If you’ve read my post on the basics of finding the perfect tour guide, you already know how to find a good leader for your adventures in Belize. Having recently returned from two months living abroad in this incredible country, I’ve got some insider advice for anyone setting their sights on Belize for travel in 2012.
No matter what you do in Belize, it’s bound to be an unforgettable experience – this Central American country is brimming with natural and cultural attractions, and the friendly Belizean people you’ll meet are happy to guide you through their country, unfolding its wonders before your eyes. An expert tour guide can lead you to an ancient Maya temple deep in the wild terrain of the Cayo District, stopping at majestic waterfalls along the way. They can teach you about the jewel-toned fish grazing the coral reefs just beyond the mangroves. Belizeans are among the most hospitable people in the world, and they’re very proud of their country (as they should be). Locals will want you to leave Belize with only the most positive memories to share with your friends at home.
It’s not hard to find a good tour in Belize, but there are a few things you can do to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the abundant options. Before you hop your plane to Belize, do a little preliminary research. For tried-and-true tour options, consult destination guides like LonelyPlanet, Moon Travel, Fodor’s, and Frommer’s. To steer clear of the crowds, find cool eco-adventures, and enjoy more exclusive, off-the-beaten-path options you’ll want to explore The Ambler and niche travel sites like Sustainable Travel International. Ambergris Today is a new resource for Belize travelers looking to take part in community events and ecotourism activities, such as lionfish competitions that help preserve coral reef ecosystems! Make the most of your valuable vacation time by deciding on your own personal must-sees and must-dos before your trip.
Here are a few more pointers I picked up from my experiences in Belize:
Find Peace of Mind
Upon your arrival in Belize, the friendly locals will offer their expertise, fishing boats and four-wheel-drive SUVs for a land or sea adventure. Enticing though their offers may be, it’s best for Belize travelers to err on the side of caution and rely on the recommendations of others before embarking on a mysterious adventure tour. Fortunately, Belize’s tour operator licensing program assures that you’ll have a safe and fulfilling experience, no matter which tour outfit you choose. The program instructs tour guides in first-aid, CPR, national history and ecology, hospitality, and conservation. The Belize Tourism Board requires that all tour operators complete this program – ask to see a valid license before undertaking any excursion in Belize for instant peace of mind… even if you find yourself quivering on the zipline platform ten minutes later.
Accept the Challenge
I had the opportunity to tour Blue Creek with a guide who grew up in a village not far from the entrance of the park. Together, our small group of adventurers hiked past his small community’s picnic area, watching youngsters playing on a rope swing tied to the branch of a very tall tree. Even though the river was running very high, our guide was confident that the sights at the end of the trail would make it all worth it. I will never forget when our guide said, “We’re going to cross the river now. Go ahead and take off your shoes and I’ll help you across.”
Our guide was with us every step of the way on this challenging hike, instructing us where to put our feet as we scrambled around the trunks and root systems of large trees and pulled ourselves over the craggy grooves of massive boulders. Finally, the mouth of a cave opened up in front of us to show the place where the river sprouted up from an underground spring. Our guide was careful to prevent us from venturing further into the cave because the rapid river would have surely carried us away. It was certainly a beautiful sight to behold, but the journey there was far more exciting than the destination itself. Had I not been in the hands of an adept and capable guide, I would have turned around early on in the hike and waited at the van, robbing myself of an experience that will stay with me forever.
Talk With Your Fellow Belize Travelers
Imagine this: after a somewhat disappointing snorkel on Caye Caulker, you head into Rose’s off of Main Street for some grilled lobster. The restaurant’s glowing red atmosphere, fantastic barbeque, and a coconut rum and watermelon cocktail with dinner is just the thing to take the edge off an experience that didn’t quite live up to your expectations. At the next table, you overhear your neighbors going over the details of their trip with Ragamuffin Tours, a company known for spectacular snorkel adventures.
“…a manatee and her calf playing follow the leader!”
“…so many stingrays!”
Suddenly you find yourself seething into your cocktail with disappointment. Why did your tour guide swim so fast? Why didn’t he give you more specific instructions for clearing your snorkel mask? Why hadn’t you heard of Ragamuffin earlier? Why didn’t you ask more questions?
Instead of shaking your fist and cursing the sky, take your Watermelon Bliss with you over to their table and make friends with your fellow Belize travelers! It won’t be difficult to get them to talk about their incredible adventures. Then, with a full belly and some insight from their experience, check with the attendant when you return to your cabana to plan a surefire adventure for tomorrow.
By evening of the following day, you could be back at Rose’s with your new jet-set friends, delighting in the red snapper dish you didn’t get to try the previous night, yarning tales of seastars and turtles nibbling among the mangrove roots, recalling the jokes you shared with your Belizean snorkel guide.