Belize

The country of Belize is bordered by Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and the Caribbean Sea. Although its popularity has risen in recent years due to eco-tourism, Belize retains an undeveloped atmosphere. Rain forest, mountain ranges and the 2nd largest barrier reef in the world give every traveler plenty to explore. Our itinerary promised lots of adventure – ziplining, cave exploration, waterfall hike, snorkeling and scuba. The teenagers were all-in – until I said “just one day in the Mayan ruins” – only groans followed in response.

It would be fair to say that I’m crazy about ancient sites – there’s at least one ancient or medieval site on every itinerary. We selected Tikal National Park in Guatemala for our journey back in time. Just two hours from our resort in Belize, Tikal is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the largest Mayan sites in Central America. Our guide led us on a two-hour tour – explaining the history and purpose of the structures and the key leaders of the city. The temples served a ceremonial purpose in Mayan life, which reached its peak between 250 AD and 900 AD. The temple is constructed as a solid base – not hollow, like the Egyptian Pyramids.

The rain forest has reclaimed the structures over the centuries – often only the front face has been excavated by archeologists, with the side and rear faces protected by dirt and tree growth. Our teenagers took great pleasure in climbing up and over these ancient stone buildings. Many of the staircases are no longer safe for climbing – wooden stairs now allow visitors to ascend the steep climb to the top. Those who make the trek are rewarded with spectacular views of the plazas below – and other temples peeking up through the canopy in the distance. The view from the top of Temple IV is recognizable from the original Star Wars (episode IV) with views of Temples I, II and III over the rain forest.

At the end of the week, we asked the teenagers, “what was your favorite?” Scuba and snorkeling obviously, but to their own surprise – our day in Tikal, among the ruins, was also at the top of their list. “Pretty cool” and “dope” is high praise from any teenager. Our trip to Belize was fabulous from start to finish – walking in the footsteps of the Mayan people was absolutely a highlight. Next year’s vacation is already under discussion – and I hope time travel is on our itinerary again.