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.
Loved your picnic spot and the setting! The hospitality does seem extraordinary 🙂
We couldn’t stop marveling over it when we arrived! Absolutely stunning.
After having great horseback riding experiences, it is really hard to go back to the slow guided tours – but what an amazing location! And you can’t beat that picnic site!
Yeah, I definitely learned my lesson there. I’m going to have to be a lot pickier about horseback tours now that I’ve been totally spoiled like this!
Your travels are so inspiring, Alex. Keep doing what you do please and never stop traveling! Hoping to bump into you during one of our travels one of these days!
Wow, thank you Erica. What a sweet comment — you definitely brightened my day.
I read this whole post to the tune of that Journey song.
Would love to travel with my family and do something like this.
Haha, always a plus when I can add a little journey to someone’s day!
A while back I was totally obsessed with Belize and desperate to get out there, but it got a bit pushed down the list over the years – you’ve totally brought it back up to the top though with all these posts, temple yoga and horseriding picnics does it for me!
That’s awesome to hear, Lucy. I feel like Belize is a country I will return to again and again.
Amazing! I can’t even imagine what that yoga class must have felt like. So cool. The picnic location truly is swoon worthy, what a wonderful surprise that must have been!
Stumbling upon a completely deserted beach on Saco da Mamangua in Paraty, Brazil completely blew me away like that. We chartered a fisherman’s boat and couldn’t communicate with him at all with the language barrier so we thought we’d just be taking a scenic boat ride, but were shocked when he docked us at the most stunning beach I’ve ever seen. I’ll never forget it.
What a fun surprise! Awesome when a language barrier works in your favor like that 🙂
What a serene place for a picnic lunch! Yes please!
I know, right?! That was our biggest surprise of the day!
There is nothing like a magical travel day where everything exceeds your expectations and flows and you just keep ascending higher & higher! I have to say, the picnic took the cake for me here. It just looks so darling & how are there streams that green on planet earth!!
I am smiling thinking of those standout travel days that blew me away. Like the time we did a day trek in Northern Laos through the most fairytale-esque, bucolic scenery of my life. Our guide brought a homemade packed lunch wrapped in banana leaves — again, nothing disposable! — and my husband had shots of local liquor with a village chief while I ran around with the children, one of whom actually thought I was a witch, judging by the stones he threw and his look of sheer terror! Capped off by a sunset long tail boat ride back to our riverside bungalow where we set up a speaker on the balcony, cracked champagne and fell asleep to the sound of the beach boys & the jungle cacophony behind us x
Ugh, Beach Boys and champagne ANYWHERE is my kind of day. You know how to rock it!
Wow, that yoga class/location looks incredible. What a unique experience, and I like that the instructor talked about the Mayans and the energy of the place during the class – informative as well! (Also I really love that photo of the ruins in black and white; it’s striking.)
I agree, those stormy clouds were so photogenic. I loved it! (And also loved the blue skies, when they came out 🙂 )
Hey Alex, as usual great post. I like your yoga enthusiasm and yoga outfit. Great pics as always.
Thanks — that was all borrowed workout attire 🙂 My little sister packs enough for two, thankfully!
Oh my gosh! That picnic is too perfect! What an amazing trip this looks like!
It was amazing indeed. One for the history books… or at least the family albums 🙂
“Don’t Stop Belizing” — definitely a contender for best blog title ever! Can’t believe that yoga next to a private ruin is a real thing you can do, either! Sounds magical.
I know, and I was shocked more guests don’t take advantage of it! This would be an awesome spot for a yoga retreat.
That yoga pose you did is nuts – I would break my neck!
“Latest travel experience that stopped me in my tracks” was reading this post. You guys and your own personal pyramid :-0
Haha, thanks Rick! Glad you could virtually come along for the ride!
Oh god, you’re just having the most unique experiences one after another aren’t you?! I’m with you on the horse riding though, when you’re a good rider walking rides get pretty boring and frustrating. But still, seems like this was just one part of a magical day!
Yeah, I suppose the more amazing travel experiences one has, the harder one is to impress! I’ve definitely gone picky when it comes to horseback riding 🙂
Wow! I love everything about your day! Plus, I think it’s actually a requirement of a horseback ride to take a selfie with your horse whenever you can.
Haha, definitely in our family it is 🙂
WOW! Everything looks amazing. What an incredible idea to to do yoga there!
I know! And so cool that they allow it/issue permits to do so.
Yoga and horses in one day?! Incredible!
Would love a similar yoga experience in Chiang Mai or Siem Reap if you have any suggestions.
I haven’t done one myself (yet!) but I’m going to shoot you an email about one I’ve heard good things about!
Come to Brasil Alex! Your site is awesome, i love your photos and trips, kisses
I’m dying to get to Brazil someday, Jadde! Thanks for the love 🙂
My question might sound silly but what are the pants you’re wearing on those pictures?
I’m preparing a trip to central america and would like similar pants, not especially for sport, but to walk around. The only thing is that I am afraid of picking something too warm for the weather.
Thank you in advance 🙂
P.S.: I love your blog, it’s full of great informations to prepare my trip 🙂
Hey Margaux! Thanks! Those are a pair of Calvin Klein leggings that I got off the sale rack at Marshalls. I love them and wear them both for working out and going out. Enjoy your trip!
I hope they still do this! I’d absolutely love to ride some horses to that beautiful picnic spot…
I’m sure they do! Are you headed to Belize?!