Have you ever taken a trip that you were glad you took but didn’t enjoy while you were there? That is a good description of the shore excursion we booked through Royal Caribbean to see Altun Ha and the River Wallace on our cruise last year. There was a lot of good: We got to see a real slice of the country, the ruins were gorgeous, and we saw some amazing wildlife. However, there was also a loooonnnnggggg time on the bus, there wasn’t enough food, and I got drenched on the boat ride back. It is certainly worth looking into doing once, but I would not care to do it a second time.
Given the length of travel involved, you should definitely book this excursion through the ship rather than trying to do it on your own. There is too much which can go wrong on a fairly complicated itinerary, and booking through the cruise line means you are guaranteed return before the ship departs. The complications of this itinerary start with something common to all Belize arrivals: you have to catch a tender from the ship to the pier. So you start with waiting for the tender and have a fairly long ride from there just to get to shore. Once you arrive, you are at a fairly nice cruise pier with your standard trinkets and restaurants. We found where our bus was easily enough, and thus commenced the first problem specific to this excursion (rather than to the Belize port in general): The bus waits until it is full. Even if the other passengers were an hour behind you in the tender line. Even if they are taking their sweet time to get there. You gotta wait.
Once everyone arrived, we started the long bus ride to Altun Ha. Apparently some trips starts with the boat trip up the River Wallace and take the bus for the return, but our itinerary had us starting with the bus. In a way, this was a good thing: We got a fairly realistic look at a deeply poor country. It was good to see something other than the polished veneer which normally exists immediately around a port. Eventually, though, we got to the entrance of the ruins.
When we went inside, we were led on a guided tour. That was very helpful, because I needed someone to tell me what I was looking at and why it was significant. The person leading the tour was very good, although two of her colleagues insisted on loudly chatting at the back of the group. That made it very hard to hear what was going on. Happily, there was significant free time to explore the monuments, and park rules let us walk directly on the ruins. This is the part that made the excursion– we saw amazing sights which I can’t imagine having any other opportunity to visit.
When we left, there was a brief opportunity to shop at the small market at the park entrance for trinkets. Happily, someone was also willing to sell me a bottle of water. We then took another bus ride to get to lunch. At this point, all four of us were famished. The lunch stop was a small building with outdoor seating which would have been lovely if it wasn’t raining. The building was dingy, but serviceable. The food was actually pretty good, but a long line led to a very small plate which was not included in the excursion fee and was the only option. Several local artisans were selling their wares, and we actually bought a dolphin that we saw a local man carving.
After lunch, we got back on small boat for the ride down the River Wallace back to the cruise pier. This was something to which I was originally very much looking forward. As luck would have it, however, I was hungry, hot, cranky, and selected a seat near the back. The practical impact of that decision was that I got soaked with water frequently depending on what angle the boat took. Most of the passengers were fine, but me not so much. This probably contributed to my unhappiness that we would frequently stop for long periods of time hoping for some wildlife to show up. It wouldn’t we would get moving, and then we would see something interesting. The views on the river were pretty, though, and we did get to see some interesting wildlife as we moved.
Once we got back to the pier, we queued up for the long tender ride back to the ship. I am please I learned something about the country, I learned a great deal about the Maya, and I saw some interesting wildlife. However, on balance I think I will prefer our cruise next year which skips Belize altogether and instead stops in Costa Maya, Mexico.