Touring Our Belize Print E-mail
( 3 Votes )
Written by Shane d. Williams   
Thursday, 25 July 2013 00:00

Media tourBelize is now a well-known destination in the international tourism market, so much so that the Belize Tourism Board had to abandon its logo, “Mother Nature’s Best Kept Secret”, in January of this year. Belize is not a secret anymore, at least not to foreigners, because we had well over a million tourists visiting Belize last year alone. However, for those of us who were born and raised here, there is much to be discovered, explored and enjoyed. The Belize Tourism Board is starting a new campaign to encourage domestic tourism in Belize. When the BTB wants to promote Belize as a tourism destination to new markets, it takes a press team from that area on a familiarization trip to tourist destinations across the country. Since the BTB is trying to promote domestic tourism, agents of the local press were taken on a familiarization trip from Thursday, July 18th, to Sunday, July 21st.

On Thursday morning, we boarded a rental van and headed up the Phillip Goldson Highway to start our trip by visiting the Lamanai Archaeological Reserve. A little after the toll bridge there is a docking compound. From there, we got on a boat and headed down the New River for an hour journey to the New River Lagoon. Ruben was our boat captain and guide. It didn’t take him long to break the ice. Ruben drove the boat towards the river bank to show us a brown spot on some trees and revved the engine. Immediately, a colony of bats came flying out towards the boat. After the screams subsided the group enjoyed the joke and the journey continued. Ruben holds a wealth of information on the area. He said that he has been taking tourists on expeditions to the area since he was twelve years old, despite their hesitance in the early years. Ruben is now a mature adult in his forties and he enjoys sharing his information on the area and the species that call the New River home. With Ruben, the hour long boat ride is actually an hour and forty minutes. He stops to point out different species of birds, orchids and other wildlife. During our visit to Lamanai, the weather refused to cooperate but we were sheltered by disposal raincoats that were provided by Ruben and the tour went on. The Lamanai Archaeological Reserve is located on the bank of the New River Lagoon. Our first stop was at the museum where Ruben gave us a background on some of the artifacts on display. Some dated all the way back to the Pre-Classic Period of the Mayan civilization but what stands out at Lamanai are the artifacts that date back to centuries after the Post-Classic Period which proved that Lamanai was the longest occupied Maya City. Ruben explained that Lamanai, which means “submerged crocodile,” was able to survive because the Mayas were farmers and the land is extremely fertile. Being far inland also didn’t hurt. From the museum, we passed the Mask Temple where special ceremonies were held. After the Mask Temple, we visited the High Temple which is the third highest Maya temple in the country. Dorian Nunez of Ambergris Today, Arturo Cantun of Love FM, Benjamin Flores of Reporter and yours truly were the four of thirteen journalists brave enough to climb to the top of the temple. From 108 feet high, we could see miles and miles of the green and dense rainforest. After a few minutes to digitally record our accomplishment atop the High Temple, we gently made our way down (crawled down) to continue the tour. Ruben led us to the Pok-A-Tok arena where he explained the rules of the game as we debated whether we would prefer winning or losing. The answer arrived at on the question of winning or losing was “depending on what sacrifice is needed”. Ruben went on to explain that in the Maya world it was an honour to be sacrificed after a Pok-A-Tok match – no one claimed to be worthy of such honour. We then went passed a residence where someone related to the royal family would live and we were quite impressed. The structure was designed with a drainage line for water to exit after baths. The bathroom could comfortably fit up to eight adults and the sleeping quarters were quite large. A huge plus for the residence was that it was built in front of the Jaguar Temple, which seems to have been the location of “the happening”. A lot of musical artifacts were found at the Jaguar Temple, which causes the archaeologists to believe this was the temple for celebratory ceremonies. Due to time constraints, we were unable to climb that structure. Before leaving the reserve, we stopped by a gift shop operated by a lady and her son from nearby Indian Church Village. There are many art pieces and accessories that resemble artifacts found at Lamanai. We then boarded the boat but changed captain since Ruben chose not to return with us. Instead, he called it a day and left for home towards Indian Church Village. Therefore, the journey back only took one hour and we boarded our van and left for Placencia.

From the dock near the toll bridge, we travelled down the Phillip Goldson Highway, unto the Boom Road and then the George Price Highway. Our final destination for the day was the Laru Beya Resort in Placencia where we would spend the night. However, we decided to stop in at the Sleeping Giant Lodge which is located at mile 36 ½ on the Hummingbird Highway. By this time, it was after 8 pm. and most of us were tired but the warm welcome from Eric, General Manager of the hotel chain, revived our spirits. Well, the warm welcome plus the fresh fruits plus the ceviche and the punch that awaited our arrival. Eric explained that the owners originally purchased the property back in 1991 and used it for their family home. They eventually added several out buildings to accommodate visiting friends and finally in 2004, they started the process of converting place into a lodge. Emerson, Manager of Sleeping Giant Lodge, took us to see a couple of the rooms. The River House was the first we visited. It is located about one hundred yards from the main building and overlooks the Sibun River. The two bedroom structure is a vacationers dream. It is made for four guests but can comfortably accommodate up to six. Any attempt to verbally describe the beauty of the River House would fall well below par. The feature that is most impressive in the River House is the roofless out shower with glass walls, surrounding neon green lights and jacuzzi. Honeymooners will definitely enjoy that setting. The beds are creatively set with flower petals and towels twisted into the shape of different animals. Perhaps we were all tired at that time of the night but nothing seemed more beautiful than those beds at the Sleeping Giant Lodge. The next room we visited was a Spanish Casita. There are three Spanish casitas at the resort. They are made for six but can easily accommodate nine adults. There is more interior and exterior space in the casitas. It is primarily for families and large groups. After visiting the rooms, we were escorted back to the main building where we spent some time at the Creek Side Lounge. The name of the lounge is based on the fact that a creek runs throughout to property. The name of the resort is based on the scenic view from the third floor where one can look across the rainforest unto the Maya Mountains in perfect range of the Sleeping Giant. We left the Sleeing Giant Lodge at about 9:30 p.m. and headed to Placencia.
There is not much I can say about the journey to Placencia since I was only awake for a few minutes of that drive. Based on such comfortable sleep I enjoyed, I can say that the new road provided a smooth ride. We arrived at Laru Beya Resort sometime after 11 p.m. Rene Nunez, Manager of Laru Beya, stayed past normal working hours to welcome us to spectacular Laru Beya. Our dinner from Wendy’s Restaurant was waiting for us. Everyone expressed extreme satisfaction with the food. I surely enjoyed my filet fish with mashed potatos and garden salad. After the late dinner, it was time to rest in the luxurious rooms at Laru Beya. The bed was nice but I chose to sleep in the hammock on the balcony of the third floor where the cool sea breeze and restful sound of waves approaching the shore provided a setting for the best sleep I have had in years. A day full of adventure was ahead.       
Next week, I will tell of our day in Placencia where we went fishing and snorkeling with Splash Dive Center and dined at the Maya Beach Bristro.