December 2014 – We arrived in Belize on a hot, humid day. The camera lens immediately fogged up when we stepped off the ship. We met our tour group on the dock and walked to the buses that awaited us.
The bus ride was long, about two hours each way. It was an eye-opening ride, however, through Belize City and into the countryside. The poverty is pretty evident in the size and conditions of the houses. Our tour guide’s passion for her country was not difficult to pick up on in her enthusiasm for telling us random facts about it. We were told that despite the obvious poverty and the minimalist houses, most residents have smart phones and/or ipads (although they might have to go next door to charge them since often times they do not have electricity). We learned that burglar bars are rampant in the country, but not merely for the sake of safety. The bars are considered decorations, and some residents try to install very elaborate ones.
Our guide also told us that even though the country gives residents a patch of land when they reach a certain age, the country is having a difficult time keeping young adults. They leave the country for college and get immersed in other more affluent cultures and decide not to return.
Our first stop on the bus tour was a market/shopping area with handcrafted items. We spent a few minutes shopping before walking up a hill and entering the ferry. This was our first experience on a hand-cranked ferry. It was slow-moving, but a pretty cool experience. We waited on the side of the embankment while the bus was brought across, and we witnessed an unfortunate side of third-world countries – the starvation of animals. We saw a dog that probably (gratefully) did not have much more time on this planet. It was a very sad sight that hit us pretty hard since there was nothing we could do.
We reboarded the bus and continued to the highlight of our tour, the Xunantunich Maya Ruins. We walked from the parking lot, down a trail, past a couple of smaller ruins, and into the field overlooking the main attraction. The ruins were pretty amazing up close. There is not a definite answer to the question of how old the ruins are, but it is thought that they are from the Preclassic Era and abandoned around AD 750.
The climb to the top was not the easiest. There are a lot of steps, some that can be very narrow. The main issue was the heat, however. The sun seems reflects off the ruins, making it seem even hotter than it already is. However, the view from the top is worth the climb even if only for a few minutes. The site is only about a mile from the border of Guatemala, and we could see it from the top.
After our visit to the top, we walked down the steps, back to the field, and then went across the field and climbed some more ruins. The view was again amazing, but it was even hotter at the top of these.
After visiting the ruins, we walked down a couple of trails and then went into a small (very enclosed and hot!) museum. We then had a few minutes to spend in the gift shop before the bus arrived.
Our next stop was at a restaurant frequented by locals. We sat at long benches and were served jerk chicken, rice and beans, and plantains. The meal was delicious and had been highly anticipated since we had all depleted our energy during the mid-afternoon climb. After lunch, we walked around the vendors for a few minutes looking at some hand-crafted items. Then we reboarded the bus for the two hour ride back to the port. Most of the people on the bus fell asleep during the ride back.
All in all, I recommend this tour to anyone who visits Belize and has never been to Mayan ruins. The bus ride is long but comfortable, and the tour guide was very interesting on the way to the ruins (and very quiet for people taking naps on the way back).