December 7, 2016
Seeking the Sun: Belize Edition
(Or, more aptly named, Three-Day Country, Two-Hour Towns)
When you live in cold climes, you’ll inevitably be on a quest to stay warm in the winter—leading to our Seeking the Sun series. For us, these trips are usually three-day countries filled with a smattering of two-hour towns. Why only three days? Often, that’s all it takes to recharge and expose your skin to some much-needed humidity.
But if you’re not a flipper (sunbather), which we’re most definitely not (in case you haven’t yet caught on to our propensity to keep moving), sometimes the activities are limited.
Not so in Belize.
Granted, it’s not as easy to get to as many places in Mexico. (Five stops, three planes, and six hours of travel—you could get almost anywhere in the world for that.)
But if you head as far south in the country you can go, to Punta Gorda, you get an amazing combination of rainforest/jungle and Caribbean sea, complete with everything from waterfalls to Mayan ruins to hiking, kayaking, fishing, etc. For us type A’s, it’s enough to keep from being tortured by all that crazy relaxation.
Belize is tiny. With only about 300,000 people, we knew we wouldn’t have to deal with crowds.
They also speak English, which is a plus for us dumb Americans. As a result of their history (as the British Honduras until the early ’80s), English is the first and dominant language. The people, however, are incredibly ethnically diverse, with roots in Mayan, East Indian, Mestizo (Hispanic Brazilian), and Kriol heritages. They are homogenized only by language, making the cultures and customs interesting and diverse.
There are no real cities in the Belize except Belize City. It’s really comprised of villages of various sizes that become mini-destinations within the country.
After you fly into Belize City (which everyone does), there are several choices: Beach, beach with rainforest/jungle, or mountains in jungle near Guatemala. Everything is accessible on the island puddle-jumper planes (Tropic Air), which are short flights with accompanying short runways in each location.
San Pedro is a bit north of Belize City. And it’s the least interesting, most stereotypical beach experience, unless you’re a flipper or you love snorkeling or diving. The best hotels on the Ambergris Caye (Belize’s largest island and home to San Pedro) are all reachable only by boat and include El Secreto (tiny and secluded) and Las Terrazas.
Further down the coast, you can chose from Dandriga (the first plane stop, but has the least interesting hotel choices) or the more popular Placencia (stop number two, with the start of some nice mountain and jungle views). These are both more typical resort areas with simple, small villages.
One of the best hotel choices at either is Thatch Caye Resort near Dandriga, a collection of thatched huts on its own private island (about a half-hour boat ride from the town).
Turtle Inn in Placencia is a good choice and is owned by Francis Ford Coppola, who previously developed the very cool Blancaneaux Lodge in the much more remote western region of the country, near St. Ignacio. Even better, if you extend your trip a few more days, staying a few nights at both of Coppola’s hotels gives the perfect combination of beach and mountains/jungle, and gives a true sense of the country.
St. Ignacio is a great destination to get away from it all, in the midst of nature reserves in the mountains and forest, and near the more important Mayan ruins. In addition to Blancaneaux Lodge, there’s Ka’ana Resort. Expect eco-friendly. (Actually, expect it everywhere in the country.) It’s a direct flight from Belize City to St. Ignacio (without hopping through Dandriga, Placencia, and Punta Gorda).
Our favorite spot is Punta Gorda, a tiny town in the southernmost part of the country. It’s the kind of place that uses giant pot holes as traffic control, has a market that draws in all the remote villagers day every other day with fresh produce, meat, and live fish, and has the Ten Commandments prominently painted in roughly 12 spots around town (in case you’ve forgotten a few within the last 100 meters).
About a 15-minute drive outside of town is Belcampo, our favorite hotel. It’s perched on a hilltop and is surrounded by its own farm, cocoa-bean factory, rum distillery, and gardens. It’s also on the Belize Rio Grande river. Basically, everything they serve is grown or made right there.
The best rooms are the ridge rooms with panoramic views of everything from the river to the mountains to the sea. If you’re lucky enough to be there when it rains (which typically only lasts 20 minutes or so), you can sit on your balcony and listen to the incredible sound— like a thousand faucets on full blast.
The reason we most like it? There’s a lot to do for a remote resort. Caribbean or river fishing, kayaking in the perfectly still water, hiking (with a great four-mile route around the property with incredible ups and downs), farm and garden walking, or short drives to see the Mayan ruins or waterfalls. It’s designed like a classic open-air South African safari lodge, with everything indoor/outdoor so you can always enjoy the sounds of the howler monkeys.
Rum, sun, jungle, cocoa, and humidity—what could be better?