Central America | Moon Travel Guides https://moon.com Trip Ideas, Itineraries, Maps & Area Experts Tue, 12 Dec 2017 23:54:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.1 https://deathstar-650a.kxcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/cropped-moon_logo_M-32x32.jpg Central America | Moon Travel Guides https://moon.com 32 32 125073523 Maya Ruins in Belize: The Mundo Maya https://moon.com/2017/10/maya-ruins-belize-mundo-maya/ https://moon.com/2017/10/maya-ruins-belize-mundo-maya/#respond Tue, 24 Oct 2017 22:12:20 +0000 https://moon.com/?p=59894 It’s estimated that at the height of the Classic Period, the area known as Belize was home to at least one million Maya. Today, Belize is home to 11 partly or fully excavated, protected Mayan archaeological sites. Read on to learn about the features of and how to get each site.

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It’s estimated that at the height of the Classic Period, the area known as Belize was home to at least one million Maya. We’re lucky that today Mayan ruins in Belize are so numerous; Belize is home to 11 partly or fully excavated, protected Mayan archaeological sites. Each had an intricate role in Mayan history and architecture. The Belize Institute of Archaeology (NICH) manages all archaeological sites.

the Mayan ruins of Altun Ha in Belize

Altun Ha is an easy trip from Belize City. Photo © Jill Gehring/iStock.

Altun Ha

Altun Ha (9am-5pm daily, US$5) is 34 miles north of Belize City and has become one of the more popular day trips for groups and individuals venturing from Belize City, Ambergris Caye, and Caye Caulker; it is the most visited Mayan ruins in Belize. A Mayan trading center as well as a religious ceremonial site, it is believed to have accommodated about 10,000 people. Archaeologists, working amid a Mayan community that has been living here for several centuries, have dated construction to about 1,500-2,000 years ago. It wasn’t until the archaeologists arrived in 1964 that the old name, Rockstone Pond, was translated into the Mayan words “Altun Ha.”

To reach Altun Ha from the Philip Goldson Highway, continue past the Burrell Boom turnoff (to the Community Baboon Sanctuary) and continue to about Mile 19, where the road forks; the right fork is the Old Northern Highway, which leads to Altun Ha and Maskall Village. The entrance is 10.5 miles from the intersection. The road is in horrible condition and is not getting any better with the increased traffic.

Altun Ha is close enough to Belize City that a taxi ride is your best bet (US$100 round-trip). Kenneth Bennett of KB Taxi Service (tel. 501/634-2865) is an excellent driver who will wait for up to 2.5 hours while you tour the site. You can also opt for a tour operator that specializes in these trips, such as Mr. Lascelle of S & L Travel and Tours (91 N. Front St., tel. 501/227-7593 or 501/227-5145.

Caracol Archaeological Site

Archaeologists Diane and Arlen Chase believe that Caracol, one of the largest sites in Belize, is the Mayan city-state that toppled mighty Tikal,Archaeologists Diane and Arlen Chase believe that Caracol, one of the largest sites in Belize, is the Mayan city-state that toppled mighty Tikal, just to the northwest, effectively shutting it down for 130 years. Located within the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, Caracol is out there, offering both natural wonders and Mayan mystery. To date, only a small percentage of the 177 square kilometers that make up the site has even been mapped, identifying only 5,000 of the estimated 36,000 structures lying beneath the forest canopy.

Most tour operators offer Caracol day trips, often involving stops at various caves and swimming holes on the way back through the Mountain Pine Ridge. The ride should take 2-3 hours, depending on both the weather and the progress made by road improvement crews, who hopefully will not run out of money before you read this. If you’re driving, a 4WD vehicle is a must; gas is not available along the 50-mile road, so carry ample fuel. Camping is not allowed in the area without permission from the Institute of Archaeology in Belmopan. The closest accommodations are those along the Pine Ridge Road.

At times, a military escort is necessary to visit Caracol. Be sure to ask at your lodge. Tour operators know to show up at 9:30am at the Augustine (Douglas de Silva) gate to convoy to the ruins.

temple of Lamani Ruins in Belize surrounded by trees

Lamanai is believed to have been occupied from 1500 BC to the 19th century. Photo © Simon Dannhauer/iStock.

Lamanai Archaeological Site

The Lamanai Archaeological Site (8am-5pm daily, US$10 pp) comprises four large temples, a residential complex, and a reproduction stela of a Mayan elite, Lord Smoking Shell. Excavations reveal continuous occupation and a high standard of living into the Post-Classic Period, unlike at other ancient Mayan sites in the region. Lamanai is believed to have been occupied from 1500 BC to the 19th century—Spanish occupation is also apparent, with the remains of two Christian churches and a sugar mill that was built by British colonialists.

All regional tour operators in Orange Walk, Corozal, and Belize City offer water tours to Lamanai. It is the most impressive way to approach the site, and a time-saver as well, compared to going by land. Bob the crocodile and a group of spider monkeys have become regular tour stops, as they are accustomed to feeding routines. (Some boats invite spider monkeys on board to eat bananas, which should be discouraged; they can become aggressive toward people and cause serious injury.) Ask about night safaris, bird-watching tours, and sunrise trips up and down the New River.

Most hotels can arrange tours with licensed guides. Tours include the entrance fee, drinks, and usually a catered lunch as part of the deal; prices range US$40-70 per person. I highly recommend Lamanai River Tours (at Hotel de la Fuente, tel. 501/302-1600 or 501/670-0700, lamanairivertours1@yahoo.com, US$50 pp for 4 people, private tour US$230 for 3 people)—ask for guide Ignacio Lino, who knows the area inside out. Another option is Jungle River Tours (20 Lovers Ln., tel. 501/670-3035 or 501/629-3069, US$40 pp for a group of 4), with boats leaving from a landing near the historic La Inmaculada Catholic Church. Errol Cadle’s Lamanai Eco Tours (tel. 501/610-1753, US$50 pp for up to 10 people, includes lunch) caters to travelers who want a less frenetic pace, often from cruise ships.

Lubaantun Archaeological Site

Located on a ridge between two creeks, Lubaantun (Place of the Fallen Stones) consists of five layers of construction and is unique compared to other sites due to the absence of engraved stelae. The site was first reported in 1875 by American Civil War refugees from the southern United States and was first studied in 1915. It is believed that as many as 20,000 people lived in this former trading center.

Lubaantun was built and occupied during the Late Classic Period (AD 730-890). Eleven major structures are grouped around five main plazas—in total the site has 18 plazas and three ball courts. The tallest structure rises 50 feet above the plaza, and from it you can see the Caribbean Sea, 20 miles distant. Lubaantun’s disparate architecture is completely different from Mayan construction in other parts of Latin America.

To reach Lubaantun from Punta Gorda, drive 1.5 miles west past the gas station to the Southern Highway, then take a right. Two miles farther, you’ll come to the village of San Pedro. From here, go left around the church to the concrete bridge. Cross and drive almost one mile—the road is passable during the dry season.

Marco Gonzalez Maya Site

This may be the only place in the world where you can visit an ancient Mayan trading city on an island and spot pieces on the site that date back to 100 BC.Those looking for a little Mayan history right on the island can find it at the Marco Gonzalez Maya Site, just a 30-minute golf cart ride from San Pedro, at the south end of Ambergris Caye. Contact Jan Brown (tel. 501/662-2725, US$10 site, US$8 transportation), a passionate expat and the reserve’s chairperson, for a private guided tour of this virgin site. Currently under study, it was inhabited by the Maya for 1,600 years.

While the site continues to be preserved, cleaned, and examined for its history of the coastal Maya, it is literally a museum in the wild. A tour is an eco-adventure in itself, requiring careful navigation to avoid stepping on pieces of Mayan ceramics, with rainforest wildlife encounters along the way. Over the past few years, students have helped excavate parts of the site, revealing plaza structures and tombs. Human bones have been found, including skull fragments and skeletons as well as cutting tools made out of volcanic rock, thought to have been imported from Honduras and used for Mayan bloodletting rituals.

This may be the only place in the world where you can visit an ancient Mayan trading city on an island and spot pieces on the site that date back to 100 BC. On the way back to San Pedro, stop along the way to enjoy the scenic views from the south side, some of the most beautiful on Ambergris Caye.

view looking up at xunantunich ruins in Belize

One of the largest tombs ever discovered in Belize was found at Xunantunich. Photo © Lana Byko/iStock.

Xunantunich Archaeological Site

One of Belize’s most impressive Mayan ceremonial centers, Xunantunich rests atop a natural limestone ridge with a grand view of the entire Cayo District and the Guatemalan countryside. The local name for the site, Xunantunich (shoo-NAHN-ta-nitch), or Stone Lady, continues to be used, even after the ancients’ own name for the site, Ka-at Witz, or Supernatural Mountain, was discovered, carved into a chunk of stone. Just this past summer of 2016, one of the largest tombs ever discovered in Belize was found at Xunantunich, lying 16-26 feet deep, and inside it were skeletal remains of a Maya leader, jade beads, vases, and other Mayan tools and artifacts.

Located eight miles west of San Ignacio, the site is accessed by crossing the Mopan River on the Succotz ferry, easily found at the end of a line of craft vendors. Buses ($0.75) and taxis (US$10 private or US$1.75 shared colectivo) can take you from San Ignacio to the ferry entrance. The hand-cranked ferry shuttles you (and your vehicle, if you have one) across the river, after which you’ll have a 30-minute, one-mile hike (or a 5-minute drive) up a steep hill to the site. The ferry, which operates 8am-3pm daily, is free, but tipping the operator is a much-appreciated gesture. Don’t miss the 4pm return ferry with the park rangers, or you’ll be swimming. Be forewarned that during the rainy season the Mopan River can rise, run fast, and flood, canceling this service and closing access to Xunantunich until conditions improve.

Entrance to the site is US$10 per person; guides are available for US$20 per group and are recommended if you have the time—both to learn about what you’re seeing and to support sustainable tourism, as all guides are local and very knowledgeable. There’s a new visitors center, just past the ticket booth, with beautiful and informative displays of Mayan history, Belize’s various archaeological sites, and the history of Xunantunich itself. It’s worth a stop here before continuing on your hike to the temples.

Cahal Pech Archaeological Site

A 10-minute walk uphill from downtown San Ignacio, Cahal Pech is a great tree-shaded destination filled with ancient tales. The ruins of Cahal Pech (Place of the Ticks) features an excavated series of plazas and royal residences. The site was discovered in the early 1950s, but research did not begin until 1988, when a team from San Diego State University’s anthropology department began work with local archaeology guru Jaime Awe. Thirty-four structures were built in a three-acre area. Excavation is ongoing, and visitors are welcome. It is well worth your trip and admission fee (US$5), paid at the Cahal Pech visitors center (tel. 501/824-4236, 8am-5pm daily). The visitors center also houses a small museum of artifacts found at the site, along with a skeleton from Xunantunich.

Maps - Belize 11e - Maya Archaeological Sites

Map of Maya Archaeological Sites

No Belize vacation is complete without a visit to the beautifully preserved ancient Maya archaeological sites. Read on to learn about each of the 7 protected Maya archaeological sites you can visit on your trip.


Excerpted from the Twelfth Edition of Moon Belize.

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Things to Do in Belize City https://moon.com/2017/10/things-to-do-in-belize-city/ https://moon.com/2017/10/things-to-do-in-belize-city/#respond Sat, 21 Oct 2017 00:30:54 +0000 https://moon.com/?p=59890 Even if you only have one day, there are plenty of things to do in Belize City. Read on for the best experiences from colonial history to Creole dishes.

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Even if you only stay one night, there’s plenty to see and do in downtown Belize City for the day—including an introduction to the country’s past colonial history, its Creole culture, and some of the tastiest Creole dishes in Belize. Just go with an open mind and take in this truly unique Central American city.

woman posing with the Belize sign

Don’t forget a photo op at Belize City Harbor. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

Hop in a taxi and start your morning at the Museum of Belize (8 Gabourel Ln., tel. 501/223-4524, 9am-4:30pm Tues.-Fri., 9am-4pm Sat., US$5)—with fascinating collections of Mayan artifacts, in addition to rotating exhibits. Head to the Belize House of Culture (tel. 501/227-3050, 8:30am-5pm Mon.-Thurs., 8:30am-4:30pm Fri., US$5). This colonial building turned museum houses an interesting selection of period items, including silverware, glassware, and ancient utensils. Don’t miss taking a stroll on the sprawling sea-facing lawn at the back of the building, where functions are often held. Cross the street and marvel at St. John’s Anglican Cathedral, the oldest Anglican church in Central America.

From there, walk back up Regent Street toward the city center, and head to Deep Sea Marlin’s Restaurant & Bar (Regent St. W., tel. 501/227-6995, 7am-9pm Mon.-Sat., US$4) for a Creole lunch of stew with rice and beans, river views, and local tunes.

After your meal, walk toward the Swing Bridge, stop for a refreshing chocoholic milkshake from Belizean cacao expert Moho Chocolate Cafe (158 N. Front St., tel. 501/626-1941, 8:30am-6pm Mon.-Sat., US$3) or a cold beer at Spoonaz Photo Cafe (89 N. Front St., tel. 501/223- 1043, 6:30am-6:30pm Mon.-Thurs., 6:30am-8pm Fri.-Sat., 6:30am-3:30pm Sun., US$1-6) on its outdoor riverside deck, if you need it, then continue walking to the nearby historic Fort George area, where you can quickly view the Fort George Lighthouse, facing the Caribbean Sea.

fort george in Belize

Visit Fort George and enjoy the view of the Caribbean. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

Just outside Belize City, you’ll find plenty of nature and wildlife to explore. Head to The Belize Zoo (Mile 29, George Price Hwy., tel. 501/822-8000, 8:30am-4:30pm daily, US$15 adults, US$5 children)—an educational treat for all ages, where Belize’s species are on display, including the tapir and all five wild cats. Continue on to the village of Burrell Boom for a hike at the Community Baboon Sanctuary (tel. 501/622-9624, cbsbelize@gmail.com, 8am-5pm daily, US$7), where you’ll spend an hour hiking the rainforest and spotting birds and howler monkeys. Or arrange for a drive farther north to explore the picturesque and birding hot spot Crooked Tree Village, one of Belize’s authentic Creole villages.

Back in the city, head for a seaside dinner at Bird’s Isle Restaurant (90 Albert St., tel. 501/207-2179, 10am-midnight Mon.-Sat., US$5-13) for more local fare, or end up at the Radisson Fort George Hotel’s Baymen’s Tavern bar for happy hour treats (5pm-10pm) and a live DJ on Fridays.

Up for a late night? Shake your buns at the city’s latest dance spot, Sit & Sip (10 Fort St., tel. 501/223-2453, 10pm-3am Thurs.-Sat.), where the millennial crowd parties to the latest international tunes.

Maps - Belize 11e - Downtown Belize City

Downtown Belize City


Excerpted from the Twelfth Edition of Moon Belize.

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Belizean Food: Kriol Dishes and Where to Try Them https://moon.com/2017/09/belizean-food-kriol-dishes-where-to-try/ https://moon.com/2017/09/belizean-food-kriol-dishes-where-to-try/#respond Thu, 21 Sep 2017 15:24:53 +0000 https://moon.com/?p=59911 Traditional Belize food is as diverse as the population. For the most authentic Belizean Kriol food, head to the vicinity of Belize City and try these dishes.

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Traditional Belizean food is as diverse as the population. To eat some authentic Kriol food, head to the vicinity of Belize City, the heart of the Kriol or Caribbean culture. There’s no way you could starve here, between the coconut-based dishes, the meats, the multitude of baked treats, and the very affordable meals. Here’s what you shouldn’t miss.

Boil Up at Deep Sea Marlin's

Boil-up isn’t served frequently, but when available, you should jump at the chance to taste this uniquely Caribbean stew mix of pig tail, fish, hard-boiled eggs, yams, plantains, sweet potato, and cassava—all biled up in a sauce of tomatoes, onions, and peppers.

Meat pies are serious business—so much so that there’s a constant debate on who makes the best: Dario’s (33 Hyde’s Ln., 5am-2pm Mon.-Sat.) or Pou’s Meat Pies (New Rd., 5am-2pm Mon.-Sat.) Join the club and be the judge.

Bird's Isle Restaurant is the place to go for a kriol beef soup

Bird’s Isle Restaurant is the place to go for a kriol beef soup. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

Pastries and sweets are a part of Kriol life. You’ll find children selling their mothers’ Creole bread, buns, and johnnycakes, often baked with coconut oil. Stop by Dit’s (50 King St., tel. 501/227-3330, 8am-6pm Mon.-Sat., 8am-3pm Sun.) to sample traditional jam rolls, hot off the oven by noon, bread pudding, coconut pie, or some “plastic” pudding, made with cassava. Another option is Sugar Fix Bakery (8 Heusner Cres., tel. 501/223-7640, 6:45am-7pm Mon.- Fri., 6:45am-3pm Sat.).

Of the more than a dozen Kriol soups you could sample, the best-known is beef soup (head to Bird’s Isle on Tuesday for the best) and cow-foot soup.

Kriol stew chicken on a plate with rice and beans.

Kriol stew chicken. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

Stew chicken is the unofficial national dish of Belize. Often served family-style on Sunday, it’s also sold throughout the week at various eateries. Along those same lines, you’ll find stew beef on the menu and some sort of fry fish or fry chicken. These dishes are almost always served with a heap of coconut rice and beans (not to be confused with beans and rice, which is white rice and stewed beans served separately) or plantains and coleslaw. For some of the best, head to Deep Sea Marlin’s Restaurant & Bar (Regent St. W., tel. 501/227-6995, 7am-9pm Mon.-Sat.), by the Swing Bridge.

Fermenting fruits, plants, and herbs is a tradition in the Belize River Valley. Locally made and potent (6-12 percent alcohol) but delicious wines are worth sampling, particularly the blackberry, cashew, or rice wines. These can be found in villages across the district.


Excerpted from the Twelfth Edition of Moon Belize.

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Planning a Visit to Sarteneja, Belize https://moon.com/2017/08/visit-planning-sarteneja-belize/ https://moon.com/2017/08/visit-planning-sarteneja-belize/#comments Tue, 22 Aug 2017 16:07:58 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=10869 In addition to being a picturesque fishing village, Sarteneja is the only place on mainland Belize where you can watch the sun set over the water. Here's everything you need to plan a visit to Sarteneja.

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View along the coast with a dock extending into the water and boats visible on shore.

Sarteneja is just 30 minutes from Corozal and the hub of Belize’s fishing boats. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

From the Mayan Tzaten-a-ha (“give me the water”), Sarteneja was named after the 13 Mayan wells found in the area, carved into limestone bedrock and providing potable water. In addition to being a picturesque fishing village, Sarteneja is the only place on mainland Belize where you can watch the sun set over the water. The spot was first settled by the Maya as an important trading area. It is thought to have been occupied from 600 BC to AD 1200, and period gold, copper, and shells continue to turn up in the area. Mexican refugees from the Yucatán Caste Wars settled here in the mid-19th century, again attracted by the availability of drinking water. The village took a pounding from Hurricane Janet in 1955 but rebounded and became known for its boat builders and free-diving lobster and conch fishers.

Today, 80 percent of Sarteneja’s households remain reliant on the resources of the Belize Barrier Reef. Tourism is creeping in, and Sarteneja offers one of the more off-the-beaten-path experiences in the country.Today, 80 percent of Sarteneja’s households remain reliant on the resources of the Belize Barrier Reef. Tourism is creeping in, and Sarteneja offers one of the more off-the-beaten-path experiences in the country. Located on Corozal Bay, it is a well-kept secret in Belize, and few travelers have heard about its breathtaking sunsets, sportfishing, turquoise swimming waters, and importance as a protected area for manatees and bird-nesting colonies in the Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. This is slowly changing, as more travelers now stop here on their way to the Northern Cayes. Bring your swimwear—the water is beautiful, and a stop here feels like an island getaway.

Wooden Boats

Sarteneja is known for the annual Easter Regatta, during which newly painted sailboats of the artisanal fishing fleet, crewed by local anglers, race against each other in a tradition that has continued since 1950. The regatta, on Easter weekend, includes live music, food, and fun local “catch the greasy pig” games. Master boat builders Juan Guerrero and Jacobo Verde handcraft traditional wooden vessels at their workshops in Sarteneja—the wooden boat-building tradition is unique in Belize and also in all of Central America. During fishing season, these boats dock in Belize City by the Swing Bridge. If you’re interested in culture and boats, ask around for the Mitzi-Ba Wooden Boat Building workshop to see master builder Juan Guerrero at work. If you’re lucky, you’ll witness one being designed from scratch.

Things to Do in Sarteneja

Sarteneja’s location is ideal for fishing, kayaking, sailing, or exploring the nearby reserves. You can rent kayaks from the office of the Tour Guide Association (Front St., US$5 per hour double kayak, up to 5 hours maximum), or ask about its Manatee Day tour to go manatee spotting (US$20 pp). The beach on the long, pretty coastline offers swimming and relaxing. The farther east you go, the prettier and more isolated the swimming areas get. Rent a bicycle from Brisis Bike Rental (Front St., no phone, 10am-4pm) if your guesthouse doesn’t provide one. Other options include hiking in the Shipstern Nature Reserve, exploring the Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve on the northern tip of Ambergris Caye, or fishing along Corozal Bay (US$30 pp for 2 people) with Ritchie Cruz of Ritchie’s Place (Front St., tel. 501/668-1531).

With access to nearby Mayan sites and ties to the barrier reef at Bacalar Chico, Sarteneja has a lot to offer the adventurous traveler in search of the real Belize. The community is aware of its resources, and groups have joined forces to form the Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development (N. Front St.), which comanages Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. Local anglers, now trained as guides, offer a number of guided tours, both marine and inland. Contact Evanier Cruz, the president of the Sarteneja Tour Guide Association (tel. 501/635-1655). The office is located on the seafront; take a left from the arrival dock. It can also help visitors find a licensed local tour guide.

Sarteneja is also the location of the Manatee Rehabilitation Centre, run by Wildtracks, a local NGO that takes in and rehabilitates orphan manatee calves as part of a national program to protect this threatened species. The center is not open to visitors.

Getting To Sarteneja

Sarteneja has been linked to the rest of Belize by land for less than 40 years—roads are rugged and dusty and, during rainy season, often flooded and rutted. The road from Corozal to Sarteneja was recently upgraded through a European Union-funded project; although the road remains unpaved, it was a significant improvement. Still, expect a few rough spots after a heavy rain.

Getting to Sarteneja By Boat

Most visitors get to Sarteneja by boat from Corozal or San Pedro. The water taxi Thunderbolt (tel. 501/422-0026, cell tel. 501/610-4475, captain’s cell 501/631-3400), a well-run and locally owned operation, will stop in Sarteneja on its once-daily Corozal-San Pedro run. It departs Corozal at 7am, arriving in Sarteneja 40 minutes later before heading on to San Pedro. The San Pedro-Corozal boat (about 90 minutes) departs at 3pm from San Pedro, stopping at Sarteneja at approximately 4:30pm.

Note that Sarteneja is an on-request-only stop on the way back, so let the captain and crew know as you board if you’re heading to Sarteneja only on a day trip from Corozal, to be sure to get picked up in Sarteneja on the 4:30pm return boat (Corozal-Sarteneja US$12.50 one-way, US$25 round-trip, San Pedro-Sarteneja US$22.50 one-way, US$42.50 round-trip). The Thunderbolt runs every day of the year except Christmas Day and Good Friday.

Getting Sarteneja By Air

Tropic Air (tel. 501/226-2012, U.S. tel. 800/422-3435) has two flights a day that will stop at Sarteneja’s tiny airstrip on request. Flights leave San Pedro at 7am and 4:45pm daily, arriving in Sarteneja 10 minutes later, as part of the San Pedro-Corozal schedule. Flights will stop later in the day if there is more than one passenger requesting to be dropped off or picked up in Sarteneja.

Getting to Sarteneja By Bus

The bus from Belize City is often full of returning anglers and is the most exciting way to get here. The distinctive light-blue Sarteneja buses leave Belize City from a riverside lot next to the Supreme Court building. Four buses make the three-hour ride (US$5 one-way), the first at noon and the last at 5pm Monday-Saturday. All buses stop just before the bridge at the Zeta Ice Factory in Orange Walk to pick up more passengers.

Buses depart Sarteneja for Belize City (via Orange Walk) between 4am and 6:30am. There is a direct bus from Chetumal, via Corozal and Orange Walk, which runs every day, including Sunday, leaving Chetumal at noon or 1pm (depending on whether or not Mexico is on daylight saving time). It departs for Corozal and Chetumal at 6am daily. Buses from Corozal are intermittent, so it’s best to check with the Corozal bus station first. There is also local traffic going to Sarteneja from Orange Walk via San Estevan.

Getting to Sarteneja By Car

From Corozal, head south and turn left at the sign for Tony’s Inn. Follow this road, veering right until you come to a stone wall; then go left. Follow this road until you reach the first ferry across the New River, an experience in itself and free of charge. Sometimes there are lineups on Friday and Monday, so anticipate a bit of a wait. After crossing, continue on the unsurfaced road until you reach a T junction. Turn left toward Copper Bank, Cerros, and the ferry to Chunox.

On entering Copper Bank, keep driving until you see the signs for Donna’s Place (an excellent eatery) and the Cerros ruins. If you’re not stopping to eat or visit the ruins, turn left at the ruins sign and proceed until you see the sign for the ferry crossing. After crossing, continue until you reach another T junction. Turn left for Sarteneja, or right for Chunox and the grinding drive through Little Belize back to Orange Walk.


Excerpted from the Twelfth Edition of Moon Belize.

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Snakes and Bugs in Costa Rica https://moon.com/2017/08/snakes-bugs-costa-rica/ https://moon.com/2017/08/snakes-bugs-costa-rica/#comments Mon, 21 Aug 2017 19:52:47 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=11076 Snakes and bugs in Costa Rica are not nearly as dangerous as the sizzling sun can be. Here's how to stay safe from all three.

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A green parrot snake climbing on a magenta plant.

The green parrot snake, native to Costa Rica. While their venom is too weak to harm a human, their bite can cause a bacterial infection. Photo © Barb Ignatius, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Snakes and bugs in Costa Rica are not nearly as serious a hazard as cars and their drivers. But when you’re visiting or making a new home in a foreign country, it’s a good idea to know about natural hazards such as scorpions, snakes, and the sizzling sun.

Bugs in Costa Rica

Many people are drawn to Costa Rica for its amazing abundance of animal life. Most species are harmless if left unmolested, but there are a few exceptions to every rule. In and around the Central Valley, the higher altitude means fewer bugs. You hardly ever see houseflies, spiders are of reasonable size and lead discreet lives, and even the ants don’t seem as aggressive as in other areas.

Wear long sleeves and long pants, use insect repellent containing DEET, and sleep under a mosquito net.In lowland and more humid areas, you’ll find more quantity and variety in the insect department. Some, like the enormous Hercules beetle or the bright blue morpho butterfly, are stunning but harmless. It’s the more prosaic insects like mosquitoes that do greater harm, occasionally transmitting dengue fever and, more rarely, malaria—mostly in wet lowland areas with poor sanitation. Malaria is rare enough in Costa Rica that few doctors suggest taking chloroquine pills along on your trip. But cases have been reported, and the best prevention against both malaria and dengue fever is to guard against mosquito bites. Wear long sleeves and long pants, use insect repellent containing DEET, and sleep under a mosquito net. Some suggest that spraying your clothes with the insecticide permethrin will guard against dengue fever.

Africanized bees have arrived in parts of Costa Rica and are as aggressive here as they are elsewhere. Experts advise running in a zigzag pattern if they come after you, getting under a sheet, or submerging yourself in water if there’s any available.

Some areas have scorpions. I heard of a woman who, when she washed her family’s clothes, made sure to put them away inside out. That way, when they dressed, they’d have to turn everything right side out and thus would be automatically checking for bugs that might have hidden in the armpit of a shirt or in the leg of a pair of jeans. Despite her precautions, one day her husband found a scorpion crawling out of his sleeve. Then he noticed the seams on his shirt—it was still inside out. In scorpion areas, make sure you shake out your clothing and shoes before getting dressed in the morning. This will help with snakes too, which love nothing better than to curl up in a warm, odoriferous boot.

Snakes in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has more than 100 kinds of snakes, including venomous ones such as the much-feared fer-de-lance, which accounts for 80 percent of all snakebites in the country, and the yellow-bellied, black-backed sea snake, which paddles along in the Pacific Ocean with its oar-like tail. Despite the variety of snakes here, death from snakebite is rare. Most bites occur when snakes are stepped on—watch where you’re going!—or if you harass or try to handle a snake. Leave snakes alone and they’ll return the favor. Be especially careful in long grass, and remember that many snakes are arboreal—the tree branch you grab onto for balance just may be alive. Snakes also like to hang out in bromeliads, so be careful when looking inside these tightly wound whorls of stiff leaves and brilliant flowers.

If you are bitten, move as little as possible. If the bite is to a limb, apply a tight bandage (not a tourniquet) above the bite, and release it for a minute or two every 15 minutes. Apply ice if available, and keep the bitten limb elevated while getting to a hospital or clinic. Don’t try that old remedy of cutting an X over the bite and sucking out the venom. Some snake venom contains anticoagulants, which will make any cut bleed like crazy.

Sun Safety

What people come to Costa Rica for can also be their downfall. The sun can be like a molten hammer, especially around midday. Sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and a long-sleeved light-colored shirt may make you look like your typical gringo in the tropics, but that’s a small price to pay for guarding against sunburn, skin cancer, and heatstroke. Don’t forget to drink a lot of liquids, and I’m not talking beer, which goes right through you. Take it slow at first, especially in areas of high humidity. After you’ve been here for a while, you’ll adjust to your chosen area’s weather.

In the most sizzling areas, early mornings and late afternoons are the best times to be out and about. There’s a reason hot countries invented the siesta, that midday break that gets you out of the sun and into a hammock. Do as the locals do and spend the early afternoon swaying on the front porch, a cool drink within reach.


Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Living Abroad Costa Rica.

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How to Build a House in Costa Rica https://moon.com/2017/08/how-to-build-a-house-in-costa-rica/ https://moon.com/2017/08/how-to-build-a-house-in-costa-rica/#comments Mon, 21 Aug 2017 18:28:33 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=8535 What you need to know about how to build a house in Costa Rica, from considerations when buying a lot to materials and labor costs and obtaining permits.

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There are lot a benefits when you choose to build a house in Costa Rica: you won’t have to adjust to Tico housing styles, which may include low ceilings, no lawns, and odd ideas about finish work. In your own place, you can put the outlets where you want them, install North American-style hot water heaters and window screens, and lay down floors of tropical hardwoods. You can orient the house toward the best view (many Tico houses look inward rather than outward). You can put in a lush lawn or landscape to your heart’s content with native trees and flowering shrubs. “You don’t really have to plant things here,” one gardener told me. “You just stick something in the ground, or you wait (not long) for your yard to be invaded.”

homes on a hill in Costa Rica

You won’t have to plant anything in Costa Rica’s lush landscape. Photo © Balalaika/iStock.

Those who got the house they wanted tended to be on-site as much as possible, overseeing every little detail.In short, you can build the house of your dreams for considerably less than you’d have to pay up north. But it won’t be dirt cheap, and it will take a lot of sweat and patience. You will need to be scrupulous about paying your workers the minimum wage, which is far lower than it would be in the United States, plus their health benefits (see the Employment chapter of Moon Living Abroad Costa Rica for more details). And most people who’ve been through the experience say that you really need to speak Spanish, know something about construction, and be confident you can effectively oversee workers. Those who got the house they wanted tended to be on-site as much as possible, overseeing every little detail.

And be sure your contract with whoever’s doing your building is detailed and explicit. Mark Drolette, who moved from Sacramento, California, to near San Ramón, Costa Rica, counts as among the best things that happened to him in Costa Rica “deciding to purchase my half acre.” The worst was finding out his house contract “didn’t cover the cost of small items like, oh, doors and windows and toilets and sinks.”

Buying a Lot for Your House in Costa Rica

Before you buy land that you intend to build on, you need to do a little research. First, make sure the lot has basic services such as water, electricity, telephone, and drainage. If it lacks any of these, get estimates for how much it will cost to install those services. Next, make sure there are no restrictions on the lot that might cause you to be denied a construction permit. Begin by checking with the Public Registry (Registro Nacional), stop in at the Permit Reception Office (Oficina Receptora de Permisos de Construcción) in San José, and consult the municipality (municipalidad) where the property is located.

Filing for Building Permits in Costa Rica

According to Roger Petersen, author of The Legal Guide to Costa Rica, requests for construction permits are filed with the Permit Reception Office (Oficina Receptora de Permisos de Construcción) in San José, which is a centralized office that houses representatives from MOPT (Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes—roads), INVU (Instituto Nacional de Vivienda y Urbanismo—housing), ICE (Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad—telephone), AYA (Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados—water), SNE (Servicio Nacional de Electricidad—electricity), CFIA (Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y de Arquitectos), and the Ministry of Health (Ministerio de Salud).

By law, the local municipality is responsible for ensuring that all construction complies with building regulations, so you’ll also need a building permit from your municipality. There may be occasional visits to your construction site by the municipal building inspector, who must certify that the construction is proceeding according to code.

Applications for construction permits must be filed by an architect or civil engineer who is a member of the Federation of Engineers and Architects (Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y de Arquitectos).

Building Costs in Costa Rica

In general, materials costs in Costa Rica are roughly equivalent to those in North America, while labor costs will be significantly less. Total building costs vary a great deal depending on materials used and salaries paid, with estimates ranging from US$25 per square foot for simple construction to up to US$70 per square foot for a luxurious house.

Building in remote areas is often more expensive, since you have to factor in delivery costs of materials.

If you're considering living abroad in Costa Rica, find out what you need to know about building a house, from considerations when buying a lot to materials and labor costs and obtaining permits.


Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Living Abroad Costa Rica.

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Moving to Costa Rica: 10-Day Tour for Hopeful Expats https://moon.com/2017/08/moving-to-costa-rica-10-day-tour-for-hopeful-expats/ https://moon.com/2017/08/moving-to-costa-rica-10-day-tour-for-hopeful-expats/#comments Sat, 19 Aug 2017 09:00:37 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=8531 If you plan on moving to Costa Rica, a fact-finding trip is the best way to catch a glimpse of many different parts of the country. This 10-day whirlwind sampler of popular expat destinations casts a wide net, allowing you to see as much as possible.

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If you’re looking to move to Costa Rica, this whirlwind sampler of expat hot spots casts a wide net, allowing you to see as much as possible in less than two weeks.

Ten days will fly by in Costa Rica, especially if you’re trying to catch a glimpse of many different parts of the country. This itinerary won’t leave much downtime, but it will give you a taste of both coasts, the Central Valley (where most expats live), and the country’s most active volcano. This tour hits on many of the most popular tourist areas as well, so you can surf or snorkel in the Pacific and the Caribbean, visit much-loved Manuel Antonio National Park, and soak in the hot springs below Arenal Volcano.

Sunset on the beach in Costa Rica's Manuel Antonio National Park.

Costa Rica’s Manuel Antonio National Park. Photo © Green Reynolds/iStock.

This tour hits on many of the most popular tourist areas as well, so you can surf or snorkel in the Pacific and the Caribbean, visit much-loved Manuel Antonio National Park, and soak in the hot springs below Arenal Volcano.The three big tourist guns this tour leaves out are the mountain town of Monteverde, known for its cloud forest preserve and its Quaker community; the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica’s answer to the Amazon and home to Corcovado National Park; and Tortuguero National Park on the northern Caribbean coast, with its crocodiles, sea turtles, and even manatees. You could substitute Monteverde for Arenal on this 10-day itinerary, but to do justice to the Osa or Tortuguero, you’d want at least three days for each. Neither Tortuguero nor the Osa qualifies as an expat hot spot, though some hardy souls have braved these remote areas and now make their homes there.

In terms of transportation, if you feel confident about driving in unfamiliar territory, rent a car in San José and drive to all of the places mentioned. This approach has the added benefit of allowing you to see the hidden-away towns and striking landscapes between the more well-known destinations.

But if the thought of driving Costa Rica’s fabled roads makes you anxious, with a little planning you can piece together short flights, bus or minivan travel, and taxi rides. All of the places listed on this itinerary are popular enough that such services will be easy to arrange. (See the Travel and Transportation chapter in Moon Living Abroad Costa Rica for more detailed information on getting around the country.)

The historic National Theater in San Jose.

The historic National Theater in San Jose. Photo © aceshot/iStock.

Days 1-2: San José and Environs

Fly into Juan Santamaría airport just outside the capital city. Stay in town the first night, exploring some of the city’s better neighborhoods (like Los Yoses and San Pedro in the west, Rohrmoser and La Sabana to the north). Get a sense of city life by walking the downtown pedestrian mall (the Paseo Colón), have coffee at the café in the historic National Theater, and check out the nearby Gold Museum. For your second night, stay in a hotel outside of the city, to the west if the next day you’ll explore the western suburbs (Escazú, Santa Ana, Ciudad Colón) or to the north if you want to get a sense of cities like Heredia and Alajuela or towns such as Sarchí and Grecia. Give yourself a break and don’t try to see both the towns west of San José and the northern ones. Leave time for a leisurely lunch and gossiping with the taxi driver or waitress. Take time, too, to see what’s for sale in the omnipresent supermarkets and malls. The Central Valley is where the whole country comes to shop.

Even if you have rented a car, this part of the trip might be more enjoyable if you leave your car parked in the hotel lot and hire a driver. It takes some time to figure out how to get around San José and its environs; you don’t want to spend all your time getting lost or cursing the traffic. Ask at your hotel for a car and driver, or negotiate with a taxi driver to hire him or her for a few hours or the entire day. Ten dollars an hour is not an uncommon price for such services—cheaper than letting the meter run. (These services are likely to cost more outside the Central Valley, where there’s less competition among drivers and the roads are worse.)

Another option is to rent a car the day you want to leave the San José area, relying on taxis or hotel shuttles until then.

Day 3: Zona Norte

Drive, take a small plane, or ride a bus or minivan north to the town of La Fortuna. Nearby you’ll find Lake Arenal, famous among windsurfers, and active Arenal Volcano, with a variety of hot springs nearby. The trip from San José to La Fortuna winds through some lovely scenery, and the Arenal area itself is lushly gorgeous. There’s an ever-growing community of expats clustered around the lake, people who appreciate the cooler weather and the low-key vibe.

Lush grasses grow at the edge of Costa Rica's Lake Arenal.

Lake Arenal is popular with windsurfers and the surrounding region is lushly gorgeous. Photo © Mo_Dom/iStock.

Days 4-5: Northern Guanacaste Beaches

Drive or fly to Playas del Coco or Tamarindo. Playas del Coco will be of interest to visitors drawn to the convenience of the area (less than an hour from Liberia’s international airport and on good roads) or who’d like to take a look at all the condos going in there. Visit nearby Playa Ocotal, less hectic than Coco and one of the nicest little coves around, and head north to Playa Hermosa, another expat hot spot.

Tamarindo will appeal to young partiers set or to those who want to surf or see giant seas turtles laying their eggs. Once a little fishing village, these days Tamarindo is growing so fast you can hear its bones creak.

Day 6: The Nicoya Peninsula

Drive or fly to either the Nosara-Playa Sámara area (halfway down the Nicoya Peninsula) or the Montezuma-Mal País area (at the southern tip of the peninsula). Both areas are less developed than northern Guanacaste beaches like Tamarindo or Playas del Coco, though these southerly areas are also experiencing their own smaller booms. Nosara has the Nosara Yoga Institute and good beaches for swimming and surfing; Sámara is a more typical low-key resort popular with Ticos, with a beach good for learning to surf.

Montezuma is a pretty little alternative-flavored town popular with backpackers but also providing services for more luxury-minded travelers. Mal País (and nearby Santa Teresa) is a surfer’s haven, and its one-strip wonder of a town has seen a lot of growth lately.

Between Montezuma and Mal País is Cabo Blanco Reserve, worth a day’s visit—walk through the forest for a few hours and arrive at a pristine white-sand beach, where you may be the only one there. Both areas have growing international expat communities.

The broad sandy beach at Jaco, Costa Rica is studded with lounges.

Jacó Beach along Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast is changing from sleepy seaside to booming party town. Photo © Simon Dannhauer/iStock.

Day 7: Central Pacific Coast

Drive or fly to the popular beach (and slightly seedy) town of Jacó or to Quepos and nearby Manuel Antonio National Park, the most-visited park in all of Costa Rica. In both areas you are in high tourism mode, which may be a bit of a shock after laid-back Montezuma and Mal País. If you drive, you’ll need to take the car ferry from the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula (Paquera) to Puntarenas, then drive south on the coast road. Jacó comes first, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed there. Literally hundreds of condos are in the works, and the town is getting more and more rambunctious, with partying of all kinds on the rise. But it’s good to see the place, if only for comparison. Check out the condo prices here, compare them to houses for sale in out-of-the-way towns, and marvel at the huge difference.

Quepos, an hour south, is slightly less overwhelming. It’s the gateway to Manuel Antonio National Park. Although crowded in high season, the park is also beautiful. Tangled jungle spills down the hill to meet white-sand beaches, and the trees are full of monkeys and sloths.

Day 8: Dominical Area

If you stay one night in Jacó and another in the Quepos area, skip Dominical, which is another hour south of Quepos on the coast. The farther south you go, the less touristy it gets. Dominical has a long beach where the waves pound in—great for surfers, not so great for swimmers. Nearby Ojochal is a little French-Canadian-infused haven with stylish hotels and a few excellent restaurants.

Surfboards are lined up in front of a surfshop painted in rastafarian colors.

Take some time during your tour to relax in popular destinations like Puerto Viejo. Photo © Ryan Kozie, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Days 9-10: Southern Caribbean Coast

If you’re driving, you’ll take the road inland from Dominical, pass through San Isidro de El General, then head north toward San José (driving time would be 3-4 hours, depending on road conditions). From the San José area to the Caribbean coast is another 3-4-hour drive. If you fly, you’ll fly from Jacó or Quepos to San José, then from San José to Limón; each flight is under an hour.

This coast has a very different feel from the Pacific coast. It’s wetter and less developed, and real estate is cheaper. It also has more racial diversity than the rest of Costa Rica; most of the country’s blacks and indigenous people live in the Zona Caribe.

Check out Cahuita and its lovely beachside national park, then surf, party, and take long flat bike rides in Puerto Viejo. Down the road from Puerto Viejo is Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge, one of the less-visited jewels in the national park system. You can also visit indigenous reserves.


Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Living Abroad Costa Rica.

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One Week Best of Belize Itinerary https://moon.com/2017/08/one-week-best-belize-itinerary/ https://moon.com/2017/08/one-week-best-belize-itinerary/#comments Fri, 18 Aug 2017 12:15:55 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=9888 This one-week best of Belize itinerary gives just enough time to see a few of Belize’s major destinations and get a taste for just how much there is to do. It includes plenty of self-guided activities, as well as some guided tours.

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One week is just enough time to see a few of Belize’s major destinations and get a taste for just how much more there is to discover. This Belize itinerary includes plenty of self-guided activities, as well as some guided tours. One thing is certain: You won’t run out of things to do and see!

palm trees and kayaks on the beach in Caye Caulker

Enjoy the beach in laid-back Caye Caulker. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

Day 1

Arrive at the international airport just outside of Belize City. Hop on your connecting Tropic Air domestic puddle-jumper flight to laid-back Caye Caulker; stay camera-ready to capture the gorgeous views. After dropping off your bags at the hotel, schedule a snorkel trip to Caye Caulker Marine Reserve for the next day, then watch sunset at The Split and Lazy Lizard Bar, the island’s social headquarters. Continue on with dinner alfresco at Habaneros—pick the fresh catch of the day and relax on the outdoor veranda. Walk the sandy streets up to I&I Reggae Bar for a drink on the rooftop and some island tunes.

a grouping of nurse sharks in belize

Nurse sharks in Caye Caulker. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

Day 2

Today you’ll head out on a half-day morning snorkel trip to Caye Caulker’s Shark Ray Alley, before hopping over to San Pedro. Swim and snorkel alongside a dozen or more nurse sharks and stingrays, among other marine life, and admire coral gardens. Back on the island, grab your things and catch the early afternoon water taxi to bustling San Pedro. Spend the rest of the day walking around San Pedro Town, with plenty of opportunities to shop, eat, swim, bar hop, and be merry. Grab a romantic dinner at Finn & Martini or Maya specialties at Elvi’s Kitchen, and end the night with drinks at the beachfront Señor Marlin’s Sports Bar. If you’re a night owl, continue on to Jaguar’s Temple nightclub.

Day 3

Catch the first water taxi to Belize City. Stash your bags at the water taxi terminal while you explore the Swing Bridge, the Fort George area, and the Museum of Belize for an hour. Transfer to the Cayo District by bus, shuttle, or car. As you travel along the George Price Highway, visit The Belize Zoo or stop for a hike at Guanacaste National Park, near Belmopan.

Arrive in downtown San Ignacio and settle into your guesthouse or stay in Cahal Pech Village, with stunning views and access to nearby ruins. For more solitude, opt for Black Rock Lodge, one of the area’s remote jungle lodges. Spend the evening strolling the mellow town, then grab food at Crave House of Flavors on West Street.

aerial view of the maya ruins of xunantunich in Belize

Pay a visit to Xunantunich Archaeological Site. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

Days 4-5

Rise early and visit the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich, either on foot, mountain bike, or horseback. Or opt instead for a canoe trip up the Macal River. Depending on the water level, you might make it to duPlooy’s Jungle Lodge, where you can tour the Belize Botanic Gardens. If you’re more adventurous, spend the day on an exhilarating cave trip to Actun Tunichil Muknal in the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve.

Day 6

Inland or island? A couple of puddle-jumper flights—or a drive down the Hummingbird Highway—will get you to Dangriga. Take an afternoon trip to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, where you can hike through the rainforest past fresh jaguar tracks and chill in waterfalls under a green canopy. End the night with dinner back in Dangriga at Pelican Beach Resort and head to town for cold beers and dominoes under a thatch cabana at Wadani Shed.

Island lovers could instead hop on a boat and transfer to nearby Tobacco Caye or South Water Caye for diving and snorkeling along the pristine southern barrier reef and some blissful beach time. These islands are oh-so-stunning and romantic.

Day 7

Take a Tropic Air puddle-jumper flight back to Belize City, and start planning your return.

two women sitting in lounge chairs on Hopkins Beach

Extend your stay with a visit to Hopkins and soak in the Garifuna culture. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

Extend Your Stay

From Dangriga, catch the first bus down to Hopkins and soak in some Garifuna culture, go beachcombing, and enjoy fine dining. Sign up for a drumming lesson at Lebeha Drumming Center or a half-day Garifuna cooking class at Palmento Grove Lodge. Bury your toes in the sand while enjoying a traditional Garifuna meal at Laruni Hati Beyabu Diner, or wine and dine at Chef Rob’s Gourmet Cafe.

Spend the next day fishing, lazing in a hammock, or bicycling through Hopkins to the nearby village of Sittee River.

This one-week best of Belize itinerary gives just enough time to see a few of Belize’s major destinations and get a taste for just how much there is to do in this Central America destination.  It includes plenty of activities, as well as guided tours.


Excerpted from the Twelfth Edition of Moon Belize.

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Men, Women, and the Family in Costa Rica https://moon.com/2017/08/men-women-family-in-costa-rica/ https://moon.com/2017/08/men-women-family-in-costa-rica/#respond Thu, 17 Aug 2017 20:38:08 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=8529 Costa Rica is a land caught between striving for feminism and deep-seated traditions. Learn about the roles of men, women, and the family in Costa Rica.

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President Laura Chinchilla stands at a podium ready to give a speech.

In May 2010, Laura Chinchilla became Costa Rica’s first female president and Latin America’s fifth female president in the last two decades. Photo © ITU, licensed Creative Commons attribution.

Officially speaking, women and men in Costa Rica enjoy absolute equality. The 1949 constitution says as much, and a 1966 constitutional amendment prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, or religion. The 1974 family code stipulates that husbands and wives share equal rights and responsibilities, and that a woman can do everything from inherit property to form a corporation on her own. There are laws on the books against sexual harassment and gender discrimination. The far-ranging 1990 Ley sobre la Igualdad Real de la Mujer (Law for Women’s True Equality) was intended to help close the gap between women’s legal rights and their “true” lives. It provided for a host of reforms, including that schools were supposed to modify materials that promote sexist stereotypes, such as books that state “Mother kneads the dough while Father reads the paper.”

Sound like a feminist utopia? Not exactly. Traditions die hard, and Costa Rica is still a machista society.Laura Chincilla’s reign as President (2010-2014) was a real boost to the morale of all Ticas, showing just how far a (well-connected) woman can rise in a male-dominated society.

The 2010 election of Laura Chinchilla to the country’s highest office was a real boost to the morale of all Ticas, showing just how far a (well-connected) woman can rise in a male-dominated society. In May 2010 she became Costa Rica’s first female president and Latin America’s fifth female president in the last two decades.

But Traditions Die Hard

Sound like a feminist utopia? Not exactly. Traditions die hard, and Costa Rica is still a machista society, where little girls are taught to serve their brothers at the dinner table. In hiring, men are more likely to get high-level positions. The Institute of Social Studies in Population (IDESPO) reported recently that Costa Rican men earn, on average, 40 percent more than women, with the majority of female workers employed in low-paying agricultural, domestic, and manufacturing positions. Add to that high rates of teen pregnancy, single motherhood, and domestic violence, and you’ll see that Ticas have a lot to contend with.

On the other hand, there are more women than men currently enrolled in most of the country’s universities, though it is still common for women to give up their studies or careers once they marry.

Marriage and Kids

Most Ticos are married by the age of 25, although those who are studying for advanced degrees tend to wait longer. Increasingly, both husband and wife work, and often a nanny or female relative spends more time with the children than their parents do. In 2013, the fertility rate dropped to a historic low of 1.76 children per woman, the fifth consecutive year below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman. The Wall Street Journal even took note, reporting that declining fertility rates “aren’t just a problem for wealthy countries anymore.”

Although Costa Rica is a Roman Catholic country, outside-of-marriage births are common. The law deals with this trend by insisting that both parents, whether they are married to each other or not, are responsible for their children. But when a deadbeat dad skips town, there are no official resources to track him down.

A study in the early 2000s showed that a majority of women in active sexual relationships used contraceptives, at least some of the time. Abortion is illegal in Costa Rica (except when the mother’s life is at stake), though it is available in private clinics for those with money, and in back alleys for those
without.

I’ve heard from several Tico sources that the single most important piece of advice a father can give his son is, “Hijo, you can’t expect to sleep with every woman in the world. But you’ve got to at least try!” Sure, it’s a joke, but like many jokes it has a large grain of truth in it. Men here are expected, to a certain extent, to proposition every eligible woman they meet, and there’s still a strong double standard when it comes to fidelity. A man who strays expects to be forgiven by his long-suffering partner; a woman had better not expect the same indulgence.

Family in Costa Rica

Many adults count their siblings among their best friends and spend most of their social time with family members.In Costa Rican society, it’s all in the family, with the law backing up generations of tradition. Slights of honor against family members—even long-dead ones—are punishable by law. A person who murders a relative may get a longer jail sentence than one who kills a stranger. Adults are legally responsible not only for their spouses and children, but also for other family members in need, such as a sibling with disabilities.

Relatives who live outside the city may come to live with urban relations in order to find better work or attend school. Children are more likely to play with their siblings or cousins than with “outsiders.” Many adults count their siblings among their best friends and spend most of their social time with family members. Families go into business together, and government officials hand out prime jobs to family members.

What does this mean to the newcomer? Many North Americans leave home at an early age, perhaps settling far from their family of origin. They create a new sort of family out of good friends and community. That happens much less in Costa Rica, where people tend to stay put and are more insular and clannish.

It can be hard to break into these clans, and although Ticos are known as polite and welcoming, the welcome often stops at the front door—literally. Especially in the country, visitors are not often asked to come inside, although you may be invited to sit on the front porch and have a lemonade. Long-term expats joke that if you’re lucky enough to have a Tico invite you to his house, he won’t tell you how to get there. Ticos may also be wary of people who they think will be here today and gone tomorrow.

It’s not impossible to make Costa Rican friends, but it takes time and effort. Start by being as polite as you know how, and try not to take offense if your friendly overtures are not reciprocated as you would like. If you have children, you’re one step ahead—you’ll have a door into Tico families with kids the same age as yours. If you work with locals, that’s another way in. And remember, there are plenty of other foreign residents who are in the same boat and more than happy to commiserate about it. Enduring friendships have been based on less.


Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Living Abroad Costa Rica.

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Festivals in Belize City: Carnival and More https://moon.com/2017/08/festivals-in-belize-city-carnival-and-more/ https://moon.com/2017/08/festivals-in-belize-city-carnival-and-more/#respond Thu, 17 Aug 2017 17:11:12 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=9896 September is Belize’s golden month, with three weeks of festivities celebrating the country's independence. Learn more about Belize City festivals in September, as well as events to plan for (or around) during the rest of the year.

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Carnival in Belize. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

Carnival in Belize. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

When it comes to festivals, September is Belize’s golden month. For three weeks—from September 1 all the way through September 21 (Independence Day)—Belize City hops on one long party train to celebrate the country’s freedom from Great Britain in 1981. Streets, lights, and bridges in the city are decked out in the national colors—red, blue, and white—and everyone is on a celebration high. It’s quite the time to visit Belize City, particularly if you’re a culture and history buff (not to mention the prices in low season are oh-so-right).

Carnival

You’ll see colorful floats, men and women in sexy, extravagant costumes, and trucks and massive speakers blasting either punta or soca music.Belize’s Caribbean spirit is on full display during the Caribbean-flavored Carnival (mid-Sept.). You’ll see colorful floats, men and women in sexy, extravagant costumes, and trucks and massive speakers blasting either punta or soca music as the crowd and revelers hop and dance all along Central American Boulevard. The parade often starts on the south side of town around 2pm; be sure to arrange a taxi ride to and from the event and arrive about an hour early if you want to save a spot. After Carnival, the celebrations continue at BTL Park with an all-night outdoor concert, food and drink vendors, and plenty of seaside dancing.

Festivals in Belize City During September

Paan Yaad (Sept.; date varies) is a lively seafront steel pan concert held at the House of Culture. It features the best bands from around Belize and makes for a night of Caribbean musical bliss, with the historical mansion serving as gorgeous backdrop combined with a Belizean buffet and drinks.

St. George’s Caye Day (Sept. 10) commemorates the 1798 Battle of St. George’s, when British forces repelled a Spanish invasion of Belize. The day begins around 10am with a ceremony full of pomp and circumstance at Memorial Park on Marine Parade Boulevard, just a few steps from the Radisson, where you’ll glimpse the prime minister along with other important figures. A colorful citizens’ parade follows around noon, with plenty of music and dancing, from the park all the way to Albert Street.

Sir Barry’s Belikin Bash (Sept.; date varies) is held at Memorial Park with live performances from the country’s top artists, this free two-day outdoor concert commemorates the life of Sir Barry Bowen, the popular Belizean business magnate who created Belize’s beer brewing empire and passed away tragically in 2010. There’s plenty of dancing, food tents, and beer keg contests from 9pm until the wee hours of the morning. This is where you’ll get acquainted with Belizean music and party spirit; watching the men and women competing in exaggerated “hip shaking” just to win free beer is highly entertaining.

Catch the Independence Day Parade (Sept. 21) celebrating Belize’s independence from Great Britain. Similar to the St. George’s Caye Day, Belize City holds its own with uniform parades, marching bands, floats, and children and adults all wearing the blue-red-white national colors and waving flags. The celebrations usually begin at Memorial Park around late morning and continue on throughout the afternoon and evening.

Other Festivals in Belize City

The National Arts Festival (usually in Feb.), organized by the National Institute of Culture and Heritage, was launched in 2012 to showcase local artistic talent in Belize—from painters to sculptors, tattoo artists, jewelers and more. Booths and displays are located downtown along Albert Street, and there is a parade and live music stages at Battlefield Central Park. It’s one big celebration of creativity. Contact the Institute of Creative Arts at the Bliss Center for Performing Arts (Southern Foreshore, tel. 501/227-2110) for a schedule of events.

The Benefactors’ Day Parade and Annual Boat Regatta (Mar. 9) is a national holiday that both celebrates and commemorates the nation’s largest benefactor, Sir Baron Bliss. Festivities are centered on an annual boat regatta and are usually followed by parties. The events and times can vary; consult your host or local papers for details on location and times.

Map of Belize City

Belize City


Excerpted from the Twelfth Edition of Moon Belize.

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