Belize is a small country in Central America about the size of Massachusetts. Belize shares borders with Mexico to the North and Guatemala to the West and South and the Caribbean Sea to the East. Belize was formerly British Honduras until 1981 when it gained its independence. It is the only Central American country using English as their official language. However, Spanish and Creole are the most commonly used languages. Belize uses the U.S. dollar as their currency. The entire population of Belize is under 340,000 with Belize City being the largest with a population of about 72,000. (www.travelbelize.org)
The airport is in Belize City which is located on the central Caribbean coast. It’s a very small airport which has service from 5 international airlines, American, Delta, United, US Air, and Taca Airlines. We flew on Delta Airlines with an overnight in Atlanta. We stayed at a new Hotel Indigo in College Park since it had shuttle service to the airport. All of our flights were on time and went well. The arrival process in Belize was uneventful and we were on our way. We rented a small (tiny) SUV from Budget. Renting from a US company comes with pretty high rates but local car rental company’s vehicles can be unreliable. They use cars up to 10 years old. Our Budget car had less than 1,000 miles on it! As always renting a car in another country takes forever even though they already have all of your rate and personal information. (www.budget-belize.com)
Our first destination was Placencia on the southern coast. There are only 5 main roads (highways) in the country. The Coastal Highway is not paved and is impassable at times of the year. We had to take the Hummingbird Highway which added about 30 minutes and took us through the beautiful mountains. Placencia is a small beach village located on a peninsula. Placencia (www.placencia.com) has a “hippie” vibe and had such a relaxed atmosphere. We stayed at a beach resort within walking distance of town. Our first 2 nights were spent at Chabil Mar Villas (www.chabilmarvillas.com) Definitely not enough time spent here. There are 22 condo style units in 4 buildings viewing the beach, many of which are privately owned. Units are marketed to the public as a resort. There are 1 and 2 bedroom units with or without full ocean view. We were shown the resort on the way to room 14. The grounds are immaculately kept. There are two infinity pools, a beautiful white sand beach, dock, bar, and many public patio and deck areas. Our room was located facing out towards the water but behind the pool area. It had a front porch and also a side deck overlooking the bar. We were very impressed at the living space. It has high ceilings, modern kitchen appliances, modern furniture, a huge bedroom with deck, and individual laundry. The style kept an ocean, tropical feel. There is not an actual restaurant but rather they will arrange for you to have your meal in any public area you would like: dock, beach, pool, deck, bar, and of course you can have it catered to your unit. The service at this resort was superb. We ate on our porch multiple times since it was raining!!! This is where I received sand fly bites which remained with me throughout the trip. Yes, the first two days and only two days in Placencia it was barely 60 degrees, breezy, with rain. It was surprising since it’s supposed to be in the 80’s and 90’s. We were so glad to have a large beautiful condo to enjoy since it wasn’t possible to enjoy the outdoors much. This property would be ideal for family get-togethers or weddings.
We did walk the beach to town between raindrops one morning (10 minutes). At times you may encounter children selling things that they had made. They will ask if they can show you and then pull them from their backpacks. They are very polite and will carry on a conversation with you even if you aren’t interested in buying. The town is mostly made up of expats and the Garifuna. Small shops and restaurants dot the beach and main street which support the local Garifuna economy. The rest of the peninsula is packed with high-end vacation homes and rentals. There is usually only enough room for one house on either side of the road on the peninsula.
The third day we left for a week in San Ignacio which is in the Western part of the country. The scenery on portions of the highway was simply awesome. The highways are similar to our beat up back roads but even worse. The Western Highway was rittled with potholes and speed bumps making for an interesting drive. The speed bumps on the highways are a way to slow traffic down, without having to have a large police patrol. On the way to San Ignacio we had to circle back to the airport to pick up a friend who was joining us. The 69 mile drive on the Western Highway took about 1 ½ hours. About ½ way to San Ignacio the road worsened until both lanes were trying to drive on one lane of crumbled blacktop. Houses along the way were built on stilts and we never quite found out why since they didn’t seem to be in flood plain area.
San Ignacio is a small colonial town of around 17,000 that is about four miles from the Guatemalan border. We stayed a couple of miles out of town at Ka’ana Boutique Resort. (www.kaanabelize.com) The word Ka’ana is Mayan for heaven. It’s part of the Small Leading Hotels of the World. (www.slh.com) The resort is considered 5 stars by Belizean standards. There are only 15 rooms. We stayed in a 700 sq. foot Master Casita Suite with a private outdoor shower. The rooms are decorated contemporary. The furnishings and interiors are made from local materials, mahogany and slate. The artwork is made by locals. The rooms are very spacious with a sitting area, huge dressing area, large bathroom with shower, a flat screen TV, and a very comfortable bed. The glass doors to the back of the Casita overlooked the private garden area. There is a front porch with seating and also a back deck with garden, lounge chair, and shower. The resort’s ambiance is great especially during the evening hours with subtle lighting and candles inside and out. The resort had an infinity pool with waterfall and limited lounging area. There was also a bar at the pool which wasn’t open while we were there. We used the pool almost daily as the temperatures grew to the low 100’s. The resort also has a spa and restaurant. They also have their own garden so everything in the restaurant uses fresh organic grown fruits and vegetables. The service at this hotel was not great but adequate. When you got service it was very good. It was just trying to find it. Most guests at this hotel were on honeymoons or romantic vacations but were gone all day on excursions.
We spent many evenings driving into San Ignacio to eat. We were able to eat at a variety of restaurants and familiarize ourselves with the town. San Ignacio has been going through a beautification of sorts with a brand new central park with a band shell and a new pedestrian only street with shops and restaurants. Because the weather was so nice, we were able to eat outside at many of these restaurants and enjoy all the people watching. We did eat dinner at the resort one evening. The food was good but very expensive. A continental breakfast was included every morning in the price of the room.
We used this resort as our center for excursions. We traveled for about 1 ½ hours into Guatemala, to see Tikal, the largest Mayan ruins to be found in Central America. It is something to see! I booked a tour in advance through Pacz tours. (www.pacztours.net) They were the best value because they included the border fees, water, and a great local meal on the way back to the resort. I had booked a shared tour to avoid paying more for the 3 of us. Since no one else booked it ended up being a private tour after all! Our guide was overly knowledgeable as there was so much history to talk about, each and every pyramid, palace, and alter. The Mayans were very good with astronomy and math for that period of time. It’s amazing what they knew and could accomplish. Their Mayan calendar did run out last year and apparently the world didn’t end.
We drove to Belize City one day to take a snorkeling trip to Caye Caulker. I booked a tour with Coral Breeze Tours. (www.coralbreezetours.com) The boat held around 25 and we were full. Everyone else was on a cruise excursion. They offer a snorkeling rate and a lower observer rate for those who don’t snorkel. The tour lasts around 4 ½ hours and includes gear, snorkeling at the world-famous Shark/Ray Alley, snorkeling at the 2nd largest barrier reef in the world, lunch on the island, water, and fruit. The reef is a World Heritage Site. The reef was absolutely beautiful, unbelievable color of the fish and coral. The water temperature was colder than what we thought it would be, so not “bath like” as the guides indicated. The only other negative was the actual group of people that came from the cruise ship. All of these people were American and most couldn’t or wouldn’t listen to any of the instructions our guides were giving. This coral reef is a national park and there are a lot of rules and regulations to follow. These cruise ship folks just didn’t seem to think these regulations applied to them. Rude would be the best term to describe the majority of these individuals. Regardless, it was a wonderful adventure. On the way back the dolphins were swimming with the boat. It was an amazing day to say the least.
One morning we visited the Belize Botanic Gardens. (www.belizebotanic.org) It is located 10 miles west of San Ignacio on of course another terrible gravel/dirt road. Entry is $7.50 per person and includes a great guide book
to take with you. It’s located at the duPlooy’s Lodge and is 45 acres. It is home to over 2,000 plant species and includes forested jungle trails and an orchid house. Unfortunately barely any orchids were in bloom while we were there. There are plenty of other plants, trees, and flowers to look at. It was a nice relaxing place to go on a hot day.
After a week at Ka’ana we left for Hopkins on the southern coast again north of Placencia. Once again we enjoyed the scenery along the Hummingbird Highway. It was early on a Saturday morning so there wasn’t much traffic this time. On the way to the resort we stopped at the 7,000 acre Mayflower Bocawina National Park to hike one of three waterfalls. (www.wikitravel.org/en/mayflower) It was located 4 ½ miles off the Southern Highway and we drove on one of the roughest off-road trails I’ve ever been on. The entrance to the park is near the coastal city of Dangriga. We took the 1000 foot Antelope Falls waterfall tour which was the only one that you could hike by yourself. You will need a guide to take any of the two others. The tallest one was well over 1,000 feet. The terrain was very rocky and washed out. The hike required ropes tied to trees to pull you along. I was wearing flip-flops! Meanwhile it was a humid 100 degrees in the jungle too. There were many stunning views and wildlife experiences along the way. There are many levels to the waterfall with the top one falling straight down into a large clear blue pool before continuing on down! It was a great experience which I will never forget. You can also camp, repel, or zip line. We’ve gone zip lining a couple of times before but I bet this would have been a great one.
After hiking we took another bumpy, dusty dirt 4 mile road from the highway to Hopkins. Hopkins is…… interesting. We thought it might be something like Placencia only on a smaller scale; however Hopkins is very, very poor with very few options for restaurants or entertainment in the actual village. Most of the restaurants were in the actual resorts that stretched along the beach. Our resort would be located there. The Almond Beach Belize took a while to find since there is no signage and is combined with the Jaguar Reef Lodge. (www.almondbeachbelize.com) Once there we were impressed by the beauty of the long white sand beach. The overall landscaping of the resort is minimalistic, palm trees, a few plants, and lots of sand throughout. Check-in is at the Jaguar Reef Lodge. Our room was at the other end of the property which was nice and quiet. I reserved a beachfront room with a porch overlooking the beach but we were upgraded to a Beachfront Thatch Casita just 60 feet from the water. The casita is about 550 sq. feet with a 140 sq. foot veranda on the beach. We had the Papaya room. You will enter from the back of the unit through your own private garden with shower. There is then a large glass wall separating the garden from the actual huge bathroom with double marble sinks. This room also came with a fridge and cold water dispenser. The bedroom/living room faced the beach and ocean through a wall of glass doors. This place was fabulous and the best place to spend the end of our trip. Do nothing! There were not many loungers on the beach but we could always get one since we were right there. Most of the days were spent under the umbrella reading or sleeping, and yes, time in the sun too! We spent three days here before we left for home. The resort has two infinity pools, a pool bar, a snack bar/gift shop, and a restaurant/bar. We ate at the resort but sometimes at little restaurants on the beach for dinner. One night the resort had barbeque night with a live band where everyone could get together on the beach to eat.
There are some beautiful restaurants on the beach right next to the resort which many people venture to, especially in the evenings.
As far as the town of Hopkins goes it wasn’t worth venturing into. It’s a local Garifuna village and has pretty run-down buildings. We had gone there to find souvenirs but only found a couple of shops and restaurants. There is pretty much no beach access so it’s not attractive at all and walking in a cloud of dust to get there.
There is so much to do in Belize. This is only the beginning. You have the diving and snorkeling and then the inland mountains for hiking, visiting Mayan ruins, and zip lining, and everything in-between. I would say that Belize has overall high end accommodations. Belize has many luxury eco resorts, but they are not all-inclusive. Most of the resorts have meal plans however the cost is generally not worth the value. Seventy percent of the hotels in Belize have 10 rooms or less. Many others are under 25 rooms like the ones we stayed at. International chains are unheard of. There is only a Radisson and a Best Western in Belize City. Also only one chain restaurant, a Subway in Belize City, not even a McDonalds! I guess that’s what makes this destination even more unique.
Belize has some of the friendliest people on earth and is one of the most beautiful places to go visit! I highly recommend you make a trip for yourself. Ask one of our travel agents for more information on planning your unforgettable vacation!