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Water, sun, and whalesharks

Relaxing in the Yucatan and Belize

My family and I visited Belize and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula recently for a family vacation. We had a relaxing time together, enjoying the good weather and beautiful beaches. We also had a chance to visit some of the Mayan archaeological sites such as Chichen Itza and Lamani, explore Belize’s aquatic caves, and go snorkeling in hopes of seeing the amazing whale sharks which were migrating off the coast on their way to their feeding grounds.

I’d never been to the Yucatan before. It was a great place for a family vacation, with spectacular scenery, terrific beaches and remarkable archaeological sites.

Yucatan and Belize, along with Guatemala and Honduras, were home to the Mayan civilization, which lasted more than 2,000 years. They left behind these pyramid-like temples. Many sites of their cities and temples have never been excavated.

We visited two major Mayan sites: Chechen Itza in the Yucatan and Lamanai in Belize.

The Mayans carefully tracked the movements of celestial bodies and developed a calendar that was actually more accurate than European calendars of the time. They knew that a year was 365 and one-quarter days long. Their temples were aligned to the sun so that on solstices, the architecture would do cool things like cast the shadow of a snake, which was worshipped at Chichen Itza.

We also visited Xel-Ha Park. It’s an amazing place where they’ve taken a natural inlet and created cool, touristy things you can do like walk on a rope bridge and play with dolphins in the water.

I had been to Belize before and enjoyed visiting it again. It’s a former British colony where English is spoken and the economy is based largely on aquaculture, agriculture, and increasingly tourism. The population is growing because the economy is fairly strong.

Belize is interesting geologically. It has what’s called Karst topography – thick layers of limestone, which is a mineral deposit that can erode to form caves. There are places where rivers run through the caves, some of them a mile long, which you can explore in tubes as we did.

We also visited Lighthouse Reef, an atoll where the former lighthouse has fallen down but the remains are still there. With GPS, lighthouses are basically obsolete today, but they’re kind of cool historically.

In Belize we went snorkeling with divers to see the whale sharks which are very unusual. We didn’t actually see any when we went snorkeling as a family, but my daughter and a friend got lucky when they went and saw one come up. They’re amazing creatures. They’re almost as big as whales, some are 40 feet or bigger, and they eat krill, like baleen whales. But they’re sharks.

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