We were booked with Cave-tubing.com and following their instructions was clear and easy. As we excited the port, there was a rep there waiting and holding a sign with our name. He checked us off of a list and called over a guide named Evan to take us for our excursion. We had ordered the ATV and Cave Tubing combo tour. Evan loaded us into a van (Toyota Sienna) and said we would go ahead rather than wait for the bus. He was exceptionally knowledgeable, friendly and fun. Once again, I was impressed with how nice and polite most Belize people are and about their pride in their country. According to Evan, tourism has grown from about 200K when we were first in Belize to about 1.4M projected for this year (the actual numbers will be a little bit lower due to the worldwide recession but not by much).
Our first stop was the ATV site. It is about 5 minutes from the cave tubing location and was about an hour ride from the port. During the ride (which was very comfortable since it was a nice van), Evan told us a lot about Belize, its people and the countryside as we passed. He also discussed that it takes 6 months of school to become a licensed tour guide and how the government is trying to be careful about avoiding any bad reputation for tourists. The ATV site was a large central “hut” type structure that housed a restaurant and gift shop with a large storage shed in the back housing a large number of modern ATVs and a smaller shed in the front where they had several ATVs waiting and running. There were restrooms and changing rooms if desired and they offered helmets if we wanted them. They warned us that we would get muddy. Their suggestion was to wear what we intended to wear while cave tubing and that is very good advice. Definitely wear things you want to get very muddy and be sure to bring a full change of clothes if you do this or cave-tubing. They showed us how to operate an ATV and were very thorough as they stressed that safety was very important.
Evan led us on the ATV trail. It was a constructed trail with lots of muddy places and intended to give riders a good time tiding through the jungle. The ATVs were in second gear the whole time so while speeds were not break neck fast, neither was it putt putt slow. The trial was designed to be muddy most of the time and a key factor is to be aware that the ATV in front of you will throw mud on you if you get too close. The riding is about 25-30 minutes which was long enough to have a good time but not too long that it got monotonous. One of the people at the ATV site took our camera and ran ahead of us to be waiting and take pictures so we got a lot of pictures. They had certain areas where we each went one at a time so he could get a good picture with our camera. Everyone really enjoyed it although of course my teenage son wanted to have gone much faster (even though he was covered with the most mud and struggling to fight a big grin that kept spreading on his face).
We then loaded back into the van and drove to the cave tubing site. Wow, this had really changed. Before, it was a horrible dirt road down to a very primitive area. Now, it is a nicely paved road to a national park checkpoint and large parking lot. The old cement bathhouse was gone and in its place was a very modern and nice restroom facility for men and women (separately) that also included showers and changing rooms. They were a new very large building housing a gift shop and museum display. The walkway path to the river was also changed from a dirt path to a nice “crush and run” type path. The next part was about the same in that it is about a 30 minute walk through the jungle along the river to the part where you get into the river. The path is very smooth and wide so it is no problem if you are able to walk around a mall. The walk is hot and humid and you will be carrying your tube. You should not take anything on the trial that you do not intend to have very wet and float back with you since there is no storage facility when you get away from the parking area. Our guide let us put all of our things in the van and locked it and showed us that park rangers patrolled the parking area. During the walk, Evan pointed out many features of the jungle including plants and survival tips. We even got a chance to eat some termites. At the end of the walk, we got into the river to begin.
Everyone had a tube, a life jacket and a headlamp. Last year a woman died on the trip so the rules changed for tubing. Now, everyone is required to wear a life jacket. In addition, while last time we floated separately and the guide was nearby, now tours are required to stay linked together and there is a maximum number of tourists to guides. Linked together means that each tourist is connected to the tourist in front of him by putting his feet under the arms of the front tourist. The guide then moves from the front or the back to steer the chain or slow us down. It was actually quite comfortable. Last time, there was a lot of paddling and struggling to go where the guide indicated. This time, we did not have to paddle and Evan was able to steer us right where we needed to be. Last time, I bounced my behind on many rocks but this time, there were just a few areas where I felt the bottom and prior to each, Evan gave us the oft-heard “butt’s up” warning.
This time down the river was so much better than last time that I really cannot describe it well. It was relaxing, beautiful and completely fun. I do not think I could say enough good things about the excursion (ATV and cave tubing) and about how nice and entertaining Evan was. We saw several tour groups from ship tours and saw how their guides rushed them along and really ignored a few safety matters. The guides were clearly trying to hurry and get done so they could get another group. Our trip was nothing like that and I cannot recommend enough that people consider using a private operator since we got more time, more attention and all for much less money.
After we got back to the parking lot, I was amazed at how full it was and how many big buses were there. Then the skies opened up and we had a lot of rain for a bit. We changed and headed back to the ATV site so we could buy some lunch if we wished. It was $5.00 per person for some great stewed chicken, cole slaw and vegetable rice. Drinks were $1 and T-shirts were $10. The food was very good and we were all very glad we got a chance to eat some. We got back to the port and my wife and daughter headed back to the ship.