The (2-hour) river boat journey from Rio Dulce to Livingston is spectacular. Livingston itself has little to offer apart from providing a border crossing to Punta Gorda (PG) in Belize, also by boat (1-hour).
I first visited Punta Gorda 3-years ago, and loved it. It’s an extremely laid back, small, town with a couple of excellent accommodation offers and a few great restaurants.
Having done some major journeys in the latter part of my time in Guatemala, I needed some time to relax. Punta Gorda was just the place. This return to Belize was purely to facilitate a reasonably quick run upto Cancun (Mexico) from where I fly back home.
Having spent three relaxing days in PG I plucked up the courage to do a 12-hour (bus) journey straight to Sarteneja, which had been recommended as a great place to visit. There were no other places in-between that really appealed to me. Placencia, and Hopkins, two possibilities, have become both touristy and expensive, so I was reliably informed by my British friend Joanne in PG.
The express bus to Belize City (BC) left PG at 6am, and arrived in BC at 11am. The next bus, heading for Orange Walk, left BC at 11.30am. Unfortunately, I missed the last connection (in Orange Walk) for Sarteneja and instead took the next bus to Corazol – 1 hour north.
I stayed the night in Corazol, a rather non-descript border town. Next morning there was a 7am boat (1/2 hour) direct to Sarteneja, on route to San Pedro. On the boat I met John – from Canada. We were both staying at Paradise Backpackers so we hooked up for breakfast. John was in search of a holiday home for he and his wife.
Sarteneja [sar-ten-eh-ha] is a fishing village on the northern tip of the Belizean mainland, and a hidden gem for those looking for a beautiful and inexpensive place from which to explore both the nautical and jungle treasures of the region. Sarteneja is also where you’ll find Backpackers Paradise an idyllic 27-acre (11-hectare) patch of unspoiled jungle and tropical farmland where you can spend a few days exploring the jungle, eating tropical fruit and swimming in the nearby ocean. It really is a great place to visit. The owner, Natalie, is the perfect host.
Having spent an overnight in Sarteneja, John and I took the last bust of the day (!) at 6.15 am (!) back to Orange Walk, where I took an excellent tour to Lamanai.
By far the most impressive (Mayan) site in this part of the country is Lamanai, in its own archaeological reserve on the New River Lagoon near the settlement of Indian Church. Though much of the site remains unexcavated and unrestored, the trip to Lamanai, by motorboat up the New River, is an adventure in itself. The wildlife that you get to see is spectacular.
As with most sites in northern Belize, Lamanai (‘Submerged Crocodile,’ the original Maya name) was occupied as early as 1500 BC, with the first stone buildings appearing between 800 and 600 BC. Lamanai flourished in late Preclassic times, growing into a major ceremonial center with immense temples long before most other Maya sites.