San Pedro, Belize: secret beach, scuba diving and swimming with sharks

The last leg of our Belize trip was to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye – off the coast of mainland Belize. We split our trip between the mainland and the islands off the coast of Belize.

There is such a contrast between continental life and life on the islands in Belize, but it is worth seeing both. Mainland is where all the adventure activities are and the islands is where you find picture perfect beaches and scuba diving.

Getting to Ambergris Caye

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We took a 45 minute water taxi to San Pedro, which departs from Belize City. You can get there easily from the airport via taxi or the car rental service will drop you off.

If the weather is nice, I would highly recommend enjoying the boat ride from the top deck, where you can see the beautiful views.

San Pedro, Ambergris Caye

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We exited the water taxi to beautiful white sandy beaches and island life. Cars are scarce in San Pedro in favor of travelling the island via golf cart. We wanted to be away from the partying hostels, so took a hotel south of the city.

We found the golf cart rentals a bit expensive, so spent most of our time getting from our hotel to the city by hitch-hiking on golf carts! We figured we could tuck and roll easily enough to feel safe. We walked towards the city and usually got a ride from a local or another tourist.

San Pedro has lovely restaurants and a great night life for exploring in the evening.

Scuba Diving

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Diving was one of the main reasons we came to Ambergris Caye! Belize has the second largest barrier reef in the world to Australia. My partner has his scuba license, but I do not. We figured what a perfect place to learn!

I took the course and got my license through Scuba School and Family Dive Centre. I cannot say enough good things about the instructors and how well run this facility is! They even ensured that my partner and I could scuba dive together once I got signed off.

Hol Chan Marine Park & Shark Ray Alley

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This is a huge tourist destination, but I still REALLY enjoyed visiting. Most people snorkel, but the dive is nearly a shelf dive in the marine park and SO worth taking. We saw many sea creatures in this area. I am really disappointed my GoPro broke as it was amazingly beautiful.

We also snorkeled in Shark Ray Alley, which is where reef sharks and huge stingrays are attracted by the sound of motor boats. Fisherman used to clean their bait in this location, so the sharks still check out any arriving boats. It’s really an amazing experience to snorkel with so many sharks and stingrays!

Secret Beach

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On our last day on Ambergris Caye, we decided to rent a golf cart and make the trek to secret beach on the other side of the island. We didn’t know where secret beach was other than north of the city, so off we went in that direction!

Lucky for us, once we crossed the bridge north of San Pedro there is only one road to follow. Initially it is paved, but once past the main resorts, it quickly turns to pot holes. Eventually we found an island map that encouraged us to turn left at a split in the road.

The left turn took us on a narrow sandy road above mangroves and water. There is not much out here except for some staked out areas for houses and the remoteness seems to be keeping people from buying. There were small signs saying “secret beach,” which told us to turn.

The drive was worth it because we emerged to the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. It is crystal clear with white sandy beaches perfect for swimming. Nowadays you will find a few pop up beach bars, but you can continue down the beach for a private sandy spot. We tossed a Frisbee and I really enjoyed our time there.

Overall

We loved San Pedro for its laid back island life style and beautiful beaches. It is a nice contrast to our time spent on mainland Belize, and I felt like both locations went perfectly hand-in-hand.


Tips:

  • English is taught in school in Belize, so the country is easy to navigate for English speakers. The next most spoken languages are Spanish and Creole. We found that most people at least speak to languages.
  • Safety: the islands felt much safer compared to mainland Belize and we had no issues wandering around at night. There are a few areas that were suggested to not walk at night, but they are away from the tourist areas. Ask your hotel for recommendations.
  • We stayed at the Royal Caribbean Hotel. A little dated, but comfortable.
  • We really enjoyed eating at El Patio, Crocs and Tsunami Sushi.
  • I took my scuba course through Scuba School and Family Dive Centre

The flying trapeze and Circus school


Toronto School of the Circus Arts

Ever wanted to run away and join the circus? Well now you don’t have to, but you can still get the experience.

The Toronto School of the Circus Arts has been around for a while, but is not often thought of when it comes to Friday night activities. In one way it feels like a hidden gem in the city. They offer adult class packages, but my favourite thing is the flying trapeze. What is even better? They have drop in flying trapeze every Friday night to try it out.

This is a great commitment free way to see what circus school is all about. Or it can be a fun night out with friends, a date night or a bachelorette party too!

I’ve tried flying trapeze a few times as a fun activity. There is a bit of adventure involved in climbing a rickety ladder onto a platform and just letting go. The teachers are professionals and most have done this for a living at some point, so it really feels like you are learning from the best.

The down lowToronto School of the Circus Arts

If you are reasonably fit, most people can try it!

Each person’s experience can be tailored to them. First time people will be given intro skills to work on. All skill levels are welcome, so more experienced fliers will use it as a practise session.

The session starts at 7pm and runs about 2 hours. Everyone usually will get three turns on the trapeze, but a smaller group may get to more turns.

Arrive early to register and bring cash for this class!


Conclusion

Overall, flying trapeze is a really unique activity to try and much more approachable than people realize. If you don’t live in Toronto, don’t worry because lots of circus schools are popping up around the globe. Get out and try something new!

Have you ever been to circus school?

Exploring the ancient Lamanai Ruins of Belize


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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.

IMG_20180210_111939The 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!

IMG_5766After 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.

IMG_5833We 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.

IMG_20180210_123103_1The 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.


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Tips:

  • Come to Lamanai before 11am to avoid the tours that arrive by boat on the river. We had the ruins almost to ourselves in the morning.
  • There are hiking trails cut through the forest around the ruins that are worth a visit.
  • Remember sunscreen and bug spray!

Suggested reading for Belize


More photos

Read more about Belize:

Belize: staying in a monkey sanctuary in Bermudian Landing



Tayrona Park: a jungle and beach adventure in Colombia

 


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.

Getting to Tayrona Park

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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.

Ecohabs

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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.

Other accommodations

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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.

How to get around in the park

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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.

Hiking and horseback riding

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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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