One of our favourite pairings for a truly original holiday, Guatemala and Belize are still relatively unhindered by heavy tourist trade. Latin America expert Sas divulges her favourite - and most poignant - moments of a recent trip...
Still as good as the first time
When I reminisce about my trip to Guatemala, I think of the colourful markets, the smiling faces of the maya people, the quaint cobbled stone streets in Antigua, the interesting history of the Spanish colonial rule, the ancient past of the Mayans, the extraordinary pagan belief of Machimon, waking up on Lake Atitlan gazing up at the volcanoes and laughing at the howler monkeys in the jungle as their roar fills the air while I climb the massive pyramids of Tikal. This was my second time in Guatemala and it was just as fascinating as the first time.
Perfect for adventurers…
It is a perfect destination for the adventurous types, family holidays and honeymooners. The highlight for me was visiting Comalapa Market. We drove cross country through little villages until we entered Comalapa Town. It was teeming with life and there wasn't a tourist in sight. There was very little to buy to take home but so much to see, smell and soak up.
I crossed into Belize seeking inland jungle adventure, some beach relaxation and the opportunity to dive off one of the coastal islands known as cayes (pronounced keys). I found all of the above and loved every minute! I galloped on horse back through mountain pine forests, canoed through Barton Creek Cave looking for ancient wall paintings, went on a night walk through the jungle (and got frightened by tarantulas), flew in a four-seater propellor plane over savannah dotted with remote Mayan temples and dived with more sharks than I have ever seen before. I even had time to experience a category-two hurricane.
Belize was very badly hit about 10 years ago when Hurricane Ivan passed through, and you could see the fear in local faces when the news came that another strong hurricane was heading our way. It was a very eery feeling - the sea was completely calm, the sky was dark and we were told we were being evacuated at 8am the following morning and taken inland to a safer place. The hurricane arrived at 5pm, but we were safely locked into our rooms by then. The sad truth of the matter is there is a lot of poverty in Belize, and the following day after the storm had passed we saw roofs blown off houses and electricity poles in disarray. A lot of people had their lives turned upside down that night, but I always think one great way to help a place after a disaster like this is to get out there as soon as life is back to relative normality. Spend some much needed money in hotels and shops and generally give the community the sign that people still love their homeland and will be back. It's far more personal than donating to some faceless charity fund.