UnCruise Adventures is returning to Belize. The leader in small-ship expedition cruising had sailed in the stunningly gorgeous Central American nation many years ago, but it's returning to the region with a finely tuned and dedicated itinerary that includes exploration of its neighbor Guatemala, too.
It's always been a no-brainer that UnCruise should sail in places like these underrated destinations. Belize is a nation of fewer than 400,000 that offers a stunning mix of culture and natural beauty. The warm and inviting people possess a rich multiracial ancestry, with Mestizo, Creole, Maya and Garifuna as the most prevalent.
Belize is located on the Eastern Coast of Central America hugging the Caribbean Sea, with amazing access to waterways that reach the Mesoamerican Reef (Belize Barrier Reef) and are speckled with tiny low-lying islands called cays. Inland, there are lagoons, jungles and rivers.
UnCruise worked hard to design a trip that gives its guests access to an immersive range of all of these features of both Belize and Guatemala.
There also is plenty of amazing food to enjoy, of course.
Check out the full itinerary, which is a seven-day roundtrip voyage from Belize City.
And this video of my R&D trip:
During my 10 days getting a first look at the trip, we visited serene conservation areas, taking hikes in the rainforest at Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and on savanna land at Payne's Creek in Belize. Lush mangrove areas are vital parts of the ecosystems in both Guatemala and Belize, and visitors can spot manatees, gray foxes and yellow-headed parrots (and dozens of other birds).
Blanchard thinks a favorite day for guests will be the visit to Cockscomb Basin, which offers a broad range of hikes, river tubing and chances to swim beneath waterfalls. The itinerary includes time in towns, too, with opportunities to shop at a produce market in Punta Gorda, Belize, and hang out at the bustling seaside town of Livingston, Guatemala.
Blanchard spent quite a bit of time in Belize when he was younger and has always been impressed by the friendliness and inviting nature of this young nation, which achieved independence in 1981.
"Belize is a very open-for-business country," he says. "Getting things going here is relatively easy. Our first thing we do is just get out and experience the destination (to create a new itinerary).
"Beyond that, it comes down to contacting all the conservation organizations. Because they're the ones that really know what's going on, the special places that fit our clients best.
"So, there's that early stage of the process, and now we're down to refining the daily activities."
The Maya ruins sites are particularly interesting. Some have been unearthed just decades ago. Plus, the villages along the Rio Dulce River in Guatemala offer a fantastic opportunity to see how Maya women are finding new roles in their society, breaking with antiquated norms to develop their own businesses. We stopped off to patronize small baking businesses and meet with women running important community health clinics.
Like I said, it fits with the DNA of the company. Longtime UnCruise Adventures aficionados are craving new expeditions and certainly should be excited to add this experience to their list.
"We have a high number of returning guests, and they want to go to new destinations," Blanchard says. "Everything is indicating that Belize is kind of that budding flower as far as tourism goes.
"And I think one of the things we've found in Guatemala is under-tourism. On both the border rivers and some of the estuaries that are open to the ocean, this is incredibly authentic compared with what is generally available to the traveler today in North and South America. The children still look at you like you're an oddity (when you visit their villages)."
A Vision for a New Adventure: Q&A with Captain Andrea Kosto
I her asked what she expects for the new adventures and what goes into creating this kind of expedition cruise itinerary.
In The Loop Travel: What are you most excited to show your guests on this new itinerary? What do you want them to get out of it?
Captain Andrea Kosto: I am most excited about showcasing the pristine conservation areas that we are accessing. Where the conversation directors inform us that we are the very first small expedition ship and foreign operator to visit. It doesn't get any more UnCruise than that!
We have forged relationships with environmental and cultural organizations that have amazing community outreach programs for youth education, wilderness and wildlife preserves and community health. Our partnership will help support those programs and hopefully have a profound positive effect on the indigenous peoples of the area.
It's my hope that our guests not only have an amazing and memorable experience, but that they take away a deeper knowledge and respect for the Belizean and Guatemalan people and cultures. All while understanding that as our guests, they enable us to operate in areas untraveled by others, which allows our presence to positively impact an entire region and its peoples.
ITLT: What challenges do you face when trying to develop a new itinerary from scratch?
AK: It is easy to "find" places that everyone already visits; those places are suitable for many people and tour companies, but those type of settings aren't what we're about.
UnCruise proudly touts wilderness, wildlife and cultural experiences that aren't crowded. The Uncrowded places don't advertise, usually because they're a niche location and they want to remain untrammeled by large crowds. Discovering these gems is generally by word of mouth and listening to the people who live where we want to explore. The local people know where those places are and what they have to offer.
You have to be receptive to the ideas and information that they have, because they most often have terrific knowledge of where these undiscovered gems are hidden.
ITLT: Why should travelers take an UnCruise voyage to see Belize and Guatemala vs. any other form of travel?
AK: In a nutshell, comfort, access, professionalism and respect for the cultural diversities of the region. We are accessing some spectacular places that other tour operators simply do not visit, or even know of. These locations are far off of the beaten path that everyone else travels. The local conservation organizations we will interact with know that they have something special, and we agree. The local children are learning about how precious and unique their home is, and we are humbled that their parents and elders are allowing us to take others to see how spectacular these areas and cultures are.
At the same time, we're honored to not only help promote the conservation of the region, but to educate others as to its importance. By choosing UnCruise, people will be able to travel both comfortably and safely into regions not easily accessed by any other modes of travel.
The first of these "Belize and Guatemala Wonders -- Rivers, Reefs and Cultures" voyages embark on Safari Voyager on October 31, 2020, and UnCruise is offering six of these weeklong expeditions ending with a December 5 voyage.
Thanks for reading,