A Tropical Paradise… On a Lake?!
Updated: Nov 23, 2018
We have left Belize and made a last minute (very last minute) decision to go to Bacalar Mexico! We arrived in Belize city, from Hopkins, at 10:30 am, not knowing where we were going next, and chose at 10:40 am to take the 11:00 am bus to Bacalar, Mexico. It felt great to have the luxury to make a choice like this, without any prior planning. I’m not sure that I am going to be able to adjust to traveling in high season again. Right now (early November) there is so much accommodation available that we can basically show up at any hostel and get a private room.
Hopkins, Belize, is an interesting miniature village. It was very sleepy while we were there, but we were on there from Sunday night to Tuesday morning. Apparently there is a awesome garifuna music night on Tuesday, which we unfortunately missed. That being said, there is almost nothing happening in this place. It’s an awesome spot to chill on the beach for the day, but it almost has a bizarre "ghost town” feel to it. Nearly all of the restaurants were closed, and the grocery stores don’t sell much, especially nothing fresh. The bread in the three stores that we checked out was moldy. It was also interesting to note the complete lack of produce, because southern Guatemala is a produce mecca! Walking through markets in S. Guatemala, your eyes feast on the most incredible fresh produce that you could imagine. Everything from huge ripe avocados, apples, bananas, peppers, pineapple, carrots, tomatoes, onions, etc. You name it, it is probably somewhere in the market and it will be perfectly ripe. The coffee beans were just about to be harvested, so there were lots of beautiful bright red coffee beans on the bushes, pretty much on every parcel of land that doesn’t have a structure on it. Because there was SO MUCH amazing fresh produce in Southern Guatemala, it seems weird to me that there is so little fresh food in Northern Guatemala (north of Coban), and in Belize. My intuition tells me that the produce is being shipped to markets which will pay top dollar, which means only the most ripe produce is left in the countries it is grown, as it would not survive the journey to market before it over ripened. That being said, I don't know if this is actually the case. It could also be that these growing locations are not productive enough to merit large scale distribution networks to ship the produce to larger markets.
Belize and Guatemala are unbelievably different countries. Everything from the people, food, personality, etc. It seems there are more differences than similarities between these two countries. However, there are a few Guatemalans living in Belize, and they are easy to pick out. When you are in Belize it is hard to believe that this is a country with a population of a small city, in Canada; something like 300k people live in Belize.
As is mentioned by most every traveler who goes to Belize, it is very expensive, relatively speaking. Many things are nearly the same price as Canada, but not the same quality. It makes paying for certain things hard to stomach. The extended timeline of this trip means that we have to be conscious of our spending, so we decided it was best to move on to Mexico. We loved Belize, and never had the chance to do any inland activities, so maybe one day we will return and check out everything else the country has to offer. For now, we are happy to be in Mexico. Our $60 CAD/person/day budget is much more manageable in Mexico. Every time I come to Mexico I find it more enjoyable. No doubt this is because I have become more comfortable with Spanish, but it is also the interesting Maya and Colonial history of Mexico. I truly believe that Mexico is an incredibly underrated place to travel. Americans, for the most part, seem to be terrified of it (sorry to generalize, I know there are still some Americans who manage to survive and enjoy themselves in Mexico). In my experience, Mexico is a wonderful place to travel, it’s easy to get around, very affordable, and has been safe everywhere we have been. It is truly unfortunate the picture that the mainstream media has portrayed of Mexico, to Canadians and Americans. Mexico is an amazing place. Unless your name is Donald Trump, you will find that there is no reason to fear traveling through Mexico (of course, like traveling anywhere, always be aware of what’s going on around you and if something doesn’t pass the “smell test” - figure of speech - then it’s time to remove yourself from the situation, but these situations can happen anywhere in the world).
Our first stop in Mexico is Bacalar, and WOW! What a wicked spot to kick off Mexico. The town of Bacalar is located next to the second largest freshwater body in Mexico, which has unbelievably clear warm water (comfortable warm, not gross warm) in November. We rented two kayaks, grabbed our snorkel gear and sunscreen and headed out for several hours. First stop: a cenote! We ditched the kayaks in some mangroves, put on the snorkel gear and took a plunge into the cenote. Obviously this being a fresh water body, we weren’t expecting beautiful tropical fish, but we were excited with what we saw; lots of cichlids, and 16” cat fish which we both agreed looked like juvenile sharks, after snorkeling with nurse sharks in Belize. A great experience! It is eerie to snorkel along the edge of the cenote and see the dark blue water, where the edge of the cenote drops off into the abyss. The roots of some of the trees along the shore are exposed along the edge, and seem to be grasping, like fingers, into the deep blue. Had I not been googling facts on the lake, prior, I would have been more at ease, but I had recently learned that there are up to 3m long crocodiles that live in the lake, so... Apparently these crocs are very skittish due to the crystal clear clarity of the water, so they do not pose a threat to people. Either way, I couldn’t help but think that this could be the beginning of a B rate thriller. That being said, don’t let my whimsical imagination stop you from doing this, it is amazing and you won’t regret it. Plus, tons of people take pontoon boat tours in and swim, so the odds are good when one of those crocs gets hungry, it won’t be you.
The second stop on our kayak tour was around the bird sanctuary island. We cruised over, and got a few pics of us in the Yaks, but really there wasn’t anything special to see. We enjoyed the paddle nonetheless.
The third and last stop was the “pirate lagoon”! Sick name, right?! This is actually named because pirates would literally come from the Caribbean and into this lake so they could have quicker access to parts of Mexico, which they would pillage. The town of Bacalar was pillaged so many times, it eventually built of fairly significant fortress, in the 17th century, from which the city could protect itself. At this time, the city was a important part of the Spanish strongholds along the Caribbean, but never had the opportunity to grow as a result of the constant pillaging. At the pirate lagoon entrance is a concrete structure that looks sort of like a sunken ship, and it painted with beautiful pirate themed murals. It is a truly idyllic tropical swimming hole. I couldn’t begin to do it justice in writing, so I will let your imagination run, and recommend that when you explore Mexico, you spend a day or two in Bacalar.