This will go down as the vacation where everything went smooth. In retrospect, there are always so many things that can change a vacation - winter travel, flights, delays, luggage, rental cars, reservations, food poisoning, and the list goes on. Things just went as planned yet it was the most unplanned trip we have ever taken out of the country. That said, what kept things going was us having had some Central America travel experience (Panama) and no high expectations.
We saw a jungles from the roadside that were dominated by coconut trees and pre-historic looking vegetation. The middle of the country was mountainous yet nothing extreme - vegetation covered the peaks entirely. The main surfaced roads were good but limited. There was typically one one main road going from city to city. Once off the main road, it got treacherous but passable. The one lane, red dirt roads into the jungles were not for the weak minded - 4-wheel drive is recommended. Be prepared that most rentals will be manual transmission - it adds to the adventure. They use rainwater as the primary source - the country gets 160 inches of rain a year. During the rainy season where they have months of 30 inches of rain, they have learned to manage the water. During our stay, it rained nearly every night which is typical.
The people were kind, spoke english, but did not go out of their way to engage you. It is a melting pot of culture including Mexican, Indian, Asian, Mayan, and expats. Most people did not drive cars so traffic was minimal except for buses. The major danger in driving was missing the walkers and bike riders who traveled the sides of the roads without reflective gear or light colored clothes. Many people are killed annually on the sides of the roads.
It is a raw country so pick your spots. Be careful on what you rent and where - Placencia was good, Maya Beach a little further out. I would not recommend Dangriga or Hopkins . These areas are not tourist friendly and accommodations were lacking for our taste. We were lucky in finding great entertainment.
Here are our recommendations:
Rent a car - cost about $700/week but gives you access to the spread out recreation.
Mayflower - $40 (for four adults) - far from easy 3 mile climb to a beautiful waterfall. It is steep, buggy, and a workout. Be prepared with great shoes, very light weight clothing (long sleeves and pants ok if they breathe), and heavy bug spray. This was hard to find as the sign is pointed toward the road - uses the same road as a lodge marked by a sign with an owl.
Blue Hole National Park Cave Tubing - $44/person - good experience, guided underground tube float lasting about 2 hours - there is a 20 minute walk through the forest each way. You are guaranteed to get wet - take a waterproof bag and sturdy shoes that can get soaked.
Caribbean Sailing / Snorkeling - $125/person - 9 am to 3 pm - great experience with Rob on this 42' catamaran. They know their stuff, Pam is the chef and Clint the local guy (his gecko friend just hung on for the free trip!). We had a wonderful day - sunny and 4-5 knot wind. Food was good, snorkling the reef was great, and it was a memorable trip on Christmas Eve day (thank you Kim!).
Xunantunich Mayan ruins - $20/ four adults - long drive from Maya Beach (200 km) to San Ignacio then follow the signs. Worth the trip particularly with the howler monkeys all wound up to punctuate the jungle feeling. Get a guide!
Hainey Farms - hidden gem - $35 plate for lunch - we found this trough locals and was recommended as the #1 things to see. Harold (Mr. Hainey) was a gas, great host, and very knowledgable of the country, the culture, and the vegatation. This is a 2,050 acre farm with every possible fruit and nut. It includes a shrimp farm (250 acres) and a huge garden. If you go in July - August, the bounty is rich. He will send you home with every flower and fruit you can imagine. Off season, there is still bounty but it isn't as ripe. Emma (the guru, is a short Phillipino woman who runs everything we were told) was not there so our trip was not exactly the same. Great experience!
Keith's for coffee - across the street from Wendy's - great coffee and cappuccino - fun to talk to Keith who has travelled the world. Small but comfortable - open at 7 am and 22 speed bumps from our place in Maya Beach
Omar's Creole Grub - Not as great looking but the food was good and cheap - lobster tail - $17
Maya Beach Area
Mango's - fun, slight lower quality food but good - reasonable prices
Green Parrot - step down in quality of accomadations - never ate here - just drinks - friendly - local women did the cooking