Photo Dump: Cahal Pech

Hello, Globetrotters!

I had so much fun making the photo dump for Tikal that I decided to share with you some photos from our visit to Cahal Pech.

Cahal Pech is a Mayan historic site located just outside of San Ignacio, Belize. It’s within walking distance of town, so it’s super accessible if you’re staying in San Ignacio or visiting for the day. You can learn more about getting around San Ignacio in my destination guide.

Cahal Pech is one of the oldest Mayan sites in Western Belize. The name “Cahal Pech” means “Place of the Ticks” in the Yucatec Maya language. The historic site was the home of a wealthy Mayan family, although it is believed to have been inhabited continuously from 1200 BCE to the Classic period. There is a museum on-site where tourists can learn about the history of Cahal Pech before exploring the ruins independently.

Please enjoy!

-The Globetrotting Scientist

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Did you enjoy this post? Have you visited Belize before? What about Cahal Pech or San Ignacio? Tell me about it in the comments below! Share this post via Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter and, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

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A Quick Guide to Taking a Day Trip from Belize to Guatemala

In December of 2017, my husband and I took a 2-week trip to Belize. We decided to spend a week traveling and adventuring, then a week relaxing on the beach. Our first 5 days or so were spent in San Ignacio, in western Belize. It’s an amazing, cute little town and we had a fabulous time there. Since we were so close to Guatemala, we decided to take a day trip there. We picked Tikal, a Mayan historic site. Normally we like to strike out on our own, but for this we decided the best way to get the most out of a single day was to book a tour. Prior to leaving the US, we booked an all-inclusive day tour that picked us up from our Airbnb, drove us to the border, handled immigration, drove us to Tikal, gave us a native Guatemalan (who spoke perfect English) tour guide, lunch, and everything back. We booked with Belize Family Adventures through Viator, it cost $150USD per person, and it was worth it.

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We woke up before 7AM, crazy early for vacation. We dressed and packed a small backpack to share with some snacks for breakfast (neither of us are big breakfast people), water, phones, raincoats, and a camera. We were waiting outside of our Airbnb at 7:30AM for a van to pick us up and take us to the Belize/Guatemala border. There was another couple in the van who traveled with us all day.

We arrived at customs, which was a small building that was basically one room with several customs officers collecting the $40BZ ($20USD) exit fee and stamping passports with exit stamps. I’ve only crossed borders (excluding EU borders) on land twice, and that was the US/Canada border, where you aren’t required to get out of the vehicle. It was a new experience for me to cross on foot.

We paid our fees and exited the building on the other side…which wasn’t really Guatemala. We entered something of a no-man’s land. Our tour guide for the rest of the day met us in that no-man’s land. He collected all of our passports (!!!) and handled Guatemalan entry customs. The four of us (me, my husband, and the other couple, who were also American) sat awkwardly in the van, and I know I personally considered the possibility of this guy running off with our passports and leaving us stranded in Guatemala. But no, he brought them back, handed them out and we were on our way.

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Our guide was awesome. The whole ride from the border to Tikal he told us cool facts about Guatemala: the people and culture, Mayan history and culture, the geography, the wildlife, you name it. And it didn’t feel like a Discovery Channel documentary: the guy was funny and informative.

Tikal was about 2 hours from the border. On the way there we got to enjoy the true natural beauty of the country.  Guatemala is one of the most stunning, lush, green countries I’ve visited.  Tikal is located about 20-30 minutes inside a National park. Our guide took care of all of the fees and stuff and we all got wristbands that said “extranjero” or “foreigner.”

The ruins are mostly spaced out throughout the park. We had to walk through a lot of forest to get to each building or temple. Not all of the ruins have been restored. You can read more about the ruins in my Tikal photo dump.

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After we walked through and saw most of the ruins (and climbed a lot of them; my legs were sore for days!), we had to head out of the park quickly. On the way out we did stop to see some howler monkeys! It was the first time I’d seen a monkey in the wild.

We made our way out of the park and back to the van. Part of our tour package was lunch, which was late, but good. Honestly a little disappointing because it felt like it was catering to American tourists and not super authentic.  Our tour took us back to the border, through customs, and all the way back to our Airbnb in time for a late supper.

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All-in-all, it was a great trip.  I’d definitely recommend a tour to any first-time visitors to Guatemala: I think we were able to make the most of our short visit by cutting out worry about logistics.  We also got so much more out of the trip by having a local guide.

Have you visited Guatemala?  What about Tikal?  Did you use a tour company or strike out on your own?  Tell us about it in the comments below.  Share this post via Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter and, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

This post may contain affiliate links. If you sign up with my link you will receive a $20 credit to Airbnb.

 

Photo Dump! Tikal, Guatemala.

Hello, Globetrotters!

My life is still balancing out; we found a car, but I’ve been sick all week, and found myself behind on homework.  I am working hard to bring you all great content in the coming months!

For this post I wanted to share with you photos from my recent trip to the historic site, Tikal, in Guatemala.  Located in a National park, Tikal is the ruins of an ancient Mayan city, thought to have been called Yax Mutal by the Mayan people.   It is one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centers of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization.  Learn more about our trip to Tikal in A Quick Guide to Taking a Day Trip from Belize to Guatemala.  Please enjoy my travel photos!

-The Globetrotting Scientist

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The ancient Mayans studied astronomy.  They calculated the position of the sun based on the time of year.  The celebrated the Fall and Spring Equinox and the Summer and Winter Solstice.

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They built some of their temples and monuments based on the position of the sun at certain times of year.

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They used some structures to observe the stars.

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Today we have an amazing view of the rain forest.

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The entire site made up a large city in ancient Mayan times.  It was abandoned when the Spanish conquistadors began their conquest of Latin America.

20171215_132418 Much of the city hasn’t been excavated, due to the risk of erosion and high cost of maintenance. However, the city center (pictured above and below) has been mostly restored.

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The city was built by hand, on the backs of the lower-class workers.

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They did not use pack animals, so every stone was carried by humans.

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The average life expectancy of a lower class Mayan was 25-30 years, due to the nature of this hard labor.

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Today many Guatemalans have incorporated their historical Mayan culture into Catholicism.  When we visited, many locals were gathering to celebrate.

Did you enjoy this post?  Have you visited Guatemala before?  What about Tikal?  Tell me about it in the comments below!  Share this post via Facebook or Twitter and, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

Destination: San Ignacio, Belize

San Ignacio: A quick look

Language: English*
Currency: Belizean Dollar
Drinking Age: 18
Public Transportation: Most Belizeans use “chicken buses,” old school buses that ply the major cities several times a day. Price varies depending on how far you go, but are always very cheap
Passport: Yes, US citizens can stay in Belize for up to 30 days without a visa
Vaccines: Routine

*The locals speak Belizean creole with each other, but generally speak perfect English

Before you leave:

Stay with Airbnb! San Ignacio has many cheap Airbnb options; I even found them to be cheaper than hostels for 2 people. (If you sign up using my link you’ll get a $40 credit and I could receive a small compensation as well.)

To get to San Ignacio from the Belize City airport, we hired a shuttle through Belize Shuttle and Transfers, which was $35USD/person. It was clean, air-conditioned, and we were dropped off right in front of our Airbnb.

Every time you exit Belize, you must pay a $40BZ ($20 USD) exit fee. It is not a scam! Even if you exit and re-enter on the same day, this fee applies. It also applies when you fly, although airlines typically include this fee in the price of your ticket.

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Once you get there:

San Ignacio isn’t very big, so walking is the best way to get around. It’s very hilly, so often it feels more like hiking, but the views are fantastic and a little exercise never hurt anyone. If it becomes overwhelming, there are a plethora of taxis and the drivers are very kind.

The Belizean dollar is tied to the US dollar at a fixed exchange rate of $2BZ to $1USD. Many places in Belize accept USD for this reason.

  1. Cahal PechCahalPechDid you know there are Mayan ruins right in San Ignacio? We were able to walk from our Airbnb to the Cahal Pech ruins in San Ignacio. There’s a museum where you pay your entrance fee ($10BZ/person), can learn about Mayan history, and observe many of the artifacts that were discovered on site. You’re then free to walk around the ruins for as long as you like, with or without a tour guide. They aren’t very spread out, so it’s mostly exploring the ruins themselves, many of which are open and you can climb on top or inside.
  2. The Green Iguana Conservation ProjectgnomeGreen iguanas are endangered in Belize. This is due mostly to the local custom of eating iguanas, which they call “bamboo chicken.” The Green Iguana Project is a non-government organization dedicated to preserving green iguanas in Belize. It’s located outside of a hotel, and tours are offered about every hour for $9USD/person. You must visit with a tour guide. There is an iguana house with many green iguanas, including Gnome, a 10lbs, 5ft long male iguana, who is fabulous with people. Everyone on our tour was able to hold him, and he was very docile the entire time. If you want a unique opportunity, visiting the iguanas definitely fits the bill.
  3. AJAW Chocolate and CraftsAJAW.jpgWe stopped by AJAW Chocolate and Crafts hoping to pick up some local chocolate. What we found was so much better. They offer tours where you learn the ins and outs of traditional Mayan drinking chocolate, made with cocoa beans grown in southern Belize. They take you through step by step from fruit to drinking chocolate, with lots of taste test opportunities along the way. We even got to help grind the chocolate on a traditional volcanic rock. Then, you are able to try the chocolate with and without honey, cinnamon, allspice, and chili flakes. Finally, you’re given a sample of chocolate to take home. It’s a fantastic way to learn about traditional Mayan chocolate making.
  4. Farmer’s MarketSan-Ignacio-Farmers-Market-localsEvery day except Sunday a huge Farmer’s Market is open in downtown San Ignacio. You can buy everything from local fruits and veggies to crafts in this traditional farmer’s market. We visited during the week, but I’ve been told Saturday is the best day to go.
  5. KayakingkayakingAlthough we didn’t get a chance to do it, several tour companies in San Ignacio offer a kayaking trip down the river just outside the town. If you’re looking for some adventure in nature, this is your chance to do it!
  6. ATM CavesATM-Cave-Expedition-Viva-BelizeThis was another thing we didn’t get to try, but that absolutely everybody recommended. Considered one of the Top Ten Caves in the World by the National Geographic Society, it’s full of Mayan artifacts and stunning nature. Due to safety concerns, you must go with a guide. Virtually every guide service in Belize runs tours to this area, though.

Restaurants:

  1. Montero’s BBQmontero-s-bbqIt’s not always easy to GPS your way around San Ignacio, but this family-owned streetside barbeque joint is worth going off the beaten path for. It’s located “up the hill” near La Sante Pharmacy on Benque Viejo Rd. They offer just about anything you can throw on the grill including $3BZ burritos packed with chicken, beans, and veggies, stuffed jalapenos, local beer, and mixed drinks. Belikin is the beer of choice for Belizeans and you can get a bucket of 7 for $20BZ during happy hour at Montero’s. They offer local rums, and can mix up a rum and Coke, local favorite called the “Panty Ripper” which is fruity and tropical, or basically whatever you want, just ask. If you want to eat like a local, go straight to Montero’s.
  2. Eva’s Restaurant20171217_175537Eva’s is located downtown on the pedestrian street, Burns Ave. It’s a bit more tourist-y, but they offer a selection of Belizean food, beers, and mixed drinks. I had the most amazing quesadilla of my life, while my husband had stewed chicken (a Belizean staple) and a Belikin stout.
  3. SerendibStewedChickenSerendib is across the street from Eva’s, and is an Indian restaurant. While they offer many curry dishes, they also have Belizean food, and their stewed chicken is amazing.
  4. Pizza place next to Sweet Ting on Benque Viejo Rd20171216_171428_hdr.jpgCheap, made-to-order pizza in what looks like someone’s kitchen. They aren’t open all the time (on Sunday there was a yard sale going on out front) but it’s worth stopping by if you catch them.

If you are in Belize, you absolutely must go to San Ignacio.  It’s such a cool city that really captures Belizean culture, and its rich Mayan history.  The locals are friendly and genuine, and there’s a lot to do without being overly tourist-y.

Shout-outs!

San Ignacio Farmer’s Market Photo: http://rumorsresort.com/san-ignacio-farmers-market-2/

ATM Caves photo: http://www.vivabelize.com/tours-activities/atm-cave-expedition/