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8 Favorite Destinations, Year 2

We’ve now been on the road for two solid years. During that time we’ve visited 145 different locations in both North and Central America. Last year we highlighted Eight Favorite Destinations from our first year of travel. With another full year under our belts, it’s once again time to select the best from the last 365 days. Each of the following headlines links back to our original blog post about the destination.

Pictured Rocks, MI

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI

If 200-foot, multi-colored sandstone cliffs along a lake of emerald-colored water isn’t how you imagine Michigan, it’s time for a pilgrimage to Pictured Rock National Lakeshore in the state’s Upper Peninsula. It absolutely blew us away with its striking similarities to one of our favorite excursions ever: rafting through the Grand Canyon.

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Lamanai Mask Temple Belize

Having recovered control of our boat from a pirate spider monkey, we arrived safely at our destination: the Mayan ruins of Lamanai near Orange Walk, Belize. Once a considerably sized city, most of this site remains unexcavated. But some of what has been unearthed is truly stunning: like these carvings on Mask Temple that somehow survived through the centuries.

Spider Monkey Stowaway


This spider monkey commandeered our ship for a time as we sailed down the New River toward the Mayan ruin Lamanai in Belize.

What We Learned Backpacking for 2 Months

Caye Caulker Belize

40 liter packs are (almost) all you need

Imagine living out of a suitcase no bigger than a 1.5 square foot box. That’s basically what Shannon and I did for two months backpacking around Central America. We’re proud to report that not only did we have the smallest bags of anyone we met but that our 40 liter packs were perfectly adequate for this specific trip.

While “perfectly adequate” is a true enough description of what we experienced, “barely adequate” fits too. We’d have been in trouble if we needed to plan for colder weather or multiple seasons. Traveling through Central America we had the luxury of packing lightweight clothing, although the highlands of Guatemala got surprisingly chilly. I was happy to have a heavy fleece I didn’t originally intend to pack but brought along because Houston was so damn cold when we left.

Even in colder climates, we probably could have made the 40 liter backpacks work if not for all of the electronics we hauled: two laptops, a digital camera, a video camera, an iPhone, a surge protector, a universal power adapter, battery charger, and the cables needed to power all this junk. Leaving the electronics at home would have freed up almost an entire bag – but we’d never do that.

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Howler Monkey Madness

Community Baboon Sanctuary, Belize

Not one other traveler we met had Belize’s Community Baboon Sanctuary (CBS) on their itinerary. Most had never heard of it, which is a shame because it is definitely within the top three things we did in Central America. Tikal gets all the attention. Savvy travelers know that ATM Cave is a must do, but CBS should also make any list of top sights both because of the sanctuary’s awesome work and the unique opportunity to have an up-close encounter with wild and endangered black howler monkeys.

In 1985, 12 private landowners banded together to preserve their property as a sanctuary for black howler monkeys (called “baboons” in the local Creole dialect). Over the years, CBS has grown to over 200 landowners, in seven villages, who have voluntarily dedicated their 20 square miles of land to arrest the habitat destruction that, left unchecked, will cause an estimated 60% population decline over the next three decades. Meanwhile, the “baboon” population at the sanctuary has tripled in size to over 2,000 monkeys.

Visit the Community Baboon Sanctuary

CBS is considered the first conservation effort in the world to rely exclusively on local community cooperation to protect an endangered species. Local landowners benefit directly from the ecotourism revenues generated by the sanctuary creating a win-win scenario for both man and beast.

We’re happy to have lent a hand in the continuation of this good work, and delighted to meet the furry residents in the bargain.

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