Belize -The Spring Break Destination For Grown Men
“It had taken about an hour and a half, but we were finally there, barefoot and speechless. Deep in the ATM cave, we were alone with the sprawled and completely intact Crystal Maiden.”
I’d fallen behind while taking a closer look at an almost fully intact piece of 1,000-year-old Mayan pottery. My girlfriend and our guide, Emil Gamez, had disappeared through some cracks a few feet ahead. The large chamber where I was grew dark. They weren’t far, but when you’re a mile and a half deep in a cave littered with human remains, ancient blood-letting altars and the spirits of the Mayan gods of the underworld, you don’t want to let the other headlamps out of sight. I started moving against the current; the water, waist-deep at this point, was cool and perfectly clear. I saw small fish darting around my feet. Even here, in perfect blackness, there was life. I reached for some well-worn handholds — the same limestone juts that Mayan kings and priests had used — turned sideways and pulled myself into the zigzagged fissure. Deep inside Belize’s sacred Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM), I paused and smiled to myself, “Best. Vacation. Ever.”
The lure of the all-inclusive vacation can be strong. A last-minute deal down to Mexico or the Dominican is cheap, requires little planning and offers the ultimate temptation for most college spring breakers: copious amounts of booze. While these deals serve their debaucherous purpose, they offer little of what real traveling is all about — namely culture, exploration and new experiences. It’s one thing to go crazy at one of these resorts in your early to mid-20s, but eventually, both you and your vacations need to grow up.
The criteria that my girlfriend and I chose were simple: the country had to be hot, the flight from the Northeast had to be short and affordable, and there had to be enough adventure to balance out the beach laziness that we were planning on ending the trip with.
We packed our bags for Belize.
Our first mistake was renting a Suzuki Jimmy — a choice I made because of the warnings that there were less than 400 miles of paved road. What could be better than a stocky little SUV? As it turned out, anything. The unpaved roads in the western-most Cayo District were pocketed with constant ruts and chasmal potholes that seemed deep enough to swallow us whole if we ventured too close. The little 4×4 was great when we had to navigate completely washed-out roads (three times by my count), but the stiff ride kept us feeling jarred for the entire trip. (Pro tip: Spend the few extra dollars and rent a full-size SUV with plush suspension.)
The almost three hour drive from Belize City took us through a variety of ecosystems, including tropical rainforests, savannas, wetlands and mangrove swamps; at times we thought we were in central Tanzania, Southern Florida and even back home in the Northeast. The natural diversity of Belize is incredible.