The Best B&B in Caye Caulker: A Review of Yocamatsu

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As someone who stays mainly in hostels, I tend to feel out of place in the types of places where they provide you with towels and soap. I love a little luxury but it can be awkward walking in to a fancy resort with my bright green Osprey backpack. That’s why I was overjoyed to find this adorable little b&b on Caye Caulker.

Yocamatsu is the perfect mix of luxury and laid-back island vibes.

I stayed at Yocamatsu for all four nights that I was on the island but I’m secretly plotting ways I can move in and stay forever. The rooms are beautiful and clean and the exteriors are bright and colorful. It’s the kind of place where you feel pampered but don’t feel like you need to wear an evening gown to grab a drink at the bar.

There are only three rooms on the whole property: Sea, Sand, and Sunshine rooms. The rooms are actually individual cabañas so you really get a sense of privacy. I stayed in the Sea room and I seriously never wanted to leave.

The cabañas are straight out of my childhood island treehouse fantasies. The beds are ‘stretch out every limb of your body and still have extra space’ big. Comforters are typically laughable in Belize but the air conditioning is so good here that you’ll actually make use of it. Each room also has a TV, mini fridge, and coffee maker. Everything in the room is decked out in fresh jungle foliage when you first arrive. The bathrooms are the best I encountered on the island. They’re spotless and come with plush towels, unnecessary hot showers, and high-end toiletries.

Here’s everything you get when you book a room at Yocamatsu:

  • Air Conditioning

  • Plush Towels

  • Luxury Linens

  • High End Bath Amenities

  • Coffee Maker

  • Private Rooftop Bar with Ocean Views

  • WiFi

  • 24-hour On-site Management

  • Flat Screen TV

  • Full Breakfast

  • Housekeeping

  • Mini Refrigerator

  • Welcome Drink

Make sure you eat breakfast at the property. It’s seriously 5-star quality. I was the first vegan guest they ever had so I wasn’t expecting much. I’ve just got to say — they could open up a vegan restaurant with the quality of food I was served. Seriously think the most successful Pinterest recipe you’ve ever made and multiply that by 100 and that’s what was on my plate every morning.

Fresh fruit, oatmeal, and black bean sausages

Fresh fruit, oatmeal, and black bean sausages

Pancakes, fresh fruit, and a vegan protein smoothie

Pancakes, fresh fruit, and a vegan protein smoothie


The location of the property is perfect: convenient to all the main action, yet private.

It’s right in the middle of the action, just a couple blocks from the water taxi dock. Just a short walk down the main road and you’re at famous split and all the best restaurants on the island. But don’t worry — you can burn off that 5 pounds you just gained from breakfast with any one of the adventure activities nearby. I highly recommend a full-day snorkeling trip to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.

Yocamatsu is also secluded enough that you can hide away in your cabaña all day. The only entrance is from the soccer field so not much foot traffic goes by. The whole property is covered in trees so the rooms feel very private.

To get there you just walk down Front Street and turn left on to Chapoose Street. Walk until you reach the soccer field. Once you enter the field, Yocamatsu is about halfway down on the right.

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The staff were what made my stay really special.

Seriously, the only way they could have gone more above and beyond is if they gave me a piggy-back ride around the island and fanned me with leaves. The owner, Greg, is a top-knotch host. He arranged for a driver to pick me up from the Belize City airport and was waiting for me at the water taxi dock when I arrived on the island. He lives onsite so he is literally available 24/7. If all that isn’t enough, he cooks the best breakfast on Caye Caulker.

The manager, Ellis, also lives on the property. This guy is like a hospitality machine. He’s always got a fresh pot of coffee ready to go the second you wake up in the morning. As soon as you get back from a day of snorkeling or laying on the beach, he’s on his porch asking if everything is going okay with your stay.

I can honestly say I have never stayed anywhere with a more helpful and attentive staff.

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Final Thoughts

I really have nothing negative to say about my time at Yocamatsu. The staff is incredible, the location is perfect, and the rooms are clean and well-maintained. It’s the perfect property for couples or solo travelers looking to treat themselves a bit. The rooms start at a reasonable $109 a night. Check out their website here and their reviews and current rates here.

For high-end luxuries in a laid-back island setting, you can’t find a better property than Yocamatsu

*Note: Some of the above are affiliate links and I will earn a tiny percentage of the sale if you purchase through them at no extra cost to you. I received a complimentary 4-night stay from Yocamatsu. All opinions are 100% my own regardless of who is footing the bill. 

Hol Chan Marine Reserve: Unbelizeable Snorkeling in Caye Caulker

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Caye Caulker is not the type of place you go to with a long list of things to do. You’ll more than likely just end up spending your days sipping Belikins and floating in the turquoise Caribbean waters anyways. And trust me, you’ll be fine with it. But there’s one activity that you have to do on Caye Caulker — a snorkeling trip to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.

Belize is actually home to the second largest barrier reef in the world. This means Belize offers some pretty incredible diving and snorkeling. Think colorful coral, huge schools of fish, sea turtles, graceful rays, and friendly nurse sharks.

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Shark-Ray Alley and Hol Chan Marine Reserve are two of Belize’s most popular tourist attractions. You’ll see brightly colored signs all over Caye Caulker offering full and half day snorkeling trips out to these hot spots. It can be overwhelming to choose who to go with.

I decided on Raggamuffin for a few reasons:

  1. Their commitment to sustainability. Unlike other tour groups, they don’t participate in the harmful practice of handling or feeding the sharks and rays. We saw other groups grabbing at marine life and trying to ride the sharks (seriously). They also don’t use any single-use plastic or styrofoam to serve up their delicious food (and rum punch) on board.

  2. They are the only tour company that goes out in sailboats. If you’re especially lucky, you’ll get to go out on their huge catamaran. Pull out your soft smile and condescending wave when other tour groups zip by you on their cramped speedboats.

  3. The crew is incredible. Raggamuffin has been operating tours around Caye Caulker since 2002 and they are the most trusted and reputable tour operator on the island.

The Stops

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We took a short walk to a small dock on the other side of the island and our guide bought a bag of sardines from a local woman. We watched in delight and horror as he waved the frozen fish above the water and giant tarpons splashed through the surface to grab a bite. Out of nowhere he was passing the bag around letting us practice our predator-feeding skills. I’m proud to say I left the scene with all of my fingers.

After that we boarded the beautiful catamaran and hit the open road (sea).

After a little while our driver stopped the boat and told us they had spotted a manatee. Our guides handed out the snorkel gear and gave us the okay to get in the water. I couldn’t believe I was actually seeing a manatee out in its natural habitat. Manatees need space to come up for air so we couldn’t get too close but holy sea cow it was amazing watching it swim around.

Holy sea cows!

Holy sea cows!

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A short while later the boat made another unexpected stop when a friendly sea turtle was spotted. Once again, we all got out and observed the beautiful creature swimming around in his ocean home. I swam with sea turtles in Mexico so I took this as an opportunity to practice my free diving and ask my guide for some tips. He sat patiently in the water as I flopped around and tried to get deeper than a few feet under the surface and then gave me pointers when I came up for air. Talk about a guide who goes above and beyond.

Our third stop was another unexpected one — exploring a shipwreck covered in corals. This was a barge that sank some 20+ years ago. Throughout the years its become an artificial reef and some friendly sea life now calls it home. I had never seen a shipwreck before so this was definitely a treat.

Next up we visited the star of the show — Shark and Ray Alley. Here, wild nurse sharks, stingrays, and schools of fish swarm the boats in hopes of being fed. This attraction is essentially manmade. For years, local fisherman cleaned their catch of the day in this area located just inside the reef. Nurse sharks and southern stingrays began congregating in the area on the lookout for scraps.

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It was a thrill being face to face with wild sharks and rays. Despite knowing full well neither were interested in snacking on me, I still lost my breath a few times when one passed right by my head.

I couldn’t believe how much marine life we had already witnessed — sharks, stingrays, turtles and manatees, oh my! But our day wasn’t over yet. Our last stop of the day was the famous Hol Chan Marine Reserve. 

‘Hol Chan’ is Mayan for “little channel”. The channel is about 75 feet wide and 30 feet deep. On either side of the channel are huge formations of coral that are home to more than 500 species of fish. The reef isn’t spectacularly colorful but it is much healthier than most of the coral I saw in Thailand. At one point our guide pointed out a little opening in the coral. Before we knew it he was diving into it and a couple seconds later he came out the other end. Several of my braver co-tourists took their turn but I wasn’t confident enough in my breath-holding abilities to attempt it.

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After awhile, we boarded the boat again and began our hour-long journey back to Caye Caulker. The guides broke out the bottomless rum punch and ceviche (vegan for me) and cranked up the reggae.

spoiler: vegan ceviche is pretty much just salsa

spoiler: vegan ceviche is pretty much just salsa

Queen of the rum punch

Queen of the rum punch

They dropped us off on the other end of the Split, at their beach club called Koko King. This may be an inconvenience for some, as you have to take a boat back to the main part of the island, but I didn’t mind at all. Koko King has an awesome beach bar, inner tubes to float in, a pool (for a fee) and a water trampoline. The perfect place to sit back and watch the sun go down. Plus we got wristbands that allowed us to use their water taxi service for free, which came in handy for the Full Moon Party they were hosting at Koko King later that night.

The Good

This was by far one of the best days I spent in Belize. The boat was amazing, the snorkeling was unbelizeable, and the free-flowing rum punch was icing on the cake. I had an incredible crew — if you ever take a Raggamuffin tour say hi to Carlos, Chris, Shaq, and Jerry from me. The crew is a lot of fun but extremely professional at the same time. Shaq took some incredible pictures and videos for me while I was snorkeling and pointed out all the different kinds of coral and marine life.

I also really appreciate their commitment to sustainability. Although their website says they participate in feeding the sharks and rays, they did not do this on my particular tour.

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The Bad

Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley were also extremely crowded. I got bumped into quite a bit and took a few flippers to the face. This is not a reflection of Raggamuffin, or any one tour company, but don’t go on this tour expecting to have intimate one-on-one time with the animals.

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Would I recommend this tour?

The crew

The crew

100%. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime type experience. Raggamuffin goes above and beyond to ensure that all of their guests have an incredible tour.

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary tour from Raggamuffin. As always, all opinions are my own. I would never promote a company that I don’t wholeheartedly believe in. 

What to Expect — Touring the ATM Cave in Belize

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I’ve done a lot of cool sh** in my 22 years of life. I motorbiked in Thailand, roasted marshmallows on a volcano in Guatemala, and learned to surf in Taiwan. But I’ve never really been an adventurous traveler — until Belize that is.

My first stop in Belize had me snorkeling with sharks, turtles, manatees, and manta rays. I honestly thought I couldn’t get much cooler than I was in that moment. Then I met the ATM Cave — one of the coolest things I did in Belize and probably my entire life.

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The ATM Cave in Belize

I’ve never been the type of person to get excited about exploring a cave. I’ve visited a few caves in my life and they’ve all been pretty much the same thing — you walk in, you see a few stalagmites and stalactites, your guide turns off the lights,  you contemplate the meaning of life as you sit in complete darkness with 30 strangers. In the gift shop you beg your mom to buy you a cool geode.

The ATM Cave in Belize is NOT THAT KIND OF CAVE TOUR. This is the “swim through jungle rivers and climb up boulders to see sparkly human remains” type cave tour.

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The ATM Cave in Belize is about an hours drive from San Ignacio in the Cayo District. Along the way your tour guides will identify various flora and fauna that are unique to that area. You’ll play ice breakers with your tour-mates and laugh and sing and you’ll think, “wow, what a leisurely and not at all dangerous afternoon I’m about to have.” NO. The ATM Cave in Belize is NOT THAT KIND OF CAVE TOUR. (Although the guides will point out all the different trees in the area. Did you know that Belize is home to teak, mahogany, oranges, coconuts, mangoes, cashews, and ceiba trees?? Me either.)

ATM is short for Actun Tunichil Muknal which means “Cave of the Stone Sepulcher”, although one guide told his tour group that it stood for Another Tourist Missing which is funny — but also kind of believable.

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The ATM Cave in Belize is a famous site containing Mayan artifacts, pottery, and skeletal remains of human sacrifices. It has been named National Geographic’s #1 Most Sacred Cave in the World. I haven’t visited all thecaves but I can vouch for it compared to Cave of the Mounds in BlueMound, Wisconsin which is severely lacking human sacrifices.

What to Expect

Expect a serious Challenge

Everything I read online made this tour sound like it was a casual walk in the park. “You’ll hike a little bit, see some cool rocks, and maybe get a little wet”. NO. Nothing you see online will prepare you for how much work the ATM tour will be.

My tour-mates and I all had the same reaction — there is no way they would let you do any of this in the United States. 

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Five minutes into the tour you’ll do your first river crossing. Apparently this river used to be about knee high but due to some severe weather a couple years ago you will be straight up swimming across a rushing river. You’ll climb wet ladders inside a dark cave in just your socks and swim through cave openings only as wide as your neck. At some points during the trip your guide may say to you “follow my footsteps exactly” and PLEASE DO follow his footsteps exactly because caves contain sharp rocks.

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All of that being said, I am not in incredible shape and I was able to do this tour with no serious problems. I saw people of all ages and sizes doing the ATM tour. It is a challenge but it is not by any means impossible.

Expect to face your fears

Afraid of swimming? Afraid of spiders? Small spaces? Heights? Human sacrifices? Whatever your irrational fear is, the ATM tour is sure to have you facing it.

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I am terrified of heights so having to climb a slippery boulder in the middle of a pitch black cave was not the highlight of my trip. But I am so glad I didn’t let my fears get in the way because I would have missed out on a once in a lifetime opportunity. Which brings me to my next point…

Expect to be blown away

The ATM cave is almost sensory overload. The immense size of it, the giant stalactites and stalagmites, and the way it sparkles in the light of your headlamp.

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The main attraction of the ATM Cave in Belize is the skeletal remains of a sacrificed teenage boy called the “Crystal Maiden.” The fully-intact skeleton now sparkles due to over 1000 years of calcification. You’ll also find several other skulls, bones, and pottery left behind by the Mayans.

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You’ll also be blown away at just how far you can push your physical limits. From wading across rushing rivers, to swimming through narrow cave crevices, to climbing wet ladders in only your socks. There are times when you think, “there’s no way I can do that.” But you can and you will and you’ll be amazed with yourself for doing it.

How to Prepare

First off — there is no way to be 100% prepared for a tour like the ATM Cave in Belize. Will you fall off that 6 foot boulder you have to climb? Is your headlight going to burn out and you get lost in the cave forever until one day a group of tourists are trekking to look at your skeletal remains? Will you step on a 1,000 year old skull and end up in Belizean prison? Luckily, you will have to go with a guide and your guides have been training and working with archaeologists and geologists to make sure you don’t eff anything up too badly.

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What to Wear

You’ll be hiking, swimming, climbing, and sweating. I wore athletic shorts and a regular tank top and I was fine. The only clothing regulations are that you can’t wear just a bikini. Which is a bummer because of all the sun-tanning you could be getting inside a pitch black cave under a mountain.

The real question is, what kind of shoes do you wear for something like this? First off, don’t wear anything with an open toe. You (and your toes) will sorely regret this decision. A lot of people will recommend these hideous but super functional keen sandals. Yes, they will protect your feet, dry quickly, and are suitable for all adventures. BUT AT WHAT COST. ($100).

Honestly if you have the money and you take a lot of semi-aquatic adventures, go for it. I just brought along some ugly tennis shoes I had in my closet for 8 years and threw them away when I got out of the cave. Badabingbadaboom. I looked just as stupid but I was $100 richer for it.

So what do you for sure need?

  • Closed-toed shoes for scrambling over rocks and running away from evil spirits.

  • Socks. At one point you will be required to take off your shoes to protect the fragile part of the cave. You will want socks.

  • Clothes. Something more modest than a swimsuit. You’re in the #1 most sacred cave in the world so you’re expected to cover up a little bit.

That’s about it. It’s not that serious. Don’t buy a bunch of equipment unless you’re planning on doing this on a regular basis.

What to Bring

  • Water. The whole tour lasts around 8 hours — please stay hydrated.

  • A set of clean, dry clothes to change into afterwards. There are bathrooms and changing areas onsite.

  • A plastic bag to hold your wet cave-y clothes. Please don’t hang your dirty underwear on the back of your car seat. Bring a bag to put everything in.

NOTE

You’ll be crossing a river several times. The residents living of a village downstream from the cave drink this water. Please don’t wear lotions, perfumes, bug spray, or sunscreen. It will wash off within 5 minutes of the tour starting when you have to do your first river crossing anyways.

What not to bring

If you’ve read anything about the ATM Cave in Belize you probably know about the tourist who dropped his camera on the 1,100-year-old skull. In order to prevent any more boneheads (pun intended) from ruining sacred artifacts, the government banned cameras from the cave.

As a travel blogger and photography-lover, it was really hard for me to sign up for a tour that I wouldn’t be able to document. Thankfully, MayaWalk tours emails their stock photos to all tour participants. Yes, everyone ends up with the same pictures. But at least there won’t be any photo evidence of you peeing your pants when a bat flies next to your head.

I am actually so thankful that I didn’t have my camera with me. I would have been so worried about getting the perfect shot that I would have missed out on immersing myself in the experience. Besides, this tour requires all of your mental and physical strength so there’s really no opportunity for a good photo-op.

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MayaWalk

I booked my ATM Cave tour with MayaWalk Tours. They’re the top-rated tour company in San Ignacio and their main office is on the main road in town.

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The good

The guides were all friendly, fun, and informative. My guide for the cave tour was Hugh and he was incredible. He was so knowledgeable about the cave features and Mayan history. Hugh went out of his way to make sure that every member of our group was safe.

The MayaWalk staff was also incredibly helpful. Due to some weather problems, I had to shift everything on my Belize itinerary back one day. MayaWalk was so flexible in letting me reschedule even though it was such short notice.

The bad

The only complaint I have about Mayawalk Tours is that they didn’t have the vegan lunch I ordered. I’m sure there was just a mixup because I had to reschedule my tour a few times. Luckily, the non-veg option had a large serving of rice and beans included so I didn’t go hungry.

Want to book a tour of the ATM Cave in Belize? Check out Mayawalk Tours

Heading to Belize? Check out my other Belize posts.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary tour with Mayawalk. As always, all opinions are my own.

 

12 Things to Know Before Traveling to Belize

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Almost every local I met while traveling solo in Belize asked me the same question:

“Why did you choose Belize?”

And to be honest I didn’t really have an answer. I was browsing Southwest airline’s new Central American destinations one day (as one does in their free time). I had already traveled to Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica recently. Jamaica, Aruba, and the Grand Cayman islands all sounded out of my budget. So I landed on Belize.

It wasn’t until after I booked my tickets that I started researching what Belize had to offer and to be honest…the internet kind of let me down. There’s not as much information available for travel and facts about Belize as there are in places like Thailand, Indonesia, or Italy.

So here you go internet. I put together a list of 12 facts about Belize that will be helpful to know before traveling there.

It’s the only English-speaking country in Central America

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In fact, most Belizeans are actually trilingual – they speak English, Spanish, and Kriol. Some also speak other local dialects such as Garifuna and Maya. Being in an English-speaking country means you’ll be able to get around really easily.

There IS a difference between rice & beans and beans & rice

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I remember one of my first days I asked my waiter what the difference was. He laughed a little bit and rolled his eyes and I could just feel the word tourist being branded onto my forehead. I’m here to save you from a tiny bit of embarrassment. Rice and beans consists of rice and beans MIXED together and cooked with coconut milk. Beans and rice refers to stewed beans in a broth with a side of rice

You can pay in US currency almost everywhere

The steady exchange rate of 2:1 makes it easy to pay in US currency. Fair warning though – you may get your change back in a mixture of US and Belizean dollars. And if you withdraw from an ATM you will definitely be getting Belizean currency.

Belize is a teeny tiny country

The whole country is only about 70 miles east to west. This makes traveling between cities really easy and cheap. Do be aware that the roads are pretty rough and winding so it can take hours to drive between places even if they don’t look far apart on a map.

Odds are you’re standing on a piece of history

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There are endless Maya ruins to explore in the country. Some of the famous ones are Caracol, Lamanai, Xunantunich, Altun Ha, and Cahal Pech. What most people don’t know is that there are actually thousands of Mayan ruins around the country — and most are still buried underground. If you drive anywhere where there is land clearing you will see mounds dotting the landscape. These are actually Mayan houses and buildings that date back thousands of years so odds are you’ll be standing on a piece of history at some point during your trip.

Everyone knows everyone

In a country of only 350,000 people, you’re bound to run into someone you know. To put that into perspective, Milwaukee has a population of about 600,000 and I run into friends around town all the time. On bus rides across the country, passengers would often wave to friends and family from the window.

The snorkeling is unbelizeable

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Belize boasts the second-largest barrier reef in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. This colorful reef system is home to a whole host of marine animals, making for some pretty incredible snorkeling. The reef is located just off the coast of Belize, and is best enjoyed from Hopkins, Placencia, or one of Belize’s many islands.

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Marie Sharp is the only acceptable condiment

Marie started her hot sauce company in Belize in the early 1980s and you’ll see her hot sauce on every table in Belize. Restaurants, coffee shops, airports, bus station bathrooms, you name it and you’ll probably find Marie Sharp’s there. Even if you’re not a spicy food person you can’t leave Belize without trying the sauce.

You’re not as think as you drunk you are

The national beer is the Belikin and you will find it everywhere in Belize. It’s your basic pale lager, nothing fancy but it tastes great on a hot day in the tropics.

It isn’t until you finish your first Belikin that you realize you’ve been hustled. The bottles are the same size as regular 12oz bottle but the glass is much thicker. You’re actually only getting 9.6 ounces in each bottle. Yes, they’re still a great deal but you’ll probably need to buy a couple extra to make up for the trickery. But you probably won’t mind when this is where you’ll be drinking them.

You will never have a peaceful bus ride

Yes, your driver will be blasting those reggae remixes of pop hits the whole 4 hour bus ride. No, it will never grow on you. Just when you begin to relax, someone will hop on the bus selling meat pies and coconut treats. The buses are also extremely crowded. If you’re lucky enough to find a seat, hold on to it tight.

You may see dead people

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Instead of burying the dead, the cemeteries in Belize have above-ground coffins. They’ll often be colorful and have flowers and gifts placed near them.

If you want an up-close-and-personal experience with the dead, you can take the ATM Cave Tour. This will put you face-to-face with ancient Mayan artifacts and real human remains. Isn’t that what you look for in a vacation destination — multiple ways to encounter the deceased?

It’s an incredibly diverse country

The five largest ethnic groups in Belize are Latino, Creole, Maya, Garifuna, and, surprisingly, Mennonites. You may also encounter Chinese, East-Indian, and Middle Eastern people. The diversity of the country is evident in their multitude of colorful celebrations, flavorful dishes, and languages spoken.

So there you go, 12 facts about Belize that you should know before you go. Just like every country, Belize has its own quirks that make it unique. Have an open mind and be ready to experience a country unlike any other.

Want to see more Belize posts?

Yocamatsu: The Best Hotel in Caye Caulker

Snorkeling the Hol Chan Marine Reserve

A Guide to the ATM Cave in Belize

Disclaimer: some of the links above are affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase using my links, you’ll help fuel my taco addiction at no extra cost to you. Thanks for supporting The WanderLeaf!