our second time here as much fun as our first? Absolutely!
Have you been to Belize? Would you return? Do you have a favorite destination that one day you plan to return to and explore in a different direction? Do share!
Check out the full details of all our adventures during our Belize 2015 vacation:
- Tikal – Exploring Inside Ancient Mayan Ruins of Guatemala
- Caracol – A Photo Journey Through Mayan Ruins Not Ruined By Mass Tourism
- Actun Tunichil Muknal – A Journey Into An Ancient Mayan Underworld
- 7 Reasons You Will Love the Mystic River Resort, Belize
- An Eco-Tour Adventure Along the Monkey River – Placencia Belize
Want to learn more about our previous Belize family vacation? Check out these prior posts:
- 5 Warm and Sunny Reasons To Take Your Family to Belize
- Dreaming of Sun, Sand & Beaches – A Belize Family Vacation Travel Series
Quick facts about Belize:
- Belize is located in Central America, just south of Mexico, and east of Guatemala.
- The Caribbean Sea warms the eastern shoreline.
- The average year round temperature is 84 degrees.
- The first people to settle Belize were the Mayans.
- The official language spoken is English, but Kriol and Spanish are also widely spoken.
All images by C.Biederman