A short walk through a dense jungle canopy and we emerged to Mayan ruins towering above us – almost like a walk back in time. The monkeys could be heard howling around us while they protested our early morning arrival. We were at Lamanai Ruins in Belize.
This tour is offered by a number of guides from anywhere between $45 – $85 USD. Instead, of paying for the tour, we rented a car and drove to the ruins. The only thing we missed was a boat tour on the river, but we did this another time.
The drive to Lamanai added to our adventure. Our directions were to take the main road through Shipyard and continue on to Lamanai. Interestingly Shipyard was started by Canadian Mennonites that passed through Mexico and settled in Belize. It was interesting to see how they converted the area to agriculture production.
Eventually we became worried we missed our turn to Lamanai and asked a family repairing a fence if we were going the right way – this Mennonite family employs a local person to help with the farm work. Very interesting!
After finally spotting a wooden sign with Lamanai written on it, and a few bumps in the road later we arrived in a little town outside the park. We stocked up on Coca Cola and chips before entering the park. The entrance fee is only a few dollars to enter on your own.
One other group was around this early. After a walk through the museum we took a path down to the ruins.
We started on the Mask temple, which was impressive with its stone faces. This temple dates to around 550AD. We took some time imaging the civilization that once walked in this exact place.
The High Temple was even more impressive as it towered above us. It is 108 feet high and the tallest pre-classic structure in Belize. It was incredible and a hike to the top of the ruins gave us a bird’s eye view of jungle and river around us.
The clouds parted and the sun beat down as we visited the Jaguar temple. This temple had a huge pen court in front of it and small ruins to explore around.
Overall, we were very impressed with this site. For me, this far outweighed any Mayan Ruins I have seen in Mexico. This excursion was well worth the trip whether you use a tour group or go on your own. Come early and take some time imaging the expansive civilization that once walked there.
When the opportunity to camp in a jungle, on the side of a mountain, overlooking a beach in Colombia came up, the obvious answer was YES!
Now I should clarify that this was glamping and some very nice glamping at that! We stayed in the Ecohabs in Tayrona Park. Tayrona offers stunning expanses of beach, dotted with huge smooth rocks to the backdrop of a dense, lush jungle. It’s a not so hidden gem on the Caribbean coast of Colombia.
Tayrona Park is about a 45 minute drive from Santa Marta, Colombia. There are buses that run this route, but for ease of travel we took a taxi.
You need to show a passport or ID at the entrance of the park and pay the 39,500 COP entry fee. Online says you need proof of yellow fever vaccination, but we were not asked for it, although it’s a good idea to have.
The Ecohabs are the most expensive option in the park, so we only stayed one night. Personally, it was well worth the experience for us. The rooms are double level huts set into the side of the jungle. The bottom level has the dining area, bathroom and a place to relax.
The top level is the bedroom. There is no air condition, but we had a beautiful breeze off the water during the day. At night, make sure to close up the shutters from the bugs!
There is a lovely restaurant on site and it’s the only place we ate, as the Ecohabs are remote. The Ecohabs have a private beach with cabanas and beds for massages. The water is dangerously rough here though, so there is strictly no swimming in this area of the park.
If you want to save money and rough it, you can also camp in the park. There are two camping locations at Arrecifes and Cabo San Juan beach. At both you can rent a tent or bring your own. Show up early so that you do not miss a spot! We passed the camping at Arrecifes and it looked nice enough with basic amenities – it was not on the beach though.
The other option is renting a hammock in a large communal room on the beach. This will get you the beach experience much cheaper if you do not mind sharing a room with several people. I did hear they can get cold at night with the wind off the water.
These are the three options for accommodations in the park, although there are some nice hotels/hostels just outside the park on the beach.
Once you arrive at the park gates, there are shuttle buses to that start of the hike for 3000 COP. You can choose to hike this yourself, which will take about an hour.
Our taxi to the Ecohabs took us as far as the starting point, where the road becomes nearly unpassable for small vehicles. The hotel sent a large vehicle to get us and the luggage from here.
Once you have found the start of the hike you can continue on foot to both Arrecifes and Cabo San Juan or hire a horse to the beach.
When we visited in December, the hike was VERY muddy and wet, and we both decided we didn’t really want to hike it. We opted to hire a horse to stay out of the mud and for the adventure.
The horseback ride was also VERY adventurous from the perspective of a hunter/jumper rider. We walked up river beds, scrambled up rock canyons and went for a short gallop on the beach. If you want to go for a more adventurous ride, try and get in a small group. With a slap on my horses rump, and being told to stick to the path we were off with only two other riders.
Overall, Tayrona and the Ecohabs were a perfect adventure into a natural setting in Colombia. I would choose this option over any of the charted day trips if you enjoy travelling at your own pace and with a bit of adventure. As is the case with most of Colombia, not many people spoke English, so knowing some Spanish is beneficial. I would highly recommend the park!
Read about other adventures in Colombia:
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