There are over 400 islands in Belize, ranging in size from Ambergris Caye (with its population of over 13,000 and its bustling capital of San Pedro, one of the five largest towns in the country), all the way down to places like Laughing Bird Caye, tiny scraps of sand and palm trees that cover an acre or two at most, and where you’re never more than a few metres from the sea. Continue reading
Less than four months after visiting The Land of Eternal Spring for the first time, I’m back for another bite of the Guatemalan cherry. I’ve decided to revisit the eastern Petén department, as not only is it the closest one to where I live in central Belize, but it’s covered in jungle and full of Maya ruins (only one of which – Tikal, the most famous – have I explored).
As I’ve mentioned previously, the southern Belizean district of Toledo is home to the majority of Belize’s Maya inhabitants, with around 20,000 of them spread over 60 villages. And while many of them seem happy to live in their thatched wooden houses and tend to their beans and corn on the farm, living the kinds of rural lives their people have lived for generations, some of them are slowly embracing the kinds of cultural tourism that the nearby Garifuna people have been pioneering. Continue reading
After another ferry journey (again accompanied by adverts for duty-free jewellery at Diamonds International, and Band Aid singing their absurd and patronising song about Africa), I’m in Playa. As the largest town on the Riviera Maya, and the second-biggest on Mexico’s Caribbean coast (after Cancún), Playa is tourism central (it’s impossible to imagine what these places would be like without all the tourists – Sleepy? Empty?). The statistics of the whole region defy the imagination – Cancún’s first hotel went up in the 1970s, yet it now has 30,000 hotel rooms and 4 million annual visitors. And Playa, which in the 1980s was a small town of 1000 people, now has a population of over 150,000 (not counting all the tourists). The sandy streets of the 80s are now paved avenues full of traffic, with hotels, restaurants, bars, and shops. And being the high season, it’s very busy with people like me, as well. Continue reading
I’ve seen in the festive season in Belize for the last few years (and eaten my enormous fill of turkey, ham, and black cake; not to mention drank myself slowly under the table with beer and rum). Now, it’s time to head north to Mexico, to spend my Christmas holiday in the tropical paradises (or over-hyped tourist traps, depending on your point of view) of Cozumel and Playa del Carmen. Continue reading
As easy-going and lovely as Flores is, it’s time to move on. Having already had trouble from the Coyotes, I decide to eschew the tour agencies and travel like a local (travel agents in virtually every Guatemalan tourist town can book private shuttle buses for tourists, but they’re more expensive than public buses; and some of the agents aren’t exactly legit, either). So I take a tuk-tuk from Flores to Santa Elena bus station, and jump on the first bus to Rio Dulce town. Simples. Continue reading
Despite living in Belize for three years (and despite spending most of that time living less than 150 km from the Belize-Guatemala border), I’ve never been to Guatemala. Shameful, I know. I’ve not even popped across to Melchor for the shopping (regular readers may know, from a previous post, that Belize has such limited shopping options that the locals are forced to go abroad!). I’ve been to Mexico four times (which, ironically, is further away), but not once have I visited the only other country that borders Belize. Until now, that is – having seen just about everywhere in Belize (everywhere I want to visit, that is), it’s time to finally see The Land of Eternal Spring. Continue reading