Belize: Accessible Inland/Island Vacations
By Ryley Hartt
On a recent trip to Belize I had one clear objective in mind: come hell or high water, I wanted to see a whale shark. We had six days, during which time I watched exotic birds circle over the Mopan River from atop the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich, fed bananas to a kinkajou over cocktails on the veranda at duPlooy’s Jungle Lodge (www.duplooys.com), held a newly hatched iguana at the Green Iguana Project at San Ignacio Resort (www.sanignaciobelize.com), received a lesson in medicinal plants at the Belize Botanic Gardens, toured the Blue Morpho Butterfly Farm at Chaa Creek (www.chaacreek.com), got friendly with a boa constrictor at the Belize Zoo, snacked on termites (voluntarily) and snorkled with nurse sharks, eagle rays, sea turtles, barracuda and one exceptionally large grouper at Shark Ray Alley. Hell and high water were forecast but turned out to be nothing more than an underachieving tropical storm. I did not see any whale sharks—though I did hear all about them from someone sitting next to me on the way home. If there is a message here, I think it must be this: Belize is not a one trick pony.
Travelers often come to Belize with a singular focus in mind; divers in search of the Blue Hole, fly fishermen hoping for The Grand Slam (bonefish, tarpon and permit), newlyweds wanting an island paradise that’s close to home or birders and eco-tourists looking for something like an untapped Costa Rica. At least that’s what I picked up on the quick two-hour flight from Miami. But what truly impressed me were the accounts I heard on the return trip, from people who had come looking for one thing and found something totally surprising to take home with them. When I asked the birdwatcher I rode in with if he’d gotten all the photos he wanted, he had, but the real story of the trip turned out to be an unplanned day-trip to Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave, where he and his kids swam in a jungle stream and discovered the artifacts and human remains of a Maya underworld.
Diversity and accessibility are Belize’s two major selling points, and with the world’s second largest barrier reef, the greatest concentration of Maya archaeological sites (in a land mass that’s roughly the size of New Hampshire), reliable air service from Tropic Air (www.tropicair.com) and Maya Island Air (www.mayaregional.com), a diverse and almost entirely English-speaking population and a currency fixed at BZ$2 to US$1, these are easy selling points to drive home. Encourage your clients to read up on all that Belize has to offer, and do so yourself so that you can create for them the perfect inland/island vacation.
Inland: The Cayo district, centered around the town of San Ignacio, is a hot-spot for cultural and nature-based tourism. Explore jungle, caves and the ruins of Caracol or Xunantunich.
Ka’ana (www.kaanabelize.com) is actively defining what a luxury Belizean resort should be, blending traditional and original concepts into their own clever storytelling.
Chaa Creek (www.chaacreek.com) has always been the pioneer in sustainable ecotourism in Belize and continues to inspire and accommodate its guests in surprising ways.
duPlooy’s Jungle Lodge (www.duplooys.com) is cozy and unsophisticated in the best possible way. Ken duPlooy’s Botanic Garden (www.belizebotanic.org) is an unmatched labor of love.
Island: Ambergris Caye, the largest of Belize’s 200+ offshore cayes, is approximately 35 miles from the mainland and just a 15 minute flight from Belize City.
Victoria House (www.victoria-house.com) is an opulent plantation-style compound and fine restaurant set right on the beach.
The Manager of Las Terrazas (www.lasterrazasresort.com) used to vacation there until he decided to move in. After spending two nights in their spacious condos, I wanted to do the same.
SunBreeze Hotel (www.sunbreezehotel.com) is on the water and walking distance from San Pedro with rooms from $140.
For more information visit www.travelbelize.org