Recently, we have been contacted by a reader who spent spring break in Belize with her family. Kim, an ex- American expat in Luxembourg asked, if we were willing to share their adventures in Belize on our blog. Of course we do! So here is the first ever guest post “Belize Adventure with Kids” on Letzflyaway and we can tell you it’s awesome. The article contains tons of in-depth tips and inspirations for travelling to Belize with kids. Kim, a big thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience with the Letzflyaway community. (ps: when is your next trip? 🙂 )
Belize Adventure with Kids
Are you looking for a sunny destination that is also filled with interesting historical and cultural activities? Belize could be the place for you like it was for our Spring Break 2019 trip. From deep ancient Mayan ceremonial caves surrounded by jungle to the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea, there is a lot of fun and adventure for a family to find in this little Central American country.
Our Belize holiday started and ended with flights into and out of Belize City, but we did not spend any other time there. Instead, we spent 4 nights in San Ignacio and 5 nights on Caye Caulker.
Belize Adventure with Kids – Getting There and Around
Flying from Seattle was as easy as a 4 hour flight to Dallas and then a 2.5 hour flight to Belize City on United. Based on the number of European languages we heard on this trip (British-accented English, German, French, and Dutch), the flights from Europe are probably not that difficult through a major hub, such as Atlanta or Miami.
Once there, we did not rent a car. Our San Ignacio hotel arranged a driver for us from the airport to the hotel (approximately 2 hours away) for a cost of US $190 for 4 people. The driver allowed us to stop at the Community Baboon Sanctuary and at a local restaurant for lunch.
Getting around San Ignacio involved using the local taxi network, which was never a problem and was inexpensive. The roads were rough and often unmaintained, so we were thankful to not be responsible for a rental car.
To get from San Ignacio to Caye Caulker, we used the local airline Tropic Air. The Belizean airline flew the 4 of us on a 14-person Cessna plane to Caye Caulker with one stop in Belmopan (average ticket price approximately US $150). For the first leg, we were the only passengers and then we picked up two more people in Belmopan. For the return flight from Caye Caulker to Belize City (average ticket price approximately US $90), the 14-person plane was full. I am a nervous flyer and was particularly anxious about flying on a small plane, but the experience was fantastic. The ride was smooth and it was mesmerizing flying over the lush jungle and the beautiful sea.
Caye Caulker is a car-free island that relies on golf carts and bikes for transportation. We rented bikes for the week and completely enjoyed pedaling our way around the island for five days.
San Ignacio, in the western region of Belize, is a vibrant village with a bustling Saturday market. The area is the gateway to numerous jungle, river, caving, and Mayan temple adventures. We stayed here for 4 nights, but could have easily stayed another night and been perfectly content.
San Ignacio Accommodations
We stayed at Vanilla Hills Lodge, which is approximately 10 minutes by taxi outside of town. The lodge, owned by a kind, helpful, and hard-working German couple, is surrounded by the jungle and all of the noises that come with it. Three individual cottages are nestled into the jungle allowing for privacy between neighbors and only allowing for a handful of guests at any one time. Guest House Orchid was our home for 4 nights and we were perfectly comfortable with the 2 bedroom cottage equipped with a bathroom, kitchen, and living room/dining area. The second bedroom had two twin beds; any time my children don’t have to share a bed they do a tiny celebration! Our favorite spot was lying in the hammock or sitting in the Adirondack chairs on our front porch where we listened to the amazing sounds of the jungle.
The lodge does provide ear plugs if you have trouble sleeping through the late night toad and monkey howling or early morning bird chirping, but we did not find that to be necessary. Upon waking, we brewed our own coffee in the room and sipped it in our jungle setting before walking over to eat one of Claudia’s delicious home-cooked breakfasts in the café. An infinity pool was just installed this spring and we were one of the first guests to enjoy it. The pool felt amazingly good after a hot day climbing Mayan temples or hiking through dark caves. The pictures on the Vanilla Hills Lodge website do not do this place justice. When I left, I gave Claudia a big hug and told her that I wanted to return one day.
What To Do In and Around San Ignacio
San Ignacio comes alive on Saturday morning when vendors come to the market to sell fruit, vegetables, spices, clothing, and more. In between stocking up on tropical fruit, you can fill up on papusas, tacos, and other hot specialties. Locals crowd large tables eating their Saturday lunch. Watching one man diligently macheteing a pile of coconuts to empty them of coconut water and sell was fascinating. The market was full of vibrant colors and smells to awaken our jet-lagged bodies and welcome us to Central America!
One Belize highlight for our kids was the interaction with animals. On the way from Belize City to San Ignacio, our driver stopped at the Community Baboon Sanctuary, where we received a private tour of the sanctuary that is run by a group of volunteers in the local villages with a goal of conserving the land for the black howler monkeys. After a short hike in the sanctuary, the guide found a group of howler monkeys and allowed us to feed them the cashew nut apples that we had picked along our hike.
In San Ignacio, we visited the Green Iguana Conservation Project, which is another conservation project that aims to protect the local iguana population and teach locals why it is important not to hunt and eat iguana eggs. The room was crawling with lazy iguanas, but they all quickly came to attention when the guide placed piles of fresh carrots in the middle of the room. Three out of four of us held the spiny creatures.
The little AJAW shop in downtown San Ignacio runs an hourly chocolate making demonstration and teaches visitors how the Mayans made and used chocolate. The demonstration is interactive and all guests can grind the cacao beans into a paste and make the Mayan chocolate drink. Both of my kids loved the hands-on chocolate making activity.
Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM)
ATM is the grand daddy of Belize excursions and as a mother, I admit to being completely nervous about this excursion before we started and up until about half way through the tour when I finally realized that everything was going to be okay! Vanilla Hills Lodge arranged the tour for us and we were picked up at the hotel in the morning by the tour company driver. The driver drove us to the start of the ATM hike, which was about an hour away from the lodge. There we met our caving tour guide and were equipped with helmets, head lamps, and life jackets for the kids. In a group of 7 people, we headed down the jungle trail on a 45 minute hike to the start of the cave.
Along the way, we crossed the river three times with water at times up to our shoulders. Although my kids (10 and 12 years old) are both good swimmers, I was reassured by the presence of the life jackets that my kids were wearing. The hiking trail was generally wide and flat and it winds through a beautiful jungle. At the end of the trail, you see the entrance to the cave on the other side of the river. At this point, everyone must swim from the river bank, across the river, and into the mouth of the cave. The distance is not far and the tour guide is there to show you where exactly to swim.
Once inside, the head lamp lights are turned on and the actual caving commences. The cave is at times narrow and at times wide and there is consistently water under foot, whether a few inches or up to the waist. Once again, I was thankful for the life jackets “just in case”. The guide informed us where to walk at all times and narrated how the impressive stalactites and stalagmites formed. Toward the end of the cave hike, there are some rock faces to climb and even a ladder to use to get to the Mayan sacrificial ceremony site.
At the site, all shoes are removed and you can see the pottery and the skeletons of the Mayans that utilized this cave for sacrifices. One of the skeletons is almost fully intact and is called the Crystal Maiden. The experience is amazing and worth the effort to get to the end of the cave. After seeing the Crystal Maiden, the caving is done in reverse with some slight detours through “more exciting” cave tunnels to finally exit to daylight again.
Back at the parked van, we were served lunch (stewed chicken, rice, and rum punch) in a pleasant picnic area. During the whole experience, we only saw one other child on the ATM tour. I’m not sure if this is because our spring break is later than most or that other parents are not crazy enough to take their children caving. Our kids loved every minute of this unforgettable experience, though, and are so thankful that we let them do the ATM! No photography is allowed on this trip, so Google ATM photos to get a feel for it.
While most tourists in this region visit the well-known Tikhal Mayan site across the border in Guatemala, we decided to keep our excursions within the borders of Belize and visit the largest archaeological site in the country. Getting to Caracol is an adventure in and of itself. Once again, we used the tour company that the hotel works with to get to the site, which involved a 2.5 hour drive on a 50 mile bumpy, unmaintained, dirt roads. The locals call it the very best butt massage.
The advantage of the site being so remote is that not many tourists make the effort to get there and the tourists that do are rewarded by having the place practically to themselves. The knowledgeable guide, who was also our driver, informed us that the pyramid at this site is the tallest building in all of Belize! We climbed the steep stairs and took in the expanse and wonder of the Mayan city, much of which has not even been uncovered yet by archeologists. The kids loved the adventure of climbing and exploring the pyramids.
After the tour and lunch at Caracol, we returned to the van for part two of the butt massage. No one was really looking forward to the drive back, particularly the children. However, the tour company breaks up the drive by stopping at two spectacular spots to swim. The first stop was Rio on Pools, which is a series of small waterfalls and pools perfect for swimming or sitting upon a rock and taking in the beauty. The rocks are so smooth that my kids found the ideal network of water falls to slide down on their backs. Although we were only there for an hour or so, my kids could have made a whole day of this place.
The next stop was a single large, stunning waterfall called Big Rock Falls. We were short on time at this point and were not planning to swim, but the pool below the waterfall was just entirely too enticing. Adults jumped off the rocks into the deep pool below and the kids swam in the natural wonderland. We returned to Vanilla Hills Lodge tired and happy after a major day of adventure.
We visited Xunantunich on our final day in San Ignacio in between hotel check out and our flight to Caye Caulker. The hotel’s trusty cab driver drove us there and waited for us while we explored this ancient Mayan site that is only 20 minutes outside of San Ignacio near the Guatemala border and requires a hand cranked car ferry to access. After spending so much time at Caracol, I wasn’t sure that we needed to see another ancient Mayan site, but I’m so glad that we took the time to go here. Soon after we arrived, our path was crossed by a large spider monkey and later we saw numerous howler monkeys hanging around the temple. The temple itself is impressive with a steep climb, beautiful views, and green, grassy hillsides. Despite being close to San Ignacio, the place was not overcrowded with tourists.
San Ignacio Restaurants
San Ignacio has many restaurants to choose from, but these were our favorites:
Cenaidas (West Street) for inexpensive, local fare. We loved the stewed chicken plate for lunch and my son claims it was the best quesadilla he has ever put in his mouth. The hoto below is not actually from Cenaidas, but is a typical Belizean meal of stewed chicken, rice, beans, and cole slaw.
Guava Limb (Burns Avenue) is more upscale than the other options in San Ignacio, but has reasonable prices and a pleasant, Caribbean atmosphere. We enjoyed fresh food and delicious cocktails 2 of our 4 nights in San Ignacio.
Dinner at Vanilla Hills Lodge is not served nightly, but can be arranged. After our long day at Caracol, Claudia prepared a delicious feast for us in the café restaurant and we sat at a communal table with the other guests from the lodge.
Not far off the coast from Belize City are a group of small islands, or cayes, that are surrounded by the perfect blue Caribbean Sea and are close to some spectacular snorkeling and diving opportunities. While a majority of tourists choose the larger and more developed island of Ambergris Caye for their island holiday, we chose the smaller, laid-back Caye Caulker. The small, Caribbean fishing village does not have any paved roads or cars for that matter. Everyone gets around on golf carts, bike, or foot. Personally, we preferred the biking method since the developed portion of the island is only a mile long from north to south. Bikes were available for rent from our AirBNB. Although they were a bit junky, they were just fine for biking to and from meals and activities.
Caye Caulker Accommodations
Caye Caulker is not outfitted with any large resorts or hotels. While researching the trip, I did find some charming small hotels, but none of them had any 2 bedroom units available that week, which is our preference on vacation. Our AirBNB was a spacious home with a semi-private pool shared with one other home and a pier with loungers that extended out into the sea for sunbathing or jumping into the crystal clear water.
What To Do On Caye Caulker
Caye Caulker moves at a slow pace and the list of activities are short, which is perfect for a quiet holiday. We found ourselves relaxing on the pier reading a book, riding our bikes around town, or swimming in the sea. The most popular spot to swim is at the Split. Ahead of time, I imagined that the Split would be the place on the island where you went to the beach. While that is true, the beach is not a typical beach in that the sand gradually descends into the water. The nature of the caye, as well as hurricane activity in the area, leaves the island with very little true beach. The Split does have a sea wall and steps into the water and we had a very pleasant swim here. The kids played in the water all afternoon while we sipped beers from the adjacent beach bar.
For more of a beach feel, we did take a free boat to Koko King on the north side of the island. The establishment has a fully set-up beach and swimming area surrounding its restaurant. If you can handle the loud dance music, this is a enjoyable place to have lunch, drink Belizean beers on the beach, swim, and swing in an idyllic spot.
One day while biking the west side of the island, we stopped to feed some extremely large tarpons. A local sells fresh fish to feed them with and it is a lively experience. We also stopped at a seahorse ranch near the Iguana Reef Hotel (which appears to have the nicest actual beach area on the island).
Other activities that we did not do either because it was too hot or we were too lazy – take water taxi to San Pedro, kayak around the island, or hike in the nature reserve.
Snorkeling with Carlos Tours
I was almost discouraged by the lack of website for Carlos Tours (Playa Asuncion), but we proceeded with using this tour company based on a recommendation and we are so glad that we did. Carlos Sr. and Carlos Jr. run a tip-top snorkeling company on their beautiful catamaran. When you see the other snorkeling companies squeezing people on to small fishing style boats, you immediately feel great that you selected the small outfit with the catamaran. The crew was so kind and engaging to chat with about snorkeling and life in Belize. They prepared a delicious lunch for us with a dessert of brightly colored tropical fruit and rum punch for the trip back to Caye Caulker at the end of the day.
The snorkeling itself was rather amazing with three stops – the coral garden, shark alley, and Hol Chan Marine Reserve. The crew led us in groups around the different snorkeling spots and they were extremely knowledgeable about the types of fish and coral. Since the water was so shallow near the coral garden, we were able to really see the coral up close. Shark alley is where you can swim with supposedly harmless nurse sharks, but I opted to be the family photographer on the boat for this location. No, thank you.
A wide variety of sea life is visible at Hol Chan Marine Reserve along Belize’s barrier reef, which is the second largest in the world. Our kids were the only kids on the snorkeling tour on this particular day, but the crew was so great with them. They even let my son sail the catamaran at the end of the day and this was definitely a trip highlight for him.
Caye Caulker Restaurants
Caye Caulker has a large number of restaurants, but some seem too touristy or even a bit grimy for my taste. Here is a list of my favorite spots to eat on the island.
Ice and Beans (Front Street /Beachfront) is a fast serve place on the beach with picnic tables where you can grab a delicious iced coffee, yogurt parfait, or breakfast sandwich. The staff was super friendly, too.
Amor y Café (Playa Asuncion) is another great spot for breakfast. The main street location is hot in the morning sun, but the iced coffee, smoothies, and breakfast sandwiches are great.
Eat like the locals and stand in line at Errolyn’s House of Fryjacks (Avenida Langosta). Fried bread stuffed with eggs, beans, and cheese (or other fillings) is a local specialty as well as a filling, inexpensive breakfast.
Il Pellicano Cucina Italiana (49, Pasero Street)was my favorite restaurant on the island merely for its tropical oasis-like atmosphere with great live music. Italian food was not my first pick while in Belize, but it always makes the kids happy.
Chef Kareem’s Unbelizeable Lunch (Front Street) is a fun beachside spot for Caribbean BBQ.
Belize Adventure with Kids- More About Traveling in Belize
- Easy Communication – Everyone in Belize speaks English as it was a British colony until 1981 and schools still use English as the primary language. Locals speak to each other in a combination of English, Spanish, Creole, and Mayan, but English is always the primary language.
- Use of American Dollars – The exchange rate is solidly set at BZ$2 to US$1. US dollars are freely used and sometimes you’ll pay with Belizean dollars and the change will be in a combination of US and BZ dollars.
- Lack of Insects – We were told to pack lots of bug spray, but for our 10 days in April, we barely needed it.
- Heat and Humidity – Be ready for being hot and sweaty most of the time. Belize has two seasons – dry and wet. April was towards the end of the dry season and it was definitely hot. In San Ignacio, highs were around 95° F (35° C) and lows were around 75° F (24° C) at night. The pool felt very, very good after a day of excursions. Vanilla Hills did not have air conditioning, but the open air cabins with ceiling fans cooled off sufficiently. On Caye Caulker, we had air conditioning and we needed to use it. Temperatures were around 85° F (30° C) day and night.
- Friendly People – Everyone we encountered from cab drivers to tour guides to waiters was extremely friendly.
- Adventure – Be ready for an adventure when going to Belize!
- Kids – We did not see a lot of other families with kids while traveling in Belize, but don’t let that discourage you. Our kids loved the jungle, the caving, the Mayan temples, and the snorkeling. They will not forget this vacation any time soon!