Biking Belize and Guatemala: From Temple to Temple

If you can imagine biking your way through ancient Mayan cities, or better yet, if you can’t imagine it, follow GoNOMAD author Matthew Kadey as he cycles through ruins, extreme heat, and unrivaled scenery from Belize to Guatemala on a one-of-a-kind journey.

The pyramid at Caracol. Photo by Matthew Kadey.

Shadows flicker on the cave walls as I squeeze into narrow crevices, skirt past 100,000-year-old stalactites, wade through waist-high algid water and slide down abrupt rock faces. What kind of courage must have it taken for the Mayans to enter such a forbidding place?

“Don’t step there,” our guide Emilio barks out from in front as he points over to pottery left here by the Mayans centuries ago. The trail is littered with ceramic pots of all sizes, their bottoms broken in order to release the spirits. Camera flashes abound.

After a near-vertical climb up a rickety ladder, we come to a humbling spot in the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave. There, aglow from our headlamps, lies the sparkling calcified skeletal remains of a 20-year-old Mayan girl.

“A sacrifice to the gods,” Emilio enlightens us on the motive behind the Crystal Maiden’s demise. Thankfully, my Belizean bicycle ride will not come to nearly such a forlorn ending.

A Cycling Hot Spot Tiny Belize, tucked neatly between Mexico and Guatemala with the western hemisphere’s longest barrier reef system and an outstretched coastline, has long been a destination of choice for water sport junkies and beach bums.

But with vast chunks of protected fecund jungle, a scattering of some 600 Mayan ruins, a hospitable English-speaking populace and an abundance of serene, lightly trafficked roads it’s becoming a hot spot for spandex-clad cyclists.

For myself and eight other sun-starved Canadians, these perks, not to mention 30 degree (C) February afternoons (86 degrees F), have drawn us to this Central American gem for an eleven-day two-wheel vacation.

While weather and tourism might be hot in Belize, what’s not is Belize City. Known (justified or not) for being one of the more dangerous and unattractive cities in Central America, our pedal-power journey will start slightly west in the unassuming community of Burell Boom at the brand spanking new Black Orchid Resort.

It’s here where the owner Doug, a genial man with a cinnamon-hued face introduces the group to three of Belize’s culinary prizes: fresh seafood, smooth Belikin ale and the hottest hot sauce around, the best being Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauce – a gastronomic Belizean staple.

Back in the Saddle The nicely paved Western Highway with only the occasional undulation and heavy-foot driver turns out to be the perfect spot to warm up our legs and get used to being back in the saddle (there’s an Aerosmith pun in there somewhere). 

However, the reality of the heat that we will be riding in quickly hits home. As a hot wind whips my exposed skin, the mercury is bit-by-bit sneaking upwards while we make our way under a roaring sun through the sleepy villages of Roaring Creek and Teakettle. You can always count on one thing when northerners come south to ride in the dead of winter: heaps of sunburns.