A weekend in Merida (March 2020): markets, bars, orchestras, ball games, walking tours, food and LOTS of fun.
Before the world descended into lockdown madness, I was lucky enough to be travelling on the other side of the world, exploring beautiful Belize and Mexico. I spent 6 weeks in Belize and loved my time there. I covered a lot of ground, leant about the varied Belizean culture, honed new skills and volunteered for an eco project for a month. In this post I'll offer a guide to budgeting for Belize, describe my route and must-see places and reveal a few more key lesser-visited gems!
Belize is a small country with few major tourist sites, and most of these are situated on the peaceful coast or the tranquil islands. San Ignacio is located in the Cayo region of Belize, amongst rivers, ruins and rainforests, and has a whole unique character of its own. Luckily, I was able to spend a month in the area whilst volunteering nearby, and got to know the city and surroundings very well. I therefore have a list of about 2 weeks' worth of things to do in and around San Ignacio, so this post may be a long one! I fell in love with San Ignacio and it became my favourite place in Belize, so it's not to be missed.
Waking up at 6:30am to the sounds of cockerels calling, walking in the misty morning air to the village and being greeted by the three most gorgeous horses was the make up of my four weeks volunteering in Belize, and I loved it. I experienced the kindest hospitality by the locals and expats and felt part of a family that I didn't want to leave. I also managed to get some great architectural experience which was a lucky bonus, and for me, this workaway ended up being the perfect way to spend a month.
Being based in San Ignacio for a month had many benefits, including being just a short ride away from Guatemala. It's a well-traversed path and most travellers in San Ignacio are either heading to Flores or have just been there. I decided to use a few days off during my workaway to visit Flores and take a tour around the largest Mayan site, Tikal. It was a tantalising taste of Guatemala and it's left me itching to get back to travel around this unique country.
Doing workaway programmes is a great way to travel cheaply by staying somewhere for longer, getting to know local life and learning new things. They are often described as cultural exchanges between locals and travellers. When I arrived at mine, I firstly met the lovely people I'd be working for, and was then unceremoniously dropped of at the volunteer house, on my own, to then find no wifi and a large ant infestation. It's all cultural, right? This preceded a week of bugs, no water and working in 35 degree heat.
If you head down south, away from the Caribbean vibes and backpacker hotspots of the islands, you'll find the petite village of Hopkins. This string of local houses, beachfront cabanas and vibrant bars and restaurants is lined with a long sandy beach and crystal clear water. With access to nearby national parks, a serene river trail and an abundance of diving and snorkeling, it's a brilliant place to visit.
Something that was high on my Belize Bucket List was diving on the reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world. I definitely ticked it off and completed my Open Water PADI training throughout six dives on this stunning reef. I completely fell in love with diving, and with the small, characterful island of Caye Caulker, where I spent almost a week. I filled the rest of my days with hammocks, puppies and yoga and I loved it.
Sarteneja is affectionately known as the place where the sun sets on the water. It's the only place in Belize where you can witness this and it gave me some of the best sunsets I've ever seen. Not only that, this small fishing village, visited by few tourists, is a quiet respite from the bustling islands and vibrant towns around the country. There are only boats, animals and jungle here, and it was perfect.
San Pedro gave me my first impressions of Belize, ahead of spending almost 2 months in the country. Snorkeling in the area is well worth it for the abundance of life you'll see, mixed with the gorgeous clear water and a few cups of rum punch on board the boat.