My two weeks in Belize were filled to the brim with beautiful moments and memories. It was the kind of trip where, were it not for the day I’ll share in this very post, I’d have been hard pressed to pick a highlight. But when I think back to our big family trip, one experience stands out.
Clearly, we were pretty enamored with our home base in San Ignacio. We barely wanted to leave Ka’ana Resort! Yet we would have been pretty crazy not to take advantage of the resort’s prime location and pop next door — literally — to Xunantunich, one of Belize’s stunning Mayan ruins.
But we weren’t going to just be herded around the site in a big group tour (like, ahem, I had been at Tikal not long before). Nope. This day was going to be darn special. Ka’ana arranges some pretty fabulous excursions for their guests, and what we put together for our day at Xunantunich was nothing short of magical.
Starting, quite grandly, with a private yoga class at the base of a Mayan temple.
I could barely believe that this was a real thing that we could do. Our instructor, a perky expat from Canada, had come bearing mats and a sunny disposition and stories from the yoga retreat she runs in Central Belize. While the class comes with a hefty price tag due to the need for pricey permits and a private instructor, I don’t think I’ve ever savasana-ed in such a special place.
The Mayans built in this place because there is a unique energy here, our instructor reminded us between warrior poses. And such, it was a privilege to practice there.
I just can’t gush more about how much I loved this! It really was one of those surreal experiences where I was just awash in gratitude over whatever crazy twists and turns life took to bring me right to that mat in that moment.
Feeling aglow, we waved goodbye to our instructor and were handed back over to our private tour guide from Ka’ana. Now that we’d soaked up all Xunantunich’s energy, it was time to give some back.
Our guide was the image of a hospitality school valedictorian as he led us slowly up the main temple, stopping frequently to give us a dose of history injected with humor, to point out an intricate carving, or to share a personal anecdote. When we reached the top, my eyes grew wide and I felt myself start to smile. There’s Guatemala, our guide said casually, pointing to a not-so-distant point in the endless jungle ahead.
When we’d first walked onto the site that morning, I’d been shocked by how small the grounds of the ruin were. But as we slowly edged our way around the top of the highest temple, one hundred and thirty feet above the ground, it clicked. This is why you come to Xunantunich.
It might be a small site. But it has some pretty big views.
Making our way to the smaller temples, we continued our cousin yoga-off, much to the amusement of the tour groups who’d begun to fill in the park.
After our class I’d been too bliss-ed out to think about practicalities, but in retrospect I’m pretty sure the special permitting required for our session allowed us into the site before the official opening time, because we didn’t see a single other soul while we were on the mat.
Our day could have ended there and it would have been fantastic. What a special morning! But there was more in store.
We were horseback riding away from those ruins! Well, Olivia and I were, anyway. We had a miscommunication about how many horses were going to be reserved, and so we split off into two pairs with my mom and Kirsten going ahead to our picnic lunch site, and Olivia and I arriving via horseback.
Our horseback guide took his cowboy shtick seriously — the man was wearing spurs! I’ve become a pretty bit of a riding enthusiast over the years whereas Olivia remains a tad more skeptical, so a big part of the saddling up process was psyching her up.
We didn’t go far before there was a break, however — leading the horses across the Mopan River on the hand-cranked ferry we’d taken to get there. We, of course, set aside this time to take silly selfies with our riding buddies.
While these photos are fairly idyllic, this wasn’t my favorite part of the day. I think I’ve just outgrown mane-to-tail rides, and our horseback guide wasn’t comfortable having us do anything but that. I guess it’s just hard to follow up the kind of horseback experience I had in Nicaragua with anything less!
But for a less experienced or picky rider, I think escorting oneself away from a Mayan ruin, across a river, and into a beautiful valley would be pretty thumbs up way to spend an hour.
But the scene we were about to ride up to? Be still my heart. When the concierge at Ka’ana said “picnic lunch” I pictured someone tossing us a few brown paper bags while we swatted flies in the midst of shadeless field. What I did not picture was this:
Um, yes, this would do! We dug into our beautifully prepared lunches (with nary a disposable container in site) and cheers-ed to our idyllic river-side setting, a meal prepared with love, and to each others’ company.
When we remarked on what a stunning day it had been and how lucky we’d been with the weather, our favorite waitress back at Ka’ana, Marissa, nodded enthusiastically. It had been drizzly throughout the week, and Marissa replied that she’d been praying the weather would be nice for us on that day. And she said it with such sincerity that it tugged at my heartstrings and just kind of summed up the experience we had with Belizean hospitality. So sweet and well-intentioned, and at least at Ka’ana, so impressively executed.
This was a day that blew me away. My inner yoga enthusiast got to go through a vinyasa flow at the base of an ancient ruin, my inner shutter bug got ample time to document gorgeous vistas, my inner animal lover got to hang with a sweet horse, and my inner lover of all things adorable squealed at the sight of a private picnic site so twee it could have graced the pages of a travel magazine.
It was one for the books — or in this case, for the blog.
Have you have a unique travel experience that stopped you in your tracks?
Tell me about it in the comments!
Missed a post? Read all my Belize coverage here! Many thanks to Ka’ana Resort for hosting us and making our family trip so special. As always, you receive my honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.