Belize - Destination guide
Belize is the only Central American country where English is the official language. With 900 Maya temple sites, one crystal skull, some of the best dive sites in the Caribbean and their own version of Big Foot/Sasquatch roaming the jungle, you better Belize this is a great destination to explore!
Visit an assortment of ancient Mayan ruins in the Cayo District starting at Xunantunich and concluding at the extensive Caracol Archaeological Reserve. Once home to 120,000 people, the Caracol grounds consist of more than 35,000 identified buildings. Completists can relax, not all of those buildings have been excavated.
Chill out on Ambergris Caye
Chill out on Ambergris Caye, a 25-mile-long island and gateway to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Divers, snorkelers and beach lovers will enjoy the surrounding barrier reef while those who prefer to keep their feet dry may travers the cobblestone streets of San Pedro.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Did I mention Hol Chan Marine Reserve? Get alongside and up close with stingrays, eels, turtles and sharks in this densely populated channel of crystal clear water.
Chill out on the sun-soaked island paradise Caye Caulker. Like Ambergris Caye, you can easily access Hol Chan Marine Reserve and most of all relax on this island paradise.
Another one for the divers, the imaginatively named, Great Blue Hole (well, what else would you call it). A UNESCO World Heritage Site created when a cave roof collapsed about 10,000 years ago. There are plenty of fish to see around the reef but don’t expect to see much life deep down. However, if you bring your flashlight you can explore plenty of tunnels, caverns, ancient stalactites and you may even bump into the odd shark. Best visit during April or May.
Want to see some wild wildlife? Visit the only Jaguar reserve in the world, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife sanctuary. While there also keep an eye out for ocelots, pumas, peccaries, tapirs, king vultures, armadillos and a whole load of native birds.
Head North to Lamanai to see a fabulous Mayan site decorated in crocodile art and guarded by real ones basking along the banks of the New River. Here you will find three Mayan pyramids, ancient plazas and a 16th century Spanish church.
If you like hiking with your Mayan tombs, temples and pyramids, then place Altun Ha high on your list.
Seen enough temples and beaches? How about a proper cave tour? Not just any cave tour, the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) caves involve swimming, diving, crawling, climbing rock formations, walking barefoot and climbing a ladder. Is it worth it? Totally, this physically demanding tour will reveal Mayan artefacts and skeletons in what appears to be an ancient sacrificial chamber. If you’re up for the challenge, book with a tour company from your hotel or in San Ignacio.
Rest up for a day or two in San Ignacio where you may explore the nearby Cahal Pech Archaeological Site and Iguana Conservation Project.
Here are a few suggestions of things to see and do in my favourite places in North America.
Take heed, my lists are not intended as essential bucket lists and nor are they written in any particular order. To protect our sanity, I’ve limited each country to only ten suggestions. While there may be more worthy sights to see first, you don’t need to worry because you’ll hear all about those as soon as you arrive.
Canada - Destination guide
Canada has the most lakes in the world and one of them contains Ogopogo, Canada’s own version of the Loch Ness monster. Canada is also home to Superman’s secret hideaway and this may be the only country in the world where you can accidently bump into someone and receive a heartfelt apology. Huge mountains, waterfalls, loads of wildlife and an untouched wilderness, get amongst it!
First stop Niagara Falls. Canada’s most famous natural attraction is as awesome as it is famous, even Superman spent his honeymoon here. Stand remarkably close to the edge, you’ll be mesmerised by the volume of water plunging 57 metres and saturating everyone riding the Maid of the Mist. Another highlight is standing behind the falls where you may marvel at the bravery required to dig the subterranean tunnel that took you there. After you’re all washed up, soak up the party-town atmosphere on Clifton Hill. Try not to drown yourself in one of the bars though because later you may want to visit the haunted Screaming Tunnel. Apparently, if you light a match in the tunnel you may hear the screams of a young girl who died from burns inflicted by a nearby burning farm.
Banff and Jasper National Parks
The great outdoors doesn’t get any greater than the Banff and Jasper National Parks. Located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, you’ll see turquoise lakes, snow-capped mountain peaks and scenery that will make you want to emigrate. Begin your unforgettable journey in either Banff or Jasper and travel to the other visiting Lake Louise, Glaciers Skywalk and the Icefields Parkway along the way.
If Lois Lane wanted to visit France on her honeymoon with Superman, one would be forgiven for believing the man from Krypton simply moved a French city over ocean to make her happy. Yes, it looks like an old French town and it sounds like an old French town, but Superman doesn’t exist so somehow Quebec really is in North America. Bring your translator app if you’re not au fait with French and if visiting in winter book a night in the Hotel de Glace where you may chillax in a hotel made entirely from ice.
If you like fancy cafés, gazing at lovely historic buildings and shopping for designer labels, head to Montreal. Horse drawn carriages and cobblestone streets will make for a romantic weekend in this vibrant French speaking city. Or, perhaps you may want to see Habitat 67 instead? Built as an experiment in modular architecture imitating organic growth, this is now, somehow, one of the premier addresses in town.
Don’t speak French? It doesn’t get any more English outside England than Victoria. Double decker busses and a waterfront second to none will leave you spellbound. After a short ferry ride from Vancouver, head to the Empress Hotel for High Tea then enjoy an evening stroll along the waterfront. For accommodation on Vancouver Island, try out ‘Free spirit Spheres’, the ultimate tree house experience and rent a night in a suspended wooden orb. Next day drive out to Fairy Lake and see a lone Douglas Fir tree growing on a partly submerged log.
Get away from the big cities and head to Vancouver’s Stanley Park. Whether you walk, ride or drive, you’ll be seduced by the red cedar and douglas fir trees, views to the mountains and most off all a rare opportunity to see many totem poles - some of which were erected over 100 years ago. Afterwards, drive to the 140 metre-long and 70 metre-high Capilano Suspension Bridge and cross the river if you dare.
Ski Whistler, only a two-hour drive North of Vancouver, but one that will probably take four if you like taking pictures. This world-famous ski resort is an unmissable destination, even if you only go for the scenery. If visiting in summer take the hiking trail South to see a handful of crushed railcars abandoned in the woods. These remnants of a 1956 train wreck make for an unusual photograph and popular canvas for graffiti artists.
Head to Drumhella to see a world class exhibition of prehistoric life on earth, shop for your own fossils & bones and climb inside a four-times larger than a real life T-rex - the largest in the world.
Star Trek fans will need to visit Vulcan. While the name of the town is coincidently the same as Spock’s home world, the many Star Trek themed businesses, signs and attractions are deliberate. In fact, the whole town appears to have fully embraced the Star Trek universe including an unmissable roadside Starship Enterprise, shuttle and trek/visitor ‘station’ built inside a UFO.
Visit the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere, Toronto’s CN Tower. Boasting the world’s tallest steel staircase, this Canadian icon also features a glass floor that will challenge anyone with a fear of heights.
Cuba - Destination guide
It’s all true, you can experience the romance of an entire nation living in the 1950s in Cuba. But, it’s not exactly like stepping into an episode of Happy Days. While the countryside is stunning, the man-made bits are gritty and much of the infrastructure is rather run down. But do not despair, the gritty bits are the charm and every inch of this island is a photographer’s dream.
Chill out in Havana
First stop Havana, slow down, relax and drink some Mojitos on the roof bar of the Ambos Mundos Hotel.
Visit the Real Fabrica de Tabacos Partagas cigar factory and see where all the magic happens. Be sure to buy a box of sticks on your way out and be weary of sellers selling cigars on the streets.
Classic cars and the romantic Plaza de la Catedral
Check out, photograph and take a ride in one of the vintage cars lined up outside the Capitol building Havana. Afterwards, enjoy live music and an outdoor evening meal in Havana’s most romantic setting, Plaza de la Catedral.
Visit Fusterlandia, Cuba’s very own Park Guell. Inspired by Gaudi’s spectacular efforts in Barcelona, Jose Fuster decided to create his own fancy neighbourhood in Havana, the results are amazing.
View the 17th century ceremony of “el cañonazo de las nueve” in the fortress of La Cabaña – Havana. You’ll see soldiers dressed in the traditional costumes firing a cannon to warn off any pirates and would-be invaders.
Hire a car, a modern one, or maybe a bike and spend a few days exploring the tobacco fields, caves and outcropping limestone formations of Vinales.
Spend a day exploring the well-preserved and colourful UNESCO heritage site Trinidad.
Che Guevara monument - Santa Clara
See the Che Guevara monument in Santa Clara. You'll see Che on almost every street on the island but there can never be enough Che spotting in Cuba
Bay of Pigs
Dip into the crystal-clear waters and swim over the reef in Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of the Pigs).
Hang out with the locals
Stay and eat with locals wherever possible. Cuba is as much about its friendly people as it is its beautiful sights, and there are plenty of registered casas particulares (bed and breakfasts) to choose from. However, before agreeing to stay anywhere, be sure to check the aircon works and there is plenty of running hot water.