I disengage the engine and slowly roll off the saddle of my dirt bike, wincing as I feel the pain from the small gash on my leg start to spread. I put down my bag, unstrap my machete and take off my helmet. Two months of beard growth has crept up on my face and my hair stubbornly remains unruly no matter how much I try to comb it down. I approach the house, knock on the door and wait. Seconds later my Backroads co-leader (whom I have not yet met) opens the door, with a confused and slightly startled look on her face.
We're in Belize, Central America, and I've just arrived at the Backroads leader house. For the last few months I've hacked my way through the forest searching for populations of howler monkeys for my Master's research in primatology. Now I'm switching over to a different kind of adventure: leading Backroads trips.
Whether you're on Backroads' Belize & Guatemala Multisport trip or traveling on your own, head to Belize for stunning beaches, abundant wildlife, lush forests and Maya ruins. You can also get some fantastic rice-and-beans or beans-and-rice (yes there is a difference). As someone who's lived in the country, I can assure you that Belize is a fantastic place to visit!
What sets Belize apart from its neighbors--Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras--is its distinct Caribbean vibe and British colonial history.
Beaches: When most people go to Belize they head straight to one of the cayes (islands) or to Placencia, a beach paradise on the mainland coast. These are wonderful places to snorkel, fish or dive in the warm, turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. In fact, Belize is home to the second longest barrier reef in the world. A diving mecca it is, but what few people realize is that Belize has so much more to offer, and you don't have to stick to the shore to experience it at its best!
Adventure: Located along the Guatemalan border, the Cayo district is the adventure capital of Belize. When I was in Cayo, I journeyed with a guide into the lush forest and high canopy of the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve to the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave (ATM for short). Armed with a helmet and a waterproof headlamp, we entered the cave's dark waters. I discovered that ATM is one of the few caves in Belize where ancient Mayans may have performed ritual sacrifices and it has remained in fairly pristine condition. We hiked among the stalactites and stalagmites deep into the cave in search of artifacts and remains, the most famous being the Crystal Maiden, a teenage girl whose bones were calcified by the same process that created the stalactites and stalagmites.
Biking, Hiking, Relaxing: If caves and archeology aren't your thing, no problem--Belize has it all! Just south of San Ignacio is the Hidden Valley Inn & Reserve, a well-appointed resort that sits in the middle of the Mountain Pine Ridge (yes, there are actually pine trees in Belize--in this case Caribbean pines). Surrounding the inn are miles of trails and roads, perfect for mountain biking or hiking to one of the property's private waterfalls and natural swimming pools. To top it off, Hidden Valley can have a picnic lunch waiting for you when you arrive. After a full day of adventure, I surprised my girlfriend with our very own secluded waterfall, lunch, sparkling wine and a marriage proposal!
More Adventure: You have plenty of options, like cave tubing along the Hummingbird Highway, canoeing the Rio Grande or hiking in Cockscomb Basin. They're all great choices--I'm speaking from experience!
So there you have it: the next time you think about a tropical vacation, make sure to consider Belize, where you have access not just to fabulous beaches but also a lot of adventure. And if you're keen, you can always go searching for howler monkeys!