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Mexico and Belize on a Budget

Mexico and Belize on a Budget

Mexico and Belize on a Budget

Mexico and Belize on a Budget

Mexico and Belize on a Budget


Juliette Claro

Diving the Caribbean has become so simple now that people like me feel a bit cheated once it comes to taking on the challenge of the extreme.

C'mon divers we are all travellers of the extreme! Well...looking at the divers in the resorts in the Caribbean Islands, the only extreme features are the price of the equipment sometimes (brand new out of the box but hardly never used...).

So for the common diver like me who always want to push their limits but cant break the bank, (I already broke up with my bank manager when I started to dive) sitting on a plane, landing, being escorted to feed from an all inclusive resort with Manuel to carry my (oh so shiny) gear from dive site to dive site; is pretty much a no-no.

So if like me you feel like a lion in a cage in your resort and you want to swap the buffet for the extreme and live the dream then this is for you.

Diving the Caribbean by land, logging over 35 dives in 4 weeks with Whale Sharks, turtles, other sharks, dolphins, manta rays, seeing the second longest coal reef in the world, deep dark and scary caves, not so scary caves and blue holes. Seeing all of these things without remortgaging your house or cracking your head is unbelievable right?

Well trust me, it isn't... I'm a secondary school teacher and I enjoy a luxury holiday experience but certainly without the extortionate budget!

So first of all, you want to get there. You could fly direct from London, book your extra legroom so that you can do a cartwheel whilst sipping your mojito during your flight, but that's too easy right? Not enough of a challenge and too much $$.

So you want to rough it up a bit from the very start by stopping up to 3 times on your way (you definitely 5 get more challenges and more adventures when flying with Iberia) So my route took me to Cancun via Madrid and Miami - Please do not ask me why going through Madrid and Miami cost less than flying direct.

Pack your dive gear in your best flower suitcase to avoid paying the sports equipment supplement. True you may have to wear the same clothes for a while whilst smelling like a fox, but you will be smiling because you saved yourself 27 of extra luggage, happy days!

So yes you land in Cancun after 46 hours looking as cool as a zombie but you are super happy with your absolute steal of a flight for just 556. Now that you are here however, here is the rule: GET OUT OF CANCUN!

If you must stay for a night or two I would avoid staying on the main hotel strip, but please do take a walk through the five star resorts to see what you are missing out on (well to be honest you have to walk through them as it is the only way to access the beach anyway).

From Cancun you want to get into the water and dive Isla Mujeres and Contoy Island. This area has incredible reefs and pristine waters, ideal for those keen on photography.

In July and August you should also be able to see hundreds of whale sharks and manta rays. Check out Ecotours for information on their migration, but if you have the chance to see them I can guarantee that it will blow your mind.

For your next trip I would suggest heading down to Cozumel by bus to Playa Del Carmen. Have a beer on the beach, buy a straw hat (or you will cook) and get on the ferry. Cozumel has a lot of hotels with a wide range of prices. Hostels are a traditional way to stay here and downtown Cozumel La Casona Real offers rooms from 16 per night.

Hire an old fashion VW Beetle for the fun of it and dive the Palancar reefs and caves with Cozumel Marine World who offer really good dive packages and adapt your dives to your level of experience. Marine World is also attached to Hotel Casa Del Mar which also has good value for money accommodation if you do not want to stay in a hostel.

Cozumel offers the most beautiful dives and wherever you are in the Yucatan Peninsula, dive centres always go back to Cozumel for the best dive sites. You will need a good 5 days on the island, diving, driving around and experiencing the wild beaches on the east coast.

Once you are ready to move on. Take the bus from Playa Del Carmen to Tulum.

Tulum is a good hour by bus from Playa Del Carmen and it is the best place to stay to dive the underground caves of Cenotes. (Although you can also access the underwater caves from Playa Del Carmen too if you choose to stay there) Again, avoid the hotel resorts and opt for the hostels downtown that will give you access to the best fajitas, tequilas and dive centres on the hippie main road.

Secret Gardens Hotel behind the high street is a charming little place complete with hammocks and local wild life for just 20 per night. You can also hire bikes for 3 a day to get around. Diving the Cenotes will take you at least 2 to 3 days to dive Dos Ojos,the Pit, Angelita and one or two of the other of the dozens of cave systems.

Koox Diving in the High Street is cheap and will taylor make your dives to suit your needs and fancies. If you like deep dark and scary, then the Pit and Angelita are for you. With a Halocline at about 10 metres, the Pit drops to 40/45m and has a very spooky feel. Angelita is famous for its tree at the bottom and its atmospheric shades of greens and blues.

If you like breaking records, Dos Ojos is not only the world's largest underwater cave system but it is by miles the most beautiful cavern dive I have ever done.

You can do your cave diving specification there of course (but it will explode your tight budget: cavern and full cave diving technical courses are from 1000- 2000 over 3 to 9 days). Whilst you are there treat yourself to some Mayan temple galore at Chichen Itza or Coba by bus from Tulum, the trip is 20 return.

Next up, crossing the border to Belize, La Isla Bonita and San Pedro. For this you need to take the bus from Tulum down to Chetumal. This is a great drive through Bacalar, the seven colour lagoon surrounded by wild life and changing colours through the sunset, Bacalar is an absolute must see on the way down to Belize, even if it is just from an Instagram point of view!

Crossing by boat to Belize costs 70 return with San Pedro Water Taxi and takes about 1 hour. There is only one crossing a day from Chetumal to San Pedro in the afternoon. The return is at 8am, which in Belizean time means 9.30ish!

The immigration taxes are 10, you have to pay these if you travel by boat but to be fair, I did not mind paying the fees whilst listening to reggae music and sipping coconut juice. It is the most laidback immigration office in the world.

Once in Belize this is where your budget will really change. Belize is considerably more expensive than Mexico but you have been saving a lot so far which means that you can allow yourself a little treat to the BLUE HOLE!

The Blue Hole is a whole day trip from Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker and includes 3 dives plus lunch on the nature reserve and marine park of Half Moon Caye which are on the outer Lighthouse reef (a 2 hours boat ride). There are only 2 companies in Belize who have the training and the staff organised and qualified to have the insanity to take 18 Open Water Divers to 40 metres in the Blue Hole.

Whoever you book with, you will end up diving on the boat with Amigos Del Mar or Aqua Scuba Center who are based in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. So my advice is to book directly with them to avoid paying the commission fees with the other dealers. The Blue Hole costs $210 (August 2013) and even if just to see 18 open water divers have a poo at 40 metres it is worth the money!

Joking aside, it is an amazing dive which will narc' you up to your eye balls, especially for those who dive at depth on trimix normally, you will feel gooood down there, you might even want to hug the Oceanic Whitetips passing by.

Diving in Belize is rich, colourful and full of unexpected encounters. From sharks to ginormous stingrays, it is a prestigious reef which the local fishermen and dive operators are proud to sustain. The education about the reef and its sustainability is done as early as primary school in Belize. Students are taught very early on how important the reef is to the ecosystem and also to the economy of the country. The Belizean government got it right by turning the reef into their biggest asset for development. It is a healthy reef with a lot of biomass and a surprising variety of life for the Caribbean waters.

Accommodation in Belize is expensive so aim for San Pedro's Hotel in Ambergris Caye, which is affordable and easy to find on the island (approx. 45/night). Caye Caulker, the other island, is higher end with a lot of honey-mooner resorts if you want to treat yourself.

Trips to the mainland jungle and mayan temples are also a must and you can take a tiny plane and sit next to the pilot to Belize City and get a bus to San Ignacio where the ruins of Xunantunich are. A whole day cave tubing and zip wiring in the jungle is also fun fun fun and easily organised from your island.

Fancy a trip to Guatemala as well? Not a problem!

Flights from San Pedro/ Belize City to Flores cost around 50. You can visit the Peten Department of Guatemala to see the Tikal National Park with the most beautiful mayan ruins in the jungle. The hostel Los Amigos in Flores offers great affordable rooms in the town of Flores, from dorms to deluxe double rooms with private bathroom facility for 20 per night.

So all in all what you get is a whole month of adventures, diving, exploring, caving and enriching culture on a budget. I accomplished the mission to travel and dive around Central America for one month for under 1500 all-inclusive. (That is the price some people pay to stay in 1 resort for a week in the Caribbean right?)

The most expensive parts of my trip, apart from the flights, were the Great Blue Hole dive and the whale shark trip to Contoy Island, but if I had not travelled on a budget and met so many amazing people, I would have also missed these opportunities.

Top tips for surviving Mexico and Belize:

  • Speaking Spanish in Mexico or having a buddy that speaks Spanish helps!! (and not just to order your tequilas!)

  • A map of Yucatan / Belize / Guatemala is extremely helpful.

  • An ADO bus timetable (from any ADO bus station)

  • A 5mm suit (sorry but after a while it gets COLD even in the Caribbean!)

  • A travel light BCD

How to do it?

Book the flight and your first few nights in Cancun/ Playa Del Carmen then go with the flow. Ask your hostels/hotel to recommend or book you the next leg of your trip for you. Talk to divers and locals and plan your next spot with them (migrating pelagic fish, weather, good local deals etc)

If you have the bug, let the bug take you. But most importantly, travel light, travel right.

Useful contacts

Cozumel Diving / Cenotes / Ambergris Divers / Amigos Dive / Bus

3D Diving
Worldwide Dive and Sail
Blue O Two
Travelling Diver
LDC Training
Adventure Divers La Manga
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