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Belize Part 1 – Jungle

My husband and I are CPAs. This means January through April are off limits for time off. After 3.5 months of long nights, a very cold Wisconsin winter, and severe vacation withdrawal, we pack a bag with a group of our fellow busy season survivors and find a place to unwind. Our only requirements are warm weather, adult beverages and a lot of fun.

There is no better place than 8 days in Belize….

I have heard amazing things about Belize. From the lush jungle to the beautiful reefs, there would be so much to explore. While our time was brief, we wanted to experience all aspects of the country.

When I read full time travel blogs I am bombarded with too much reading. We have full-time professional careers and tend to fill our vacations with as as many experiences as we can. I want quick answers and lists of what was your favorite and what did you wish you knew before getting there. So all of my posts will start at answering those questions before I get into detail.

What We Did:

  • Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave
  • Jungle Splash Eco Tour – blog post coming soon
  • Drink our jungle resort out of Belikin – self explanatory

What To Know:

Where should I rent a car?

Crystal Auto Rental Belize. I have nothing but good things to say about this company. Our wheel undercarriage liner (not a car expert – but this was a huge part) completely fell off the car while driving through a rainstorm on a gravel road in the jungle. We wrapped it in towels, jammed it in the trunk, and received NO additional charge from the company. They have convenient locations at the airport and Belize City. If you plan to take a ferry from Belize City, they offer a free shuttle service. Advice: We rented direct through the website and early for the best pricing.

Should I get a four wheel drive car? 

If you plan to go to the jungle – YES. The roads off the main highway are no joke. Advice: Be very aware of children and pedestrians when driving on the Belize roads. There are no sidewalks and many use the main highway for foot travel.

Do I need GPS?

If you are going out to the jungle there is one main road that everything feeds off of. Overhead signage in 2018 was very worn and we had to backtrack a few times. On that note, GPS was not needed. Download before you leave an you will be okay! Advice: There are police checkpoints on the main road, have your driver’s license and passport ready to show.

Is driving safe?

YES. I have never met such lovely people while traveling. Our luck was very poor when it came to our automobiles during this trip. In the jungle when the part fell from our car, an ATM tour guide who was done with work for the day waited over an hour for us to drive back into the rainstorm to retrieve our car part to make sure we got out safe. We also drove the wrong way down a narrow street in San Ignacio and strangers stopped traffic to help us turn around!

How much time to spend in the jungle?

More than 3 days! We only scratched the surface and can’t wait to return to cross more things off our Belize Bucket List. Advice: Watch the hours of operations for the ruins. We unfortunately missed the ruins since they close at 5pm.

What Would You Do Different

I would have spent more time in the jungle to see the Mayan ruins, specifically Xunantunich near San Ignacio. You could accomplish this with only three days, just go direct to the ruins once your flight arrives. I have added the following to my Belize jungle bucket list:

  • Visit Xunantunich Mayan Ruins
  • Boat ride to Lamanai Mayan Ruins
  • Visit Caracol Mayan Ruins
  • Cave Kayaking Caves Branch River
  • Take a night safari

Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave – The Details

Our jungle lodge hosts recommend the Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave (ATM). Shaun and I have been in many caves around the world, but none with friends and none that contained a crystal skeletons. We were in.

Gumbo Limbo scheduled a private tour to ATM for our group. Our tour guides were amazing and unfortunately since it was hired for us, I am uncertain of the company. Since we had cars, we meet our guide at the ATM car park. You NEED a 4-wheel drive car for this drive. Off the main highway you will drive an hour on a rocky road and cross a number of rivers. We were lucky enough to complete this drive through a crazy rain storm.

Hiking through the jungle in a crazy rainstorm at the ATM cave

To get to the cave you must complete a 45 minute jungle forest hike where you are able to wade through multiple rivers. The forest is amazing. We saw many types of plants, birds, and insects.

Finally you arrive at the cave and enter by swimming in! We have walked into caves, repelled down, but never jumped in freezing water and swam into a cave (with NO wetsuit). Unfortunately you no longer can take cameras into the cave, so we have no pictures of this.

Advice: Don’t forget your socks! You need socks walking around the cave to preserve the artifacts.

You will spend the next few hours exploring the caves, squeezing through tight spaces, splashing in the underground river, and climbing underground ledges. We never felt claustrophobic or unsafe.

The cave is full of artifacts, pottery, and skeletal remains from the Mayan civilization. I loved learning about the Mayan traditions and beliefs, how they used the cave, and how Belize developed into what it is today. The most impressive skeleton is the Crystal Maiden, a full skeleton sparkling for all to see.

I always like reading a book about the area I am traveling in. I was reading Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston at the time. I highly recommend you bring this book with you on your next trip to Central America. It resonated with what we learned in the ATM tour.

Where We Stayed:

Gumbo Limbo Resort

Gumbo Limbo Resort

Choosing the right lodge in the jungle was difficult. While there are some beautiful jungle lodges in Belize I would love to try out with my husband, finding a perfect location for 9 people is difficult. When we came across Gumbo Limbo, we knew we found our winner. This was a perfect lodge for a group of people. After a full morning of traveling from Wisconsin, we didn’t want to drive too far into the rainforest. We wanted something central to San Ignacio, Belize City, and Belmopan so our drives each day didn’t have to be too long. We also wanted a resort that we could provide meals at so we didn’t need to drive into town every night.

Gumbo Limbo is made up of 5 beautiful bungalows looking out into the lush forest. We took three bungalows, fitting three in each. There is an amazing pool and main house with an open air restaurant and bar. We ended up eating one dinner and all breakfasts at the resort. This lodge is gorgeous and includes all you need for a perfect Belizean jungle launch point. Our hosts also planned our ATM cave excursion without us having to lift a finger. My only regret is not staying longer.  

Drinking Belikins and watching the sun go down in a pool in the Belize jungle