Bucketlist in Belize – The Great Blue Hole

Not all those who wander are lost.

– J. R. R Tolkien

From the moment I first saw a photo of The Great Blue Hole in Belize I was intrigued and really wanted to see it. It truly is a stunning natural wonder. Belize is an amazing country with so much to offer. I will focus this post mainly on The Great Blue Hole, though will touch on some of the other features Belize presents. Belize itself is steeped with Mayan history, and very advanced in terms of being eco-friendly. In addition, you’ll see some amazing animals and marine life very close up in their natural habitats.

A bit of geography: The Great Blue hole is a naturally formed giant sinkhole just off the coast of Belize, perfectly circular in shape and an enormous 318m wide, and 124m deep. Its sits inside a shallower body of water, an atoll, which has a coral reef surrounding it; in turn surrounded my much deeper water. It formed many thousands of years ago and is a World Heritage site.

From the Air: In my opinion, the best way to see it is from the air. So, from Caye Caulker, a little island a short boat ride from the mainland, up I went in a small 6-seater plane; sitting next to the pilot he also let me have a little go at flying the plane! Another amazing experience, though slightly stomach churning when I directed us down a little too quickly!

Diving the hole is on many people’s bucket list, you must be an experienced diver to do so. Whilst you would see marine life inside the reef of the atoll inside the hole itself is very dark and would be more for viewing the stalactites than fish or sharks. I was advised by a guy called Chris from Kidderminster who lives in Belize and runs a farm there, that if the weather and sea conditions aren’t right then the boats often don’t make it far enough to see the hole itself. And also that the view from a boat is nowhere near as stunning as seeing the hole from the air. If you want to dive there little agencies everywhere offering Boat Trips. I recommend Black Durgeon Dives. Ask for Cory or Simeon.

How to organise the Flight: Booking the flight seemed harder than it ought to be, so here’s my thoughts and advice for what its worth. I tried calling and emailing in advance, but none of the agents seem interested or reply until you are physically there in person. They need a minimum of 3 people to guarantee a flight. So I recommend that it’s the first thing you do when you get to Caye Caulker. We were staying there for 3 days and I managed to make it happen so ensure you allow yourself a bit of time in case there’s not enough people or bad weather conditions. If there’s a few of you then its fine, but I was on my own so I ended up booking a provisional flight with one of the agents along the main street, she then advertised it to go in a couple of days meaning she had a bit of time to get to the minimum number of people. Fortunately, the next day she got two more so I was in!

In the end 4 of us went up with the pilot. There are plenty of booking agents, it’s a really small place so you’ll come across them regardless which way you walk or where you’re staying. Some just do boat trips but they all know each other so can point you to their friend that offers the flights. I believe you can also take a slightly larger plane if there are more of you. I paid around $150 for my place – thoroughly worth it! It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen! I used the agents just opposite Black Durgeon Dives called Anda De Wata Tours.

#Toptip! Whilst beautiful, Caye Caulker has lots of sand flies that bite your legs and are generally irritating! They don’t like baby oil so take some and cover your legs in it before you go out and it should discourage them!

There are some amazing Snorkelling opportunities from Caye Caulker. I recommend a boat trip out to Hol Chan Marine and Shark Ray Alley. The corals and array of fish you see is outstanding. We saw some turtles and lots of stingrays. If you’re really lucky you might even see a Manatee! Then at Shark ray alley you can jump off the boat into a group of sharks which I thought was amazing but I guess its not for everyone! If not the view of them from the boat is great too.

Photo credit to Louise on this one!

Placencia is a chilled out little area with a beautiful beach. We took a boat trip out to a tiny island which really felt like you were on a deserted island in the middle of nowhere. The snorkelling was good, though there is more to see at Caye Caulker.

Temples: There are so many different Mayan temples to visit whilst in Belize; and also Tikal in Guatemala if you venture a little further. Some of the temples I’d recommend you see whilst visiting Belize: Altun Ha, Lamanai and Xunantunich. Definitely get a guide as they’re so informative and there really is a tremendous amount of history.

Tikal in Guatemala

Wildlife: is plentiful, one of my favourites was a visit to Shane’s place where you could get so close to the Howler Monkeys in their natural surroundings. Also saw some amazing spider monkeys at Tikal in Guatemala. Another good place to go if you get the chance is the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. We saw birds, storks, crocodiles and iguana’s during boat trips up and down the river.

Contact details for Shane’s place – definitely recommend to see the Howler monkeys!

Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Reserve: I didn’t see any Jaguars while I was there but did a great hike up to ‘Ben’s Bluff’, which offers incredible views of the forest and Victoria Peak. There are various other trails so you can take your pick of what you prefer.

The ‘other’ Blue hole: is a naturally formed fresh water swimming area. It’s a collapsed limestone cavern. Due to this the water is gorgeous and your skin feels really soft after swimming. It’s a stunning blue colour as well – pictures can’t do it justice. Definitely worth a stop.

Rum is hard to avoid whilst in Belize. My two favourite cocktails were a ‘Panty Ripper’ – Banana rum and pineapple juice, and of course Pina Coladas – of which I sampled many! Of course they make a mean rum punch too!

Cuisine: its all about rice and beans, and beans and rice – there is a difference! I prefer rice and beans! Also fried jacks for breakfast are delicious! Portion sizes are often on the larger side.

The practical stuff: currency is the Belize Dollar, which is pegged to the US dollar at 2BZ$ = 1US$. You can spend either. As ever I recommend a Starling bank card to maximise the exchange rate and minimise costs. I drew cash out once I arrived, and paid for a lot of things on my card.

https://www.starlingbank.com/

There are a lot of different bugs we’re not used to everywhere, especially at some of the Mayan temple sites. Definitely bring bug spray and something like anthisan. And where you can I’d recommend wearing long sleeves and long trousers to avoid getting bitten.

Finally: I went to Belize and Guatemala as part of an Explore trip so it is all organised for you with some optional extras should you choose to. I would recommend the trip, the company and most importantly the country to anyone. Our guide Wilfred Garbutt was brilliant, friendly, knowledgeable and enhanced our experience further. As did Chris the local ground agent. Being with a fabulous bunch of fun people I’d never met before, many with a great sense of humour also helped make this an enjoyable and memorable trip. As did the MANY pina colada’s! The group dynamic was good, everyone got on and we had a lot of laughs – special mention to Louise, Patrick and Hamish for the fantastic company!

Thanks all for the great company and experience!

About Me

Like most people I love to travel. When I was younger I assumed, as most people do, and as we are somewhat conditioned to, that I would meet Mr Right and live happily ever after. I haven’t met Mr Right – and maybe he doesn’t exist. After all nobodies perfect. However, that hasn’t stopped me living happily ever after!

Around 4 years ago I decided to try my first solo trip. For security on my first venture I booked a group tour, and have never looked back since. There was one couple, one single man and several single women. I made some friends for life who I have been on subsequent trips with; and keep looking at where else I want to go and what else I want to do. If I have company great, if I don’t, no problem!

Solo travel doesn’t feel like I’m alone, more independent and confidence boosting! I can’t recommend it enough to anyone considering it and have made some great friends along the way! It also helps with perspective when you come back to work / the real world.

I have a couple of interesting trips coming up including visiting Easter Island which I’m really looking forward to! A friend suggested I write a diary to be able to look back on some of the experiences. So here I am with the modern day version of a diary, and hopefully someone finds it useful or interesting!

I’ll also add some retrospective blogs of places I’ve been, as well as some of the thoughts and experiences that come with it!

Stockholm – Something for everyone

Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.

– Oscar Wilde

Just got back from my 4th visit to Stockholm, what a beautiful and amazing city! My friend Alex moved there 3 years ago so having somewhere to stay helps as its not the cheapest of cities. Each trip has been a completely different experience. It’s a great place to visit during the summer and the first two visits I was lucky enough to have glorious weather. It really is a city set up for being outside and enjoying the weather. I love wandering around and taking in the scenery and views. Personally I enjoy looking at architecture and buildings when abroad and Stockholm is a great city for this!

Södermalm: Alex lives in Södermalm so really central, a great and cool location; initially in Hornstull and currently in Mariotorget. What’s unbelievable is the amount of support you get with childcare. She has two young boys and if I had a young family myself or was planning on starting a family soon it would be tempting to move over there. The cost is unbelievable value especially compared to London. Not to mention the amount of time you get for maternity and paternity leave.

Nobel Museum: I visited the Nobel museum in Gamla Stan for the first time and would thoroughly recommend it. Really interesting stories and moving when you look at what some people have achieved and the impact it continues to have on our lives today. An inspirational place and also something that you can only do in Sweden. https://www.nobelprize.org/about/nobel-museum/


Gamla Stan: is a beautiful area and a short walk from Södermalm. A little bit too many tourists on occasion but a beautiful place with some stunning buildings and architecture. Still worth a walk around and plenty of places to stop for coffee and cake. Despite it being a little busy in some parts I think its still one of my favourite places to wander round in Stockholm. Fika is a huge part of Swedish life, basically it means going for a coffee. Swedes believe it is important to make time everyday for friends. Another important word is Tah-k, pronounced ‘Tack’, which means thank you.

We went to the photography museum – Fotografiska – nearest tube stop is Slussen. The collection from war photographer and photo journalist James Nachtwey who’s lost a number of friends in his line of work was impressive and thought provoking. His composition is striking and he focuses on injustice and violence. Some of the images were harrowing and really make you pause to think and regain some perspective on life. Mandy Barker’s ‘Sea of Artifacts’ also interesting and reinforces the impact plastic is having on the environment. On to something lighter and there is a great cafe and cocktail bar on the top floor with beautiful views. Definitely recommend a visit the exhibitions were outstanding. Note the exhibitions are temporary, on until mid September and late August respectively.

https://www.fotografiska.com/


There are so many museums and plenty of places that are good for children as well. Some free to get in and some at a cost. You can purchase a Stockholm pass giving free entry to a number of tours, attractions and museums, depending on how long you are visiting for and what you are interested in seeing and doing whilst visiting.

Boat trips: You can also get a boat to a different island easily from here. I visited Vaxholm on my first trip, beautiful island, easy to walk round, lots to see and plenty of spots to sit out in the sun with a great view. It has regular and frequent boats making it an easy trip. There’s also a 16th century fortress on the island you can visit which is now a museum.

Beaches: There are beaches everywhere and so much water so if going in summer definitely take a swimming costume! The water might be a little chilly but worth getting in for a swim!

Still on the list! I haven’t yet been but the Abba museum and the Vasa museum are two that are still on my list. The Abba museum speaks for itself! The Vasa museum is a preserved 17th century ship so a unique visit.

Skansen: is an outdoor village also great for children. I visited during my winter trip with Alex, her husband and the boys. It has a zoo and an aquarium; and a traditional Swedish village showing the way of life in Sweden before the industrial era. The food in the cafe was pretty good. Much needed for some warmth as it was December!

We made a brief visit to the Museum of Modern Art this time around, located on the island of Skeppsholmen. Some interesting work and as with most of Stockholm, great views. Some of the exhibitions were free to view as well. I was amused by people wandering around with there own fold up seats which are available at the entrance to stop and enjoy the art; and stopping wherever they wanted to view something. In some places they looked like part of the art installation. Jordan Wolfson’s exhibition was a little controversial, the elderly couple watching it were also amusing as the wife picked up her chair telling her husband to move on as she clearly didn’t approve, and he remained seated, laughing and very much enjoying it! https://www.modernamuseet.se/stockholm/en/

Spa’s: When I went in winter we also visited The Spa – Centralbadet – which I thoroughly recommend. Traditional wooden Swedish style created in 1904, located just off the busy Drottninggatan. Some great steam and sauna rooms, Jacuzzi’s and a beautiful swimming pool in the style of a ship. Looks really grand and reminded me of the Titanic. It also has a sun roof terrace and outdoor gym and yoga area. Though being December we didn’t try these out! Obviously followed up with a glass of bubbles in the garden cafe! https://www.centralbadet.se/english/


I’ve had some lovely food and great drinks and cocktails in various parts of the city. There was a little festival by the water on our walk from Gamla Stan back to Sodermalm and we stopped and had a very nice glass of wine (or two) sitting by the waters edge. Made even better when I posted a picture and everyone told me it was raining back home!


Transport: Stockholm is a very efficient city. Options to get to and from Arlanda airport include the Flygbussarna and the Arlanda Express train. The train is a little dearer but quicker, although it depends which part of the city you are heading for. The tube network is easy to navigate. I’d recommend purchasing an Access card which functions like an Oyster card in London, you simply top up and tap in, no need to tap out. https://www.flygbussarna.se/en/arlanda

The practical stuff: One more really important thing – hardly anywhere takes cash, in fact I’d say don’t bring any! I’ve paid for everything on my last 3 trips by card. I’d advise getting one that doesn’t charge you when abroad. Starling bank is particularly good. Revolut is another good one.

https://www.starlingbank.com/

https://www.revolut.com/

During my visit last Winter I also got a train down to Copenhagen, reasonably priced, easy to do and stunning views on the way. But that’s another post!

Stockholm is an easy place to wander round and navigate and is so full of things to do and see no matter what you are looking for. Alex I’m sure I’ll be back again soon!