|Sunfish sailboats in San Pedro, Belize|
Belize has the culture, history and arts that have become associated with Central and South America along with the beautiful beaches, blazing sun and turquoise waters that have long been staples of the Caribbean.
At night you are a grown-up washing down your shrimp and lobster with a glass of champagne or the local beer, Belekin, and then feel like you’ve crawled through a time warp to your childhood as you splash through caves and swim with turtles during the day.
Book Belize for the adventurous, the culture-craver, girls or guys looking to travel with their friends, or both the affluent and budget-conscious vacationer. The destination can be a hot sell for anyone.
Travel Agent recently spent a week in the country—a few days in the tropical, forested area of San Ignacio before heading to the beaches of San Pedro. Here’s what you need to know.
|A Regal Room at San Ignacio Resort Hotel|
San Ignacio Resort Hotel
Our first stop was a luxury boutique hotel where Queen Elizabeth once stayed, the San Ignacio Resort Hotel (www.sanignaciobelize.com). We stayed in a balcony room, #115. It has a king-size bed, flat-screen TV, a balcony with a hammock and garden views.
The top accommodation in the house is the Master Suite, a lone unit on the second floor. It has a huge living area and a balcony with a Jacuzzi overlooking green mountains. Queen Elizabeth, however, stayed in a Regal Suite, the best category when she visited in 1994. The Master Suite was added just three years ago.
The resort is home to a super-sized swimming pool and a small spa with two treatment rooms. This property can accommodate families, but the quiet setting is perfect for couples to unwind. But if your clients do bring their little ones along, tell them to go on a tour of the Iguana Project, a small iguana protection area onsite. Ask for Eddy Estrada, the resort’s iguana caretaker. He will introduce you to all the exotic plants and insects found on the property before letting you hold and pet iguanas of every size. Agents should call the resort’s Administrative Assistant Patricia Rodriguez at 011-501-824-2034.
|A peaceful moment at Portofino Beach Resort|
Portofino Beach Resort
A 20-minute flight from San Ignacio took us to San Pedro, where we stayed at the Portofino Beach Resort (www.portofinobelize.com). San Pedro has often been described as Belize’s Cancun, mostly because of all the cool clubs, bars and fantastic restaurants—and Portofino fits right in.
There are eight beach cabanas here with clear and unobstructed Caribbean views, and three Tree Top suites on stilts 10 feet high, overlooking the Caribbean and the second-longest barrier reef in the world.
We stayed in a cabana called Sea Horse. A pretty, simple room, it has wooden floors, tons of space, a shower in the back, a small TV and a mini-refrigerator. The bed is king-sized, and the headboard is made of bamboo. In fact, most of the furniture in the room is made of the same material.
While the room is spacious and comfortable, the selling point to the resort is its beachfront setting. There is also a gorgeous swimming pool on property, a cool beach bar and water taxis that take you to all the hip restaurants and bars, all within 10 to 20 minutes from the resort. The water taxis cost about $10 each way or weeklong, unlimited passes can be purchased at the resort while booking.
Portofino is recommended for couples, but there is plenty of nightlife in its surrounding areas that makes it a good spot for a girls’ or guys’ getaway as well. Call Bertha Alvarado for reservations at 011-501-220-5096.
|Portofino has eight beach cabanas with unobstructed Caribbean views.|
Often confused with Karisma’s all-inclusive Azul properties in Mexico, Azul Hotel (www.azulbelize.com) is very small and casual. It has only two villas. The one we saw was the two-bedroom villa with three floors, including a roof with a Jacuzzi overlooking the water. Rates here are about $500 a night per person.
The food was excellent. The owner’s husband is also the executive chef. All the dishes we picked from the menu—wontons, ribs, conch and more—were amazing. The resort is ideal for affluent couples seeking some barefoot luxury or some culinary travelers keen on a scrumptious meal. For more information, contact Vivian Yu at 011-501-226-4012.
Waterfall Cave Expedition
On day two of our week-long tour, we made a day trip to Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch (www.cavesbranch.com).The famous adventure company and jungle lodge is about an hour away from San Ignacio and two-and-half hours from the airport in Belize City. This is perfect for girls’ or guys’ getaways and couples. Over an array of adventures from cave tubing to nighttime jungle safaris, friends have the opportunity to bond.
We tried out the Waterfall Cave Expedition, which costs $90 per person and includes two tour guides and a lunch inside the cave. After a 25-minute hike through the jungle we reached the mouth of a cave that is about two miles long and 300 feet deep— a “baby” cave by Belizean standards, according to our guide, Darrel.
The trip requires guests to be in at least moderate health as it involves some strenuous hiking, climbing and ultimately jumping off mini-cliffs, up to about 50 feet high, inside the cave.
Lunch is served on a table-shaped rock in the middle of the journey. The guides bring sandwich meat, cheese and other toppings along with water and juice. Contact Efren Perez at 011-501-822-2800 for reservations.
The hotel accommodates about 100 people and has great packages that include room rates and unlimited tours.
For snorkeling in Belize, we recommend Seaduced By Belize (www.seaducedbybelize.com), whose tour to Hol Chan Marine Reserve lets one catch a glimpse of the best of marine life—from eels, sting rays and barracudas to sea turtles. And at Shark Ray Alley, clients can swim over nurse sharks, which are smaller, harmless and remain at the bottom.
If you book a Seaduced By Belize tour ask for our guide Sylvon “Yoo Hoo” Forman. For hotel reservations, contact Rebecca Arceo at 011-501-226-2254.
A Tour of Mayan Ruins
Travel Agent’s third day in Belize began at the Mayan city of Xunantunich, a few miles from the western border and about 20 minutes from our hotel, San Ignacio Hotel and Luxury Day Spa.
For clients interested in Mayan history, this is the place to recommend. It is incredible that most of the structures are still intact. The partially excavated El Castillo, the largest pyramid, rises 130 feet above the main plaza and overlooks two countries, the Cayo District of Belize and Guatemala to the right.
The tour takes nearly two hours, costs about $85 per person and requires some light climbing. Warning: Most of the jagged stairs leading to a height of 130 feet don’t have banisters, so don’t look over the edge. In fact, there are portions of the climb that aren’t open to cruise passengers, according to my guide Jake Martinez of Yute Expeditions, because they walk too close to the edge.
For group tour bookings, contact Martinez at [email protected] fee includes his services, lunch and a tour of the park. This tour suits older or younger couples who appreciate history, but not families as it requires a lot of walking and some dangerous climbing.
“Belize is a great destination for young honeymooners or couples who are into adventure and looking for a challenge,” says Susan Shevlin of Tzell Travel in New York. “You have to make sure you are sending people who are in good shape because there are a lot of jungles and all of the resorts have [many] steps.”