How to find heaven on earth: visit Komodo and Rinca Islands, Indonesia

How to find heaven on earth: visit Komodo and Rinca Islands, Indonesia

Before heading to Komodo and Rinca islands, in Indonesia, I had a picture in my mind of what a tropical paradise should look like. My fantasy involved sights of uncontaminated lands, beautiful hilly landscapes swept by some soft breeze and offering incredible hiking trails, crystal clear seas with a thriving marine life, unique and at times scary wildlife and as little inhabitants as possible. After visiting Komodo and Rinca, I have decided that these two islands are, indeed, as close as it gets to my idea of a tropical paradise.

I set foot on Rinca on a hot morning of October, after a boat ride from Labuan Bajo across the calm waters of the Flores sea. The boat ride was just a small sampler of what awaited us. An infinity of small islands glowed in the distance, against the bluest sky one can conjure. The tranquil seas broke on the shores of the sandiest, whites beaches, lined by lush vegetation. I felt spoiled to be experiencing just that (and thankful that I did not get seasick as it had happened to me in Panama, thanks to the fast pace of the boat!).

Read more about my misadventures while sailing on my post “Sailing San Blas.”

Looking wistfully at the dramatic wedges of rock jutting out of the turquoise sea

Staring in the distance at the dramatic scenery – photo courtesy of Jeremy Goh @g0ldeng0h

Then, after two hours of navigation, we arrived to Rinca island. 

Spotting the Komodo Dragons in Rinca – it’s no monkey business!

Koh Kima is the hidden dock of Rinca, from where a trail starts, taking visitors to the base camp of Loh Buaya. It did not take us long to spot the first of the multitudes of Komodo Dragons who literally own the island (around 2000 live on the archipelago of Komodo, Rinca, Gila Motang and Flores), as he (or was it a she?) rested “peacefully” under a tree.

Komodo

Don’t worry, he’s resting – and looks almost harmless

Those komodos look so scary that it is said that the legend of the Chinese Dragon takes after them. And scary indeed they are. These giant lizards, locally known as ora, can reach a whooping length of 3 meters and weight up to 170 kg, and feed on the insects as well as the buffaloes, goats, monkeys, boars and deers that also live on the island. They are proper predators, who patiently hide to ambush their prey. So determined they are in their hunt, that they wait around till their meal of choice dies from the strong bacteria transmitted through their saliva once they bite.

hunting komodo

Sticking his forked tongue out, hunting for food – komodos are scary!

Don’t be fooled by how lazy the dragons look when they slowly walk around, sticking their forked tongue out. That is a sign that they are smelling around for food, and knowing that they can ran as fast as 40 km per hour should be a good enough deterrent to keep at a good distance. Indeed, although the komodos prey of choice are buffaloes and deers, incidents have been reported during which humans have been attacked.

komodo

Watch out – komodo hunting

One of the victims of such attacks was one of our guides, Rino, who took us around one of the various trails to show us the local wildlife – including a number of nests where female komodos lay their eggs – and who bravely recollected how he had to literally climb a tree for life and then seek immediate help against the bites. It’s little wonder then that all visitors must hire the services of a guide carrying a wooden forked pole to keep the dragons at bay and properly instruct tourists on each move they may or may not take.

it's no monkey business

Waving us goodbye at the dock, the monkeys of Rinca island

On the way back to the dock, before we boarded our boat again heading to Komodo Island, we got a quick yet cute reminder that if komodos rule in Rinca, monkeys may provide as excellent competitors in getting the attention of visitors. A multitude of monkeys waved us goodbye as we got on our boats, jumping from one branch to the other, playing around and threatening to steal our cameras, phones, water bottles and even our sunglasses. 

In search of the perfect view in Komodo

We then set sail towards Komodo Island, which we reached after about 30 minutes. Walking on the long wooden dock towards the camp site of Loh Liang, I embraced the view in front of me and immediately knew I was in love with this remote place. There, we could again see a few komodos – these ones were bumming on the beach, taking in the sun. And what a mighty sight they were!

Komodo

Turquoise waters, a dock and more islands in the distance: this is Komodo

As if Komodo was not perfect enough already, accompanied by our guide we started hiking in search of more wildlife and even more stunning views. There are a number of hiking trails around the island, all starting from Loh Liang and varying in length and difficulty – from the 1 hour easy trek through mostly flat trails and in good shade, to one that takes roughly 4 hours and is a bit more difficult, if anything because of the blistering heat and completely exposed to the sun.

Komodo National Park

The blistering sun didn’t keep us from hiking to the top

We felt particularly fit that day (besides, hiking really is one of my favorite things to do) and decided to climb the steep hill of Gunung Ara, the island’s highest peak at 538 meters above sea level, and challenge the sun and heat. We were thus rewarded with amazing views of the beautiful landscape, spotting the odd komodo as well as other wildlife on the way to the top, where we finally got to enjoy an incredible panorama over a small cove with really blue waters and a docked boat.

Gunung Ara

The rewarding view from Gunung Ara

We were so in awe of the view that it was not an easy task for the guide to finally convince us to leave and go back to the base camp, where lunch as well as a multitude of komodo dragons were waiting for us (come to think of it, they may well have thought that we were their lunch).

spot the photographer

Try to convince us to leave this paradise!

Finding Nemo

Just as a proper cherry on a delicious cake, our final stop for the day was the Pink Beach, or Pantai Merah, at about 30 minutes boat ride from Komodo island. Before getting there, the question was whether the so-called Pink Beach actually is pink. And I was also secretly asking myself if I, a girl from the beautiful island of Sardinia, would find a beach that could bare the comparison to what I am used to. The conclusion? Well, yes: the Pink Beach really is pink. Tiny coral fragments mixed with the golden powdery sand give it a slight pink color. What makes the place even more beautiful is its complete isolation (there are no buildings on this small island) and the shallow yet pristine water that have perfect visibility and that really are a paradise for snorkeling. So, the Pink Beach fully passed the tough Sardinian test!

Pink Beach

Do we look happy?

It took me a total of 15 seconds from the moment we set foot on the beach to take my clothes off and jump in those transparent waters, jumping around in happiness at the beauty of it. It really felt like heaven. Then, I sported some snorkeling gear and went in search of Nemo, and along with him I found many other fishes and corals. So we swam, relaxed and took pictures just before getting back on the boat that would take us back to Labuan Bajo, not before enjoying yet another gorgeous sunset, as only Indonesia seems to have.

Nemo

Nemo lives on the Pink Beach

I was happy: I found my tropical paradise. So, whatever happens, please do whatever it takes to protect Komodo and Rinca Islands and make sure they stay the same so that when I make my way back there, they will still shine in all their splendor.

Practical Facts

The Komodo National Park is one of the places to visit in Indonesia. Tours to Komodo National Park normally start in Labuan Bajo (Flores), with departures in the early hours. It is a full, yet pleasant and eventful day and visitors should expect to stay out for a good 10 to 12 hours. Make sure to wear comfortable clothes, hiking shoes, a hat and a swim suit if planning to snorkel, and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration, which is common in such hot weather.

Read more about Indonesia on my post “Fantastic things to do in Indonesia.”

Those who wish to spend a bit longer exploring the island can sleep in the modest facilities available in both Rinca and Komodo – wooden huts and bungalows that have plain rooms, with shared bathrooms and a dining area that offers simple yet delicious local staples like nasi and mie goreng. What makes sleeping on the islands so special is the feeling of closeness to nature that one only gets here.

Komodo National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and as such there are several fees to be paid for its protection and maintenance. They are as follows:

Entrance Fee – used for the conservation of the area: 20,000 Indonesian Rupiah (roughly $1.5 USD)

Local Area Tax – goes to the local community: 50,000 Indonesian Rupiah (less than $4 USD)

Snorkeling Fee – for trips inside the national park: 60,000 Indonesian Rupiah (around $4.50 USD)

Camera Fee – 50,000 Indonesian Rupiah

Local Guide – hiring a local guide is compulsory for reasons of safety and protection of the territory: around 80,000 per group (less than $6 USD)

Legal Disclaimer: This article was written in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia as part of the #WonderfulIndonesia campaign. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These pictures of Indonesia will feed your wanderlust

These pictures of Indonesia will feed your wanderlust

For as much as I intended to, I never seemed to be able to make it to South East Asia. Something kept me from going – either I had no money for the flight, or I had some commitments that took me to the other side of the Atlantic. My trip to Indonesia happened in a real whirlwind. I got my plane tickets on a Monday, and left on a Thursday. I won’t lie here – Indonesia was a huge cultural shock to me. I am used to the big, empty spaces of countries like Nicaragua, or to the emptiness of the rural areas of Sardinia. My trip was very fast paced and I did not get to spend nearly as much time as I wanted in each location. Nevertheless, I had a blast and truly enjoyed the country, its culture, the sights and the people, and I am eager to visit again and spend more time exploring.

The following pictures show just a fraction of what Indonesia has to offer. Although I only spent 3 weeks there, I know it is a new favorite of mine and I will want to go back. Seeing these pictures will most likely make anybody want to go too!

My trip started on a hot day in Jakarta. Thankfully, I had no commitments then. I was so tired from the long flights and jet lag that I just relaxed at the lovely infinity pool of the hotel.

 

CIMG0428

 

The trip then took me to Tangkuban Perahu, the crater of a volcano not far from Bandung.

 

CIMG0438

 

That’s where I also had my first encounter with the locals. I was literally stopped and asked to be in their pictures. It was funny, and I felt very welcome.

 

CIMG0433

 

The light in Indonesia immediately captured my attention. It was always stunning!

 

CIMG0471

 

Kawah Putih is another volcano crater, but it has a fantastic bright green lake that shined against the grey sky.

 

CIMG0521

 

Seeing the sunrise at Borobudur, the world’s biggest Buddhist monument, was an out-of-this-world kind of experience. It was simply magic!

 

CIMG0638

 

I also enjoyed visiting Yogyakarta and getting to see a bit of local action.

 

CIMG0773

 

Rato Boko Keraton is a interesting place to visit, although under the blistering sun it can be a bit overwhelming. Nevertheless, it was lovely to take pictures there – mind you, those steps were blistering hot!

 

CIMG0811

 

And Prambanan temple is an absolute must see, both at sunset

 

CIMG0888

 

And at night.

 

©juanjerez_prambanantemple-9197

photo courtesy of Juan Jerez Del Valle

 

Yogyakarta has some interesting street art too.

 

CIMG0956

 

And the light is great for taking pictures, especially insite the Royal Palace.

 

©juanjerez_claudiola-0015

photo courtesy of Juan Jerez Del Valle

 

Mount Bromo was a demanding stop on my tour, as I had to wake up at 2 am to see the sunrise over it. It was challenging especially as the sun did not seem to want to come out! But when it finally did, I got to see this…

 

CIMG1001

 

Next stop was Labuan Bajo, on Eastern Indonesia, which welcomed me with an incredible sunset.

 

CIMG1130

 

I got the chance to volunteer with the children of Taman Bacaan Pelangi in Melo Village, and it was an enlightening (not to mention a lot of fun) experience.

 

Volunteering in Melo

 

Komodo National Park, spread over the islands of Komodo and Rinca, was by far the highlight of my trip. There, I saw the Komodo dragons.

 

hunting komodo

 

And got some of the best views one can imagine.

 

Gunung Ara

 

I also made it to the Pink Beach – I found paradise there!

 

Pink Beach Paradise

 

The final stop was Bali. And there are few words that can describe how marvelous the sunsets there are. The ones in Kuta Beach…

 

IMG-20151016-WA0005

 

The ones from Ulu Watu…

 

CIMG1388

 

Bali is inhabited by some funny and mean monkeys. They tried stealing my sunglasses, but did not manage.

 

12113405_10156159032980500_355344536912987013_o

 

And the rice patties, so green, so beautiful…

 

 

 

©juanjerez_rice field-4057

photo courtesy of Juan Jerez Del Valle

 

There is no doubt that I will want to visit Indonesia again.

Have you been to Indonesia? What was your favorite attraction there?

Legal Disclaimer: This article was written in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia as part of the #WonderfulIndonesia campaign. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. 

Why I’m going back to Mendoza in 2016 and you should too

Why I’m going back to Mendoza in 2016 and you should too

I love traveling, and I love writing about travel. I love exploring new countries, learning about their culture, way of life, and even their food. One of the things I enjoy the most while I travel is trying the local drinks. It could be mezcal in Oaxaca, Mexico; rum in Trinidad, Cuba, pisco in Paracas, Peru; a good ale in a fantastic pub in London, England or a glass of Malbec wine in Mendoza, Argentina. I find that trying the national drink is a good way to get into the local atmosphere, to appreciate the local culture and to complement local food.

Don’t get me wrong, though! I am not the kind of person that could be called an alcoholic. Quite the opposite indeed. I don’t drink much and most people would say I am a light weight. But I am Italian, which means that wine appreciation is pretty much written in my genes. Even more so in my case, as my mom comes from a small village in Sardinia which is quite famous for its vineyards and its delicious wines, and where most families actually make their own wine (my grandfather used to do that too).

Read more about the things to do in Sardinia.

Mendoza

Nature and countryside is what I seek the most when I travel – photo courtesy of Tulio Soria (flickr)

I also love nature. As I get older, I appreciate spending more and more time outside. The hours I once spent bar hopping and recovering from a night out, are now those I use to get out and bike or hike my way through mountain and countryside trails. I value breathing clean air. I enjoy the silence. I appreciate the crispy wind biting my skin and I feel rejuvenated as I puff and pant while I hike up a trail – till the moment I reach the top and get to stare at the view below, completely mesmerized.

Mendoza

The gorgeous vineyards around Mendoza

Discovering Mendoza

My appreciation for wine and nature drew me to Mendoza last March. I had been to Argentina before, and found it to be one of the most incredible countries in the world. But back then, I had no time to visit the most famous wine producing region of South America. So, when I decided to travel to South America again, I made it a point to stop in Mendoza for a few days. Little did I know that I would end up falling in love with this city, to the point that I am planning a second visit for 2016 to stay even longer and explore the region further.

Mendoza

I can’t help falling in love with these views – photo courtesy of danicho (flickr)

I arrived in Mendoza from Santiago de Chile. It was a long ride, and before boarding the bus I had fully braced myself for it, preparing for interminable hours of snoozing, reading, listening to music and being plainly bored. None of that happened: at every turn, the views that opened in front of me were simply fantastic. The region is home to the Cerro Aconcagua, the tallest mountain of the Western and Southern hemisphere – well deserving the title of Roof of the Americas.

Mendoza

On the way to Mendoza, from Chile – photo courtesy of mewd (flickr)

As the bus crossed the mountain range, knowing that I wouldn’t have time to for a proper hike in Aconcagua National Park, I glued my face on the window and made the most of it. I gazed at the pretty mountain villages, envying the groups of people pic-nicking and enjoying the beautiful day. I admired the countryside, rows after rows of vines which would soon be turned into one of the delicious regional wines.

Mendoza welcomed me the minute I arrived. I knew I was in for a good time (despite a short one) when I spotted the wines on sale at the lobby of my hostel (apparently, all good hostels sell bottles of wine in Mendoza: isn’t that a treat?). Furthermore, as he walked me to my room, the receptionist asked whether I would care to join the rest of the guests for the asado that night. Memories of my previous time in Argentina kicked in immediately: all hostels organize asado nights there, and for a more than reasonable price. I had been waiting for the moment when I could taste that mouthwatering meat seasoned and grilled to perfection and accompanied by chimichurri, a tasty marinade made of parsley, garlic, oregano, a hint of chili and olive oil again since the time I had left the country a couple of years before. Staring at the bottles of wine for sale, I said yes – I would be glad to join. And I purchased a bottle of Malbec for good measure.

As it turned out, I was one of the few foreigners at the hostel. Most of the other travelers were other Argentinos who had gone to Mendoza to explore the wine region and the surrounding areas, just like I had.

In the few days I spent in Mendoza, I found the city to be truly charming: wide boulevards, lovely coffee shops, delicious restaurants and a relaxed atmosphere make Mendoza one of the must see cities of Argentina. Although the area where Mendoza sits is pretty much a desert, each square in the city is decorated with beautiful fountains. Mendoza is lively during the day but gives its best at night, when the friendly Mendocinos crowd the restaurants, bars and cafés of Avenida Arístides.

Mendoza

Chilled yet lively: this is Mendoza – photo courtesy of Photostat (flickr)

Yet, what I loved the most about the city is the fact that it was really easy for me to get out of it to get to the amazing countryside nearby. That is how I managed to put two of my favorite activities together, in the very same day. I went on a biking tour around the vineyards.

Mendoza

One of the stops along the wine bike tour around Mendoza

A short bus ride from the centre of Mendoza took me to Maipu, where I rented a bike and, map at hand, I set to explore the beautiful countryside and hopped from one bodega (vineyard) to the other. It was pure bliss. At each vineyard an eager employee guided me and other visitors around, to explain us the history of the bodega and of the family behind it: some of the vineyards are as old as 170 years and the founders had arrived all the way from Italy or France with their vines. Then, we would be given as an introduction to the best wines produced and eventually presented with what we had all been waiting for: an array of wines we could taste.

Mendoza

Barrels of wine in one of the bodegas near Mendoza

As if they aren’t perfect enough already, some bodegas also have an annexed restaurant. That meant eating on the grounds. Actually, that meant eating a delicious local meal on a gorgeous terrace with a view of the beautiful vineyards and countryside and a selection of fantastic wines to go along the meal.

Mendoza

Visiting the vineyards around Mendoza was one of the highlights of my latest trip to South America – photo courtesy of Mark Surman (flickr)

It really was as good as it could possibly get. So good that I couldn’t resist and decided there and then that I would do my best to reproduce an Argentinian meal at home, in Italy, and bought a few bottles of wine to go with it. I was so happy with it that I didn’t mind one bit the fact that I could hardly carry my backpack afterwards and almost broke my back in the effort. I wanted to make sure that friends and family at home would get at least a hint of the marvels I experienced in Mendoza.

When I opened one of those bottles a few nights ago, fireplace on and a nice (Italian) meal on the table, memories flooded back. So much so that I resolved to go back to Argentina in 2016 and head straight to Mendoza. And this time, I am staying way longer than just a few days, so that I can get more of the fantastic local vibe. Not only I want to bike across the gorgeous countryside again, taste more Malbec and eat more asado.

Read more about Argentina on my post “Great things to do in Argentina.”

This time I want to go a step further: I want to enroll in a wine tasting course and get my appreciation of wine to the next level. I want to practice my Spanish with the charming locals. I want to be there for the vendimia, the harvest season, when the region is at its best and the city organizes a number of festivals, celebrations and concerts. And as I will be spending a longer time there, I won’t be able to find an excuse not to join a hiking expedition to the Cerro Aconcagua, where I will take on the challenge and test my limits.

With all that it has to offer to its visitors, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mendoza becomes one of the hit destinations in 2016 and the years to come. I can’t wait to go back – and you should plan to visit too!

Five amazing sunsets that will make anybody want to visit Nicaragua

Five amazing sunsets that will make anybody want to visit Nicaragua

Nicaragua

The flag of Nicaragua – courtesy of George Kenyon

Everybody knows I am in love with anything Latin America. But those who have the privilege of talking to me, quickly find out I have an obsession for Nicaragua. I have been there 3 times, and I hope to visit Nicaragua again soon. Yes, it is my favourite country in Central America, so much so that when people contact me to ask about other countries such as Costa Rica or Panama, I end up suggesting visiting Nicaragua instead.

What makes it so special to me? It simply is an amazing country, that has so much to offer to travellers. Beautiful colonial cities

Leon, Nicaragua

Leon is one of the best places to visit in Nicaragua

A turbulent yet fascinating history

Leon, Nicaragua

Museo de la Revolucion, Leon

Incredible nature and wildlife.

Las Isletas, one of the places to visit in Nicaragua

Panchito lives on La Isla de los Monos, at Las Isletas: one of the places to visit in Nicaragua – courtesy of George Kenyon

Lakes and volcanoes.

Masaya, one of the tourist attractions in Nicaragua

Volcanoes are among the tourist attractions in Nicaragua – courtesy of George Kenyon

Amazing beaches.

Poneloya, one of the best beaches in Nicaragua

Poneloya is one of the best beaches in Nicaragua

Kind and warm people.

Nicaragua

La cara de Nicaragua, the face of Nicaragua – courtesy of George Kenyon

And, something that backpackers should never underestimate, this beautiful country is still unspoilt by mass tourism (but hurry! This will change, it is such an incredible place), it is very safe to travel even for solo female travellers, and it actually is the cheapest country in the continent: my dollars could get me a long way here.

Not convinced yet? Perhaps these amazing sunsets will do the trick and prove it is time to plan a trip to Nicaragua.

Five amazing sunsets that will make anybody want to travel to Nicaragua

Granada and Las Isletas:

Anybody visiting the country will take a side in the local argument over which city is better, Leon or Granada? Many will say colonial Granada, is the prettiest one among Nicaragua attractions. I must admit my heart beats for Leon, but the most touristic destination in the country (which for some reason reminds me of Trinidad, in Cuba) is indeed picture perfect, and the waterfront of Lake Granada or a boat ride across Las Isletas offer fantastic opportunities to photography lovers. Snapping a good picture is one of the things to do in Nicaragua.

Las Isletas, one of Nicaragua attractions

Nicaragua tours can’t skip a stop at Las Isletas

Mombacho, Nicaragua

Volcano Mombacho – view from Las Isletas

Poneloya and Las Peñitas

A half hour ride on a chicken bus from Sutiava, Leon, these two Nicaragua beaches are more than a surfer’s paradise. Lay in the sun, challenge the waves, go for a walk, enjoy a cold beer and by all means, do not miss the amazing Pacific sunset.

Las Peñitas, Nicaragua beaches

Catching the waves at Las Peñitas, one of the best beaches in Nicaragua

Las Peñitas, Nicaragua

Las Peñitas

Volcan Cerro Negro

About one hour drive from Leon, Cerro Negro is a great, short and windy hike. I could practice volcano boarding here and get covered in sand. And, let’s not forget that the view from the top is simply stunning. I absolutely did not want to miss a volcano on my Nicaragua vacation.

Cerro Negro, Nicaragua vacation

It’s not a Nicaragua vacation if it doesn’t feature a volcano: view from top of Cerro Negro

Cerro Negro, Nicaragua

Storm in the distance – sunset from Cerro Negro

Isla de Ometepe

Located in Lake Nicaragua, Ometepe is an 8 shaped island which, despite the presence of two active volcanoes, is peaceful, remote, and offers great hikes, wildlife and spectacular views. Among Nicaragua attractions, it may well be my favourite.

Volcano Madera, Isla de Ometepe

That’s one smokey volcano!

Corn Islands Nicaragua

Whether I feel like relaxing under the Caribbean sun, snorkelling in the clear waters, diving or just want to walk around to explore the island, Isla de Maiz won’t disappoint me. And here, I can be treated to a beautiful, almost stereotypical sunset.

Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

Little Corn Island – courtesy of Nomad Kiwis

Care to know about more things to do in Nicaragua? Stay tuned for more posts!

Top five things to do in Belize

Top five things to do in Belize

I am not one that really needs reasons to visit new places. Pretty much any country on earth catches my attention for one reason or another, and is on my bucket list – whether for an interest in its rich culture or history; in its nature – mountains, beaches, forests; in its food and in its people. Having said this, I have to admit that while other countries such as Nicaragua or Guatemala and even less popular Honduras caught my attention, I have never thought much of Belize and I never really considered visiting so much as that it required planning.

Needless to say, a few days in this country, which I visited on one of my tour leading missions, made me change my mind. Belize attractions are many! I am now not only eager to go back and spend more time exploring it, but I also highly recommend visiting! It may not take too long to explore – Belize is a small country, and roughly 350000 people live in it, the biggest city being Belize City and the capital set in tiny Belmopan, where it was established after that hurricaine Hattie flooded Belize City in 1961.

So, are you in search of what to do in Belize? I can’t speak for everyone, but here are my

Top 5 things to do in Belize

1) Exploring the fabulous nature

From mountains to tropical rainforest, fertile subtropical foothills where cattle is reared, rivers and jungle covered Mayan archeological sites , Belize is a fabulous Caribbean country, yet set in Central America. It has enough to inspire adventure seekers, animal lovers, birdwatchers, trekkers and sport addicts, as well as Mayan history enthusiasts. When researching about what to do in Belize, remember that a trip to Belize isn’t complete without a visit to the archeological sites.

Belize attractions: mayan archeological sites

Xunantunich archeological site is one of the many Belize attractions – courtesy of Chaa Creek

2) Visiting one of Belize beaches and barrier reef

Hundreds of cayes (such as Ambergris and St. George’s Cayes) contribute to the small land surface of Belize. The reefs and cayes spread to over 200 km of barrier reef with crystal clear water that rightly attracts those interested in diving, snorkeling and sport fishing. The reef and its islands became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Belize is also home to the blue Hole, one of the world’s best dives. Any search on what to do in Belize will come up with some great dives!

Belize attractions

Crystal clear water of Belizean coast, among Belize attractions – courtesy of Chaa Creek

3) Eating

Ok, it may not be Mexico, which was inscribed in 2010 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, but food in Belize is actually delicious. The local staple is rice and beans, just as in most of Central America, and it is usually accompanied with either beef, chicken or pork, in the form of stews. Fruit is so abundant, so fresh and so sweet that I don’t think I will be able to eat pineapple back home! Not to mention, here I could find some of the best burritos in the continent (I had to scout for them in the street!), as well as incredible seafood on the coast.

4) Interacting with the locals

Less than 350000 people live in Belize, and for as little as this may seem, there is a great mixture of ethnicities, languages and cultures. Here I could hear English (did you know that Belize was under British domination, and it used to be called British Honduras?), Spanish, Creole and Mayan. This reflects the population, which consists of Creoles, West Indians, Mayans, Chinese as well as Garifunas. Most importantly, people in Belize are extremely friendly and laid back, always willing to lend a hand to travellers, make jokes and ensuring everyone feels welcome. Belize’s Love FM advert says “be kind to tourists”. I guess people take this quite literally! Not to mention, the fact that everybody here speaks English makes it so easy for travelers…

5) Relaxing at Chaa Creek

Last, but definitely not least, Chaa Creek Ecolodge and the Macal River Camp are also great reasons to love Belize. If I have to pick a postcard for the country, it would have to be it. About 20 minutes drive from San Ignacio (not far from the Guatemala border and from Tikal, this is the second largest city in the country, with as many as 20000 people!), this is where to stay in Belize: a great lodge immersed in the rain forest (and rain you will get!), with lovely rooms (some so huge that they look more like mansions), a great infinity pool, a bar and a restaurant serving delicious drinks (including the good Belikin, best enjoyed on a hammock!)

Belikin Belize

A cold Belikin, a hammock and the sun. What more could you need?

and meals, and about a million free of the best things to do in Belize to keep me busy just in case I am tired to relax on my hammock or by the pool. While the lodge is definitely not suitable for a backpacker’s budget, the Macal River Camp (a 10 minutes jungle walk from the lodge) can be factored in. At $ 65 USD per night, it may seem expensive.

However, for that price I can get breakfast and dinner, and use of all the facilities and excursions at the lodge, such as tubing, canoeing, birdwatching, touring the butterfly farm and the medicinal route. There is no electricity at the camp (well, just in the bathrooms and in the dining area), nor wifi (it’s the jungle, baby! And if I am desperate, I can walk to the lodge). Bungalows, which fit up to 4 persons, are lit by kerosene lamps and surrounded by mosquito nests.

Where to stay in Belize

Where to stay in Belize: Macal River Camp casitas

Where to stay in Belize: Macal River Camp

Where to stay in Belize: Interior of a casita at Macal River Camp

There are 4 spotless toilets and showers. Each night a fire is lit for guests to sit about, tell stories and share their wisdom. It simply is the perfect place to relax, to listen to the sound of nature and to be stranded in tropical rain.

All that is needed now is gathering appropriate hiking and diving gear and start planning a trip to Belize.

Planning to visit Belize? Let us know in the comments below!

Other resources: Backpacking Belize on a Budget by Road Affair.

Pin It For Later

Learn about the things to do in Belize