We were met at Belize International Airport by our guide and driver, Wilfred. With my husband and my two daughters I piled into Wilfred’s well used Toyota van and hurtled towards the jungle. First Wilfred took us to a local grocery to stock up on snacks, water, beer and rum for my husband at the prices the locals get. Midway through a two and one half hour teeth rattling trip to the Sweet Songs Jungle Lodge on the Macal River, Wilfred stopped to allow us to purchase chicken tamales from a reliable roadside vendor. Watch out for the bones! I had arranged all ground transportation while we were in the jungle through Sweet Sounds Jungle lodge. My husband tipped Wilfred and requested his daring driving for the next day.
Wilfred & My Daughters
Sweet Songs Jungle Lodge, formerly duPlooy’s Jungle Lodge is a rustic collection of bungalows. There is no air conditioning, but we slept well under the ceiling fans. The spacious canopy bar serves as the common dinning facility. The bar is built on a steep slope, and you enter the bar at ground level. However, the ground falls away to the river and the bar soars over the jungle. Fruit is left out on a platform to attract a multitude of birds and the odd Kinkajou. We came armed with copious amounts of mosquito repellent however surprisingly for being outdoors in the jungle at all hours we never used the repellent and never suffered any pesky attacks. There was Wi-Fi access in the office and at the bar. The bar access was a bit spotty, but the signal was strong at the office.
I had purchased the food package since there is really no other option. Sweet Songs is quite remote. The breakfast offerings were good, and hearty and the kitchen was happy to make something special for my picky daughters. My husband and I were content to share a breakfast burrito. Dinner offerings included a chicken or fish entrée, a meat entrée and a vegetarian entree. Once again, the kitchen prepared pesto pasta not on the menu for my youngest.
The next morning, we met Ricky at the corral where he saddled and matched us to our horses. We had a three-hour ride through the jungle. While my daughters were experienced riders my husband and I focused on not falling off. Ricky led us out of the jungle at San Jose Succotz on the Mopan River We crossed the Mopan on a hand cranked ferry. The ever-dependable Wilfred met us and took us to the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich. Wilfred guided us through a drenching thunderstorm into and onto the ruins including up to the top of the 130-foot-tall great temple. My youngest daughter’s I-phone did not survive the rain. After the Mayan ruins Wilfred took us to Benny’s Kitchen in San Jose Succotz for a lunch of Pebill a delicious pork dish from a pig cooked underground. That afternoon we toured a chocolate factory, learning how chocolate is grown, picked, produced and delivered to some of the best known chocolatiers world over.
Later back at Sweet Songs we gathered inner tubes to float down the Macal River to Sweet Songs private beach. Unfortunately, my waterproof plastic cell phone pouch turned out to be not so waterproof and we killed a second smart phone in one day, surely a record of sorts. The second day we met Wilfred early for the cave tubing. It is important to get there early before the crowds. When we arrived at the cave, there were no tour buses and only a few vans. By the time we finished the float the parking lot was jammed with buses and vans. Water friendly walking shoes are a must, and you can as I did rent a couple of crocks for three dollars-Belize. We waded the river three times in our twenty-minute walk to the mouth of the cave. The cave itself is beautiful with soaring arches and ceilings. We floated through the darkness towards a roaring waterfall, only to find it was a minor tributary dropping about a foot tall into the river.
Our final day in the jungle the intrepid Wilfred gave us a guided tour of the Belize Zoo where we saw Jaguars, monkeys, Toucans and macaws among other local wild animals and birds. Subsequently, we said good-by to Wilfred at the Belize City dock where we were to board the water taxi to Ambergris Caye at a cost of $42.00-US round trip for the four of us. The return trip is open and good for thirty-days. Be sure to check-in at the dock for the return trip. My husband tipped Wilfred to the tune of $20.00-US each day which may have been a bit high, but Wilfred did go over and above the call of duty even picking up a prescription for me.
The green shirted water taxi employees tagged and collected our luggage as well as any airline employees in the US. We purchased sandwiches at one of the shops to eat on the water taxi. After an hour and a half with a short stop at Caye Caulker we arrived at Ambergris Caye. There we were met by employees of Ramon’s Village resort who quickly collected our luggage from the water taxi. We were chauffeured through San Pedro in the ubiquities golf cart. By my husband’s unofficial observation at least 90% of the vehicles in San Pedro were four seat golf carts. Our driver pointed out favored restaurants and explained there were only three North/South streets, one going South, one going North and one with two-way traffic.
Ramon’s Village resort is a throwback to a different era. No gleaming modernistic edifice. It is a cluster of thatched huts sprinkled throughout a well-tended jungle on the beach. But these huts were well air-conditioned and comfortable and with Wi-Fi. There is no television but sitting on the front deck in the middle of a jungle was way better than anything on television especially when a thunderstorm rolls through. The view from the beach is limited only by the horizon and the surf breaking over the world’s second largest coral reef is clearly visible. Unfortunately, Ramon’s beach is marred by the same seaweed scourge all over the Gulf of Mexico and in the Caribbean. Fortunately, Ramon’s Village has a swimming platform near the end of its 400-foot dock. If you ask the grumpy lord of the scuba shop, they will loan you a mask and snorkel to take out to the swimming platform where you can swim with multiple varieties of tropical fish. At night the dock is lit with blue lights all along its length and you can see four-foot-long tarpon feeding.
Ramon’s village not only looked good, but the service was also awesome whether in the office, at the restaurant or at the coffee bar. There is no bar, but you can order, beer and wine through the restaurant. But the front desk employees directed us to a nearby grocery store where we could purchase some expensive rum. Ramon’s Village coffee shop makes good smoothies which can be turned into daiquiris. While Ramon’s Village had a good restaurant, but we usually choose the ten-minute stroll down the beach to downtown San Pedro for dinners and lunch. We found a fine breakfast nook called Chillin Cruise which served good coffee and breakfast wraps only a couple doors down from Ramon’s Village.
Our favorite stop for lunch was a small Salvadoran restaurant, Pupuseria Salvadoreno. Pupus are flat cakes made from masa and filled with seafood, meat or poultry. Two pupus made a fine lunch and were only $2.50-Belize and $5.00-Belize for lobster. Be careful the hot sauce is appropriately named. The smoothies were rich and fruity. This was about the only location that we were unable to use credit cards.
Caramba’s Restaurant displays the fresh seafood in front of the restaurant in boxes of ice. We choose lobster, octopus and stone crab. A Caramba’s employee made suggestions on how we wanted the chef to prepare our catch. The seafood was cooked perfectly. We gave Caramba’s five stars. El Patio is another excellent restaurant with a beachy feel and sand instead of floors.
We made a mistake by choosing inlandandsea for our snorkel tour of Hal Chan and the Shark Ray alley. The salesperson promised the boat would have water, fruit juice and fruit. Well, there was some water. The boat picked us up at the Ramon’s Village dock at 8:00AM which is about an hour earlier than other tours to avoid the crowds that might spook the fish. Three of the twelve snorkelers on our boat had trouble with the masks and snorkel provided. My husband who has snorkeled and dived over the last 45 years complained that his mask was the worst he had ever used, and it simply let a river of salt water in constantly. My mask had a slice in the plastic and could not seal at all. Fortunately, I received a replacement. They could not replace my husband’s mask. Our guide, “Blinky” pointed out and identified the sea life. At Shark Ray Alley we swam with dozens of nurse sharks and marveled at the rays as flew through the water. The cost for the trip was only $35.00-US per person but it is subject to a 12.5% sales tax and a $10.00-US Hol Chan Park fee. This was the only other location that demanded cash. It would have been a great trip if they delivered on the promised drinks and fruit and if they had halfway decent mask and snorkels. I would bring my own mask and snorkel next time.
The Atlantic Bank ATM did not take my debit card from a credit union, but the Scotia Bank ATM was happy to charge me a flat fee of $4.00-US to advance Belize currency.
One day we joined the mass of golf carts by renting a four seat Club Car from Ramon’s Village. The charge was $55.00-Belize for eight hours with fuel. We motored down to Secret Beach which is not so secret. There are several open-air bar and grills on a sandy beach with water shallow enough to wade out a hundred yards. We had drinks and snacks at the Secret Paradise bar. The only unpleasantness was Sea Lice. Tiny creatures about the size of a large cooked grain of rice hitch a ride on warm Homo sapiens bodies. The lice cannot break the skin and none of us detected any free riders after we dried off.
Another day we took the water taxi on the half hour ride to Caye Caulker $88.00-Belize and $44.00-US roundtrip for the four of us. Years ago, a hurricane cut Caye Caulker into two islands. At the “Split” is a bar and grill with plenty of tables and chairs and a protected swimming area. A small tower serves as a twenty-foot jump (don’t dive, it isn’t that deep). My husband did the plunge followed by both girls. After soaking up more sun, we wandered down the (only) street to the Happy Lobster Restaurant for one of the best lobster dinner we have ever had. Three lobster dinners and a plate of pasta with drinks was $104.23.
The front desk of Ramon’s Village made a reservation for a driver to meet us at the water taxi in Belize City for the trip home. The ride from the dock to the airport with tip was about $20.00-US.