Backpacking through Belize & Guatemala in September
Replies: 12 - Last Post: Sep 20, 2012 10:34 AM Last Post By: SusieA
Aug 23, 2012 10:19 PM
So far this is what I have booked (in this order):
Arrive Belize City in the early afternoon
Three nights of accomodation at the Belize Zoo Jungle Lodge (planned to do a night tour of the zoo and a canoe trip)
Three nights of accomodation at Pedro's Inn Backpackers Hostel in San Pedro
Four nights of accomodation at Yuma's House in Caye Caulker
One week on Glover's Atoll
From Glover's, I might hang around in Sittee River to check out the Jaguar Reserve and surrounding area (any recommendations here - would this be a waste of time since I've already been to the zoo and been on the Atoll for a week?). Then I think would head back up to San Ignacio for about two-three days to do some caving & jungle-y type activities (do you think this would be ok to show up and book things when I arrive? Any recommendations on where to stay?). Then I would head into Guatemala to Flores and explore the lake and Tikal (again any recommendations on where to stay and should I book anything in advance?). From Flores I would like to go to Lanquín to explore Semuc Champey and again to do tubing, swimming, caving (any recommendations on where to stay - is Zephyr Lodge any good? How much time will I need in this area at a minimum? Could I take Spanish lessons for a couple days?). From there I would go to Antigua and spend the rest of my days (about 1.5 - 2 weeks) taking Spanish lessons for about 4 hours per day during the mornings and exploring the surrounding area in the afternoon. While based in Antigua I would like to check out Pacaya, the market in Chichicastenango, arrange a weekend 2 night - 3 night stay in the Lake Atitlan area (maybe its possible to get my Spanish teacher to come with me?), check out Monterrico if I'm not too tired of the ocean, and of course enjoy some of the nightlife in Antigua. Lastly I will take a shuttle from Antigua to the airport (skipping Guatemala City entirely).
I'm worried about my minimal knowledge of Spanish which is why I'm trying to cram in Spanish lessons as much as possible but also because I enjoy learning a new language and making small talk with the locals when possible. As of now I am leaning towards staying with a homestay family while in Antigua.
Any feedback is greatly appreciated!
Aug 24, 2012 5:49 AM
1Since you mentioned an interest in being social/meeting people, keep in mind that Belize is pretty slow in September from a tourism perspective. There may not be a lot of people at hostels and hotels, except Yuma's, which stays pretty busy even in slow times. Some hotels and restaurants close in September/October for maintenance and staff vacations.
A friend stayed in the hostel part of Pedro's Inn in July and as it happened he was the only one there, or maybe there was one other person. Not sure about whether there will be many guests at the Belize Zoo lodge or not. Ditto Glovers Reef Resort.
Overall, Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye are usually busier in September than places like Hopkins and Placencia.
The Belize Tourism Board historically hasn't been eager to promote hostels and budget travel and shut down its budget-oriented hotel website, Toucan Trail (it's now run privately, though it hasn't been updated much).
However, you may be lucky and find more travelers, and Belizeans are mostly very friendly and outgoing. The September Independence Day and St. George's Caye celebrations do bring people back and out.
Aug 24, 2012 6:22 AM
2After arriving, I'd probably head directly to the cayes. The zoo is about 45 minutes west of Belize City, so with your plan, you're going west to the zoo, then going back to BC to get to the cayes, then going west again (past the zoo) to head south.
Even though it's September, I'd reserve Yuma's House in advance.
When I was at the zoo, there were only 2 or 3 jaguars and they were sleeping (it was daytime) under some bush in an enclosure (a large fenced area, not a cage), so very difficult to see clearly. Maybe they're a bit more active at night.
As soon as you arrive in San Ignacio, go to Pacz and some other tour companies to look into tours and get prices. I don't think you need to book more than a day in advance.
The low budget places in SI are Hi-Et and Tropicool right in the centre of town -- both are an easy walk from where the bus stops. I think the Hi-Et has dorm beds & private rooms (it was too busy when I was there). The Tropicool has very basic rooms (share bathrooms) for about BZ$30.
For transportation, use buses -- they're cheap and frequent in most places. More info on the BelizeBus site (the link is on my profile page).
Aug 24, 2012 8:09 AM
3Flores is a nice town. You can book a Tikal trip from there or ahead of time. We stayed over in the park at Tikal a night, which is great fun, but rather expensive. We stayed at Casa Amelia in Flores, which is not a hostel, but a nice little hotel and includes a small breakfast. The lakeview rooms are the best. Their own restaurant is fine, as is the place next door owned by a German couple (the name escapes me now), where they have great whitefish from the lake. But there are lots of places to eat in Flores or, less expensively, across the causeway in Santa Elena. We didn't have time for a boat trip, but it looked like fun.
Aug 24, 2012 9:41 AM
4Monterrico would almost definitely be a disappointment after coming from Belize; better to add that time to more exploration of the lake, or a day checking out downtown Guate City.
Aug 24, 2012 10:34 AM
5Hi Casey, I would spend less time at the zoo and no time in San Pedro but would go to Caye Caulker instead. Maybe do a combination day trip/snorkel trip to San Pedro from Caye Caulker if you want to check it out. Things might be pretty dead all around in September so I wouldn't think you would need reservations anywhere especially for excursions and tours, but also hotels. You will have lots of flexibility and will be able to go and do what you want, when you want to. The buses are good and cheap. I would study up with the LP books and just pick a few hotels that look good. Glover's is a pretty nice week trip but I found it to be mostly couples so it will be fine if you don't mind doing your own thing. There is nothing in Sittee River so definitely stay in nearby Hopkins if you want to visit local attractions. You never know about the weather in September so keep an eye out for that and you will be fine.
Aug 24, 2012 5:09 PM
6As to Belize, follow Lan's advice. He was one of the founding fathers of the country and has written a gazillion guide books. Buy some. Your plan for Guat. sounds fine. I agree about skipping Monterrico. As to the Chichi market.. take a day shuttle from Antigua. It's mainly a photo op with the best shopping in the country being in Pana. Crowds at Chichi are such that the time of the trip is fine. Just take it day by day and don't be afraid to change plans. Long term booking isn't needed.
Aug 24, 2012 8:19 PM
7Last summer, in Guatamala, I used the Adrenelina Tour shuttles from airport in G. City to Antiqua, then to Quetzalrenango, then to Lake Atitlan, and then back to Antiqua, and then airport. (I have a "thing" about the old school buses used as inter city buses. I probably missed out on some experiences, but I am got there alive). The shuttles worked out very well and Are another place to meet other travellers.
Aug 26, 2012 7:15 AM
8Flores is a nice town, but after you go to Tikal at 5:00 am, you will have plenty of time to see it in one day. Stay the night and then head to Lanquin, and if you get time for a swim in the lake, it's really lovely. Zephyr Lodge is fun and you will definitely meet people there but if you want a more quiet time go to El Retiro. You should allow one day for the Semuc tour and another day for tubing and relaxation and then you could go. Don't think there are Spanish lessons at Zephyr but you won't need them there anyway. It will take you a full day to get to Antigua from Lanquin. Don't take your Spanish teacher to the lake - just talk to people! And remember for a lot of Mayans Spanish is not their first language anyway.
Aug 26, 2012 8:41 AM
9As a Spanish immersion program addict I support your idea to study. I love heading out on adventures with my teachers, some of whom have become life long friends. When I'm not in class I practice with locals every chance I get but it's not the same as having a talented teacher on hand. You can ask at the schools which are very flexible. Happy trails!
Aug 27, 2012 1:47 PM
10Well, my humble recommendation is to head for the Cayes.
Consider staying a little longer in Caye Caulker and a little less elsewhere in Belize. When your done chilling out, pull on yur pack and head south.
Guatemala is pretty unique along the Rio Dolce and there are more ways to get there from Belize than you may think. Consider heading south to Guat and then west through Livingston, Rio Dolce and Copan(Honduras) from there you can jump a shuttle to Antigua where all travel through Guatemala is possible.
The problem with traveling directly to Flores from Belize is the nasty bus rides, one from Belize to Flores and the next down to Guatemala City (please don't take the night bus for any reason).
IF you consider heading south the overall travel time may be the same but it will be cut up into manageable chunks with reasonably interesting cultural exposures along the way.
You'll find a ton of home stays in Antigua and for 70us you can get 4hrs/dayx5 days of Spanish lessons.
PS> See you in Antiqua!
Aug 28, 2012 12:20 PM
11Thank-you for all these wonderful comments - I really appreciate everyone's incite! Unionthug, I am especially intrigued by your idea to bypass Flores and go into Guatemala through the south. I was once in Peru but never visited Machu Piccu - would I be similiarily disappointed traveling to Guatemala and missing Tikal? Or are you saying to go to Guatemala City and then eventually go to Tikal and back so I don't miss it? I have both the Lonely Planet Belize and Guatemala books, so I'll do a bit of reading on the Rio Dolce region.
Tippycanoe - thanks for the shuttle recomendations!
I currently have reservations in San Pedro but I'm considering cancelling them to spend more time in Caye Caulker instead. Any specific reason why I should stay away from San Pedro? Is it just because it will be dead in September?
Also thanks for the recommendation to stay not waste my time in Monterrico - much appreciated! I'm the kind of traveler that tries to cram in as much and as many places as possible so you have saved me a day.
My trip is coming closer by the minute - less than 2 weeks until I leave!! Hopefully the hurricanes stay away haha.
On another note - are there any events in Guatemala not to be missed in mid September to early October? I hope to see some of the independance day celebrations in Belize on September 10th but I wasn't sure if there were any big happenings in Guatemala that I just haven't read about yet.
Edited by: canadianacctstudent
Sep 20, 2012 10:34 AM
I was wondering if you could let me know how your trip is going/was? I'm doing a very similar trip, but the other way round - I fly into Guat City, planning on going to Antigua to learn some Spanish for 1/2 weeks then travel around Guat, poss Honduras and fly out of Belize 8 weeks later. I'm also going to be a solo female traveller...any tips/info on how your trip was would be great...
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