While not without its set backs, our trip to Belize in January 2022 was the perfect mix of relaxation and adventure!
Figuring out travel these last couple of years has been no joke and, truthfully, this trip never should have lifted off. When Marjorie and I booked our road trip through Belize in April 2021, things were looking up. Surely, we thought, even if there were still masks and regulations, getting to and from Belize would be fine!
Oh… we were wrong, wrong, wrong. And yet we still had a fantastic trip! Traveling safely in the midst of the ridiculous omnicron flare up was messy and yet we were able to navigate it safely. Belize ended up being the perfect destination for mid-pandemic travel. Their masking and COVID safety were top notch (frankly way better than what we experienced in the USA, even in our home bases of Chicago and New York).
Day 1: Travel – US to Belize City
Traveling originally from Chicago and New York, we met up in Atlanta the night before – because flying in winter means anticipating winter delays. It allowed us to get a good night’s sleep and then we were in the air and on the ground in Belize by 12pm CT. When I say this is the most stressful entry I’ve ever had, I’m not kidding. The omnicron variant was destroying the United States and we had a disaster of a time getting our testing completed in order to leave. Every step we had taken for the last two weeks put us on edge, and at risk, of not being let into Belize. But with a few forms we made it through customs and out into the gorgeous 80 degree sun. It was really, really hard not to cry.
The taxi into Belize was easy and about $20 USD. USD and Belizean dollars are used interchangeably and fixed at 1:2 ratio. The taxi took us straight to the pier, where we would catch the ferry to Caye Caulker. If you get there early, there is a restaurant by the ferry but I only recommend it if you are desperate. The food is lackluster at best and very expensive, but does offer wifi access and a free bathroom (if you don’t buy food, there is a pay bathroom around the corner). If you do have time to kill, the Belize giant letters sign is a quick 5 minute walk away so you can snap that and come back, rather than waiting in the mini shopping area. We booked our ferry tickets in advance and were easily able to switch them to an earlier ferry at the help desk. Due to the pandemic we didn’t have any issues with crowds but supposedly January is peak season normally so booking ahead is worth it and was very easy to do.
The boat ride to Caye Caulker was extremely nice. No waves at all and there was roof seating so we could enjoy the sun. When you arrive there are golf carts ready to take you where you need to go. We opted to walk along the beach path to our spot at Colinda Cabanas. The trek was kind of long to do with our bags but totally do-able and if you feel like making the effort.
We highly recommend Colinda Cabanas. The staff was amazing, their beach front was to-die for, and the cabanas were adorable. They are at the end of the road which made for longer walks but I found it fun – it made me feel like we truly explored the whole island.
We went to dinner at Maggie’s Sunset Kitchen – a truly delightful spot. I personally really enjoyed my coconut curry shrimp. Even our extended conversation with Maggie’s father, Earl, who was very friendly but perhaps a little too open about his recent prostrate surgery, didn’t ruin my appetite.
Day 2: Beach Relaxation and Exploring Caye Caulker
We spent our day wandering the island and enjoyed the relaxation. We got up and walked to get stuffed fry bread at Errolyn’s House Of Fryjacks (omggggg) and then over to get some coffee at Ice N Beans. This is a great spot for coffee and they typically also have gluten-free options. We sat in their Adirondack chairs and enjoyed the ocean view. Then we walked back, got in our swimsuits, and thoroughly enjoyed the perks of our habitation.
Eventually we had to leave the perfect spot on the island to get food so we walked to grab some souvenirs at Little Blue Gift Shop (loved this place!) and ended up grabbing lunch at Rainbow Grill & Bar. The food was only okay but the spot was gorgeous so – you know – worth it.
We had booked a tubing excursion around the Split that was unfortunately cancelled due to a boat engine issue but it sounded like a blast so definitely look into it. For dinner we ended up at Pelican Sunset Bar which was hopping, offered great ceviche, and was aptly named – we had great view of the sunset.
Day 3: Caye Caulker and Snorkeling
We took a lot of tips from this blog. She had raved so hard about Caveman we figured – why not? They didn’t disappoint. Caveman was professional and kind. We’d had on and off again storms so far on our trip and while the weather was clear for our snorkeling we did have fairly choppy waves. By the end of the trip I did end up feeling really seasick even with my Dramamine but that’s what happens to me if I spend all day (and eating!) in a boat. Still, I managed not to lose anything and wouldn’t ding the experience at all just because of my weak stomach.
We did everything – we tried to manatee spot but it was a bit too early in the year for that. We did feed tarpons (that was SO much fun) and snorkeled in some really cute spots. Some stops were individual snorkeling and some were guide led which was nice. We also found a spot where they fed the sharks and we were able to snorkel around them – that was a really cool experience.
After getting back we got cleaned up and then made our way to Chef Juan’s (no website). It was fantastic. Watermelon juice with red coconut curry with a fish filet and shrimp. Complete with coconut rice and a salad. It was perhaps a bit spicy for me, but I’m a weenie about that and it was still delicious. But the best part was the absolute best key lime pie I’ve ever had. Marjorie shared with me and before we were even halfway done with it we decided we needed another slice.
FYI – as ice cream connoisseurs there was really nothing to brag about here. I think we tried two – one was closed – and all of them were only ok. Go get the key lime pie every night instead, ha.
Day 4: Road Trip to San Ignacio
After grabbing coffee again at Ice N Beans we took the early ferry back to Belize City. A taxi took us to Crystal Car Rental where we picked up our vehicle. We highly recommend them as a service, they are the only car rental that will allow you to pre-pay for a permit to go across the border to Guatemala. Pro-tip, if you call ahead they’ll pick you up at the ferry and you won’t have to pay to get taken there by a taxi.
It took us about 2 hours to drive literally across the entire country of Belize – which is a really funny thing to say. The drive was nice and really easy to do. Even though public transportation is supposedly pretty easy we enjoyed having a car – both for COVID security and for ease of movement. I highly recommend a car in San Ignacio, too, which was our next destination.
All in all, San Ignacio is a home base for some of the coolest destinations. While we found good food there, it otherwise wasn’t a very exciting place to be on its own. We stayed at Log Cab Inn which meant having a rental was essential. It was cute and well maintained but I wouldn’t say I give it amazing reviews. You won’t be wrong staying there, but I bet you can find something nicer in the area.
When it comes to food, we highly recommend Martha’s Kitchen. We had lunch here on our first day and breakfast there every day we were in San Ignacio. They have great hours, outdoor seating, and the kindest staff. Honestly, I’d probably stay there if I ever went back for food proximity alone but I can’t vouch for anything in the guesthouse. But the food is a delight, super authentic, homey, and just all around great.
And of course, you can’t forget ice cream! The Ice Cream Shoppe was cute and definitely hit the spot.
Day 5: ATM
If you’ve read anything about Belize so far, then you’ve already heard about ATM. Like others will say – it’s 100% an adventure you have to take. Now my travel companion, Marjorie, would disagree and it was definitely a cornucopia of thinks that give her panic attacks (tight spaces + swimming + dark caves) but if you feel fairly good about managing through that it’s a must do.
I won’t repeat the things you’ve heard everywhere else. Just know you’ll never forget the experience and that doing it with Maya Walk Tours is absolutely the way to go. The guides were top notch (and so helpful if you do get a little freaked out!). I loved it and it’s something I will never forget. We used Mayawalk Tours and would recommend you use them as well. Their office on Burns Street is great to stop into to ask after tours, also, if needed.
Day 6: Caracol
Our trip to Caracol was a spontaneous one. Part of the reason why we rented from Crystal was because we planned to spend this day driving across the border to Guatemala so we could visit Tikal – some of the most famous Mayan ruins. Well, due to COVID, border crossings weren’t exactly a walk in the park and we were getting really mixed information on what was going to happen at the Belize border (testing, no testing, etc) coming back from a day trip in Guatemala. We decided to cut our losses and because we had just a great time with Maya Walk the day before, we signed up to do Caracol with them.
If you are able to fit this into your trip, you need to do it – 100%. Even though we were on a guided tour it felt so off the beaten path. It’s a ridiculously long drive on unpaved roads – our guide’s truck legit popped a wire off his battery and died in the middle of nowhere from all the bouncing – to end up at these truly impressive ruins. Whether due to it’s difficult terrain, the stormy weather (it was pouring when we arrived), or fewer tourists due to the pandemic we literally had the entire site of Caracol to ourselves. Seeing amazing places is special – seeing them without any crowds is a truly one of a kind experience. While I’m sure Tikal would have been amazing, I am so glad we were able to see Caracol before it becomes a true tourist destination, which it will in just a few short years. Belize is working on making the road actually drive-able. You should get there before the experience changes.
That night we went to The Burnz for dinner which was another delightful spot with the nicest staff ever. While the menu doesn’t give you a lot of confidence on the food quality, I hope this picture does. It was delicious and they make a mean coconut mojito.
Day 7: Chilling in San Ignacio
This was, admittedly, our most lackluster day of our trip. Due to the cancellation of Tikal we had more time to kill than we expected and that, unfortunately, ended up on coinciding with a really rainy day. Tired from two long tours in a row we opted to chill out at our place but found the pool area to be less than comfortable (seriously the worst lounge chairs ever). Looking back, I wish we would have just donned our rain jackets and checked out the Belize Botanic Gardens because it looked really cute but, still, there’s a perk to reading all the way through a book on vacation.
We did get to The Guava Limb that night for dinner which was truly excellent. It has a very high class vibe to it and the food was very tasty. It deserves all the positive reviews.
Day 8: Xunatunich and Road Trip to Hopkins
The weather lifted and we decided to check out the Xunatunich ruins before getting on the road and out of San Ignacio. We originally planned to skip it since everyone says it’s not nearly as interesting as Tikal or Caracol but it was cheap to visit and so close – and I’m really glad we did. While definitely smaller, the main Castillo was truly impressive and, since it’s situated on a hill, looks way bigger than it actually is. The view was incredible and because we got there just after it opened we, yet again, had the place to ourselves. It was a special adventure.
You had to cross a hand-crank ferry to get there which, to be honest, is just kind of weird. I honestly don’t understand why this isn’t just a bridge?
Our drive to Hopkins was pretty incredible. We stopped at the Orange Gallery (you’ll see signs along the way) and it’s a fantastic spot to get some really nice souvenirs. I bought a lamp! Sounds weird, but it’s amazing.
After a short while you hop on the Hummingbird Highway and it is, truthfully, a gorgeous drive. The scenery is to die for and when you’re just about ready to get out and stretch your legs – and maybe even vocalize hopefully that maybe you’ll find an ice cream shop – The Country Barn shows up to your left.
It’s 10000% worth a stop.
The rest of the drive is easy and soon we found ourselves in sleepy Hopkins. Significantly smaller than it’s local larger friend of Placencia we pulled up to what might be the best airbnb of all time. Hopkins Inn has cabanas to die for. We stayed at the Anniversary cabana because our love simply can’t be beat.
Dinner at Windschief by recommendation – it had great specials.
Day 9: Chilling in Hopkins
Honestly – we had some grand plans when we booked this in the cold weather in the United States. We found all of these snorkeling tours and night hikes in the jaguar sanctuary and while, yes, I wanted to do all of these things… when the sun rose high and we looked at the perfection that was our cabana and hammocks – we said screw it and stayed just where we were. I can’t even regret it.
Hopkins Inn had a stand up paddleboard and I took it out for about 15 minutes that morning before the waves started up. I honestly don’t remember where we had lunch and dinner – most of the restaurants at Hopkins are basically the same, with picnic tables on the beach and a fish of the day. Fresh and basic, take advice from your hotel/hostel and you won’t go wrong. Just make sure you don’t skip out on going to Nice Cream for ice cream. We simply enjoyed our time in paradise.
Day 10: COVID panic and Road Trip to Belize City
Getting to Belize was stressful – we had to do a lot of COVID tests within a strict amount of time. Leaving was no exception and was a constant dark cloud over us during the trip. Of course, we didn’t want to get sick in general, but also because of what it would mean. At the time, Belize had a rule that if you tested posted for COVID you had to quarantine for 10 days. No exceptions. And the United States had a regulation that you had to test within one day of your return flight.
So, one day before our flight, we sat down to do our at home testing and I tested positive. I was distraught, flabbergasted, and stunned. Marjorie was negative and all of a sudden I was spiraling and thinking I might have to stay in Belize for much, much longer.
Because of this we cancelled the tour we had lined up for our last morning and – after a significant amount of panicking – decided our best course of action was to drive to Belize City and that I would test again, officially, with the Belizean government instead of relying on the at home tests. I had been so nervous during my test that I spilled the liquid and I had a fleeting hope that I had a false positive.
So – can I say the trip back to Belize City was “fun”? No. We were in a tail spin. Add on that the owner of Hopkins Inn convinced us to take a different route home, which ended up being 88 km of unpaved road, and it was a comically bad experience.
We dropped off the car and spent one night at the Sea Side Chateau. If you need to stay near Belize City, this place is amazing – very close to Crystal Car Rental and the airport. However, I do not recommend eating there, the food was very disappointing and expensive.
Day 11: Fly Home
After a fitful night, and lots of quarantine planning and research, I was shaking like a leaf by the time the official COVID rapid test rolled around. For $75 USD, a tester came to our facility. He swabbed me and I was negative. As I had suspected (since I had no known exposure, fully vaxxed and boosted, always masked, Marjorie was negative, and I had no symptoms) my home test had given me a false positive from my sloppy testing and likely poor storage. I don’t know how I managed to hold myself together until I got back to my room and then bawled my eyes out.
I loved Belize, but I’ve never been so excited to leave a place as beautiful as Belize. There’s nothing like thinking you’ll be trapped to make you realize you are very ready to go home.
All in All
We ultimately had an amazing Belizean vacation.
Everything you read about this country is true. It’s small but mighty, with the perfect balance of adventure, unique discoveries, and relaxation. Starting and ending our trips with the beach was cathartic to our soul, especially given the state of the world. Even looking back now and the ruin that was the last day when we thought I would be trapped, it was a truly amazing experience and country. Like any good travelers, we were able to use a couple of our hiccups (not wanting to cross the border) to gain amazing experiences (Caracol!).