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.

 

NYC Part 3: Evening in Manhattan

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I spent a long weekend in NYC. You can read about Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

After spending most of the day in Brooklyn, we took the Q train back into Manhattan. We had dinner plans with a friend of David’s on the Upper East Side that evening, but knew we had a little time to kill first, so we got off in Midtown Manhattan. I wanted David to see Times Square for the first time.

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We got off the subway at the Times Square station. I looked around the part of the city I was most familiar with and felt that deep, uniquely New York energy. Together with about a billion of our closest friends, we walked around Times Square. On a Saturday evening. Even in March it was ridiculously crowded. David said it reminded him of India, but was not as crowded or as hot (but he was in India in July and New York in March). We stopped into H&M (one of his favorite stores, because it’s Swedish) and looked around for a while.

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We went to the Disney Store which was insanely packed, even for the Disney store. I, of course, wanted to buy every princess item in the store, but walked out empty-handed. Next we visited the M&M store where, again, I wanted to buy everything in sight but, again, restrained myself. It’s like $8 for a magnet and $30 for a T-shirt and I’m not made of money. It’s so tourist-y, but God, I love Midtown. David wasn’t impressed though. He said it was like “any other big city.” Sigh.

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We took the subway uptown to the Upper East Side. We found our way to a little cafe called Alice’s Tea Cup to meet a friend of David’s. It is a cute little Alice In Wonderland themed tea shop, and they also offer sandwiches, soups, and salads. The food was good, but a little on the pricey side. I had a grilled cheese with vegetables on regular pre-sliced loaf bread and it was like $20. There’s no tipping, but still, it was a bit too expensive for what it was. I guess that’s New York for ya.

David and his friend split a pot of chocolate chai tea. I have never liked tea. I’ve tried it hot, I’ve tried it iced, I’ve tried it sweet, I’ve tried it with milk, I just do not like tea. They offered me some, but I had just a sip of David’s. It was pretty good, which is a huge endorsement from me because, as I said, I do not like tea.

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After dinner we headed down to the Village near NYU. We took tourist-y photos in Washington Square Park, then went to a bar called “Fat Black Pussycat” which is above The Comedy Cellar. We showed our ID’s at the door (the only time we were carded in NYC, surprisingly), then stood at the bar with a few beers.

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We chatted and drank for a while before David said “Is that that dude from 30 Rock? Frank?” We looked over to the table he indicated. In the dark bar, we weren’t sure, but it sure looked like him. “The one with the hats?” David’s friend asked. “Yeah, him…Judah Friedlander?” David answered. David’s friend suggested that perhaps he was performing at The Comedy Cellar downstairs. We checked it out, and it was totally him. (Getting excited over seeing a B-list celebrity in “the wild,” check).  Also, they had a Polish Beatles poster!

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We finished our beers, walked around the Village for a while, then headed back towards Queens. David’s friend was very concerned we’d get lost, but we didn’t. We ended up back in our Airbnb without incident.

Read about our adventures at the 9/11 memorial, Broadway, and more in my next NYC post! (Update 5/20/18: All posts posted!  See part 5 and part 6 now!) Did you enjoy this post? Have you visited New York before? Did you have a celebrity sighting? 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/

 

Destination: Charleston, SC, USA

Charleston: A quick look

Language: English
Currency: USD
Drinking Age: 21
Public Transportation: 2 free trolleys, and a paid bus service
Passport: No (for US citizens)
Vaccines: Routine

Before you leave

  1. Stay with Airbnb! Charleston has many cheap Airbnb options. (If you sign up using my link you’ll get a $40 credit and I could receive a small compensation as well.)
  2. Charleston is pretty far south–if you’re going during the warm months (that’s April-October down here, y’all) be prepared to sweat, and pack appropriate clothing and sunscreen.

Charleston

Once you get there:

You will likely have to drive to get around Charleston. If you’re flying in I would recommend renting a car. However they do have a bus service (CARTA) which offers bus rides for a fee, but their trolley, which operates through parts of historic Charleston, is free. Another service, DASH, also offers free trolley rides.

Be prepared to walk. Even with cars and buses and trolleys, to get around downtown you simply have to walk. There are plenty of paid lots and garages where you can park your car.

  1. Charleston City MarketOld-City-MarketThe Charleston City Market was established in 1788 by Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and has been a public marketplace ever since. While it was once primarily a meat market, it has evolved into an artisan’s haven. You can find everything from hand-woven baskets, to paintings, to souvenirs, to cheesy hand-painted wine glasses.
  2. Hunley Submarine (civil war history)hunleys-daring-submarineThe Hunley is fun for any history buff. Scientists are working to restore a Civil War era submarine that’s open for tours on the weekends. The tours to the submarine itself are led by a guide, while the museum tours are self-guided. It’s a good introduction to the wealth of Civil War related history in the Charleston area. Tickets are $16/adult and $8/child.
  3. Fort Sumter (civil war history)Fort Sumter Battlefield HeroFort Sumter National Monument is probably best known as the place where the American Civil War erupted. Nowadays, it’s another must see for anyone interested in American history. Getting there requires taking a tour boat to the fort, and taking an approximately two hour tour. Information on tours and facilities can be found on their website.
  4. Folly BeachFollyBeachA 20 minute drive from central Charleston, Folly Beach is a cute Carolina beach town. It is home to many tourist-y beach stores and hipster-y cafes.
  5. Kickin’ ChickenkickinchickenA local chain restaurant, the Kickin’ Chicken has great food and a relaxed atmosphere. With tons of big screen TVs, wings, and a bunch of beers on tap, it reminded me of Buffalo Wild Wings (with better service). The food was fantastic, and the service was excellent. I subbed in a barbecue sauce for the buffalo sauce on the menu for my sandwich and the server didn’t bat an eye.
  6. Black Magic CafeBlackMagicFollyBeachThe original Black Magic Cafe is located in Folly Beach with a new location in James Island. The Folly Beach location is in a tiny old house, with seating outside and in, including on the enclosed screened-in porch. It’s packed on a Sunday morning with plenty of 20 and 30-somethings enjoying coffee, muffins, eggs, and many breakfast combos.
  7. Aqua Terrace Rooftop BarRooftopBarLocated on top of the Charleston Marriott, the Aqua Terrace Rooftop bar has good views of the city, and a gorgeous view of the Ashley River. The drink prices are a little higher than the college bars we usually frequent ($10-15 for a mixed drink) but the cocktails are good.
  8. The Gin JointGinJointLocated right downtown (and near a parking deck, bonus!) the Gin Joint is hopping with 30-something hipsters on a Saturday night. It has a speakeasy theme and a variety of gin drinks, whiskey drinks, and cheeses.
  9. Fudgery IncFudgeryLocated across the street from the Charleston City Market, the Fudgery is conveniently located when you’re out on the town. They offer gourmet homemade fudge, hand-squeezed lemonade, and a variety of ice cream flavors. We picked up some chocolate caramel fudge to take home and a strawberry lemonade to sip on while we walked around. The staff is very friendly and offer free fudge and ice cream samples!

Charleston is a cool city, and I would love to see more of it in the future.  I’ve heard great things about their murder mystery parties, ghost tours, and other historic Charleston spooky attractions.

Did you like this post?  Do you have any recommendations for visitors to Charleston?  Share your thoughts 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!

Links:

Trolley info: http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com/free-public-transportation-charleston-dash-trolley/

Hunley submarine site: https://hunley.org

Kickin’ Chicken photo: https://www.thedailymeal.com/kickin-chicken-2

City Market photo: http://www.visit-historic-charleston.com/things-to-do-in-charleston-sc.html

Charleston City Market: http://www.thecharlestoncitymarket.com/main/history

Rainbow Row photo: https://www.sciway.net/sc-photos/charleston-county/rainbow-row.html

Fort Sumter photo: https://www.civilwar.org/

Hunley Submarine photo: http://cdn.history.com/