Posts Tagged With: paradise

10 Days in Guatemala – Adventure, Culture, and Affordable Luxury (Jan 2023)

Between Marjorie and I, we’ve almost been to all of the central American countries (we’re gonna get to you eventually, Panama!) and right now we can easily say that Guatemala tops the list. If you’ve been eyeing this country as a potential destination, don’t sleep on it. We had such a fantastic experience!

We made three stops while there – Lago Atitlan, Antigua, and Paredon. We highly recommend them all!

Lago Atitlan

Day 1 – Travel to Guatemala – Lake Atitlan and Casa del Mundo

Anytime you travel, there’s always an interesting debate on whether you stay in the city you arrive in, or continue an already long travel day to make it that much longer. We opted for longer, since notoriously Guatemala City is more of a means to an end. Is there something valuable in the capital city? No idea. We only saw the airport, the traffic (so much traffic), and then we were on our way.

We both arrived in Guatemala City shortly after noon. We knew we wanted to go straight to Lake Atitlan so we arranged for a private shuttle to pick us up from the airport. It’s not a short drive (2+ hours) and the shuttle wasn’t cheap ($120 USD total). But it was convenient and dropped us off in the main city of Panajachel (Pana) at Lake Atitlan. This is essentially your only way in or out of the Lake Atitlan area by car – all of the little towns connect by boat.

commuter boat

We found our way to the boat shuttle and they were able to take us directly to the dock for our hotel, Casa del Mundo. Be warned – anytime you are taking a boat from Pana, you’ll be waiting. While all the other locations seemed to be constantly moving, these is the “origin” spot and they’ll basically wait until the boat is completely full until taking off. We easily sat for 15-20 minutes each time we boarded in Pana.

But once you are moving, it goes quickly. I was personally surprised by just how big the lake was and how bumpy it could get, especially in the evenings. If you are a motion sick person like me, make sure to pack extra Dramamine. I took one every day I was there.

That being said – it’s absolutely beautiful and pulling up to the self-proclaimed “magical” Casa de Mundo was… well… magical. There are a lot of establishments around the lake but let me tell you this place is 100000% worth the hype.

Reception at Casa Del Mundo

We spent a total of four nights here and the staff and service was impeccable. The grounds were so much fun to explore with a seemingly infinite amount of cozy beautiful nooks and crannies. But – the stairs here are no. joke. I’ve never felt so out of shape in my life. Our room was beautiful but toward the top of the mountain (yes, mountain) and I was absolutely fighting for my life by the time we got to the door, every time.

One out of six flights to get to our room

But then we had this view. So… yeah, it was worth it.

View from our private patio

And let’s not forget that Casa del Mundo has an incredible restaurant. The Lake Atitlan area has lots of little towns – emphasis on little. You aren’t going to find a ton of restaurant options outside of Pana – and you pretty much have to be back to your home-town by dark because the boats stop running. So Casa del Mundo was where we ate all of our breakfast and dinners and we never got sick of it.

Day 2San Juan and San Pedro

Our first stop was ultimately our favorite of all the little towns around Lake Atitlan. We got up and took the boat over to San Juan – the “artsy” village on the lake. Right when you get off the boat you immediately walk up a road lined with art galleries, food, and souvenir shops. You have the umbrellas all over it -it’s an Instagram dream.

Main street of San Juan

We stopped in the very first art gallery we found (and all those thereafter) but the first one ended up also being our winner. The owner, Senor Gonzalez, was truly painting and while you’ll find a lot of repeat designs throughout the town, you can feel confident they are hand painted. He explained that there are many lessons and schools in the town and as the students are learning they essentially all make the same prints. Likewise most artists get into a groove of style and roll with it – it’s not just “art” but also a living so they figure out what sells and it works. I fell in love with a painting and was able to purchase it, have it rolled up, and carried it with me through the rest of Guatemala.

Packing up my painting

San Juan was a lovely town to bop around in with a few good spots for photos. We stopped at Maja Bistro to get a drink (blended mint lemonade!) before wandering a little more and deciding to use our sore legs to get to an absolutely breathtaking viewpoint at Mirador Kiaq’Aiswaan. It’s worth the cost (about $10 each for foreigners) and stairs, I promise.

Observation deck in San Juan

We spent ample time enjoying life before walking back down and grabbing a tuk-tuk to head over to San Pedro. Not every location is connected by roads but the places that are means it’s very easy to get a cheap ride in a little tricycle motorbike.

Our first tuk-tuk ride

We had ours plop us in the middle of town and then we found lunch at Sababa restaurant. The food was good with an excellent view – though the only table they had left put me absolutely roasting in the sun. Still, I’ll do anything for a good outdoor view.

From there we headed back to Casa del Mundo for some rest. If you travel to the Lake in winter you’ll find you often have early nights – the boats don’t run long after dark and if you aren’t home by then, then you aren’t getting home. We found ourselves eating every dinner at the Casa and we weren’t mad about it at all.

Day 3Santa Cruz, Santa Catalina, and San Antonio

Beginning of the walking path to Santa Cruz

If you stay at the Casa del Mundo, there’s a lovely little walking path you can take to Santa Cruz. So we climbed even higher than our room (brutal) and then the path led us directly there – but only halfway up the nearly vertical town. Quads burning, we made it to the Cafe Sabor Cruceno for breakfast. It’s a culinary school with a cute little gift shop and it was nice to support the non-profit. It also has amazing views, though when we were there it was very overcast. Still, well worth the stop (honestly, one of the only places in Santa Cruz!) if you are going to visit this town.

View from Cafe Sabor

Walking all the way down to the dock was killer on the knees, but it’s the only way to get out of there, other than the way we came. So we took a boat over to Pana where we then waited until we could go one to explore two other teeny towns – Santa Catarina and San Antonio. We stopped first at Santa Catarina due to the way the boats were landing. Honestly, we didn’t find anything to “do” there at all – but I personally really enjoyed seeing it. It’s a vibrantly colored town, heavy on blue, and around every corner you could find some beautiful murals.

the beauty of Santa Catarina

It’s a maze of narrow stairways and we had to ask for directions to find an actual road. We were probably wandering through people’s backyards but no one seemed to mind. We eventually made it to the top and had an incredible view.

Overlooking Santa Catarina

We flagged down a tuk-tuk to take us to San Antonio, the tiny town known for its blue pottery. He dropped us at a pottery workshop where we purchased a couple pieces and then they kindly took us to the back rooms so we could see the different parts of the process. The pottery is unique in design but also due to it’s clay – as you might expect in such a volcanic area it’s special in it’s own right and apparently it’s great to work with.

Part of the pottery workshop

We spent some more time wandering a town that is thoroughly not meant for tourists before taking a long tuk-tuk back to Pana. We grabbed lunch at The Little Spoon (delicious with a rooftop!) before heading back for an afternoon and evening reading and enjoying the space at Casa del Mundo.

Day 4Lunch with a Local

Pre-trip we had booked a Kayak Hike that was cancelled last minute (honestly, we didn’t have a great communication history with Ox Expeditions. They might be great, but I’d shop around if you are thinking of using them). So instead we found a cultural experience that was really memorable. While not perfectly coordinated, we did meet up with a lovely local woman in Santa Cruz and battled that dang mountain again to find ourselves in her kitchen. She showed us how to made a traditional lunch over her woodburning stove.

Cultural excursion

We provided minimal help but she was kind and listened to our chatter. She then showed us, and allowed us to try our hand at, two of the weaving styles. Our Spanish dialects didn’t work well together – she mostly seemed to speak a more local dialect/language entirely – so we only spoke high level but she was so kind and it was a lovely glimpse into her life and supported the Mujeres de La Luna non-profit.

showing us one weaving style
trying another weaving style

After that, we really just spent the rest of our time at the hotel. It may seem boring, but Casa del Mundo is a destination in of itself. We did take a very short walk (5 minutes) over to the docks at Jaibalito and grabbed a snack at El Indigo Bistro just to move around a bit. (It was fine, but not great). But it was a truly pleasant last night at the Lake.

Relaxing at Casa del Mundo

If you are planning your time here, this was perfect and perhaps even a smidge long to spend there. Totally depends on your pacing. If you want to take it slow then 4 nights is *chefs kiss*. But if you need a little more excitement you might want to plan an extra excursion or one less night. That being said, most of our time there was overcast until our final day so I highly recommend you give yourself plenty of down time because you can’t depend on the weather – and the views are essential.

Lago Atitlan

Day 5 – Travel to Antigua

This was our day with the biggest snafu that wasn’t really an issue at all. We started off slow with breakfast and then got all checked out and down to the boats. They took us to Pana where we then grabbed a tuk-tuk to Crossroads. I picked up some really great coffee beans so I recommend this place for coffee but not for wifi, given they had none. That had been part of our plan because we had heard that instead of getting a shuttle, we could likely call an Uber to Antigua. It’s a long trip so we weren’t sure it was going to work but decided to give it a try anyway.

Not surprisingly we weren’t able to get on after all so we ended up taking a tuk-tuk back to the tour agencies and had to wait around a little for a shuttle. It worked out fine though we did waste an hour or so in the waiting. Still – in no time we were in what was practically a private van (just one other couple) and heading our way to Antigua.

Our driver was great and ended up giving us tidbits about the area we were driving through. Guatemala is very agricultural and we saw some amazing crops. Broccoli was being harvested at the time and there were piles everywhere.

Iconic Antigua

We eventually made it into the hustle of Antigua and in a flurry of activity we checked into our hotel and then power walked to get to the free walking tour for the day. You know me – I love making my first activity a walking tour to set the ground work and this one did just that. Antigua is quite small and we quickly were shown a number of the best sites, along with recommendations of what to go back to. I wouldn’t say it was the best tour I’ve had but he didn’t steer us wrong on any of the places we went back to.

Free walking tour

Our first dinner was at Angie’s Cafe – a truly beautiful spot with decent food . They do have live music, though not while we were there.

Angie Angie Art Cafe

Day 6 – Explore Antigua and hiking Volcan Pacaya

Our hotel gave us breakfast tickets to Fernando’s Kaffee – unfortunately while we were at this hotel so was a massive group that was here for some kind of service trip and they had completely taken over the cute place. It’s worth enjoying though there are lots of places in Antigua to get coffee and breakfast so we did spread the love.

Streets of Antigua

We decided to take a nice walk through the streets and then up the path to what was supposed to be a beautiful look out at Cerro de la Cruz – only to find it completely blocked off with construction at the time (WHY they couldn’t put a sign at the bottom, my thighs will never forgive). It would totally be worth it, once the construction is done.

What a view!

We then took our obligatory arch pictures, stopped at the world’s prettiest Starbucks (just for a photo op, obvs) and grabbed a smoothie at Y Tu Pina Tambien.


We did pay to see the Cathedral de San Jose ruins which was a nice spot before heading to eat at Rainbow Cafe (tasty!) and back to our hotel to get ready for our trip up the volcano!


If you research volcano hikes in Guatemala, the most common one you’ll hear about is Acatenango. It’s supposed to be amazing, but we opted for Pacaya – known to be an easier and shorter hike. We weren’t prepared to do more than one night in a tent and the timing worked really well.

We did our tour with Old Town Outfitters and I can’t recommend them enough.

Our amazing crew!

We did the overnight tour which I highly recommend. The high was strenuous without being too difficult and our guides were amazing. Leaving at 2pm, we made it to the top of the mountain just a little ahead of sunset. We had absolutely perfect views and were able to see all the volcanos in the distance as well as the one right next to us.

We were rewarded with a roaring fire, with marshmallows to roast, and a delicious camp cooked meal. They pulled out all the stops. It wasn’t supposed to be a private tour but no one else showed up – while that meant we didn’t get a reduction on our sliding-scale pay, it did mean a private tour.

I ended up having a touch of altitude sickness so my night in a tent wasn’t the greatest experience but that was definitely no fault of out guides (in fact, our guide took my pack when I was having trouble catching my breath on the way up – he was seriously SO kind).

Day 7 – Hiking down from Pacaya, Antigua Exploration

In the morning we didn’t get to see any pre-dawn lava flow because it was way too foggy. We were totally engulfed in the clouds which was honestly cool in of itself.

It was definitely a major life highlight. How often can you say you’ve camped on a volcano? It was beautiful, unique, and just the right amount of exertion.

Post hike they dropped us off at our hotel where we tidied up and then grabbed an Uber out to the Valhalla macadamia farm.

Macadamia nuts set to dry

I had been looking forward to this for forever and it didn’t disappoint. It was a small, beautiful spot where they walked us around and gave key insights on how macadamia nuts are grown/farmed. There is a restaurant on site that served lots of delicious options. We got a free mini facial which felt amazing and bought great souvenirs with macadamia nut oil (soaps, etc). It was so fun and unique and a very easy ride from Antigua. Highly recommend.

Macadamia Nut White Chocolate Pancakes!

We did a little bit more walking, grabbed some ice cream at Glacy (I personally found it way too sweet, but Marjorie didn’t mind hers) and then crepes at at well recommended place, Luna de Miel, that we were not impresed with. Then made an early night of it.

Antigua at night

Day 8 – Travel to Paredon

Breakfast on the square at Cafe Condesa was tasty and then we decided to take advantage of our last morning in Antigua and toured the ruins at Convento Santa Clara . They were beautiful and we did opt to get a quick tour from one of the guides on site. He gave us tidbits we never would have realized on our own, it was worth the extra quetzales for his time.

Convento Santa Clara ruins

Then it was back to the hotel to check out and then we started anther attempt at using Uber. It ended up working out, though to be honest I’m not sure how. But it saved us a ton of money when we found a guy willing to drive us the 2 hours to the coast. If you can find an Uber, go for it, but there’s definitely shuttles that will also make the trip.

It was a long and beautiful drive but eventually we pulled up to Swell on a sandy road. From there we started out last couple of days of beachy paradise.

Our amazing space

Day 9 – Beach

Honestly, did we do anything on our first full day at Paredon? We really didn’t. The day was hot, the sun was out, and we spent hours by the pool.

Pool perfection

We ate all of our meals at the restaurant at Swell which was super tasty as well as diverse enough that we still hadn’t tried everything after three days. Other than our outdoor shower not being nearly warm enough, it was absolute paradise.

Like every other person in Paredon, we headed to the beach each evening to watch the sunset over the water with our beverage of choice. For me, the local beer, Gallo, was a great beach drink.

Paredon beach

Day 10 – More Beach and Chula Tours

We decided we couldn’t spend two entire days lounging, so we did book a fun tour with the local non-profit, Chula Tours. They had multiple options and we ended up going on the Turtle Tour. A local fisherman took us along to see giant turtles popping up out of the water.

Boat tour

We skimmed along the mangroves, which I always love. And the highlight of the tour in my opinion, we stopped by a salt farm. It was a very quick pitstop but it was so interesting to see how they harvested pure sea salt. We even bought some direct from the source (ask me sometime about that story, cultural worlds colliding led to hilarity). It was a delight to learn something new.

Salt farm!

Even if you are not a surfer, Paredon was an amazing low key spot. I would highly recommend Swell to stay for a few days- the combo of comfort at the pool with the black sand beach only steps away was the perfect way for us to end our trip.

Last sunset at Paredon

Day 11 – Travel Home

Our afternoon flight meant we had time to grab breakfast right when they started serving it and then head out. We did have to arrange for a private shuttle. Regular shuttles to Guatemala City don’t really exist and besides we were leaving too early.

It’s a long drive with a significant portion of it sitting in bumper to bumper traffic in Guatemala City. Definitely listen to the local on how much time you’ll need – we had plenty but it definitely took us longer than we anticipated because traffic is always dense.

Then we were off! With another fantastic trip in the books.

Short List of Recommendations

Lago Atitlan – Casa Del Mundo – I cannot recommend this place more! Amazing.
Antigua – Hotel Posada La Merced – we booked via Airbnb for this. It’s pretty barebones but the staff was so kind! Perfectly affordable since we left it empty one night when we hiked the volcano.
Paredon – Swell – Perfection.

Lago Atitlan: Santa Cruz – Cafe Sabor, Pana – Crossroads (coffee only), The Little Spoon
Antigua – Angie Angie, Fernando’s Kaffee, Y Tu Pina Tambien, Rainbow Cafe

Santa Cruz – Mujers de la Luna
Antigua – Valhalla Macadamia Farm, Pacaya Hike with Old Town Outfitters
Paredon – Chula Tours

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Road Trip in Paradise – Belize 2022

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.

Colinda Cabanas

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.

Our private deck at Colinda Cabana

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.

The beach at Colinda Cabanas

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.

Caye Caulker – Pelican Sunset Bar

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

Waiting for our coffee at Ice N Beans while it poured

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.

View from our spot at Log Cab Inn

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.

The breakfast I got every day at Martha’s ❤

And of course, you can’t forget ice cream! The Ice Cream Shoppe was cute and definitely hit the spot.

Day 5: ATM

Picture from Mayawalk – this is the deepest swimming you have to do and it’s maybe 10 feet

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.

Picture from Mayawalk – most of the cave is walking through water about mid-shin deep

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.

Picture from Mayawalk – eventually it dries off and you walk in socks to see the artifacts

Day 6: Caracol

Literally the only people at 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.

Waterfall on the way back from Caracol

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.

App at The Burnz

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

Literally the only people at Xunatunich

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

Barely moved from this spot for an entire day

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.

The Anniversary Cabana at Hopkins Inn

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.

Nice Cream

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.

Stick to the Hummingbird Hwy guys, and not this disaster

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.

Seaside Chateau

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!).

Sunrise in Hopkins
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