A Travellerspoint blog

The Belize Zoo and Mayflower Bocawina National Park, Belize

Most of these creatures want to kill you but just enjoy and keep walking!

sunny 93 °F

I am not generally a zoo person because I feel bad for animals in captivity, but I also realize that the best zoos are trying to create awareness and provide care for animals that may not survive otherwise. In Belize, seeing many of the local animals will get you killed can be a rare thing, so I really wanted to make the trek to The Belize Zoo. I had heard good things about their environmental commitment to education and the care of birds and animals, and I knew that many of their animals were rescues that would have been absconded for the pet trade or shot as nuisance animals. Here’s what they say about what they do...

The Belize Zoo was started in 1983, as a last ditch effort to provide a home for a collection of wild animals which had been used in making documentary films about tropical forests.

Shortly after the backyard "zoo" began, it was quickly realized that its Belizean visitors were unfamiliar with the different species of wildlife which shared their country. This very aspect fomented the commitment to develop the little zoo into a dynamic wildlife education center.

Today, The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center exhibits over 200 animals, representing over 45 native species. The Zoo keeps animals which were orphaned, rescued, born at the zoo, rehabilitated animals, or sent to The Belize Zoo as donations from other zoological institutions.

The Belize Zoo has become the first nature destination in Belize that is fully accessible to visitors with physical disabilities. It is a non-governmental, non-profit organization focused on wildlife conservation through wildlife rehabilitation and environmental education. 52 Belizeans are currently employed at TBZ.

We also found out that the Belize Zoo works with other zoos to safely relocate Belizean Jaguars. If you want to see one, visit the Milwaukee or Philadelphia zoos.

We loved our visit and learned a lot.

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Have you ever seen a tapir? I hadn’t! The tapir is the national animal of Belize. Its nickname is the ‘mountain cow’ although it’s not a cow at all! We found out it’s most closely related to the rhino and the horse. Do the math on that one.

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This is Sylvia the Jaguar. She is clearly not happy here, but she was considered a ‘nuisance’ animal because she was killing livestock. Had she not been relocated to the zoo, she would have been shot. Considering that there are less than 800 jaguars still estimated in the wild in Belize, putting her here gives her a fighting chance.

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This guy is a harpy eagle. He is HUGE. He has hind talons that can be as large as those of a grizzly bear and stands 4 feet tall. His wingspan is 7 feet! However, it can only fly with prey weighing less than one half its own body weight so he probably won’t kill you. Watch your kids, just saying.

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Belize is a great place to try local food, so we stop at roadside stands whenever we can. Three tacos for $1 Belize, which is 50¢ US. Not a bad deal.

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Our next stop was Mayflower Bocawina National Park. Home to spectacular waterfalls and an entire city of unexcavated Mayan ruins, it was a great place to spend an afternoon. Plus PK got to play Tarzan in the hanging vines so that was a bonus.

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This is Rose. Her brother works at Sleeping Giant. Her cousin works at Jaguar Reef. Her cousin knows Amir and Axel from Sleeping Giant. Walter at Jaguar Reef is married to Jessica whose cousin is Alcindor at Ian Anderson’s. The point: everyone knows everyone in Belize.

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This is an unexcavated Mayan Temple. They estimate that there may be as many as 3,000 structures in this park alone.

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These are leaf cutter ants. They are amazing. They can carry more than 50 times their weight, and travel in lines up to 100 feet long. They are so focused on their work that they don’t stop to sting you, but if you wreck their line by stepping on some of them, they will try to crawl in your shoes and invite all of their friends to come along. Just a piece of jungle advice. Keep walking.

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Next stop: Sleeping Giant Rainforest Lodge. You’ll love it. I know we did.

Posted by traciekochanny 12:40 Archived in Belize Tagged rainforest zoo jungle waterfall parrot crocodile belize toucan tapir jaguar belize_zoo bocawina_national_park Comments (0)

Sleepy little Hopkins, Belize

Off the beaten path on the Caribbean Sea

sunny 82 °F

We used to travel to the Yucatán in Mexico. After hearing about increased gun violence and reading 8 pages of State Dept. warnings about violence throughout Mexican tourist regions, we stopped going. Hopefully someday things will improve. We had looked at Belize but figured we couldn’t get there easily from our little Traverse City, Michigan airport, where it usually takes a couple of long connections to get anywhere. Luckily Facebook sends me thoughtful targeted ads after profiling me ???? and one popped up about flights to Belize.

5:00 am Traverse City - Chicago, 10:30 am Chicago - Belize City, landing at 12:30 - seriously? So we booked it with less than 24 hours notice.

Belize is an incredibly diverse country with less than half a million people and only 8 stoplights, all in Belize City. Belizeans share their country with Mestizos from Latin America, the Garifuna from the southern Caribbean, Chinese (who apparently own every grocery store in the country) and a surprising population of blonde hair, blue eyed Mennonites who are dairy farmers.

We like off the beaten path locations, and discovered the tiny village of Hopkins. Home to less than 1000 people, it is the cultural center of the Belizean Garifuna people. They arrived to Belize in the late 1800s from the island of St. Vincent. Hopkins is often called “the friendliest village in Belize” and considering that Belize is the friendliest country we’ve ever visited, that is saying a lot.

We wimped out on staying at a local cabana or hostel (because we are old) and ended up at Seiri Del Mar.

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This is the cool hostel according to the local (young) backpackers...the Funky Dodo. It gets great reviews and you can get a dorm bed for $13 a night!

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The beach is really sleepy, which is just how we like it.

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Thatched roof beach bars are our favorite and there’s no shortage of them here!

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We decided to head down to Placencia, another little beach town. We loved it. On the way to Placencia you have to drive by the Placencia airstrip. Since it goes by the road, there is a gate which closes when an aircraft is approaching. You stop, plane flies, gate opens. Cool!

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Placencia is home to the world's narrowest main street. It is 4,071 feet long and 4 feet wide and according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is the narrowest main street in the world. This is it!

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Back in Hopkins, we decided to check out the south end of the beach. Driving on Hopkins one paved street is an adventure, because even though it is one way, no one obeys the rule because the other streets are sandy and full of ruts! It freaked us out the first time we drove down the one way and saw cars barreling toward us, but we got used to it.

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This is the Big Dock Bar at the Jaguar Reef Lodge. It is gorgeous. It’s an overwater bar with several levels, and nets to sit on and watch the fish and manatees. We came back again the next morning for more drinks to enjoy the sunshine.

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On the way out of town we saw a random ATM (not common in Belize) and decided to get some Belizean $$. PK figured out that you had to scan your ATM card to unlock the door. After he was done, he tried to scan it to unlock the door to get out. Nope. After a short panic, he yelled through the door for me to get my ATM card and scan it, and happily, the door unlocked and he got out. So my question is, “What would have happened if he was alone?” Mysteries of Belizean life.

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This is Hamanasi, another fancy resort. Way too stuffy for us but pretty for sure.

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The top level of the Big Dock Bar.

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We actually found an authentic Italian restaurant and met the owner/chef from Sicily. Another special surprise!

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The main restaurant at Jaguar Reef Lodge - it is the sister resort to Sleeping Giant Rainforest Lodge (our favorite) so we will definitely be back to stay here.

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Gee, this looks dangerous relaxing.

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Now it’s back to the rainforest to see what adventures the jungle has in store for us this time!

Posted by traciekochanny 12:34 Archived in Belize Tagged beach caribbean belize central_america placencia hopkins_belize Comments (0)

Xunantunich Archaeolgical Reserve, Belize

3,000 years of Mayan history in one visit

sunny 95 °F

Belize is the epicenter of the ancient Maya world. At one time , more than two million Maya lived in the region. The Maya were advanced in their knowledge of agriculture, mathematics and science and they ruled the area for over 2,000 years. The civilization reached its peak from about 250 A.D.to 900 A.D. When the Spanish conquistadors arrive in the early 16th century, the civilization began to decline and eventually the great cities were abandoned and to this day historians still don’t know why. No one can figure out how they created vast networks of cities without the wheel.

On a lighter note, a favorite Jim Morris song sees it this way...

“I was walking by the ruins in the jungles of Belize
When I saw this little building by the wall
The tour guide was explaining but he ain’t fooling me
This ain’t no sacred temple after all

The Mayans had a tiki bar and they partied every night
I saw those funny pictures on the wall
They were dancin’ and a flirtin’ just sacrificing virgins
I bet those crazy Mayans had a ball”

I kind of like Jim’s version of events.

To get to Xunantunich, you have to load up people and vehicles on a hand cranked ferry to cross the Mopan River...pretty awesome if I do say so myself!

It’s remarkable to imagine that despite all of the discoveries that have been made with regard to Mayan history, much of it is still speculation. Costumes today at ceremonial functions are beautiful and elaborate, but since little evidence exists, who knows?

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Secret to happiness? Corn tortilla recipe? Who knows?

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Am I climbing the pyramid? No way, I am not! Thanks to PK for getting to the top!

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They call this tree ‘Monkey No Climb’...wonder why.

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So here’s some information from Wikipedia...

El castillo is the second tallest structure in Belize (after the temple at Caracol), at some 130 feet (40 m) tall. El Castillo is the “axis mundi” of the site, or the intersection of the two cardinal lines. Evidence of construction suggests the temple was built in two stages (the earlier dubbed Structure A-6–2nd, which dates to around 800 AD, and the later Structure A-6–1st). Structure A-6–2nd had three doorways, whereas Structure A-6–1st only had doors on the north and south. The pyramid lays underneath a series of terraces. The fine stucco or "friezes" are located on the final stage. The northern and southern friezes have eroded, and the others were covered during the reconstruction and over time. There is a plaster mold on the Eastern wall frieze. The frieze depicts many things. Each section of the frieze is broken up by framing bands of plaited cloth or twisted cords (which represent celestial phenomena).[9] The frieze depicts the birth of a god associated with the royal family, gods of creation, as well as the tree of life (which extends from the underworld, the earth, and the heavens).

OK, wake up! Let’s keep moving.

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Thanks to PK for braving it all the way up! Here’s the view from the top, looking out over Guatemala.

Lose your step here and you’ll have a new definition of the term ‘human sacrifice’

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This is the notorious ball court, where battles were fought and the gods of the underworld were summoned. Just don’t lose, because they’ll cut off your head.

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These guys spent their time dropping fruit on the heads of unsuspecting tourists...

It’s always remarkable to me to be in another nation and to see the lack of safety precautions. In the US this would be behind a barrier, covered with guard rails and 10 different signs with warnings. Here, just climb up and hope for the best.

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The Mopan River is breathtaking. Unfortunately I couldn’t swim...next time. Xunantunich is less than 1km to Guatemala so that’s where we headed!

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Posted by traciekochanny 12:20 Archived in Belize Tagged mayan_ruins belize pyramid xunantunich british_honduras Comments (0)

Rocky Mountain High - first stop, Eldora Lodge

Starting our last minute adventure in the Rocky Mountain State

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A few weeks ago, I asked PK what he wanted for his birthday. “I want to go to a Colorado.”he said. So...here we are! We flew into Denver on a hot summer night and made the drive to the Eldora Lodge. The address says it’s in Golden but we are 30 miles from Golden. Love those mountain roads!

This is our first stop, www.eldoralodge.com

This place oozes mountain charm. The huge decks look out over the continental divide, and there are fire pits, hot tubs and a great breakfast included. They even have a ‘smoker’s teepee’ if you’re into that sort of thing!

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Posted by traciekochanny 06:21 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Hawai'i part 4: South Big Island and headed to Maui

volcano hopping, Hawaii style

Our last day on the Big Island. No Way! This is one of those times when you really do start planning your next visit back while you are still here. This island had been so good to us. It's hard to imagine that we were a little hesitant to head to Maui. I know, crazy, right?

We decided to complete the circle and cover the south side of the Big Island, crossing through Mauna Kea upcountry, back through Volcano then down and around and up to Kona.

We headed back through Volcano and were enjoying the beautiful pastoral scenery (think ranch country in Montana), when all of a sudden I looked to my right and almost had a heart attack.

In the distance, between palm trees, horses and gardens, was incredible, 14,000 foot, snow covered Mauna Kea!

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The world's tallest mountain at almost 31,000 feet from the sea floor, Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano that towers over the Big Island with its sister mountain, Mauna Loa. One of my goals this trip was to visit the observatories at Mauna Kea (I figured if a famous geologist wasn't going to discover me, a famous astronomer surely would). I wanted to hang out with Neil DeGrasse Tyson see the stars from arguably the clearest skies on earth.

Unfortunately, the summit looked like this when we were there:

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I know, beach vacation in Hawaii, right? I live in northern Michigan, where we were just coming off of 5 months of snow. I mean I love stars and Neil DeGrasse Tyson and all that but maybe next time. That's what National Geographic is for.

As we rambled through ranch country on the south side of the Big Island, I was again struck by the amazing diversity of this land. Soon we turn a corner (OK I lied, there are no corners, only winding roads) and sure enough, there to greet us was Mauna Loa, still sporting a snowy necklace.

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The world's largest volcano, Mauna Loa has been erupting on and off for more than 400,000 years. Note the on and off part. The last major eruption was in 1984.

Traveling around the slopes of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa really makes you appreciate--again--the immense size of the Big Island. People and towns are few and far between.

So yeah, that means we needed a bathroom.

PK turned down a road toward the coast, having no idea what to expect.

Little did we know that we were headed right toward one of the most beautiful beaches I had ever seen. Puna lu'u. A perfect coconut tree-lined stretch of talcum powder soft black sand.

Oh sure, you could burn a hole right through the bottom of your feet if you went barefoot, but damn, it was like something out of a South Pacific fantasy. We wandered along the water and saw dozens of honu (sea turtles) floating peacefully.

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As you circle around the south side of the Big Island, the coast is rugged and wild. Beach parks are plentiful and the views are expansive.

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This is the 'Shaka Bar', the true southernmost bar in the USA. 'Shaka' is a very cool Hawai'ian hand gesture that is used throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Except at this bar, their motto is 'if you're not from here, you don't belong here.' As a white person who does not live in Hawai'i, you are considered 'haole'. Most of the time it's a light hearted label, but every now and then you realize these people are serious.

OK, shaka. Bye bye.

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As we rounded the southernmost point in the USA, we knew we would never have time to visit so many of the places we wanted to see. I wanted to visit the 'last real fishing village in Hawai'i, Mil'oli'i. I had heard it was a truly 'old Hawaiian' place, and the center of the 1926 Mauna Loa lava flow.

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This place was gorgeous. Pristine beaches, clear water, a no people, no electricity and no water. Seriously, it was like some freaky beach ghost town. We still never figured out what the deal was with this place, but we can't wait to go back.

Soon enough, we had driven through miles and miles of coffee plantations and right into the aforementioned tourist area of Kona-Kailua. People everywhere, traffic and, thankfully, the airport. The airport, meaning, sit outside, chat and wait for your flight. No security, no walls, no lines, no hassle, and the people really do dress like this.

I love this airline.

We were headed to Maui!

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This is the actual gate.

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Flying over Molokini crater, arguably one of the best dive and snorkel sites in Maui.

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The West Maui mountains and the West Maui wind farm.
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Miles of sugar cane fields in the valley between the West Maui mountains and Haleakala volcano.
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Welcome to Maui!

Posted by traciekochanny 10:33 Archived in USA Tagged beaches volcano maui hawaii coffee kona big_island mokulele_airlines shaka Comments (0)

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