Jungle adventures in Belize

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I traveled to Belize in December of 2006 for an exciting 8-night “Jungle Safari Package” booked through Belize Jungle Dome (Mile 47, Western Highway, Banana Bank, Belmopan, Cayo District, Belize; phone +501 822-2124, fax +501 822-2155 or visit www.belizejungledome.com).

When making inquiries several months earlier, I received immediate e-mail responses from Karen Turner, the manager, whereas most other jungle lodges did not bother ever e-mailing me back.

The total cost of this package was $2,279 plus 30% single supplement and $700 in airfare from Tampa (I made my own flight reservations through American Airlines). The cost included all the daily activities, transportation to and from the airport and lodge, and three meals a day. It did not include tips, alcohol or airport taxes.

Joanne rappelling at Black Hole Drop.

The Jungle Dome is a small lodge with five guest rooms and a very “family” atmosphere. One of the great things was that guests were served family style at one table for breakfast and dinner, which made for great conversations about the daily adventures. Meals were fantastic, with local Mayan and Belizean dishes. In fact, even with the strenuous activities I gained five pounds.

One thing to keep in mind is that they do not have some amenities that U.S. hotels would provide, like hair dryers or shampoo, so be prepared.

There were daily preplanned activities; we would leave at about 8:30 a.m. and come back around 4 p.m. The first day, we went horseback riding through the jungle. Being a novice rider, I did have some trouble with the horse. He just kept wanting to stop to eat some grass and then would proceed into a fast gallop to catch up with the group ahead. I guess he showed me who was boss.

After lunch we swam in a local limestone sinkhole called the “Blue Hole,” which was a bit chilly though the scenery was beautiful.

On the second day, a group of seven of us left at 6:30 a.m. for Tikal, Guatemala. It was about a 4-hour drive, and I have never seen such bad “roads,” mostly a mud path with plenty of potholes. I had all the admiration for our driver/guide, Gonzo.

Tikal itself was massive and we spent about three hours touring, which was barely enough time to get to just the major temples. I did not realize how much the jungle had overtaken most of the area, as guidebooks and pictures do not do it justice.

It was raining when we climbed to the top of one of the temples, so the going was extremely treacherous, with a lot of slipping up and down the stairs.

On the third day, three of us went zip-lining and then cave-tubing. There were eight platforms, and we were strapped up tight in harnesses and then zipped on steel cables from platform to platform in the jungle canopy. During the half-hour walk to the cave-tubing site, our guide showed us sugarcane (yum), leafcutter ants and termite nests. He asked us if we wanted to try termites. I’m adventurous but not that much!

River kayaking was also on the agenda. For that trip I had a guide to myself and we spent several hours going down the Mopan River. Because it had been raining, the river has high and therefore the rapids and falls were calmer than normal, which was fine for me. On other trips I have signed up for, the tour company would cancel a tour if it did not have a minimum number of attendees, but the Jungle Dome was very accommodating even if I was the only person signed up for a day trip.

Another trip was to the Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave. Again, I was the only participant and had the guide to myself. We had to swim into the cave, which was sacred to the Maya. We spent an hour traversing the water and the rocks to get back into some dry areas of the cave. This was where the Maya performed various sacrifices, and we did see several skeletons.

What was amazing was how difficult and physically challenging it was for us, with modern helmets and headlamps, to get back that far and to realize that the Maya did it with mere torches.

The highlight of the trip was rappelling at the Black Hole Drop. Our group of four had a difficult hike up the mountain to a limestone cliff. Just about the time we got to the top, it started raining very hard. However, the guides proceeded to help us put on our harnesses, and then one by one we rappelled off the mountain.

The first 10 feet were the most difficult, as the rock was slippery due to the rain and it was difficult to get a foothold, but once past the cliff I looked straight down 300 feet and realized how far down it was! The rush of adrenaline was just amazing.

For a trip to Belize, there are a few items to consider.

First, bring plenty of bug spray with DEET, as the mosquitoes are ferocious.

Second, when we crossed the border from Belize to Guatemala, we had to pay a US$17.50 exit fee (in 2007, it’s US$18.75), and leaving the airport at the end we each paid another US$32.50 (a combination of exit, airport security and conservation fees), so be prepared to have U.S. cash available.

Speaking of money, U.S. dollars were accepted everywhere in Belize, at two Belizean dollars to one U.S. dollar, so no problems there.

Third, on leaving Belize I had an open 16-pack of AA camera batteries and had used only a couple. The x-ray person stopped me and said I was allowed to take only four batteries with me and proceeded to throw out all of the extras. I had never heard of that rule and there was nothing in the TSA website about batteries, so maybe it was a special rule in Belize. In any case, I know better than to question anything from authorities at airports, so I just let it go.

Fourth, the activities I’ve described are physically challenging, so you need to be in somewhat good shape before you go. Also, don’t bother bringing any good clothes; bring throwaways, as you get muddy during many of the hikes and crawling around in the caves.

I highly recommend the staff at Belize Jungle Dome. This company specializes in adventure vacations (all-inclusive packages) for a variety of groups. When I was there they had couples, singles and families. They handle all the packages/adventures and also have a family-run resort/bed-and-breakfast. In addition to jungle activities (which is what I mostly did), they can arrange scuba diving and snorkeling in the reefs.

JOANNE KUZMA

Clearwater, FL

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

I traveled to Belize in December of 2006 for an exciting 8-night “Jungle Safari Package” booked through Belize Jungle Dome (Mile 47, Western Highway, Banana Bank, Belmopan, Cayo District, Belize; phone +501 822-2124, fax +501 822-2155 or visit www.belizejungledome.com).

When making inquiries several months earlier, I received immediate e-mail responses from Karen Turner, the manager, whereas most other jungle lodges did not bother ever e-mailing me back.

The total cost of this package was $2,279 plus 30% single supplement and $700 in airfare from Tampa (I made my own flight reservations through American Airlines). The cost included all the daily activities, transportation to and from the airport and lodge, and three meals a day. It did not include tips, alcohol or airport taxes.

Joanne rappelling at Black Hole Drop.

The Jungle Dome is a small lodge with five guest rooms and a very “family” atmosphere. One of the great things was that guests were served family style at one table for breakfast and dinner, which made for great conversations about the daily adventures. Meals were fantastic, with local Mayan and Belizean dishes. In fact, even with the strenuous activities I gained five pounds.

One thing to keep in mind is that they do not have some amenities that U.S. hotels would provide, like hair dryers or shampoo, so be prepared.

There were daily preplanned activities; we would leave at about 8:30 a.m. and come back around 4 p.m. The first day, we went horseback riding through the jungle. Being a novice rider, I did have some trouble with the horse. He just kept wanting to stop to eat some grass and then would proceed into a fast gallop to catch up with the group ahead. I guess he showed me who was boss.

After lunch we swam in a local limestone sinkhole called the “Blue Hole,” which was a bit chilly though the scenery was beautiful.

On the second day, a group of seven of us left at 6:30 a.m. for Tikal, Guatemala. It was about a 4-hour drive, and I have never seen such bad “roads,” mostly a mud path with plenty of potholes. I had all the admiration for our driver/guide, Gonzo.

Tikal itself was massive and we spent about three hours touring, which was barely enough time to get to just the major temples. I did not realize how much the jungle had overtaken most of the area, as guidebooks and pictures do not do it justice.

It was raining when we climbed to the top of one of the temples, so the going was extremely treacherous, with a lot of slipping up and down the stairs.

On the third day, three of us went zip-lining and then cave-tubing. There were eight platforms, and we were strapped up tight in harnesses and then zipped on steel cables from platform to platform in the jungle canopy. During the half-hour walk to the cave-tubing site, our guide showed us sugarcane (yum), leafcutter ants and termite nests. He asked us if we wanted to try termites. I’m adventurous but not that much!

River kayaking was also on the agenda. For that trip I had a guide to myself and we spent several hours going down the Mopan River. Because it had been raining, the river has high and therefore the rapids and falls were calmer than normal, which was fine for me. On other trips I have signed up for, the tour company would cancel a tour if it did not have a minimum number of attendees, but the Jungle Dome was very accommodating even if I was the only person signed up for a day trip.

Another trip was to the Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave. Again, I was the only participant and had the guide to myself. We had to swim into the cave, which was sacred to the Maya. We spent an hour traversing the water and the rocks to get back into some dry areas of the cave. This was where the Maya performed various sacrifices, and we did see several skeletons.

What was amazing was how difficult and physically challenging it was for us, with modern helmets and headlamps, to get back that far and to realize that the Maya did it with mere torches.

The highlight of the trip was rappelling at the Black Hole Drop. Our group of four had a difficult hike up the mountain to a limestone cliff. Just about the time we got to the top, it started raining very hard. However, the guides proceeded to help us put on our harnesses, and then one by one we rappelled off the mountain.

The first 10 feet were the most difficult, as the rock was slippery due to the rain and it was difficult to get a foothold, but once past the cliff I looked straight down 300 feet and realized how far down it was! The rush of adrenaline was just amazing.

For a trip to Belize, there are a few items to consider.

First, bring plenty of bug spray with DEET, as the mosquitoes are ferocious.

Second, when we crossed the border from Belize to Guatemala, we had to pay a US$17.50 exit fee (in 2007, it’s US$18.75), and leaving the airport at the end we each paid another US$32.50 (a combination of exit, airport security and conservation fees), so be prepared to have U.S. cash available.

Speaking of money, U.S. dollars were accepted everywhere in Belize, at two Belizean dollars to one U.S. dollar, so no problems there.

Third, on leaving Belize I had an open 16-pack of AA camera batteries and had used only a couple. The x-ray person stopped me and said I was allowed to take only four batteries with me and proceeded to throw out all of the extras. I had never heard of that rule and there was nothing in the TSA website about batteries, so maybe it was a special rule in Belize. In any case, I know better than to question anything from authorities at airports, so I just let it go.

Fourth, the activities I’ve described are physically challenging, so you need to be in somewhat good shape before you go. Also, don’t bother bringing any good clothes; bring throwaways, as you get muddy during many of the hikes and crawling around in the caves.

I highly recommend the staff at Belize Jungle Dome. This company specializes in adventure vacations (all-inclusive packages) for a variety of groups. When I was there they had couples, singles and families. They handle all the packages/adventures and also have a family-run resort/bed-and-breakfast. In addition to jungle activities (which is what I mostly did), they can arrange scuba diving and snorkeling in the reefs.

JOANNE KUZMA

Clearwater, FL