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A reader asked for last weekend’s Belize and Tikal rapid itinerary:
- Flight to Belize City (BZE), arriving 11:20 (see here for how the BA miles redemption AA turned into a nonstop Delta flight in first class). US – Central America flights are generally and inconveniently midday, making it difficult to maximize time.
- Tropic Air flight Belize City (BZE) to San Pedro (SPR), Ambergris Caye, 11:40-11:45. For those already in Belize City, the Municipal Airport (TZA) has slightly cheaper flights to popular domestic destinations than the farther international airport.
- Snorkeling trip to Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley, 14:00-16:30 with Amigos Del Mar, selected because they actually reply to emails. The Rapid Traveler had to pay for himself and his imaginary friend because the minimum headcount was two at the various dive shops and he could not find anyone willing to take the plunge without advance notice. The snorkeling was awesome, getting face to face with nurse sharks and stingrays, and spotting moray eels in the coral.
- Water taxi to Belize City, 07:00-08:30.
- Drive to Crystal and rental formalities, 08:30-09:30
- Drive to Tikal, with stops at the Belize Cental Prison’s gift shop (disappointing), tiny Guanacaste National Park and its namesake guanacaste tree (a nice 15-minute loop trail), and excellent Mayan site Xunantunich with its hand-crank ferry.
- Arrive Tikal 16:30. The trip took several hours longer than planned due to the long time needed for rental car pick- up, border crossing procedures, and occasional stretches of unpaved road.
- Sprint through Tikal before the 18:00 close to a cacophony of howler monkeys.
- Road back to Belize, overnight in San Ignacio.
- Sleep in until 08:00, what a luxury!
- Road to Belize City, stopping at the amusing Belize Zoo.
- Pay nearly USD 6/gallon to fill the tank.
- Flight to Miami at 14:45.
The Rapid Traveler is not well suited to review Belize. Its main audiences are divers, eco-tourists and those who want to loll around as days drift by. Many spend their entire trip around Placencia in the south. The main detractor is costs, both airfare and everything in Belize, which are higher than many competing destinations.
Foodies should note that food throughout Belize is weak: not a good sign that nearly every dish has ‘rice and beans’ or ‘beans and rice’ and the distinction between the two is a big deal. Beyond that, traditional dishes are hard to find as most restaurants serve little different from a TGI Friday’s menu.
Belize City: grim, and safety is a major issue. Many travelers bypass it, The Rapid Traveler no exception.
The Northern Cayes (San Pedro, Ambergris Caye): The Rapid Traveler has been to some beach towns over the years, and though hardly a connoisseur, San Pedro seems dumpier than most, but the aquatic attractions superior. Costs are high. Tooling around in golf carts looks fun.
Mainland Belize, the Western Highway through Cayo District. Due to limited time The Rapid Traveler was unable to see some of the great archealogical and natural highlights, like Actun Tunichil Muknal cave which combines both features, but the road trip and stops were pleasant. Just budget a lot for activities to fully experience, USD 50 for this zip line, USD 40 for that cave, etc, and avoid the cruise ship hordes Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays which jack up the prices and crush the atmosphere.
Tikal: awesome, yes. Shrouded in dense jungle, cool. Worth the time and cost if not doing anything else in Guatemala, probably not. While Tikal is perhaps the greatest single Mayan site to visit, Chichen Itza and other Yucatan sites arguably win out in terms of cost, convenience and variety (see ’12 Hours of Yucatan Maya’ parts 1, 2, and 3).
The Rapid Traveler had fun and never regrets visiting any country, but in a world brimming with more choices than time and budget allow, he feels better experiences can be had elsewhere, be it for archeology or beach.
Readers, how wrong is The Rapid Traveler? Share your highlights and lowlights of Belize and Tikal.