Our Central American wanderlust was initially ignited thanks to a small country nestled in between Guatemala, Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea. Known for its scuba diving, relaxed island life on the cayes, and stunning ancient Mayan Ruins, Cody and I have been drawn to this exotic country from the moment we saw the wanderlust-inducing-photos.
So needless to say, Belize was a top contender for our annual Christmas trip this year; however, the more I researched, the more confused I became. Because, Belize it or not, Belize seems to have a very polarizing effect on those who explore its boundaries. Some travelers claim that Belize is an “unBELIZEable” destination, while others feel that it is only so-so. Now, of course we all bring our own preconceived notions and expectations to every scenario we encounter, however, the differing opinions were vast, and I was a little apprehensive about spending so much time and money on a single destination and then not loving it.
I discussed my apprehension with Cody and we both agreed that we would probably find ourselves in the first group of travelers. We completely enjoy diving into new cultures, new foods, and new destinations — even if those destinations are drastically different from home — and during our travels, we always make a point to live in the moment and appreciate the amazing opportunity to travel.
So anyways, after our discussion, we decided to book a cruise in order to explore Belize for ourselves. And it goes without saying, but the opportunity to explore four new countries in one overseas trip was an exciting proposition for us!
On the morning of our arrival to Belize City we woke up early and were ready to explore. A new day meant new adventures and we had plans to explore one of the most famous Mayan archaeological sites in all of Belize: Xunantunich. What we didn’t realize at the time was that this day would end up being one of our favorite days of the entire week.
It was a two-hour bus ride from Belize City to Xunantunich, located on the western border of Belize; and as we arrived, a group of wild monkeys greeted us from the palm trees high above. I was delighted to see monkeys in the wild, however my delight quickly turned to paranoia when I heard that they sometimes throw poop at visitors. Yikes! We left our furry friends and their interesting shenanigans and continued our journey through the jungle.
At Xunantunich’s center is a large courtyard surrounded by Mayan temples of all shapes and sizes– there are 25 temples in total — and visitors are allowed to wander the grounds and explore the temples at their own pace.
According to our guide, early Maya settlers lived in a village near the site sometime around 600-300B.C., and Xunantunich rose to its peak around 700-1000A.D. Interestingly enough, this Mayan site wasn’t uncovered until the late 1800s and excavation began in 1924.
While Xunantunich is a relatively small site, the most dominant temple within the courtyard is without question, El Castillo. At over 13-stories tall, El Castillo is the second largest structure in Belize. We climbed the steep, narrow staircase carved from stone and admired the intricate carvings on the temple along the way. After more stairs, we eventually made it to the summit, and as we looked out over Xunantunich and the surrounding jungle, we realized that the best views of this site are from El Castillo. Our tour guide Carla then pointed out into the dense jungle below and said, “There’s Guatemala!” — we were so close, yet so far!
Belize is a diverse country filled with a harmonious blend of cultures, cuisine, landscapes, and languages, and as the 20th country on my list, it holds a special place in my travel-loving-heart. To anyone considering a trip to Belize, I would absolutely recommend it. With beautiful beaches in the South, amazing dive sites along its coast, bird watching, hiking, and the elusive Jaguars prowling the jungles, there is something for everyone. One thing I do know for sure is that we still have a lot to uncover.
Until next time, Belize…