Hang on – I’m pretty sure it was only yesterday that I posted my one-month update?! Ah, time, that pesky devil. Thinking about it, we have packed in a fair bit over the last few weeks. Here are some of the highlights.
A boat on the shore at Koko King, Caye Caulker © Emma Sparks
We spent Christmas on Caye Caulker, a tiny island off Belize’s Caribbean coast. We quickly acquired some classic snorkel-trip sunburn on an outing to key sites Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Shark Ray Alley and Coral Gardens, where we spotted nurse sharks, stingrays and sea turtles. I took a couple of donation-based classes at RandOM yoga held above the brand-new Namaste Cafe, but they had no chance of burning off all the food: veggie curries from beachfront shacks, fancy pasta at an Italian-run restaurant, local homemade ice-cream…
A merry Christmas Eve at Koko King, Caye Caulker © Emma Sparks
The best day was actually Christmas Eve (the 25th was a bit drizzly and meh). We took a free boat to Koko King, a resort on the northern half of the island that lays claim to the best ‘beach’. (Note: Caye Caulker doesn’t actually have decent beaches; there are thin strips of sand here and there, but it’s not a sunbather’s dream. The water, however, is gorgeous.) For a BZ$10 minimum spend – easy, as a margarita costs $15 – you can use the facilities, which include sunbeds, kayaks, tubes and a water slide.
After Caye Caulker we hopped down the coast to Hopkins, which was a total washout, leaving us stranded in our teensy beach hut. The coastline itself was clogged with litter – major bummer. A couple more hops took us to Punta Gorda (more meh) and then back to Guatemala via boat.
Our private dock in Livingston, Guatemala © Emma Sparks
Guatemala (take two)
Livingston made a laid-back base before the real adventure began: Rio Dulce. We spent four days at a beautiful riverside lodge, kayaking to a waterfall and local hot spring – full review coming soon. It was hard heading back to civilisation, but it was necessary if we wanted to catch our flight to Nicaragua!
We skipped the capital Managua and went straight to León, a liberal university city and key location for those interested in the Nicaraguan Revolution. León is hot. The kind of hot that slows your steps, frazzles your brain and sparks fantasies of sacking in Central America and flying to Finland. In mid-January.
Preparing (and posing) before volcano boarding © Emma Sparks
Then we went volcano boarding, as you do. It’s nothing new for those in the know (CNN feature it at #2 on their list of most thrilling experiences) but it was so much fun! It’s nowhere near as scary as it looks – even when the guides try to freak you out with the chances of an imminent eruption – but it was enough of an adrenaline hit for me. We went with Volcano Day, who threw a slogan vest, a beer and a free shuttle to nearby Las Peñitas beach into the bargain.
Next up was Granada. This colonial city is eminently more touristy than León, and therefore more expensive. But eating remained a key pastime. We found the continent’s best pizza (my claim, not theirs) and stuffed ourselves silly at the Chocolate Museum’s all-you-can-eat $6 breakfast buffet. I enjoyed my first ever smoothie bowl at Pitaya Bowl. Major noms.
Laguna de Apoyo tempts everyone for a dip © Emma Sparks
We zipped 30 minutes down the road to Laguna de Apoyo, a beautiful crater lake that would be our sanctuary for two days. We splashed out on a private house with direct access to the water, which was surprisingly warm and wavy. Lots of swims, one long hike and a stand-up paddleboard attempt later, it was already time to leave…
…and make our way to Little Corn Island!
After a 55-minute flight to Big Corn from Managua, we jumped into a panga – a small open-top boat seating around 30 people – for a short ride to Little Corn Island. Who knew you had to go through 30 minutes of hell to get to heaven? The sea was seriously rough and while the initial heaving thumps and drenching waves had passengers (including me) squealing with delight, we soon fell silent and focused on staying onboard… and alive.
A hammock lies under cloudy skies on Little Corn Island © Emma Sparks
Unfortunately, we’ve yet to be rewarded for the effort of that crossing. The paradisiacal image of Caribbean Little Corn that seduced me is nowhere to be seen; the skies have been, not moody, but positively furious for four days straight. Sometimes the elements scupper the would-be highlights of a trip. Luckily, there’s still lots more to look forward to!