Nohoch Che’en Reserve
I went to Belize three different times in 2011; the first trip this year was the end of June with a friend of mine so she could celebrate her 30thbirthday. After first stopping in Belize City, which is a complete shithole, my friend said she wanted to go on a cave tubing adventure at Nohoch Che’en Reserve. http://www.belize.com/articles/belize-caves-branch-2.html
We began checking out different tour packages. Prices varied depending on whether or not cruise ships were stopping for a port call. Most of the prices offered on the shore were around $150; I learned that passengers who purchased the tour packages on the ship or prior to going on the cruise were charged $280. My friend and I did this tour for $27.
If you’re contemplating a cruise, definitely find one that does not stop in Belize City. As previously stated, the place is a total shithole. I’ll write a more complete summary in later in the Belize chapter.
In my opinion, this cave tour was a complete waste of time. The photos on the internet show people on tubes, floating through excellent area in the cave. Depending on the time of year, the reality is that you’ll more than likely find very low water levels. My friend and I went right before the rainy season started, but I later found out that it’s shut down during much of the rainy season because they’re worried about liability if a tourist has something bad happened.
I’ve been on previous cave rafting tours in other countries and found them to be extremely tranquil; this cave was the opposite. Since we were traveling with only the two of us, we were ‘married’ with other people who were strangers to us. Unlike other cave experiences, we were required to ‘attach’ ourselves to the tube in front of us by interlocking our feet under the armpits of the person in the tube to our front. I don’t know about you, but I have some hygiene issues; I don’t particularly like someone’s ‘shit stompers’, especially a strangers, touching any part of my body. I’m also not at all keen on the idea of having my feet touching the armpits of someone else. Freaking nasty.
Visitors aren’t allowed to venture out alone but are instead towed by a guide who is walking through the very shallow water in front of the tubes. The opposite of tranquil, most of the large groups on the tour were shouting and yelling as though they were being dragged to ovens in Auschwitz.
If you haven’t ever ridden in a tube whilst seated, your ass naturally hangs in the opening; the waters in the cave were so incredibly shallow that your ass ends up being dragged across the rocks beneath you. In some places, tourists are required to exit the tubes and carry them because the water is so shallow.
If you’re visiting Belize and want to go on the cheap, here’s what you do: The best landmark in Belize City is a bridge called ‘Swing Bridge’. The Bridge is the only bridge that swings open to allow boats from the ocean into a marina area. The bridge is also located in the heart of all that is touristy, of which there isn’t a lot. Every local knows what and where Swing Bridge is. A ride from the airport will cost $25 to get to the bridge and will put you within walking distance of the local backpackers/hostels.
From Swing Bridge, you can hire a taxi for $4, but I recommend making the twenty minute walk through the city so you fully understand how badly those poor people have it. English is the national language so everyone will be able to help you out with walking directions. Despite the city being such an incredibly large slum, the people are extremely friendly and quick to smile and help.
There are two basic types of buses that will take you to the country side: express and multi-stop. The express buses only make occasional stops, which will require you to change buses at one particular point. Time permitting, I recommend making a day of it and taking the multi-stop bus; it will take much longer, but you’ll be able to interact a lot more with the locals. There is a lot of national pride in Belize, and the people are very quick to chat you up and tell you about all of the wonderful places you must see.
The buses are the old Bluebird buses that many of us in the States rode to school on every morning. If you thought the leg room was extremely limited when you were 12 years old, realize how it will be as an adult. The buses are not air-conditioned like the fancy and much more expensive tour buses, but less than $30 for the day is much less than $280.
When you’re at the bus station in Belize City, ask a local which bus goes to the cave. You will not have to pay for the ride until you’re actually on the bus. There will be the bus driver and his assistant operating the bus. Once the ride is underway, the assistant will walk down the aisle and collect the fare from all the passengers who just got on at any given stop; only pay once!
The ride to the turn-off to Nohoch Che’en Reserve will take about two hours and will cost $3. When the bus stops, it’ll seem like you’re in the middle of nowhere; it’s because you are. The assistant will indicate when you are to disembark and you will see this sign:
Street Sign at Turn-Off
You will see a sign that indicated it’s a six mile walk to the caves; not to worry…sticking your thumb out will get you a ride lickety-split. The first tour van that stopped offered to give us a ride for $20 each, but I’d rather walk. The second vehicle was a tour operator who was bringing lunches out to his patrons, and he gave us a free ride.
When you arrive at the entrance, there will be a security box which will charge you$10 for the park entrance. After changing into your swim clothes, the guard will let you store your backpack in his shack for free.
Since it’s a state operated park, you are required to hire an official tour guide; this should cost you about $10.
After our tour, our guide gave us a free ride back to the main road where we waited for the next ‘Chicken bus’ that delivered us back to the bus terminal in Belize City; return fare was $4.
Despite the tour not being very good, such a cheap price to meet some locals and take in some history of the country is definitely worth $27.
On a side note, two of the people we were with during our tubing adventure were a couple of Aussies. They seemed like very nice people as most Aussies are.
When you’re on the backpacking path, it’s incredible how many times you keep running into the same people throughout your travels. My friend and I again encountered the Aussie people (a guy and a girl) at Ambergris Caye, a popular Belizean island which I’ll write more about later. We were all staying at Pedro’s Inn on the island, and I noted that the Aussie girl didn’t look too good. When I asked if she was ok, the guy said, “She has a stomach thing…” I asked, “Do you want some Imodium?” Dude asked, “What’s that?” I said, “It’s an anti-diarrheal.” He snidely said, “You Yanks and your medications…” I smiled at him, then her, and with a jovial voice said, “Enjoy your diarrhea!” Asshole =)