Ah, Belize. For me, this tiny nation with a population of less than 350,000 will forever evoke images of swaying palm trees, friendly smiles and sounds of the rainforest.
I just got back from a nine-day Belizean adventure with my husband, and although my skin hasn’t recovered yet from the scorching sun, I am grateful for the chance we had to relax and learn more about this Central American country where tourism is the number one industry.
Belize provided the best of both worlds: it gave us the chance to explore a new country but still stay within our comfort zone. Total travel time (including layovers) was about eight hours, and our Belizean friends speak English as their official language and widely accept the US dollar.
We began our journey in the mountains of Belize in an area known as the Cayo District. I thought it would be beautiful, but I never expected the laid back luxury we found at Chaa Creek, the secluded eco lodge where we spent our first three nights.
Our cottage at Chaa Creek was decked out in gorgeous hardwood finishes and featured huge indoor and outdoor showers – “in case you decide to shower as nature intended,” according to the staff. Cloaked in solitude, it was the perfect place to unplug, catch a nap or lounge in hammocks for stargazing.
From checking out the a butterfly farm to canoeing down the Macal River to lounging by the sparkling pool, Chaa Creek offers plenty of onsite activities and we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect stay.
But adventure abounds outside the resorts, too. We spent one day trekking to and through the Actun Tunichil Muknal, an ancient Mayan cave where religious rituals once took place. A few swims through dark corridors and several rocks climbed will take visitors to the ultimate artifact: a skeleton completely intact.
While we loved our time in the Cayo District, we were thrilled to head toward the coast and spend the rest of our vacation embracing the island spirit.
Our first stop off the coast was the tiny island of Caye Caulker (“Caye” is pronounced “key”). Golf carts and bikes are the modes of transportation, and people here are very easygoing. We “splurged” for an oceanfront suite in Caye Caulker that cost us far less than a basic hotel room in any major U.S. tourist destination.
Aside from little shops, restaurants and beachfront lounging, the major attraction of Caye Caulker is its access to some of the best snorkeling and diving on earth. We don’t scuba dive, but we decided to check out the snorkeling we’d heard so much about.
The reefs were teeming with wildlife. We were within two feet of gigantic manatees, half a dozen sea turtles, sting rays, nurse sharks and dozens of friendly fish I’d never seen before. Our guide was a local with endless knowledge and personality, and we shared our adventure with just four other visitors. If you ever make it to Belize, take the time to snorkel from Caye Caulker. Its small, family-oriented style made it the most memorable part of our trip.
After the snorkel adventure and a half day recovering from a pretty excruciating sunburn (even our SPF 30 couldn’t protect us from that blazing Belizean sun), we headed to the island of Ambergris Caye, Belize’s most well-known and frequently visited island.
Ambergris Caye is everything I imagined when I used to picture what it would be like to visit an island. Something about it just made me feel like I was on the set of Pirates of the Caribbean. Although the beaches are smaller than some, they are postcard perfect.
Since this was the last portion of our trip, it was time to take it easy. We walked along the shore, kayaked in the ocean and rented a golf cart one afternoon to explore the island. We also had fun trying the different restaurants and enjoying one Belikin (the official beer of Belize) after another. Our rooftop hotel deck made for some gorgeous sunset views and one very groggy but breathtaking sunrise.
The food in Belize was my favorite surprise. I don’t know what I was expecting, but almost every meal was one of the best I’ve ever had while traveling. We learned about new, delicious foods such as fry jacks and coco (a root vegetable similar to a potato) and we enjoyed the local spin on pasta dishes, soups and salads. And let’s not forget the local fruits and freshly caught seafood. Shrimp and snapper were abundant, and most mornings we had platters of pineapple, papaya and watermelon – all grown in Belize. This trip was everything I hoped for. My style of travel is to visit a new place that will offer plenty of R&R but will also allow me to learn about a country through dining, excursions and activities.
*Note: Chaa Creek kindly offered me a discounted room rate as a writer, but opinions are completely my own.