We decided to take the Belize City Bus and Altun Ha tour instead of the boat to Altun Ha. Belize was as hot as blue blazes and we didn't pack any bug spray, so a journey up river on a boat sounded like a bug fest to us. The tender boat into Belize City was a little bit of a rough ride and took about a half hour. We quickly made our way through the shop gauntlet to the bus and had three guides and our driver transport us through the highlights of Belize City to the countryside. We took in a lot of local flavor getting to Altun Ha which was right up our alley. The people of Belize were very nice, waved at us frequently and spoke both perfect and local Creole English. We were encouraged to try such local delicacies as "Royal Rat," green iguana and cashew wine.
Altun Ha is one of the smaller Mayan ruins sights but it is one of the most interesting. Three of the four pyramids are climbable by the tourists and they had some interesting Mayan carvings outside on the flagstones. The steps are very narrow and the temperatures can be sweltering. Drink plenty of bottled water, use sunscreen and if you have climbing or balance issues, stay in the main courtyard. The guides filled us in on the Mayan culture, explaining that Altun Ha was a trade city founded about 200 BC and was abandoned around 1100 AD. Only about 50% of the site has been excavated including the main burial chambers and surrounding village. Archaeology Students from the USA are helping the Belize government explore the site.
Well, the morning of our arrival in Cozumel, we found a note slipped under our door by the cruise staff saying they'd cancelled the excursion due to lack of participation. This was a disappointment to us as The Amazing Race is one of our favorite shows and we wanted to test our mettle a bit vs. other passengers. Instead, we ran the gauntlet through the lame Disney-esq shops and hired a cab for 1/3 of the price of going through the cruise staff to tour the island for four and a half hours. Our guide spoke perfect English and took us to a tequila farm, a turtle and iguana freshwater springs park, around town to see how the locals lived, the west coast of the island where marine biologists were marking green turtle nests, a few beach stops and then back to the main shopping area. All in all, a nice Cozumel tour.
Grand Cayman is a British protectorate and their national bird appears to be the construction crane. It is very modern here and everyone speaks English. Based on the British pound, the shops are more expensive here and the island itself is very affluent. We booked the shoreline snorkel dive at a very reasonable price, which was a 2.5 hour snorkel dive about a quarter mile from the cruise ships along the rocky coastline. Our driver had us at the dive spot within two minutes and we had a very calm, chill scuba instructor named Ty from B.C., Canada. The dive equipment was top notch and I was allowed to free dive with the instructor instead of use a snorkel. This suited me just fine.
The reef dive here was the 3rd best in Grand Cayman. A thriving, healthy coral reef just off the coast about 20 yards out. We saw several species of plate & brain corals, acropora, staghorn, fire coral, all colors of calcarious algaes and at least 40 species of fish. We saw tarpon, a very small black tipped shark, green parrotfish, blue parrotfish, red parrotfish, boxfish, puffers, sargent majors, damselfish by the dozens, eels, sea urchins, sea eggs, sea cows and all kinds starfish. Our guide, Ty, would dive and point out unique species of animals and bring up a few for us to handle underwater (urchins, brittle stars, etc.). This was a very relaxing dive and we got quite a variety of amazing photos while we played Jaques Cousteau for an afternoon. This was one of the best dive spots i've ever been to and as it turns out, our cheapest excursion booked through Carnival ($39 each). I hope Carnival keeps this excursion as the Dan Foster dive shop intimated that once their contract ends, Carnival doesn't plan to renew. You might have to book through Royal Caribbean or another Cruise line (or just on your own) and experience this dive for yourself.
My Wife describes Roatan as being vastly different than she remembers. The port at Mahogany Bay is very new and modern and completely enclosed into another Disney-esq collection of shops and restaurants. Most of which you would be able to find in your local shopping mall. This was a severe disappointment to us as we prefer to be immersed in local culture, even if that culture is very poor and doesn't speak good English. Think of us as Anthony Bourdain-type travelers. While very safe and secure, the Mahogany bay port itself didn't appeal to us at all. I guess for worried travelers that can't handle indigenous peoples at ports of call, this is what they want. Not us. The beach here is very recently man made and a short walk down a steep hill. For a fee, you can ride a chair lift style ride for $12 down to the beach. We had about an hour to kill before our catamaran snorkel dive and we found a little nature trail to climb around on across from the Liberty, and hiked that. The snorkel dive was pretty crowded with about sixty cruisers onboard from both the Carnival Liberty and the Carnival Magic. No de-fog was given for our masks and when I jumped off the boat, I got a lung and sinuses filled with sea water and a flooded mask. I panicked and wound up spending the rest of the dive on the boat getting the salt water out of my lungs. My Wife continued with the swim and the reefs were mostly dead at both dive spots. The highlight of the dive was a single reef lobster picture on our olympus camera. Very disappointing dive.