World Travel – Belize Vacation 2021

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Our first trip to Belize was in 2019 and that is when Mark and I officially fell in love with everything about it.  We had wanted to return sooner but when the entire world shut down in 2020 we just continued isolating and dreaming and held out hope that we would return again soon.  I really wanted to plan a very special 40th Birthday celebration for my husband Mark and we had been brainstorming ideas with friends for local and far away destinations. Belize really checked all the boxes for a fantastically fun adventure that isn’t expensive and isn’t that far away. None of us had traveled internationally since before the Pandemic so we thought this would be a good jumping-off point!

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We booked flights for November 10 – 15, 2021 with our favorite travel buddies to celebrate Mark for Veteran’s Day and his 40th Birthday in beautiful beautiful Belize! Same as last time we flew from Tampa International Airport to Miami International Airport and just a few short hours later arrived in Belize City, Belize at the Philip Goldson International Airport!

This time our itinerary was low-key and simple with way less jumping around the country than last time. Obviously, the thing that gave me the most anxiety about traveling again was COVID era documentation and test results, but it ended up being a breeze.  As of Nov 2021, Belize and American Airlines required masks at all indoor spaces and to see proof of your Covid Vaccination card and be a single dose or dual vaccinated at least 2 weeks prior and arrive with a negative test result that was less than 3 days old.  You also had to have proof that you were staying in a Gold Certified Hotel or Lodge with Gold Certified ground transportation.  If you were unable to get tested before arriving, you can split off before customs and get a test in the Belize City airport for $50 USD. It may sound like a lot, but it was no big deal.  We were all fully vaccinated already and we all went to CVS less than 3 days prior to leaving and had our PCR test results within 36 hours. We printed all of our documents and also had the digital versions to be ready for anything – the airlines preferred having the documents printed rather than on your phone.  The biggest thing we learned was that Covid test results were factored by the hour, not the days. They say within 3 days but what you have to watch is the exact time of your flights and your original test time had to be within 72 hours not the time you actually get your results- Thankfully we made it by a couple of hours! When we arrived in Tampa the morning we left we were unable to use the kiosks to check-in and did have to wait in line at the counter to check-in in person. Again, no big deal because we arrived early and all of us had everything we needed to go. It was smooth sailing from Tampa to Miami to Belize after that!

We arrived in Belize City shortly after Noon and believe it or not, it was way easier getting through customs this time compared to our first trip. Once again, they checked all documentation – passports, Covid vaccine cards, and negative test results. We got our stamps and headed to baggage claim.  The difference here was that now they use some kind of disinfectant spray on all of the luggage as it leaves the plane and enters the airport – it made the process longer and many of the bags appeared to be soaked. Luckily, it dried quickly and none of our bags or belongings were damaged in any way.

Our entire trip circled around our stay at Table Rock Jungle Lodge and they arranged absolutely everything for us.  As soon as we walked outside of the airport we were greeted by our driver Ustese who was holding my name on a sign.  He did use a touch-less thermometer to check out temperatures and then we set off to find a local grocery store where we stocked up on water, alcohol, snacks, and other supplies before we headed into the Jungle!

Since Mark and I had previously stayed at Table Rock Jungle Lodge, we were excited to see what our friends thought – I’d say they had the same reaction we did – JUNGLE PARADISE and such relief to be in such a calm, beautiful, and quiet space for some time to reset. We took a tour of the property, got settled into our Riverview Cabanas, then had welcome cocktails by the pool.  We had the entire property completely to ourselves for the first 48 hours and it was magic!

Table Rock Jungle Lodge is situated on a 105-acre jungle reserve along the Macal River, with 10 intimate, eco-friendly cabanas, farm-to-table cuisine, infinity pool, and a full-on working, organic farm! They have a stunning dining room & bar, many walking and hiking paths, tons of different animals to see, pet, and feed, plus acres and acres of citrus trees, palms, bamboo, and growing on the farm are several varieties of mangoes, coconuts, avocados, limes, grapefruit, tangerines, breadfruit, sapodilla (chico sapote), starfruit (carambola), craboo, soursop (guanábana), bananas, plantains, guava, and chaya (a local green favored by the Maya). During different times of the year, they also grow a small selection of fresh herbs, and you can visit the flower and plant nursery where they grow the tropicals that are used to decorate and landscape the lodge. The farm is home to a Kekchi Maya family, Carlos & Margarita Ba and their children, as well as a small herd of donkeys and rabbits that they raise as pets and a large flock of laying hens that supply the eggs used in the restaurant. They encourage you to take a walk around the farm, pet and feed the animals, and help yourself to any of our tropical fruits—the only rule is that you eat what you pick. It’s so amazing!!!!

The first time Mark and I stayed here in 2019, we had been upgraded to The Little Blue Heron Cabana and it was gorgeous, so we requested it again. Not a single detail is missed in these amazing Riverview Cabanas with private decks overlooking the jungle and Macal River. Four poster bamboo king-size beds, river stone showers, huge hammocks, and our adorable fruit bats were still there and this time they had a third friend with them!!

Can we just talk about the food for a second, or an hour…. Because WOW!  The culinary talents at Table Rock go above and beyond to present you with unique and unforgettable dining experiences. Dining for all or most of your meals here will definitely enhance your Belizean jungle experience. With farm-to-table cooking, they use the freshest local products with their immense cooking skills to simply dazzle you with peaceful hummingbird watching breakfasts, poolside lunches and small plates, and of course, the elegant candlelit dinners served outdoors in the stunning open-air dining room.  Every day they feature a Chef Special for breakfast and dinner and we highly recommend you go for it! We always ordered the special when it was available, and we are still dreaming about those meals. Also, not to be left out – the drinks! They have a full bar and a specialty cocktail list that begs you to try every single one. Someday we will return just for a full week of food & drink, I swear!

Hanging around the lodge – there is so much to do just around the property of Table Rock you really could just spend all your time exploring there. While we did plan a couple of excursions that I will get to, we also laid low and tried to recharge after an absolutely insane and stressful couple of years. We hiked, picked fruit, bird watched (yay Toucans and Mott Motts!), canoed, searched for treasures in the river, lounged in hammocks, swam every day in the icy pool which was actually amazing for all of our combined aches and pains, and of course, fed all the animals!  It was such a needed time out from life – ah take me back.

On Mark’s 40th Birthday, we made him choose whatever he wanted to do. So naturally we booked an excursion to Cahal Pech, a Maya site located near the town of San Ignacio in the Cayo District of Belize which was perfect for a man that went to college for anthropology and archaeology. The site was a palatial, hilltop home for an elite Maya family, and though the most major construction dates to the Classic period, evidence of continuous habitation has been dated to as far back as 1200 BCE during the Early Middle Formative period (Early Middle Preclassic), making Cahal Pech one of the oldest recognizably Maya sites in Western Belize.

Here we saw our first Agouti, Belizean squirrel, bats, huge termite nests, and did a lot of climbing for some epic views! We stood in places of kings and queens, and places of human sacrifice – Learning the history of the Mayan people is absolutely mind blowing.  We were so surprised that our tour guide was Alan, the same amazing and informative guide we had for our previous trip to Xunantunich.  We were so lucky – he is such a knowledgeable and friendly guide!

After several hours of filling our minds and hearts with history, Alan dropped us off to explore the local town of San Ignacio. Because of COVID restrictions, the Rum Tour, and Maya Chocolate making attractions were still closed, and whether you were outside or not it was a government requirement to wear a mask in Nov of 2021. 

We walked around the San Ignacio Market located on the banks of the Macal River that features farmers, traders, and vendors from all walks of Belizean life. We did some shopping for truly unique gifts and bought the most beautiful hammock for a fraction of the price you can order online. Next, we had lunch at El Fogon Del Cayo where we enjoyed the most incredible tacos, quesadillas and watermelon drinks!  The town of San Ignacio is filled with restaurants, bars, shops, groceries and cultural centers. We did some more shopping and found incredible souvenirs from local artisans who absolutely loved to talk to you about their craft.  When we were ready to head back to Table Rock we simply called them with the cell phones that they provide for each room and within 15 minutes we had a driver arrive to take us back for Mark’s celebratory birthday dinner. It was such an epic way to spend a milestone birthday – and holy moley – the chocolate cake that Jamie and Victor ordered as a surprise was UNBELIZABLE!

We spent using Table Rock Jungle Lodges complimentary canoes to adventure along the Macal River to get drinks at another nearby resort that we had visited during our last time in hopes of Howler Monkey sightings. We tied the canoes up and headed up the bank to The Lodge at Cha Creek to check out all of the resorts amazing amenities like nature preserve trails, infinity pools, natural history center, and the butterfly exhibit. But honestly the number one reason I wanted to return was because I had THE BEST MARGARITA OF MY LIFE at their restaurant Mariposa. Just ask my friends, I never stopped talking about the jalapeño infused margarita and multiple times Jamie bought me liquor to help recreate it – but now I was so happy to share the real thing with them and it did not disappoint- pretty sure I had 3! We ordered apps and drinks and hung out overlooking the beautiful acreage and also had multiple toucans and iguanas hanging out in the trees above us – Magic! Sadly, we didn’t see any of the Howler Monkeys on this trip but my oh my we heard them very close and loudly during our first few mornings.  Mark really wanted to enjoy a cigar while canoeing down the Macal River for his birthday, so of course, with a little help from our driver the previous day – we made that reality too!

Our last couple of days were very rainy off and on, if anything, the rain continued to help us slow down, reset, and it was magical to sleep to the sound of the jungle rain hitting the roof each night. Our last big adventure was Cave Tubing at Nochoch Che’en so it didn’t really matter – we were gonna get wet either way! Alan was our guide again and drove us about an hour away from the lodge to the Nohoch Che’en Cave Park entrance where we grabbed inner tubes, head lamps, life jackets, and hiked about 45 minutes into the jungle in the pouring rain – what an experience! We went through a series of wide and spacious caverns which periodically opened up to the sunshine trying to break through and jungle views. It was awesome floating past side windows that filter the jungle light through the mist as you swirl around stalagmites jutting from the river and stalactites looming from above. We even jumped off an underground waterfall and entered into the crystal cathedral, a spiritual center to the ancient Maya. Once we made it back to the beginning we got changed into dry clothing and bought “make it yourself” rum drinks in pineapples to finish off the adventure! While we were enjoying our very strong drinks from the friendly rasta locals, we spotted another first for the trip and a first for me – a Kinkajou!!

Facing the reality of heading home and back to real life is always the hardest part of traveling. We spent the last night enjoying the rain, feeding the animals, listening to all of the sounds of the jungle and trying to preserve every single memory. I have definitely left even more of my heart and soul in Belize after returning for a second time, but we are looking forward to even bigger adventures to new destinations. On our flight home Mark and I completed our latest Travel Goal List and are so excited to be planning a trip that was cancelled in 2020 for later this year. My first International trip to India opened a door I can’t close and even though we were knocked off course in 2020 – we are looking forward to flinging that door wide open again.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Lao Tzu

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