If there’s one thing that’s a given as a parent, it’s that your child will embarrass you at some point in your life. Maybe it’s one day at the grocery store, asking aloud why the woman behind him has a boy haircut. Perhaps it’s declaring at the top of her lungs that the man over there LOOKS WEIRD! Heck, it can even happen on vacation in the middle of the ocean.
“Dad!” Yelled a 5-year-old fellow passenger on a Belizean Monkey River cruise, as we searched the calm, warm waters for manatee.
“Dad!” he yelled again with urgency, pointing at a second boat bobbing nearby and noticing its one-armed captain.
Now commanding my two boys’ undivided attention, he continued, “What happened to that man’s arm? How does he put on his t-shirt?”
We stifled our giggles at the man’s attempts to silence his curious son, simultaneously relieved our kids hadn’t asked first.
It was the comic highlight of our family’s 2014 spring break trip to Central America’s Caribbean gem, Belize, and its treasure trove of adventure offered in the Placencia Peninsula. A narrow, 16-mile strip of white sand in southern Belize that includes three main areas—Maya Beach, Seine Bight, and the largest and southernmost, Placencia Village—it’s no wonder this peninsular paradise is often the only destination for travelers to this Central American country (roughly the size of Massachusetts).
Splashing Through the Ocean
With the Caribbean Sea to the east and Placencia Lagoon to the west, travelers can’t go wrong with an obvious first step: Head to the water. And that must include a trip to the Monkey River. About a 45-minute boat ride south along the coastline through mangroves that offers views of manatee, crocodiles, bats, iguana and egrets, to name a few, this is the tour for experiencing the area’s wildlife. With a stop in Monkey River Village (pop. 200) for an authentic Creole lunch at Miss Alice’s—the one choice is a simple meal of rice, beans, and fish or chicken—and a brief hike along the river to spot a raucous troop of howler monkeys, it was a full-day affair.
Venturing into Deeper Depths
Next stop? Snorkeling. With beautiful beaches buffered by the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere—second in the world only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef—Belize is a world-class diving site. The area also offers some of the best snorkeling anywhere in the Caribbean. In fact, one of our favorite destinations in the world is Silk Cayes (pronounced “keys”), a Marine Preserve about 20 miles east of the mainland. A popular, half-day destination, you’ll likely see several groups of fellow snorkelers there hoping to spot barracuda, nurse sharks, eagle rays and stingrays.
A Day in Silk Cayes
Opting for a full-day tour, we picnicked beachside while the boys “raced” hermit crabs with our guide. (Draw a large circle in the sand, plop unsuspecting crabs in its center and watch them “race” to the perimeter.) Then we headed to a nearby site unofficially named Shark Ray Alley, once a place where fishermen cleaned the day’s catch, naturally drawing sea life. Translation? It’s practically a given that visitors will be snorkeling alongside the numerous nurse sharks and rays that frequent the “alley.” And if you’re really lucky like our group, you’ll also swim with sea turtles and dolphin.
Not only are there endless water activities available to visitors, but the land is also filled with ample opportunity for adventure. Of course, there are the requisite zip-line and hiking tours, and you can even experience cave tubing (think underground waterfalls, stalagmites and spiders, all via headlamp). But in addition to its lush jungles and bountiful wildlife, Belize is also known as a significant historical hub of the Maya culture (some say it was literally the center of Maya civilization). Offering at least 10 major Mayan sites, and hundreds more yet to be excavated, we opted for Nim Li Punit, “the big hat.” Located about an hour’s drive from our hotel in the foothills of the Maya Mountains, this site is noteworthy for its 26 stelae—tall monuments sculpted in stone—including the country’s longest that depicts a figure wearing a large headdress (hence the name).
And if I’m being perfectly honest here, this was the one activity eliciting from my boys the inevitable, nails-to-chalkboard phrase: “I’m booooooored!”
Yes, the heat was stifling, and it was only mildly interesting to them that we had ventured through the remains of a former ball court. My point? Fascinating and remarkable though they are, in my opinion, most of the ruins are best suited to older kids. And that may even be a stretch.
But fortunately, Belize offers the perfect antidote to boredom: Head right back to the water.