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Published: February 22nd 2016
Sunrise at Caye Caulker. Caye Caulker is a small island, off the coast of Belize, which has long been a popular place among backpackers.
Limestone seems to be the theme of this blog entry
I think it was more than a decade since I, Ake, celebrated Christmas at home. I have made it a tradition to go abroad for at least a few days over the holidays and I honoured that tradition in 2015 by going to Central America. Here in this the first blog entry from that trip I will write about what I did in the first couple of days when I visited Belize.
Belieze is a small country that has lots of interesting places worth visiting. I spent only four days there but staying longer would have been no problem. I could easily have travelled for two weeks in Belize without getting bored. But I would have preferred to make such a trip together with my loved one rather than going solo. So spending only four days was a good decision.
I decided to visit three places in Belize:
• Caye Caulker and the barrier reef
• Actun Tunichil Muknal, also known as the ATM Caves
Caye Caulker and the barrier reef
Giant turtle.Caye Caulker
The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest barrier reef in the world, beaten only by the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
is a small island, off the coast of Belize, which has long been a popular place among backpackers. Emma visited Caye Caulker over a decade ago and spoke highly of the place. I believe it then might have been very different from what it is now. I think it used to be more laid back. It was still a nice place and if I ever return to Belize I will make sure to make a stop there again. But it no longer is the backpacker haven it once was.
The streets of Caye Caulker are only sand and there are almost no cars there. The motorized traffic consist mainly of golf carts. Most of the town is dedicated to the tourist industry so there is no shortage of restaurants, cafés, tour agents or accommodation. Actually sand streets, hotels, restaurants, cafés and tour agents pretty much summons up all of Caye Caulker.
The main attraction there, other than the town, is the sea and the barrier reef. The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest barrier reef in the world, beaten only by the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. I took a half day
I took a half day snorkelling tour of the reef, a tour which stopped at four different places.
snorkelling tour of the reef, a tour which stopped at four different places. I got to see corals, fish, sharks, stingrays, a shipwreck and a giant turtle among other things. Don't expect any spectacular photos though because the only waterproof camera I bring is is a very simple one.
is the largest Maya site in Belize and I would rank it among top ten of all Maya sites in the world. In its heydays more than 100,000 people called Caracol home. In the 10th century the Maya civilization collapsed and Caracol collapsed with it. The city was abandoned and the area was overgrown by rain forest. Caracol was not discovered until the 1930-ies when loggers looking for mahogany found the ruins.
Most of Caracol is still overgrown by rainforest and only a small percentage of the city has been restored. For obvious reasons it is mainly the most important structures which have been cleared from vegetation and has been restored to their former glory. But that is enough to make it worthwhile to go there for a visit. I went there on a tour from a tour agent in the town
On the tour I got to see corals, fish, sharks, stingrays, a shipwreck and a giant turtle among other things
San Ignacio. Being on my own and not having a car a tour was my only choice. The site is pretty remote and in an area controlled by the military. It might actually not even be possible to visit Caracol by yourself.
The ATM cave
Visiting the ATM cave
can only by done by going on a tour, and there are only a limited number tour operators having permission to run tours there at all. The reason that only a few tour operators run tours of the ATM Cave is that the site is very fragile and if tourists were to be allowed to roam the place on their own it would get destroyed. The authorities have actually been thinking about stopping tours altogether. But eventually allowed visitors in the cave on the following conditions:
• Visitors must go with a licensed tour guide
• Each tour groups must not be larger than 8 or perhaps 9 people (I don't remember the exact number)
• No cameras allowed in the cave
The ATM cave is a limestone cave where visitors first have to wade and swim for about half
Another photo of the turtle we came across during the tour
a kilometre. That alone is a fun experience. The cave there divides in a lower and an upper cave. The upper cave is dry most of the time, it does sometimes get flooded after very heavy rains, and it was a sacred place for the Mayas and was used for sacrificial ceremonies. The Mayas sacrificed pots, food and humans.
Over the centuries the human skeletons have been partly covered by sediment and also by crystals which makes them very special.
As I said photography is not permitted in the cave. That rule was introduced after a tourist dropped a camera on one of the human remains and cracked a skull. I guess it is not OK to laugh at it, it was a very precious archaeological remain which was damaged, but it looks a bit funny because the skull actually has a camera shaped hole in it.
The photos I have published in the blog have been sent to me by the tour operator, Maya Walk Tours, and they were kind enough to grant me permission to use the photos in this blog entry.
While I was in
I saw several sharks on the tour of the Belize Barrier Reef. The sharks would never attack a human. They eat nothing larger than a herring
Belize I did walk around for a while in Belize City and I also visited San Ignacio, from where I took the tours to Caracol and the ATM cave. None of those cities are interesting enough to merit more than a mention here.
After I had visited the ATM cave I went to Guatemala. I will write more about what I did there in the next couple of blog entries.
Oh yes, in the headline I wrote that "Limestone seems to be the theme of this blog entry". Perhaps I need to explain what I mean by that. When corals die the remains turn into limestone. Some of the structures in Caracol were built from limestone. The ATM cave is a limestone cave. It wasn't more interesting than that.
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