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Belize Trip

When did we go:

  • Mar 6-20, 2020

 

Who attended:

  • Ed, Marilyn, Bruce, Julie

 

Why did we go:

  • we were looking to go back to Hawaii since we had not been in several years, but the hotel availability was limited, and the prices were ridiculous
  • our friends suggested Belize and we were all over it since it was a chance to explore a new country (along with a day in Guatemala to tack on country #44 for me and #33 for Mare)

 

How did we get there:

  • flew direct from Calgary to Belize City on Westjet (6-hour flight)
  • took a small plane on Maya Air from Belize City to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye (15 minutes, the flight was delayed and Maya Air was terrible at communicating with us when we would get out, we would recommend flying Tropic Air as they seemed to be a lot more organized)
  • we used Belize Shuttle Service to get us from Belize City to San Ignacio, San Ignacio to Hopkins, and Hopkins to Belize City (Mike Jr. was our driver on the first two legs, and he rocked the funky hairdo but was a man of few words)

 

 

Where did we stay:

Ambergris Caye (Pelican Reef Villas Beach Resort):

  • located 3 km outside of San Pedro
  • shared a two-bedroom 1300 sq. ft. beachfront suite with a large balcony facing the Caribbean
  • breakfast was included and had a good selection
  • beach area with hammocks, small pool, bar, long pier where I did my morning workout, cornhole game, paddleboarding, and kayaks

 

 

San Ignacio (San Ignacio Resort):

  • located in the town of San Ignacio on a 17-acre private estate
  • shared a two-bedroom suite
  • beautiful room with a large patio that had a soaker tub and a great view of the jungle
  • good location that was a five-minute walk into the central part of the town although it was on top of a steep hill
  • had a butler named Elito who was a great dude and very attentive to any of our needs (we wanted to bring him home)

 

 

Hopkins (Seiri Del Mar):

  • located on the northern end of Hopkins
  • shared a two-bedroom beachfront condo
  • decent pool area including a hot tub and children’s waiting pool
  • good beach area
  • paddleboard, kayaks, bikes, and a few games available onsite
  • delightful and helpful management (Declan and Lucy)
  • unfortunately, no onsite food and beverages facilities although the Rhum Shack was right next door

 

 

Where did we eat:

Ambergris Caye:

  • Black Orchid (charming décor, good service, quality chow)
  • Fido’s Courtyard & Pier (open air, beachfront, good food – especially Marilyn’s shrimp, had a table of smokers beside us that was very annoying)
  • Lonestar Cantina (casual dining, decent food)
  • Caliente (beachfront, authentic, good service, average food)
  • Elvi’s (one of the most popular and authentic restaurants on the Island, thatched roof and sand floor make it very unique, excellent food and vibe)
  • Robins Kitchen (roadside dinner with only one meal cooked on an open BBQ drum which on this day was jerk chicken and it was fantastic)
  • Palmilla (located in Victoria House hotel, upper-scale dining, very good meal and service)

 

 

San Ignacio:

  • Ko-Ox Han-Nah (mix of Indian and Belizian staple foods, simple and quaint décor, the food was a bit underwhelming)
  • Guava Limb Café (nice patio although we were seated upstairs in an inside area, local organic food which was very good)
  • Tolacca Smoke House (Central American bbq known as the best steak in Belize, cool vibe, excellent food although no seafood offerings, huge serving sizes)
  • D’Sky Bistro (we were told it was a magnificent sunset, but the restaurant pointed in the wrong direction – WTF, good chow and we felt terrible as we were the only people in the restaurant)

 

 

Hopkins:

  • Peers Place (we had a rude Russian server/owner that set the wrong tone, but the food, ambiance, and oceanview were good)
  • Rhum Shack (beside our complex, fun beach bar/restaurant with an excellent menu and fun people, was our typical breakfast spot with the peanut butter smoothie as our favorite)
  • Ella’s Cool Spot (lunch on a sand beach setting, excellent ceviche)
  • Driftwood Beach Bar & Pizza Shack (Tuesday night Garifuna drumming night was fun to watch, pizza was quite good, nice beachfront setting)
  • Maya Beach Restaurant and Bistro (south of Hopkins near Placencia, nice oceanfront setting, good quality food, and service)
  • Paddlehouse Restaurant at Jaguar Reef Resort (started with a drink on their two-story dock bar where we watched some young kids from Tulsa doing backflips into the water, beautiful resort, funky outdoor toilet in the bathrooms with beautiful foilage, this would be the place to stay in Hopkins)

 

 

What did we do:

Ambergris Caye:

  • rented a golf cart at our hotel as this is the way people get around the Island which was quite fun even though I missed the odd speed bump and sent my travel companions for a short flight
  • went to the Crazy Canucks Beach Bar and witnessed some of the worst karaoke ever and a fun crab race
  • watched two Flames games at each of Lola’s Pub & Grill and Croc’s (little did we know these would be the final two games for a while)
  • took a half-hour ferry to Caye Caulker and spent a half-day cruising the Island (laid back Island known for it’s ‘Go Slow’ vibe, nice lunch at Lazy Lizard on the canal that separates the north and south part of the Island)
  • spend an afternoon at Secret Beach that has some bars on the beach including one with thatched roof tables in the water, more a young person or kids vibe to this area and it was quite a distance from our hotel)
  • snorkeling with Belize Pro Diving Center to Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley (guides Renee and Arnold, saw some great aquatic life and the shark feeding was a sight to behold)

 

 

San Ignacio:

  • stopped at the King’s Children’s Home in Belmopan which takes in children from difficult circumstances (we stopped as our friend Eric Rajah’s charity A Better World Canada used to provide assistance to this facility)
  • toured the Xunantunich Mayan Ruins (the name means ‘maiden of the rock’ or ‘stone woman’, beautiful site 15 minutes outside of San Ignacio in the small Mestizo village of San Jose Succotz, access the site on a short hand-cranked ferry, some fun and challenging climbs amongst the ruins with our guide Jose, initial construction was in 800 AD)
  • explored the Tikal Ruins in Guatemala with our guide Hugo and driver Julio (ancient Mayan citadel, one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centers of the pre-Columbian Mayan civilization, started around 1000 BC, extinct in 869 AD, site discovered in 1848 AD, up to 150k people lived there, only 25% of the site has been uncovered, 65k structures have been discovered through sonar techniques, got to see the Howler and Spider monkeys along with packs of Coati’s)
  • visited four sites in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve along an incredibly bumpy road with our 21-year-old driver/guide Tony (1000 footfalls – which were actually 1600 feet, Rio Frio Cave – a tall cave with openings on either end, Rio On pools – had our boxed lunches and floated in the pools but unfortunately left my swim trunks and swim shirt in the change enclosure, Big Rock Falls – 150 beautiful falls with two huge swimming areas joined by a rock area that people were sliding through and a very steep trail to get to and from the riverbed, Tony noted that people needed their PHD’s which meant Pot Hole Drivers license to drive the roads in the Preserve which was very true)
  • we used Pacz Tours, and our guides were excellent, but the owner (Jamal) was terrible in communicating with us leading up to the excursions
  • visited the local Saturday market with a huge number of vendors mostly offering food, clothes and trinkets (bought a Belize carry bag, some peanuts and a bookmark)

 

 

Hopkins:

  • on our drive from San Ignacio to Hopkins, we stopped at Blue Hole National Park where we explored and tubed in the St. Hermans Cave (near the capital city of Belmopan, neat experience with our guide Neko, learned about the limestone formation of stalactites and stalagmites), did a quick dip in the Blue Hole, enjoyed the beautiful views along the Hummingbird Highway including Sleeping Giant Mountain, and finally a stop at Miss Bertha’s Best Belizian Fyat Haat Tamales roadside food shack (simple one choice meal that was yummy)
  • Hopkins is known for its Garifuna culture which we observed throughout the area
  • went on a Nocturnal Bioluminescense River Tour (nighttime tour with Happy Go Luckie Tours and our guide Luckie, started on the Sittee River where we used high powered flashlights to spot raccoons, crocodiles, bats, and various birds, cruised around Anderson’s Lagoon where the bioluminescent plankton illuminates any disturbances in the water in a spectacular bright fashion, also had some amazing star gazing on a mostly clear sky night)
  • toured the area south of Hopkins (missed out due to timing on visiting the Che’il Chocolate Factory, drove through Placencia observing the explosion of new properties although a number are not completed or are for sale, missed the timing of seeing the Scarlet Macaws as they had migrated earlier than usual, toured the Belize Spice Farm & Botanical Garden – 500-acre organic property developed 30 years ago by a chap from India, extensive variety of spice trees, flowers, and a few types of timbers, saffron is the most expensive spice, moringa is the overall healthiest spice, jackfruit is the largest fruit, nutmeg is hallucinogenic, on the return voyage our rental car started emitting smoke from the engine and broke down thankfully only a mile from our accommodation where a young local chap was kind enough to get me back to our condo on the back of his motorbike so I could we retrieve our golf cart – we did get the vehicle going by adding water to the radiator)
  • enjoyed a four-person reggae band at the Driftwood Beach Bar although they never quite got the dance vibe going and the crowd was quite sparse since most tourists had already made their way out of the country (unfortunate to see the impact this is going to have on their tourist industry)
  • on the return drive from Hopkins to the Belize City airport, our driver (Shannon) was super knowledgeable and gave us some great insight into the topography, culture, and wildlife (not to mention a stop at The Country Barn Café & Coffeehouse for some delicious ice cream and yogurt)

 

 

Interesting facts:

  • previously known as British Honduras until it gained its independence in 1981
  • the population of 400k people makes it the lowest population and population density in Central America
  • located off the SE tip of Mexico, east of Guatemala on the Caribbean Sea
  • dotted with hundreds of low lying islands known as Cayes (pronounced Keys) which host an abundance of marine life
  • the inland jungle areas feature numerous Mayan ruins (there are likely many more as yet undiscovered sites)
  • the core Mayan culture evolved between 2500 BC and 250 AD
  • the country has a Caribbean vibe which surprised us as we expected a Spanish influence
  • English speaking country which made it very easy to converse
  • people were somewhat stoic but friendly and not pushy
  • weather ranged from 18C to 33C
  • was generally quite windy at our two waterfront locations which made it challenging to do any water sports
  • Belikin Stout was my beverage of choice (Bruce consumed most of the countries inventory of the regular Belikin)
  • not many major corporations are allowed to do business in the country as it has to pass a public vote and they generally strongly lean towards protecting the local small business culture, which is great to see
  • Chinese people own most grocery stores and in some cases have a Chinese restaurant right beside them
  • Toyota Previa’s were the vehicle of choice on Ambergris Caye (the only story I could find on this was that somebody had imported a couple of them and everyone liked them so much they took off as the vehicle of choice)
  • our drivers and guides had a favorite line asking us if we need to use the facili’trees’ which I tended to indulge in

 

 

What did we not do that is on the agenda for next time:

  • visit the Northern part of the country and Punta Cana in the deep south
  • explore other snorkeling locations and small islands
  • more tours (culinary, cultural, chocolate production/factory, birding, animals, river floats)
  • Belize Zoo to explore the variety of native only animals

 

 

Final thought:

  • this trip took place while the Coronavirus was gaining full steam back in our homeland, so it was a bit surreal and unnerving to watch things unfold while being in a country that had no reported cases at the time of our trip