For Jeff Lagimodiere, there is no better time to visit Belize than low season, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Everything is open, yet places like restaurants are less crowded. “You get more time with the locals that work in the bars and restaurants. They are really friendly, and fun to hang out with. It’s a good time to get to know people.”
Belize offers many perks for North American travelers. For one, it is the only country in Central America with English as the official language. Money is easy too; its currency is locked at half the U.S. dollar. And its weather is consistently excellent, as our travel guide Jeff recalls. “They say there’s one season here: it’s summer all the time.” We say, while it may not get as much hype as some of its neighbors, Belize should be high on your list, starting with the beautiful island of Ambergris Caye.
How to Get There
Fly into Belize City Municipal airport, or Belize International Airport. From either airport, you can take one of two smaller airlines – Maya Island Air or Tropic Air – to John Greif II Airport (also known as San Pedro Airport), a single-runway strip near the center of Ambergris Caye’s main city, San Pedro.
Where to Stay
Villa Watina is a luxurious beachfront home where relaxation is priority number one, aided by professional and accommodating onsite staff. Perfect for groups looking to socialize while still having privacy when needed, Watina is one of six villas within a small community of homes, designed in the style of a private resort. Guests in all of the homes share communal swimming pools, hot tubs, and spacious outdoor seating area. There is plenty of room for everyone, and you’re just steps from the beach, where you’ll find lounge chairs in the sand and water sports available for all guests. Inside your villa, each of three bedrooms has its own en-suite bathroom, perfect for three couples, or in Jeff’s case, three friends each with their own suite. Your private kitchen is fully equipped for the group’s cook to take charge and serve the first meal of the day at the breakfast bar, while you’re hooked up with flat screen TVs, cable, and a movie collection for quiet evenings. Watina’s signature is the beautiful local artwork adorning many of its walls.
What to Do
Cave Touring. Tuff E Nuff Tours will set you up with and guide you through many different archaeological, island, terrestrial, or catamaran tours. For Jeff and his gang, one day was spent on a 12-hour excursion that combined an historical tour of the Ancient Mayan City, cave tubing (the most popular shore excursion tour in Belize), and jungle ziplining. It begins with a 6:00 am pickup at the dock, a boat ride to the airport, and a quick flight over to the mainland. From there they pick you up in a minivan equipped with snacks and drinks. “Our tour guide was awesome – very knowledgeable about all the history to do with the Mayans and their temples,” Jeff lauds. “You can ask him anything about it, he’ll know it. He was very friendly, very personable.”
Snorkeling. Belize is famous the world over as a dive and snorkel center of the world, and with good reason. On Tuff E Nuff’s snorkeling tour, you begin at Hol Chan Marine Reserve. “As soon as you get in the water you’re surrounded by all sorts of different fish and animals,” Jeff says. Then you boat over to Shark Ray Alley where your boat will be surrounded by nurse sharks. You may not believe it when your tour guide casually suggests that you jump into the water, but it’s proven to be safe. “You’re like, ‘Are you serious? There are sharks everywhere!’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, go ahead.’” Still, you have to be brave and have faith in your tour guide’s word as the sharks are pretty big and will come right up next to you and bump into you if you get too close. They’re mostly interested in your chum (bait food for luring fish and sharks) which your tour guide will provide you to throw in the water. When you’re all out, they’ll leave and go to a different boat.
The Blue Hole. Made famous by Jacques Cousteau in the 1970s, Blue Hole is Belize’s top bucket list item. Listed number one in 2012 on Discovery Channel’s list of The 10 Most Amazing Places on Earth, the Great Blue Hole is a giant submarine sinkhole off the coast that deserves a full-day trip. Divers beware: It’s not for beginners. You are required to have 24 dives under your belt before taking on Great Blue, and despite its name, it’s rather dark. At more than 400 feet deep, it’s essentially a bottomless pit. Some divers have likened to a religious experience.
San Pedro Town. Rent a golf cart from Belizean Cove Estates and ride into town in 10 minutes. San Pedro’s roads are mainly occupied by pedestrians, cyclists, and golf carts. On the way into town, you’ll be tempted by beach bars, restaurants, and yoga studios along the road. By Villa Watina, you’ll find some big resorts, but San Pedro is resort-free, making it a quaint and authentic Belizean walking town where you can see everything on foot in half a day. Restaurants serve up fantastic seafood at reasonable prices, while their local dish is the world-famous Belize Rice and Beans, which you’ll pair with a choice of beef, chicken, pork, lobster, shrimp or game meat.