Cheap Vacation in Belize – AdventureTravel by Bus from Caye Caulker to Western Belize

Belize Local Bus to Belize City

Belize Local Bus to Belize City

For tourists looking to travel affordable in Central America, Belize is often surprisingly expensive. Occasionally there are vacation deals from Canada or the U.S. offered through Delta, United, or American Airlines into Belize City International Airport. Most often European travelers will find Cancun to be the cheapest and most direct option. The “Mundo Maya” travel route also helps to avoid visa conflicts with America. Regional airfare is quite expensive to Belize. Connections from Flores, Guatemala (Tropic Air) and San Salvador, El Salvador (Taca) often run in the hundreds of dollars.

Tropic Air in Belize

Tropic Air in Belize

Therefore if you plan on a cheap tropical vacation, its best to first try flying into Cancun. Also, Chetumal on the Mexico/Belize border, has airport that occasionally runs airfare deals from Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal, and Ottawa, Canada. From Cancun, Playa, and Tulum, Mexico it is possible to travel to Belize City directly by overnight bus.

ADO Ticket Stand at Cancun Airport

ADO Ticket Stand at Cancun Airport

The ADO bus service from downtown Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum has become very popular and occasionally sells out. It is possible to travel to Chetumal regularly from Playa or Cancun if you do not catch the late night bus (10pm Cancun first stop). Buy your overnight bus ticket at the Cancun airport up to 3 days in advance to secure your seat. ADO does not offer refunds on tickets for missed buses so make sure you plan enough time to board.

ADO Bus from Cancun Terminal direct to Belize City

ADO Bus from Cancun Terminal direct to Belize City

We have a story bout the overnight ADO bus ride to Belize City from Cancun here.

Cancun Bus Terminal

Cancun Bus Terminal

If you are traveling straight to the Belizean cayes from Mexico it is possible to connect to a water taxi from Chetumal. Here is a link to how this is done. It is also possible to by pass mainland Belize entirely by catching the San Juan or The Línea Dorada / Mundo Maya bus from the Swing bridge water taxi terminal in Belize City. This bus goes right to Flores, but then you end up missing the wild nature of Western Belize. NOT SUGGESTED !

Baby toucan at Lower Dover Belize Jungle Hostel

Baby toucan at Lower Dover Belize Jungle Hostel

Wild Tapir at Lower Dover!

Wild Tapir at Lower Dover Belize Jungle Lodge in Little Barton Creek!

It is really a shame many tourists only see San Pedro or Caye Caulker when visiting Belize. The country has much to offer beyond the constant party on the cayes. There is something for everyone, and taking public transportation is easy enough in Belize.

Bus back to Belize from the Benque Border Crossing in Belize.

Bus back to Belize from the Benque Border Crossing in Belize.

Renting a car makes sense 75% of the time if traveling to Belize on a family vacation. Remember that Crystal Auto Rentals at the Belize International Airport is the only company that will rent a car traveling across the western border into Guatemala to visit Tikal.

Crystal Auto Rental- Belize

Crystal Auto Rental- Belize

Backpacking is easy in Belize because of the public transportation, but also because many pickup trucks make hitchhiking possible, especially if traveling alone or with one other person. It is not uncommon to see locals standing at speed bumps hoping to catch a ride before they pay the already cheap bus fare. Rides from Belize City to Belmopan on the express bus (to Dangriga, Belmopan, or Benque) cost $5BZE per person and take about an hour. Express service to Belmopan happens at least every hour, often every half hour or even less during the early morning “rush” hour.

Road map of Belize

Road map of Belize

Once in Belmopan it is possible to find multiple banks with international ATM machines. It is also possible to eat cheap and good local Belizean food at the market. The market happens on Friday and is worth visiting if traveling through. Internet cafes and photo services are all readily available, along with passport services at many countries foreign embassies.

Belize immigration is located on the road immediately across from the Department of Archaeology if you are trying to extend your tourist visa for another 30 days. The cost for a visa extension is $50BZE for the first 6 months and $100 BZE after, should you decide to stay!

Lower Dover is Located only 1/2 Mile from Mile 59 on the Western Highway

Lower Dover is Located only 1/2 Mile from Mile 59 on the Western Highway

When looking for a place to stay, Lower Dover Field Station and Jungle Lodge in Unitedville offers affordable private cabanas and hostel bunks on 100 acres of jungle, farm, and unexcavated Maya monuments. It is possible to reach us by local bus because we are only a 5 minute walk to the highway. Make sure you are not on an express bus to Benque and let the bus porter know you want to get off at Lower Dover sign in Unitedville.

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Guests looking to experience the top tour in western Belize, ATM Cave, would be advised to stay at Lower Dover because tours depart a full hour later from here than many lodges near San Ignacio, the drop off is also an hour earlier…less time in the tour van and more time in the jungle.

Mayan Skull in ATM Cave - Cayo, District - Belize

Mayan Skull in ATM Cave – Cayo, District – Belize

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Swimming into ATM CAVE Belize Adventure

Swimming into ATM CAVE Belize Adventure

ATM Cave Entrance in Western Belize

ATM Cave Entrance in Western Belize

Guests looking to just relax and enjoy nature will enjoy our multiple hiking trails linking the Maya ruins to the Belize River and our medicinal plant loop.  Every paid guest to Lower Dover gets a free 2 hour guided tour of the plants and known Maya history at the site and surrounding area.  Bring your camera because you never know what you will see! Or sit back on a hammock with a Belikin and let the birds come to you!

Iguana seen hiking on jungle trails at Lower Dover Jungle Lodge

Iguana seen hiking on jungle trails at Lower Dover Jungle Lodge

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Jungle pictures from Belize nature hike - Christy Brinnehl

Jungle pictures from Belize nature hike – Christy Brinnehl

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Male and Female Collared Aracari

Male and Female Collared Aracari on Papaya at Lower Dover Belize Jungle Lodge

 

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Corozo aka Cohune Palm – Multi-Purpose Maya Tree

Cohune Palm
ARECACEAE, Attalea cohune

One of the most prevalent trees found on Lower Dover Jungle Lodge’s 100 acre property is the Cohune Palm. Local Maya researchers observed that Cohunes are abundant where Maya ruins are found. Many believe the Maya had many practical uses for the tree (oil, roofing material, and even salt). Local guides go a step further and describe Maya shamans using the palms as proof of their spirit connections. When the wind would blow through the palms located around their settlement, shamans would say…”I told you the Gods were listening!” Visit the Maya site at Lower Dover for proof of this phenomenon.

Maya Ruins at Lower Dover with Cohune Palms with dead leaves (left) and new growth (right).

Cohune Palms found at Maya site of Xunantunich (Right Front)

Another reason Cohune Palms are found in abundance is that the tree trunk is resistant to the common slash and burn agriculture practice used throughout Belize. On your trip to Belize, you will likely see many Cohune Palms still standing in farm pastures for that reason. When hiking the trails at Lower Dover Jungle Lodge, it is possible to see all the Cohune’s stages of growth, from seed bunches to well established trees. Along the Maya ruins of Lower Dover, the remains of past Cohune stumps are long gone, but perfectly round stump holes remain.

100's of Cohune Palms in all stages of growth can be seen at Lower Dover

Young Corozo Palms on medicinal plant trail at Lower Dover Belize Jungle Lodge

“Heart of Palm” or “Palmito” is a rare but well known local delicacy that is delicious in salads and commonly enjoyed over the Easter holiday.  Unfortunately, to obtain the palm heart, the tree must be cut down, which is why they are so rare and usually carry a high cost.

Corozo Palm trunk growing mushrooms after palmito harvest

The nut is a favorite food of the gibnut, and is also eaten by people, despite the difficulty in cracking the shell. Cohune has a high oil content, yet it requires extensive extraction processing, so it’s not very economically viable for biofuels.  Many have tried to mechanize the process, but the Maya version of cracking the outer shell on stones, mashing the nuts by hand tool, and boiling the oil out in water remains the most effective way of extraction.

Cohune Palm Seed Cluster. Uniform in size and shape.

Cahoon Palm nuts scattered on the ground. Gibnuts love to eat them!

The British used the nut shell during World War I for charcoal filters in gas masks. Today, it’s not as commonly used, as the nut can explode once the fire reaches the internal oily sections! The Brits used the Cohune nuts because the mature nut is uniform size, perfect for mass production.

Quash on Cohunn Palm Leaf at Lower Dover Belize Jungle Lodge

Today, the durable nut shells are polished & made into lovely brown jewelry. Rings, earrings, and bracelets are found throughout Belize made from the Cohune nuts. Purchase one of these lovely gifts for your friends from one of the many traditional Maya artisans outside of Xunantunich or in San Ignacio.

Lastly, much is being discovered about the actual benefits of palm oil. For the longest time consumers were misinformed about the many positives this oil provides. One such study is ongoing that shows the remarkable strides made in Alzheimer’s Disease patients when they consume a regular intake of palm oil versus taking prescription drugs. Learn more about this fascinating discovery here.

Ixcanan aka Polly Red Head : Medicinal Jungle Plant

Poly Red Head
RUBIACEAE – Hamelia patens
Common names: Red Head (E), Sanalo-todo (S), Ix-canan, Sac-te-much, Klaush-pim (M)

The Maya named this plant after the Goddess of the Forest and Healing, Ix-canan, likely due to the abundant anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties used in treating a large variety of skin ailments. Everything from sores, ulcers, fungus, rashes, burns, insect bites, burns, and bee stings can be treated effectively with this natural plant remedy.

Polly Red Head - Part of the Medicinal Plant Trail at Lower Dover Belize Jungle Lodge

Treatment for most skin rashes and fungus use 3 ingredients:  common table salt, lime juice and young, mashed Poly Red Head leaves.

First the problem skin is scrubbed with a mixture of whole leaves, lime juice, and salt for 2-3 minutes.  Then the freshly picked Poly Red Head leaves are smashed and rubbed into the newly scrubbed skin and left to dry.  The procedure is repeated 2 or 3 times a day and within a day or two, the skin problem is usually cured.

Don’t be alarmed if your skin becomes temporarily darkened as some people’s skin changes color when in contact with lime juice.

Lower Dover’s watchman and resident bush healer Dan Rivera would say, “a little salt and lime and everything is fine.” You might have to ask him to say it 3 times though because his creole is a little tough to understand ;)

Flowers of Ixcanan Plant - Belize Natural Plant Remedies

Ixcanan (Polly Red Head) is a favorite flower for the many hummingbirds that call Lower Dover Jungle Lodge home. The plant grows everywhere there is sun, almost like a weed. Great news for those with sensitive skin and a camera!

Finally, if you are trying to be a Maya MacGyver, it is apparently possible to make household “iodine” from the stems of the Ixcanan plant. According to Rainforest Remedies by Dr. Rosita Arvigo, three 25 cm long stems are boiled in 3 cups of water for 10 minutes; a rusty nail is then added for 15 minutes; this mixture is then strained and bottled.

Who would have thought?!? We did not know the Mayans had nails! This could help to explain their awesome construction abilities seen throughout Belize and in Lower Dover’s own backyard!

Coconut Palm: The Tree of a Thousand Uses

Giant coconut tree at Lower Dover.

The coconut palm is one of the oldest trees on the planet, and has existed since the age of the dinosaurs.  It flourishes in tropical climates from Southeast Asia to Polynesia, India, the Pacific Islands, Hawaii, South America, the Caribbean and South America. We have even seen them thriving in Beverly Hills!  Hailed by many as the most useful tree on Earth,  the Coconut Palm has generously provided civilizations with multiple natural tools to survive for centuries.

Seedling growing out of a dried coconut at Lower Dover.

Lower Dover Field Station & Jungle Lodge is no stranger to this amazing tree.  In fact, one of my first memories of Belize was being hit on the foot over and over by a rolling coconut while riding the bus to Lower Dover. The cocount was old, dried, and sprouting a healthy little shoot. Before exiting the bus, I grabbed it and took it back to the property to plant. 20 years later, that same coconut is all grown up, but refuses to drop its fruit! Stubborn like its planter!

Coconuts ready for harvest.

Coconut’s Many Uses

A hard outer green shell protects its precious nut-like seed that is covered with a hairy brown husk.  This husk provides fuel for cooking, fiber for clothing, and making rope stronger than hemp.  Within this seed lies the true essence of the coconut palm – its water, meat, and oil.  During the months that this seed matures, it goes through two major stages: first the coconut, with its soft jelly like meat and sweet thirst quenching water, provides energy; the second and most potent stage produces the mature nut.  Coconut water is all the rage in western culture. Western medicine has just recently confirmed the profound healing properties of the coconut, dispelling decades of misleading information.  Coconut water is packaged directly from the young coconut, its sweet taste satisfies thirst and sweet cravings and contains no fat. It provides the alkaline balance to acidic conditions, which is the primary cause  of most illnesses. The mineral charged water acts to detoxify the kidneys, and healthy kidneys are believed to promote a vibrant, healthy attitude. Once the nut is harvested, the inner skin, a thin brown layer, is cut away leaving, pure thick, white coconut meat. The milk, cream and oil are extracted and used for delicious recipes like curry sauces and desserts. The oil is used for cooking, body massages, it nourishes the skin, nails and hair, and can be applied topically to wounds to speed up the healing process.

Up close of young coconuts.

Dried coconuts at Lower Dover.

Coconut – A Source of health and longevity

The coconut has always been prized for its medicinal properties by many cultures and societies around the world, but Western culture has just recently caught on to the miraculous effects and uses of the coconut palm.  Recent western medicinal research concluded that coconuts form of saturated fat actually helps to prevent heart disease, stroke and the hardening of arteries. Unlike other oils and fats, coconut oil contains a large amount of the fatty acid known as lauric acid, which is the predominant fatty acid found in mother’s milk. Studies have shown the coconut oil’s effectiveness against HIV, SARS, Crohn’s disease, as well as other chronic illnesses.  It detoxifies the liver, helps to build lipoproteins, fats, hormones, and bile. Coconut’s amazing healing properties are also attributed to reducing the risk of other degenerative conditions such as cancer, osteoporosis, and diabetes.  The fatty acids help to create a healthy digestive tract, which in turn allows for better digestion and absorption of the nutrients in our foods. They also speed up metabolism, providing fewer calories than other fats but are still a viable effective source of energy.

Harvesting Coconuts at Lower Dover.

Coconuts grow year round at Lower Dover and their delicious flavor can be tasted in a variety of dishes. Maximize your Belize vacation by experiencing the incredible healing and nutritional benefits of the coconut palm by drinking its water.  Property workers will gladly chop down a fresh coconut for you to enjoy with your meal during your stay at Lower Dover Jungle Lodge. You can revel in the guilt-free sweet taste while naturally energizing your body before you embark on your day’s jungle adventure!

Source: Coconut Cuisine by Jan London

Medicinal Plants of Lower Dover : Nopal aka Scoggineal

Nopal Tree at Lower Dover

In the lodge area of Lower Dover, we have a mature Nopal tree that has been a favorite among guests. Although not native to Belize, it grows well in the tropical conditions, and  has many medicinal uses, including a treatment for hair loss, bladder infections, and high blood pressure.

Nopal Flower

The following information is taken from Rainforest Remedies by Rosita Arvigo, D.N. and Michael Balick, PH.d

“Creole Name: Scoggineal

Spanish Name: Nopal, Tuna

Mopan Maya: Pa’kam

Scientific Name: Opuntia cochenillfera

Plant Family: Cactaceae

Traditional Uses: A fresh Opuntia pad is peeled, sliced and tied around the head to relieve headaches and fever. High blood pressure fever, and malaise are treated by boiling 1 pad in 3 cups of water for 5 minutes and drinking 1 cup of the decoction before each meal. Crushing and soaking 5 fresh pads in 1 gallon of water makes a rinse that is used to prevent falling hair and a tea to drink for bladder conditions. Drinking 1 cup of juice from a fresh pad at onset of childbirth is said to ease delivery. Peeled, steamed, and chilled pads are eaten in salads to alleviate arthritis. For skin ulcers, the pad is sliced in half and applied over the sores until they heal. To alleviate pain in the internal organs, the sufferer cuts out a mold of his or her foot on one of the skinned leaf pads and hangs this over the fire hearth, when the foot mold is dry, the pain will go away.

Pads of the Nopal tree.

Scoggineal fruit is used as a hair conditioner, producing soft, lustrous results. A peeled, mashed fruit is spread on the hair; after being covered with plastic wrap for an hour, the hair is then rinsed thoroughly.

The fruit is edible and highly esteemed- the spiny, outer portion is peeled off and the red or yellowish seedy center is consumed. Caution must be taken to avoid eating the small hair-like spines on the outside of the fruit.”

Previous experience at Lower Dover: Thanks to our friend and local guide Edgar, we found out the pads of the Nopal can also be used to treat bruises and sprains. When one of our workers, sprained his foot, we skinned a pad, and wrapped it around the bruised area over night. The next morning, the bruising was gone, and so was his limp, amazing stuff!

Pads of the Nopal- so many uses!