Shore excursions are the best part of any cruise, and my favorite excursion so far has been our trip to the Mayan ruins of Lamanai in Belize. It was part of a Western Caribbean cruise itinerary that also included Cozumel and Honduras.
Our tour began with a van trip through Belize City, which brought us to a boat dock on the New River. We boarded a tour boat where our guide introduced himself as a descendant of the Mayans who once lived in Belize. The boat ride is an excursion on its own. I was impressed by how easily our guides were able to pick out camouflaged crocodiles and other wildlife along the way. Where practical, they slowed the boat to a stop and pulled close so everyone could see.
Excitement mounted when we first spotted the temples of Lamani above the rain forest canopy. Our guide stayed with us and described the ruins and ancient Mayan culture. Howler monkeys swung through the trees over our heads.
We saw three temples and were able to climb on two of them. The tallest temple is a steep climb but the views from the top are worth it. We were rewarded with a sprinkle of rain when we reached the platform.
Lamanai is a long excursion. We boarded the van shortly after our arrival in Belize City and arrived back at the port with less than an hour to shop before returning to the ship's tender. Between the van and boat, travel time is perhaps two hours each way. A hot lunch was included in the price of our tour. Bring some extra cash to tip your tour guides.
You can book your Lamanai excursion privately or through your cruise line, though not all cruise lines offer a Lamanai excursion from Belize City. It is usually less expensive and just as good an experience to book on your own. One big advantage of booking through the cruise line (if it's an option) is the guarantee that you'll be on the ship when it leaves Belize in the unlikely event of a breakdown on the tour.
You also get assurance that the tour provider has been vetted in terms of liability insurance and other legalities when you book through the cruise line. You may be able to verify this information and get guarantees in writing from a private operator on your own. You'll probably be fine either way, but whether it's best to visit Lamanai through the cruise line vs. a private operator depends on your personal risk tolerance.
We spent lots of time sunning and snorkeling at the other ports of call on this cruise. When we read about the opportunity to see these Mayan ruins, we couldn't pass it up. Lamanai was the perfect way to spend our day in Belize.
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