Hello friends! I’ve just gotten back from the adventure of a lifetime; the Belize: Rainforests, Reefs, and Ruins tour with EF College Break. Over the course of 11 days, I climbed ancient Mayan ruins, snorkeled the second largest barrier reef in the world, went zip lining, and much more. I kept a diary during my travels, just like my last EF trip. If you are on the fence about traveling with EF College Break, I hope this helps you decide if they are the right tour company for you!
Day 1: The Arrival
Sitting in the airport, nervous thoughts were swirling in my head. What if I couldn’t make friends on this trip? What if I caught malaria? What if I fell off a temple and broke a leg? Did I make a mistake signing up for such an adventurous tour? I am out of shape, socially awkward, and have a strong loathing for insects. What could I have possibly been thinking when I signed up for this… Taking deep breaths, I swallowed my fears and focused on the positives. If I make it through the next ten days, I will emerge stronger. I will have climbed high temples. I will have swam with sting rays and sharks. I will have faced my fears of wild nature and of making small talk. And, I will have learned so much about Belizean culture! I. Can. Do. This.
Two flights later, I was stepping off the plane into Belize. I had thought I would be prepared for the heat and humidity, having lived in Florida for the last 16 years.. but I was wrong. Sweat immediately started dripping down my back, and I was grateful I had chosen to wear activewear shorts and a tank top on the flight. So, that’s my first heads up to you guys, if you choose to sign up for this tour. YOU WILL BE HOT AND STICKY AND SWEATY AND GROSS AND… you get the point. Feel free to bring cute clothes, but also bring comfy active wear if you plan on being outside for long. I really like Old Navy’s Go-Dry clothes line; I wore these during our long excursions and they wicked the sweat off my skin and kept me feeling okay-ish.
Anyways, back to the first day. Almost immediately after stepping off the plane, I began to bond with some of the girls from our group. We sat at a picnic table, waiting for other flights to arrive, and got to know each other a bit. One of the great things about being on an EF trip is that everybody loves to talk about travel! Having that common love makes it so much easier to break the ice. After about an hour of chit-chatting, we hopped on a bus and headed to our hotel. For the next two nights, we would be staying at the Radisson Fort George Hotel and Marina. On the bus ride there, I was kind of surprised by how run down a lot of the buildings were, and by how much trash there was in the road. I had read prior to the trip that many travelers avoid going to Belize City because of its’ crime rate and dirtiness. But, I tried to look past that; after all, the same could be said for many cities in the U.S. I wanted to view this city from another perspective, instead of through privileged eyes. So, instead of focusing on the crumbling buildings, I focused on the people. Every time the bus slowed down, I would make eye contact with the people walking bye. 9 out of 10 times, they would smile and wave. I felt welcomed, without even stepping off the bus. Sometimes, the pedestrians wouldn’t see me, and I would watch them anyway (wow, that sounds creepy, doesn’t it). I watched the way they interacted with each other, and how there seemed to be a strong sense of community in certain parts of the city.
We made it to the hotel, and we were welcomed with some sort of rum cocktail. That’s how I like to be welcomed at a hotel! 😉 I gulped it down pretty quickly, dropped off my luggage in my room, and set off to explore a little bit of the surrounding neighborhood. Within two minutes of walking, we found this awesome sign, just begging to be photographed.
I normally hate pictures of myself, but these signs were too good to pass up! I felt like such a tourist posing in front of the signs, but I quite like the way the pictures turned out.
We turned down a couple more roads, and we found a little alley filled with souvenir shops. There were about a dozen stands down the way, but only 4 or so were open. We talked to the shopkeepers, who told us that all the stalls are open on days when cruises come in. I ended up buying this beautiful magnet for my fridge. I have a tradition of buying one magnet from each city I visit; my fridge is filled with ones from Iceland, Germany, Italy, and more! This would be the latest addition.
After buying the magnet, I was suddenly very popular with the other shopkeepers. They started asking me to check out their wares too, and called me “Miss America” and tried flirting pretty hard. I felt so awkward, because I was with a group of four other girls, and I was the only one getting special treatment. I know they were probably just trying to butter me up so I would buy more. They asked me to take some photos with them, so I happily obliged.
After we all bought a couple souvenirs, we headed back to the hotel to take a dip in the pool. This hotel actually had two pools; we obviously went to the one with the bar. A Belize vacation and a fruity drink is a match made in heaven.
After a few hours in the pool, it was time for our complimentary Welcome Dinner. We went next door to a restaurant called The Smoky Mermaid, and dined on Red Snapper, plantains, rice, veggies, and daiquiris. This was my first time having Red Snapper, and I liked it quite a bit.
At this point, everybody was pretty tired. We headed back to the hotel for showers and sleep, because we were going to leave early the next morning. Lamanai, here we come!
Day 2: Climbing the Ruins of Lamanai
On day 2 of our trip, we got up bright and early for a continental breakfast. We each had a voucher for one free breakfast, but that turned out to be just eggs and toast. I knew we would be doing a lot of walking and climbing later in the day, so I paid $5 to upgrade to the buffet breakfast. And oh boy, was it worth it! I loaded up on pineapple, watermelon, banana bread, and chicken fajitas. I also sampled a little slice of local cheese; I have no idea what it was, because it’s label was literally “local cheese”. It was soft, and reminded me of a mix between mozzarella and Swiss… If anybody reading this knows what kind of cheese it is, please let me know!
After breakfast, we had an hour long bus ride to a dock on the New River. We got on a speedboat and cruised down the river for about 25 miles. There was loads of tropical vegetation along the river, and we stopped a few times to look at interesting plants, bats, and a Mennonite village! We had an amazing guide, who told us all sorts of cool facts about the region. At one point, we were passing a lot of termite mounds; she told us that if you burn a mound it will ward off mosquitoes. Also, termites apparently taste like mint? I’ll take her word for it.
After an hour long boat ride, we arrived at Lamanai. Immediately after stepping off the boat, I heard a noise that sounded like a cross between Chewbacca and a dinosaur. It turns out, I had just heard my first howler monkey! These monkey’s loud calls can travel up to five kilometers away. And, their calls were used as T-Rex sound effects in Jurassic Park! How cool is that? Anyways, we stepped on to Lamanai soil, and began making our way to the ruins.
Let me just give a shout out to our guide! I don’t remember her name, but she has an amazing sense of humor and is really knowledgeable about the Lamanai sites. She led us in a loop around Lamanai to see the Mask Temple, the High Temple, and the Jaguar Temple.
First up was the Mask Temple, aptly named as you can see. Our guide told us that the masks on the temple are replicas, because a family of tourists broke the chin off one of the originals! To put this temple to scale, those mask in the bottom left and right corners are 13 feet tall. After hearing that, I was amazed that we are still allowed to climb the temple.
Prior to this trip, I was actually terrified that I would be too out of shape to climb a single temple. In fact, the week before my trip I spent about two hours a day doing Blogilates leg workouts just to try to build some muscle. But, I don’t think that was necessary, because climbing the temples really wasn’t that hard! Here’s my happy face upon making it to the top of the temple, haha:
Next up was the High Temple, which was quite a bit larger at 108 feet. There were stairs around the back that we took up, and this did make my legs burn. But, it was worth it! The view from the top was amazing. I gazed over the land, and tried to imagine what it’s civilization must have looked like. Only 5% of Lamanai has been uncovered, and there are more than 700 buildings that still remain under the Earth. In fact, you can spy huge mounds that have buildings under them. If you look carefully, you can even see bits of the building peeking out beneath the dirt and grass.
The last place we visited was the Jaguar Temple, named after carved Jaguar faces found on the structure during excavation. Seeing these huge structures towering above you, and realizing that they were made before modern tools is a really humbling experience. Looking back, seeing these ruins was one of my favorite parts of the tour.
We completed our loop of the grounds, and went back to the boat. Partway through the ride, we pulled off towards a thicket of trees and fed a spider monkey! It came right up to the boat to eat orange slices out of our hands.
We were back on land, and it was finally time for lunch! Our food was included again; this trip has way more included meals than my last EF trip. We dined on curry chicken and cilantro rice, and it was SO good. To quote one of my fellow travellers: “I want to eat this until I die.” I’m looking at you, Arianna. I also splurged and bought a mocha smoothie, which made me feel slightly sick… but it was damn delicious.
We were back at the hotel a couple hours later, just in time for happy hour at the poolside bar! We sipped pina coladas by poolside, relaxing until it was time for dinner. This was another included meal at The Smoky Mermaid. And honestly, it was a good thing that so many meals were free because I was spending a bit too much money on fruity drinks.
After dinner, we headed back to the pool to just listen to music and chill out. A few of my friends went to a casino after a bit, but I decided to head back to the hotel room and do yoga. I know, I know, I’m boring. 😉
That’s it for part 1 of this series! Next, we will be on our way to San Pedro, for some fun in the sun and under the water. If you have any questions about EF College Break, or would like a referral code, just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope you are enjoying my travel diary so far. 🙂 Edit: Part 2 is now up! Read it here.