Part 2 of 3 — Part 1 can be found here: http://thezestytraveler.com/mexico-belize-cruise.html
Our first port of call was Belize City, Belize where everything is unbelizeable (seriously, you will hear that all over the place when you visit). Belize was not what I expected. The few people I knew who had traveled to Belize spent their time in another part of the country. I clearly did not do my research ahead of time because I had no idea that such a small country could have such diverse ecosystems. The area around Belize City is more like a desert as opposed to the tropical rainforest I was anticipating.
For our shore excursion, we opted for a multi-faceted tour. We started on a bus where our guides gave us the overview of how the country came to be what it is today, filled us in our their cash crops (cashews being high on that list), and gave a bit of history about the specific areas we were driving through. One of the most interesting bits of information was learning their children all wear uniforms to school. Each school has a unique uniform so if a kid tries to cut class, the adult who catches him/her knows exactly which school to take the child to!
Our bus ride was taking us to the Mayan ruins of Altun Ha. As we approached, our guides told us the ruins were discovered by accident. To build many of the roads we were driving along, they blasted into the ground to collect the limestone and use it as the foundation of the road. Those pieces of limestone were actually parts of Mayan ruins! Altun Ha once covered an area of at least five square miles and is approximately six miles from the Caribbean coast. They’re in the process of building a very nice visitor center and museum thanks to a $3,000,000 grant from the EU. The grant also will allow for additional excavation of the site. I loved this place. I’ve been to Tulum but in my opinion Altun Ha is better. It hasn’t been excavated as much yet and isn’t on a cliff side vista, but you can actually climb to the top of the Temple of the Masonry Altars. At 54 feet high, there is a fantastic view of the surrounding area. My imagination ran wild here.
Back on the bus, we headed off for the Black Orchid resort to have lunch. I would use the term resort loosely and the cost of lunch was not included in the tour which was a bummer. I wasn’t head over heals for the food selection, especially given how much they charged! Burgers that had been reheated who knows how many times, a couple other equally questionable grill products, lame fries, and a local dish that was clearly the freshest thing going. The flavors were good but it involved lots of beans which isn’t my thing. If you’re down with beans, go for their local dish!
The Black Orchid sits along the River Wallace (a river that has several other names, none of which I can recall at the moment!). We went down to the docks and boarded a boat where our tour continued down the river towards the ocean. The idea was to see some of the local wildlife and I figured if we saw some rare bird or something that we would consider ourselves lucky. I was so surprised when almost immediately we spotted a family of spider monkeys hanging out in the trees along the banks of the river. There was even an adorable teeny tiny baby monkey! After that we saw a bright green tree snake, a young crocodile sunning itself, a family of tiny bats sleeping on the underside of a tree branch, a ton of large iguanas, and a couple different species of birds tending to their nests. At the mouth of the river were dozens of sleeping manatees. They turned off the boat engine so we could just float and watch. All you see is the nose of the manatee breaching the surface from time to time for a breath of fresh air before they sink back under the surface to continue their nap. It was somehow almost magical to witness.
After a little while we took off across the bay and back to the docks so we could pick up the tender back to our ship. It was an awesome day even if the scenery was unexpected!