Central America And The Mardi Gras With Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines Part 3

After leaving Antigua, we spent a day at sea before arriving off the coast of Trujillo in Honduras. It was warm and sunny, but the sea state wasn’t ideal and our tenders struggled to get alongside in the small harbour. After several attempts, Captain Stoica announced that he had made the decision to abandon the port and off we sailed for Belize in Central America. I was incredibly disappointed. I’ve always wanted to visit mainland Honduras, but these things happen and we still had many other exciting ports to look forward to. Onwards and upwards, as they say! I think by this point in the cruise, we had all worked out whether the Captain’s announcement was going to be good or bad. I thought his voice sounded lower when something negative was coming our way – we braced ourselves for impact every day at noon. 😉

Instead of looking for starfish on a tropical beach, I spent the day lounging in the sun on Deck 7. Not quite the same as my original plan, but it was still far better than being in England in February and the smell from the BBQ at lunchtime was very welcome.

The following morning, we arrived in a very hot Belize City. The humidity level really was through the roof. We boarded the tender and made our way ashore, ready for our boat ride up the New River and a visit to the ancient Mayan ruins at Lamanai – which translates to Submerged Crocodile in Yucatec Maya. It was a long but exciting day and probably one of my favourite excursions of the entire cruise. We left the port in a coach and drove to Lamanai Landings – a restaurant and bar that sat on the New River and also turned out to be where we would board our boat.

The journey along the New River was thrilling, I enjoyed every moment of it and we managed to spot a wide variety of birds, although we didn’t see any crocodiles. I think we all need a hit of adrenaline every now and then, and zooming up the New River certainly got the blood pumping. After a journey of approx. 1 hour and 15 minutes we arrived at Lamanai, to the sight and sound of Howler Monkeys. The noise they make is unique and our guide mentioned that their howls were recorded at Lamanai and used as sound effects for some of the dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park movies. I had worn my Jurassic Park t-shirt that day, but I had no idea of the connection. You can’t see them in the below video (you can in the picture below that), but I’d put my phone into video mode so I could record their howls for you – pretty impressive, I think you’ll agree.

The ruins are well-preserved and the site itself is vast. Lamanai was once a major city of the Maya civilization, so that might give you some idea of its size. I was surprised to learn that most of the site actually remained unexcavated until the mid-1970’s, so Lamanai is a relatively new addition to Belize’s tourism offerings. Since excavation began, archaeological work has mainly concentrated on the investigation and restoration of the larger structures, such as the High Temple, Mask Temple and Jaguar Temple. All of which are individual and highly dominating of the landscape around them. A large portion of the Temple of the Jaguar remains covered by grassy earth and dense jungle growth, but if it were fully excavated, it would be far taller than the High Temple – you need to see the High Temple with your own eyes in order to get an idea of how large that would then make the Jaguar Temple. The Mask Temple was my favourite. The masks are on two levels on the south side of a central stairway and date back to the late fifth to early sixth century. The masks on the lower level are more than 15 feet high and represent a humanized face which is bordered with decorative designs.

Mask Temple
High Temple
Jaguar Temple

We left Lamanai and boarded our boat for the hour-long journey back to Lamanai Landings. We were all hungry, hot and thirsty by this point, so it was a bonus that there was a buffet waiting for us back at the restaurant. It was quite busy by the time we got there, but we joined the queue and were served delicious curried chicken with Belize rice and beans. It was exactly what we needed. The fruit punch slid down nicely, too! Once fed and watered, we boarded our coach for the road journey back to the ship. I’d had a great day in Belize and if I ever visit again, I’d really like to explore one of the other Mayan sites, such as Altun Ha or Xunantunich.

Cozumel was our next stop and I couldn’t wait to get ashore and onto the Cozumel Bar Hop. My friend and I enjoyed this tour last year and decided that we had to do it again – we’re now officially fo-ho’s (former hoppers). The Cozumel Bar Hop takes you to the east side of the island, off the tourist trail to 30 stunning miles of uninhabited coastline, and to four distinctly different bars: Coconuts Bar and Grill, Punta Morena, Playa Bonita and Rasta’s. I like all the bars on the tour, especially Coconuts and Rasta’s, but this time I really appreciated the appeal of Playa Bonita. It is literally holding itself together with salt from the sea and something about that really grabbed my attention. If it were a beach bar in England, it would probably be demolished, but in Cozmuel, it’s a bar with life and energy, and this time I got it, I really did.

The bar hop was just as much fun this year as it had been last year and the weather was perfect! You get 1 free welcome shot at each stop (my favourite is the Mayan Sacrifice at Punta Morena), all other drinks and food you must pay for yourself. There’s no electricity on the east side, however, so if you go on the tour, make sure you have enough cash to cover your bar bill (cards not accepted) and any souvenirs you might wish to buy. If you want to grab a bite to eat during the hop, then I suggest you try the food at Coconuts Bar & Grill – the shrimp quesadillas are delicious – and although I’ve never tried it myself, the conch soup comes highly recommended at Punta Morena. I wish I was back on the bar hop right now! It’s SO much fun and it’s available to everyone, not just cruise ship passengers!

Fast fact: did you know that the island of Cozumel didn’t have peanut butter until 2003?! Useless, I know, but if that question ever came up in a quiz, you now know the answer! 😉

Balmoral and her passengers enjoyed a sea day following Cozumel, giving us all just enough time to relax and recharge our batteries before we arrived in New Orleans for Mardi Gras!

New Orleans is one of my favourite places and I couldn’t wait to be back. I visited around the same time last year and was completely smitten with the vibrancy and atmosphere of the city, but this time, we had Mardi Gras, so I knew we were all in for a real treat, and aching feet…

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