Travel Diaries

Mary explored biodiversity in Belize

April 19, 2018 Facebook Page Twitter Page
I like how the country has so many nature reserves, it’s a very important step to preserving biodiversity!
I like how the country has so many nature reserves, it’s a very important step to preserving biodiversity!

Hi Mary,

Tell us a little about yourself and your trip to Belize.

My name is Mary Brandt and I am currently a senior at Ithaca College studying Environmental Science. When I was a sophomore, I went on a two week trip to Belize to fulfill my “cultural immersion” requirement. I went with my classmates from the Belize: Rainforests and Ruins course I took the semester before. The trip took place in January 2016. Each day was packed with a new activity and site to visit. We went to three different parts of the country, visiting various villages and historical sites along the way.
After getting through customs at the airport, we made a pit stop at the Belize Zoo. We got to see all different kinds of animals native to the area. For the first half of the trip, we stayed in Cristo Rey at the Crystal Paradise resort where we did sightseeing, and stayed with a local family. We saw two mayan ruins, Xunantunich and Caracol, several waterfalls, Rio Frio Cave, the botanical gardens, and the city of San Ignacio.
The first weekend we were there we stayed with a family to help us get a sense of what home life is like there.
The Monday after the family stay, we camped out in the jungle and slept in a tent-hammock hybrid. We hiked seven miles into the jungle to explore a Mayan cave, visit a hidden waterfall.

After camping we headed to Emerald Paradise resort, where we learned about biodiversity and Mayan medicinal practices. We also searched for snakes and spiders in the field, and I got to hold a tarantula! Scariest moment of my life but it was cool to see one up close.
For the last part of the trip, we stayed at the Seagull guesthouses in Hopkins. While there we swam, went to the beach, took a boat out to a coral reef, visited a jaguar reserve and tubed down a river. We learned about the Garifuna culture, marine life, and current Jaguar conservation efforts.

What did you like about Belize?

I loved the culture, the history and the natural landscape of Belize! I really enjoyed all of the places we visited and the warm weather. I also loved the fact that there are mayan ruins everywhere, even undiscovered ones! I love the ancient civilizations of the Americas, I was like a kid in a candy store when exploring both Caracol and Xunantunich. I liked how trusting the people were, they let their kids go to school, travel, and play without any adult supervision or fear of strangers. The people were also very friendly! Some still spoke Mayan and held onto Mayan medicinal practices. I like how the country has so many nature reserves, its a very important step to preserving biodiversity. The country also banned soda companies from using plastic bottles, as they are a small country and don’t have a lot of room for massive landfills. They use glass bottles and have a strong bottle recycling program.

Did you visit any natural sites? If so what was your favorite one?

Yes, lots! We visited several caves, waterfalls, a Jaguar reservation and even a coral reef! It's definitely a tough choice as all the places we went to were amazing, but I would say the coral reef was my favorite. In order to get to the coral reef, we took a 45 minute boat ride out from Hopkins to South Water Caye. The island we went to was beautiful, it was sandy, with palm trees and small cabins scattered throughout. The ocean was clear with a greenish tint and very warm! To get to the reef, we took a short boat ride from the island and dived off with our scuba masks on. We got to see all sorts of exotic marine life and corals. I was amazed to see the common sea fan, a species of coral I had written an essay about but had never actually seen before.

Did you have any memorable interactions with locals?

I had many but I would say staying with a local family for the home stay was the most memorable. As part of the immersion experience, we had to stay with a family in Cristo Rey for two nights. I got lucky and was paired with another classmate to stay with. The family my classmate and I stayed with was very welcoming and their children were kind and very playful. The kids would always take my phone to play games for hours or show me around their village.
They gave my classmate and I nicknames, mine was “Marry Christmas” and Claudia’s was “Cloudy” as they couldn’t pronounce her name. This resulted in the phrase “Marry Christmas and a Cloudy new year!” which usually ended with laughter. The family also had two Mexican nuns staying with them, who did not speak any English. Trying to communicate was difficult but fun, we would point to things or teach each other words and phrases.
The best part was when my classmate and I went to church with the family and sat through a service that was all in Spanish. One of the nuns from the house took us outside to participate in the youth group. She taught a lesson in Spanish, which both Claudia and I had to have one of the group members translate for us. After the lesson we played a game, which I could barely figure out due to the fact that our translator left and the rules were given in Spanish!
In the morning of the last day staying with the family, we tried breadfruit which lead to a discussion on local fruits. I was shocked to find out that they never had blueberries before and that both apples and strawberries were very expensive and seen as a rare treat. They were equally as shocked to find out that I rarely had coconut in the states and never ate breadfruit before. I couldn’t get over the fact coconuts and breadfruit grew wild in their backyard, now that's fresh!

Lastly, do you have any travel tips for those interested in going to Belize?

I would say, make sure you bring lots of mosquito spray as the mosquitos are everywhere and can carry botfly eggs. They are no joke, my friend got botfly larvae in her back and they are tough to remove. Bring sunscreen, lots of shorts, and good hiking boots! Winter boots do not stand a chance against the mud!! Also, some of the roads are in bad shape, some are dirt and have a lot of potholes, so watch out if you are driving fast! Overall, the country is affordable and the alcohol is very cheap, which can be quite dangerous.

Where there any cafes or restaurants that you tried and would recommend?

Food: try fried breadfruit! It tastes just like French fries! Also, try fried jacks, they are an amazing breakfast meal and go really well with scrambled eggs.
Restaurants: I would say Tina’s Kitchen in Hopkins had good food, lots of variety and was very affordable. Inni’s restaurant in Hopkins was really good and had amazing Pina coladas! Crystal Paradise resort served homemade meals and had some of the best empanadas I ever had!

Thank you Mary!

Check out Mary’s itinerary here and see further trips on her profile. Want to see more of her adventures? Follow her on Instagram: @mbrandt28

Get stunned by BELIZE 🌎💚🏝
Get stunned by BELIZE 🌎💚🏝
Ah, la Provence! ☀️🍷🥖⛰
Ah, la Provence! ☀️🍷🥖⛰