Lamanai Excursion Questions in Belize Posted February 6, 2008 Just back from the Veendam where we went with Javier and Carlos to Lamanai--a fantastic trip! We booked through belizecruiseexcursions.com although I probably would have used HAL if Lamanai had been offered, because I was worried about the whole tender thing. I am so glad HAL did not offer it, because we had a perfect experience. People with HAL excursions were given tender times and various places to meet; those on independent trips met in the theater and since we were all anxious about not getting on early tenders we all showed up very early--and wound up being on the first tender, before any of the HAL excursion passengers! So that worked well. Javier was on the dock with a sign and brought the 6 of us to their office, then we all got into a comfortable A/c van and drove away. He is very friendly and funny and told us lots about Belize on the 1 hour drive to the New River in Orange Walk. There we met Carlos, who said that he was a little disappointed when he got the call that we were coming because the fish were really biting. He lives in a village in the area. He also happens to be a world-class naturalist and we really lucked into an experience that we did not anticipate. Carlos knows the scientific names of every plant and animal on the river and believe me, there are some amazing birds. Yes, i am a birdwatcher, but i did not expect a world-class birding experience on a shore excursion on a cruise. Carlos keeps track of the changing locations of the daytime roosts of the nocturnal Boat-billed Heron--a very elusive and amazing, unusual bird with a huge wide bill. He had seen a Black-collared Hawk and brought us to it, right next to the river, very close...I once spent an entire morning unsuccessfully searching for this bird with an expert guide in the swamps of Veracruz, Mexico. We caught a fleeting glimpse of a Pale-billed Woodpecker, the largest American woodpecker, closely related to the probably extinct Ivory-billed. The most spectacular were two huge Jabiru storks on a nest--they are the heaviest flying bird in the Americas, and are found only in a small swatch from Southern Mexico to Belize. All in all we saw 49 species of birds, absolutely magnificent for a short mid-day trip...I can only imagine what a few sunrise-sunset days with Carlos would be like. OK, if you are not bird-crazy anyone would enjoy the 4 crocodiles we saw, the two types of iguanas and the noisy troops of howler monkeys at the ruins. We also passed the Mennonite community of Shipyard where we learned that these Amish-like German immigants who arrived from Mexico in 1958 now produce 75% of the food eaten in Belize! The lunch we were served was home-cooked and delicious (especially Belizean hot sauce, which was onions marinated in lime juice with habanero peppers!). Lamanai's ruins were excellent, escpecially the steep climb to the top of the highest temple for views of the river and surrounding countryside. Huge trees and palms with 20-foot long fronds cover everything. The amll museum was very informative. These Mayans were actually producing liquid mercury! The boat ride was often fast, keeping things breezy, and there were no bugs (maybe one mosquito at the ruins). There was never a danger of returning late to the ship, and we had time to shop in Belize City or at the port shops before tendering back. I can't recommend this operator highly enough, and would use them for cave tubing or other activities because the groups are always small, which may not be the case with a large cruise-line tour. Bring binoculars!!!!