Just Back from Belize

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Fodor's writer Sarah Sper spent a week traipsing around Belize, climbing up Mayan ruins, canoeing through caves, hiking in the rainforest, snorkeling along the coast, and boating through the atolls.

What was your favorite part of the trip?

It's a toss up between exploring Caracol, the country's largest Mayan ruin, and snorkeling in Caye Caulker. They were such different experiences. Caracol is deep within Belize, and we bumped along some twisting roads before finally reaching the ruin's outskirts. From there, we hiked a bit to reach the main part of the excavation. It was so remote out there---we only saw a handful of other people---and the stillness added to the mystical feeling of clambering around an ancient city.

Caye Caulker, on the other hand, is this quirky, laid-back island with great snorkeling and diving excursions. We sailed out to Shark-Ray Alley and jumped into crystal-clear blue water full of stingrays. I screamed my head off (through my snorkel, to the amusement of everyone else on deck) when about 10 of the stingrays swarmed me, but what fun it was! On the way back, 4 or 5 dolphins unexpectedly escorted us.

What was your best find?

Coconut bracelets that I bought in Hopkins. We were at the local drumming school, watching a performance, when I met this interesting guy who makes beautiful, hand-carved bracelets out of coconut shells. I chatted with him about his technique, and bought a few for $5 each. I couldn't have thought of more perfect souvenirs.

What was essential during your trip?

Deep Woods Off. This place didn't earn the nickname Mosquito Coast for nothing. You have to use the stuff in the green can (not the nicer smelling Skintastic version that I brought) because it has a really high concentration of DEET. Put it on every day before you leave your room, and reapply frequently no matter where you are in Belize. Before I learned my lesson, I'd managed to accumulate 53 bites from my right foot to my knee alone!

What was the best thing you ate or drank?

We pretty much ate and drank our way through Belize, but my favorite dish was the simplest: coconut rice. It's usually served with stewed chicken and beans. It's just a little bit sweet and very addictive.

What advice do you have for someone going to Belize?

You can pack a lot into a week's vacation. Even though I'm a go-with-the-flow kind of traveler, this is one destination where I really think you should plan ahead to make the most of your time. A good strategy is to head inland for a few days when you first arrive, then hit an area on the coast to recuperate in the sun. Getting from place to place inland takes some forethought---most main highways are in good shape, but no tourist should tackle the tangle of side roads. For long distances, you can take a puddle jumper for a fairly reasonable price, hire a cab (they're usually a bit more expensive than renting a car), or find out if your hotel provides ground transportation.

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