A very unique border crossing brought me into Belize, the second country of our journey from Mexico to Argentina. Brad and I planned on just a few days of bicycle touring through Belize which would cover mainly the northern parts of it. Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary was one of our destination together with Belize Zoo – one of the best Zoos I’ve ever seen! Join us and keep an eye out for the jaguar!
Day 1 – Bicycle touring through Belize
A very unique border crossing
Today I crossed my first border on a touring bicycle – with my underpants strapped to the top of my rackpack!
We left Chetumal late in the morning. Chetumal is a town in Mexico right at the border to Belize that offers some cheap and good accommodation. Hotel Casa Anaya had been our choice for the last three days. A spacious and clean room, functioning airconditioning, fast internet and last but not least a TV with Netflix fulfilled all our dreams. It was supposed to be our last rest before we would cycle through northern Belize in about ten days. As Belize was a bit more expensive we didn’t plan for a longer hotel stay there.
Early in the morning I got into my cycling clothes and gave my town clothes a last wash in the hotel bathroom. I strapped my underpants on top of my rackpack to let them dry as we go in the already baking sunshine. They should be dry until our first rest stop where I planned to take them off.
We cycled out of Chetumal passing by the airport and the prison on our way towards the border. I felt fresh after some days of rest and it was good to be out riding again. A short way down the main road brought us to the border region. We passed the Mexican Check point and paid our exit fee of MEX$ 1066. It’s strange when you have to pay money when you leave a country. So far I had always paid my fees on entry. High concrete walls and a fence on top lined the road towards the entrance of Belize. That’s how it looks like between two countries, I thought. Living in Europe you somehow forget how a proper border looks like.
We parked our bicycles outside a border building and went inside to get our passports stamped. For some reasons I got 30 days while Brad only got 10. It didn’t bother us too much as the time should be sufficient for our plans. But if anything happens and we need more time we are screwed. Better to keep an eye on that next time!
First impressions of Belize
After exchanging our last Pesos into Belize $ we cycled towards Orange Walk Town. As soon as we left the border Belize looked already completely different than Mexico! The road was much smaller and with no shoulder to cycle on. Looking left and right I was surprised about seeing lots of rich-looking houses. Very soon we also started seeing the reason for Belize’s wealth: agriculture or better sugar cane farming. We cycled through endless fields of sugar cane. Our first lunch stop proved that also the Belizean kitchen is a lot different than the Mexican. I missed mainly fresh fruits and vegetables in Mexican food (LINK) and so it was a nice treat to finally get some good veggies and a salad.
We cycled on in the afternoon until we found a good spot next to the road. As it was not easy to find good spots we decided for an early camp in a spacious gravel pit.
Day 2 – Bicycle touring through Belize
The roads of Belize
We left our campsite and cycled through sugar cane fields towards our dedicated lunch destination Orange Walk. The road we cycled on was one of Brad’s most loved backroads which means no asphalt on top. I felt okay with it today – other that on the backroads of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve – as we had a nice tailwind pushing us through and the road was not too bumpy. For lunch we pulled over in Orange Walk Town and went into a restaurant. I went for some “Chow Mein”. Surprisingly the whole food scene in Belize seemed to be occupied by Chinese people. There was one Chinese restaurant next to the other. We resupplied in a local supermarket (also operated by Chinese) and cycled on towards Crooked Tree which is known as a wildlife sanctuary and famous for bird watching.
After we took a turn off towards Crooked Tree the road turned into a backroad again. With every 50 meters of cycling the potholes doubled. To our left and right was swampy area that soon turned into a proper lake. We were told later by the locals that the amount of water in the lake is unusually high for this time of year. Belize seemed to get way too much rain during its dry season.
Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary
We reached the village of Crooked Tree which basically lies in the middle of a big lake on some sort of island. “Some sort of” because there are two landbridges with roads on connecting it to the surrounding “main land”. Cycling around the village we were aiming for a campsite Brad had seen earlier on his online maps. Unfortunately there was nothing at the dedicated spot. Instead we followed some signs down to the lagoon. Jacana Inn offered accommodation, boat tours, pick-ups and also camping. Down at the lagoon the sign pointed left to a big blue building that seemed abandoned. We almost gave up but kept cycling on the trail along the lagoon. Behind the blue building was a one-stored, unfinished building with people sitting in front. A sign reassured us that this was the real Jacana Inn. We parked our bicycles in the garden and asked the other people for check-in. A few minutes later and we started to make ourselves a home. Our usual camp chorus was enriched by some nice chats with other travelers. A couple from Germany that travelled in a campervan from Alaska to Argentina and a single man (also from Germany) traveling in his van in the opposite direction. There’s Germans everywhere!!
After socializing we fell in our tent and slept in the nice breeze of the lakeside garden.
Day 3 – Bicycle touring through Belize
The Jacana Inn – run by a local couple – was such a nice place that we decided to stay another night. The wildlife sanctuary of Crooked Tree was much different than expected. Instead of wild jungle the main attraction seemed to be the lake and its birds. Anyway, we took our bikes for a ride and explored the island as far as possible – which wasn’t much.
It might be a nice place for birdwatchers but it wasn’t a lot for us. The high water was supposed to be a reason for the lack of wildlife. Occasionally we got to see some nice colored birds and got an idea of how it’s supposed to be.
The rest of the day we relaxed at Jacana Inn and had a look at the maps and our future travel plans.
Day 4 – Bicycle touring through Belize
A famous place for cyclists
After a relaxed morning and a quick goodbye to the couple that runs Jacana Inn, we left a relaxed place to head towards our next destination: Belize Zoo. We would definitely get to see some Jaguars there…. The miles or better kilometers didn’t come easy today. We had to constantly fight against a headwind and the cars – epecially the buses – shooted past us with nearly no distance. We cycled on the main highway of Belize again – looking like one of Mexico’s backroads and most of the time without any shoulder.
It was before 11 am – still early in the morning – when we pulled off the road and stopped for an early lunch. A sign promised “Slim’s bar & grill – Nice music for nice people”. Wouldn’t you stop? A relaxed place right next to the road that served some “awesome food” according to Brad. He had stopped at this place the year before when he cycled through this part of Belize. And yes, indeed. The food was very nice and tasty and the place itself definitely worth a visit. That’s how a caribbean bar should look like!
Short before we arrived at the Belize Zoo and the dedicated campsite at its education center Brad wanted to “look for a spot” which meant wild-camping. Unfortunately the whole area we cycled through looked like one big swamp! We followed a side-trail away from the road and finally found a not-so-trashy spot between some kind of grassland and beneath some palm trees. We started our usual camp chorus and it didn’t take long. There’s really just one thing I hate more than mosquitos: sandflies! These nasty little flies are hardly seen but there bites grow big and ugly and tend to stay for a week or even longer. Additionally I read in the book “The lost city of the Monkey God” by Richard Preston a detailed description of the desease Leishmaniasis. Brought to you by sandflies. Great!
We covered ourselves in Deet to avoid the most bites and proceeded with cooking and having dinner. What we had? Pasta – as always! I slept very bad that night. For some reasons I woke up every now and then and the arm I was lying on was numb. It happens lately and I hope this is not a side effect of cycling as I still have the problems with my wrists being bend all day. Hopefully I can get used to it one day.
Day 5 – Bicycle touring through Belize
Packing up the tent in the morning was made a little harder by countless sandflies and mosquitos that hovered around us. We tried to speed up and with the help of Deet we survived. Somehow. I am still scratching the bites as I am writing these lines about a week later.
After just a couple of kilometers we arrived at Belize Zoo even before opening time. Some employees came first and then we cycled in, parked our bicycles and bought our tickets. Belize $ 30 per person gave us access to the best zoo I have ever been. Normally I don’t like caged animals but Belize Zoo is a haven for injured animals or animals that have been illegally kept as pets and cannot go back into the wild. For us it was the best chance to get to know Central America’s wild animals. Having heard a lot about Jaguars and crocodiles living here I was curious how they would look like.
The Zoo is kind of small but the cages are big enough and the animals can live in their natural habitat which is basically the jungle. Compared with the Wilhelma in Stuttgart, Germany, the last zoo I visited before starting on that trip, Belize Zoo was much better! I still can see the eyes of the Orang-Utang in the Wilhelma in his sterile prison-like cage without (!) any greens… Belize Zoo was a lot different and so I enjoyed walking around the cages in a jungle-like environment. As we were early not many people were in and so we made our way through towards the Jaguar cages. Of course there is a fence between you and the animals but you can get quite close and if you put your hands through the fence…. I didn’t try!
We saw all kinds of animals like parrots, owls, tucans, coatimundis, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, jaguarundi and ocelot. The most impressive were of course the jaguar, the puma and also the crocodile. I didn’t know that the snapping handbags are so big here. Now I don’t necessarily want to see one in the wild 😉
Day 6 – Bicycle touring through Belize
A day of rest in San Ignacio
After our wildlife adventure in the Belize Zoo we pedaled to the town of San Ignacio where we would take a rest before crossing the border into Guatemala. The elevation profile started to get a bit more interesting which means we had to cycle up some very steep hills (especially for me as I am only used to the flat). Arriving in San Ignacio I was out of breath and I was happy that we stayed a couple of nights in one of the local guest houses.
Our day off cycling was as always stuffed with gear maintenance or better laundry and the usual online work. I also managed to catch up to some of my favorite German TV series. I must confess, I am an addict!
San Ignacio offered a couple of nice restaurants (great Indian food!) and seemed to be a favorite base for tours to some nearby caves and Mayan ruins. As we travel on a budget we skipped the expensive tours and cycled the next day towards the border of Guatemala.
Day 7 – Bicycle touring through Belize
Leaving Belize and cycling into Guatemala
It was only about 15 kilometers from San Ignacio to the border. Arriving at the border facilities I had some urgent needs. Unfortunately for Belizean $ 1 even the toilet paper was limited. Not so good as I was still fighting against some diarrhea I had for almost a week now. We checked out of Belize for Belizean $ 40 each and crossed into Guatemala where we are allowed to stay 90 days. That includes not only Guatemala but also El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. Hopefully enough time for us to explore all these Central American countries!
Cycling towards our first destination in Guatemala – the town El Ramate – near the ruins of Tikal – we cycled into a traffic jam. We cycled past the standing cars right to the source: angry men with wooden sticks were blocking the road…
Right from the start, Guatemala turned out to be a very adventurous country. Stay tuned!
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