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Laura Hunt

Belize - Not Just for Honeymoons

Text & Photography:
Crista Jones-Riedinger
If you’re planning a honeymoon these days, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard of Belize. And if you’ve heard of Belize, you’re probably envisioning coconut palms dotting a white sandy beach that is perched beside blue-turquoise Caribbean waters. I can confirm that the idyllic beach picture is accurate. It is also incomplete. I came away with much more than a great tan: I came away with a collection of extraordinary experiences, the sort that live among the highlights in a lifetime.

The seeds for this trip were sown with my engagement earlier this spring. This is not a first marriage for me, and in an effort to nurture the bonds that make a blended family a success, the trip was to include myself, my fianc├ę Jamie, and my two teenage daughters. We hoped for family fun, but the promise of a honeymoon in the future was never far from my mind. We planned a two-part trip, since our visit was intended to include both the adventure travel that we love, and the rest and relaxation that we need. We arranged to spend the first seven days aboard a chartered 38’ sailboat, a catamaran, exploring the reef islands and cays that lie offshore in the Gulf of Honduras. For the last three days we had booked a stay in a seaside resort.

We left in mid-July, and after hops to Dallas and Belize City on American Airlines, we shifted over to the local airline, Tropic Air, for an exciting small plane ride to the Placencia airstrip. Placencia is in the southern part of the country. It sits on a narrow peninsula in an area that is demonstrating increasing appeal as a destination, although it remains for the moment less well-known than Ambergris Cay and other resort areas in the north.

After a good night's rest, we headed off to The Moorings, the company that was providing our vessel. The Moorings operates internationally, offering bareboat and crewed charters in many appealing warm-weather locations. Their Placencia base is a recently established one, staffed by Moorings veterans of other Caribbean ports. While our boat was being provisioned for the week, we were briefed on local conditions, and communications and emergency procedures. We were then acquainted with the nautical charts and provided with an invaluable set of recommendations and pointers. My daughters and I have limited sailing experience, but Jamie is a Coast Guard-licensed captain with a lifetime of blue-water sailing, which made the trip possible.

Sunset over Moho Cay


Location: Belize is a small country on the east coast of Central America, just South of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, with Guatemala on its Western and Southern Borders.

Background: Formerly British Honduras, Belize was declared a fully independent nation in 1981.

Official Language: English

Currency and Exchange Rate: The currency is Belizean dollars which currently exchange at a rate of $2.00 Belizean for $1.00 U.S.

More information on Belize:


Sailing the reefs and shallow waters of Belize is neither for the uninitiated nor for the faint-of-heart. We more than once experienced depths of less than two feet under our hull, and uncharted, hazardous coral heads are there to be encountered. There is, however, an excellent cruising guide available, and as is always the case you must ultimately rely on your eyes. We found it a completely exhilarating experience.

To secure a charter, you will need to submit a resume of your marine experience, and you may also be asked to demonstrate boat handling skills before your departure. Once approved, you will be allowed to charter a boat without a crew. For those with less experience, both crewed charters and sailing lessons are available.

The Moorings provided us with a relatively new catamaran, meticulously maintained, and thoughtfully equipped. We had them do the provisioning for the week, a decision that we did not regret.

More information on The Moorings:
We hoisted anchor at around 4:00, and after a short sail, we moored for the night at our first stop, South Long Cocoa Cay. The natural splendor of the waters off Belize can be overwhelming, all-encompassing. At the heart of what makes this place unique in the world is the coral reef, the largest in this hemisphere. The local people uniformly mourned the toll el ni├▒o and hurricane damage have taken, but if they felt that its beauty was compromised, it was impossible for us to discern in what way.
trimming the Triple Seven
Diving the reef in Belize is reputed to be some of the best in the world, and we were anxious to go snorkeling. At our second stop, Hunting Cay, we found a tropical picture postcard setting above sea level, and the most breathtaking experience of natural treasures below. In the fashion typical of Belizean hospitality to visitors, two local boys, Wilson and Walden, pulled up alongside and asked if we would care to go fishing. We asked if they could take us to some good spots for snorkeling instead, which they eagerly assured us they could.

Guides Wilson and Walden
We visited three places in the immediate vicinity: a shipwreck from the 1870's or 1880's (our best guess) that lay off the reef in about 15 feet of water; a long stretch of living coral in 4 to 12 foot depths teeming with brilliantly colored aquatic life; and finally a spot where the living coral formed large circles and semi circles, their centers bathwater warm with a white sand bottom and a profusion of exotic marine plants and animals.

Hunting Cay

Spectacular wildlife encounters were not confined to our reef dives. On several occasions when the wind allowed us to make good speed we were joined by Atlantic Spotted Dolphin. On their first visit, I saw one jump cleanly out of the water at a distance. Over the next minute and a half we had two . . . then four . . . then seven, then eight dolphins swimming at our bow. We stretched out on the trampolines at the front of the catamaran, and we could look down and see them swimming just feet below, and occasionally looking back up at us.

We made stops at other wonderful cays, as well. We spent a lovely day on the Queen Cays, three small islands that appear to have sprung from the picture conjured in your imagination when you say "small, deserted tropical island." We strung up hammocks that we had purchased in Placencia village and prepared to enjoy our private paradise. Enjoy it we did, although it did not remain private for long: dive boats brought a collection of young missionary workers and another group to use the island as a base, but we had a wonderful time talking with both the other visitors as well as the local dive masters, who happily shared a great deal of information about the reef and its profusion of residents.

We visited Little Water Cay, which boasts a sandbar on which the tropical colors seem almost surreal in their intensity. Looking down into the ankle-deep water offers a wealth of natural still lives, making it one of my favorite photographic subjects in Belize. At Buttonwood Cay we had another experience typical for visitors in these islands: a dinghy from a fishing boat moored nearby came looking to trade a bag of his day's catch for orange soda. We happily offered the three six packs we had, and received nine fresh lobster tails for it. Everyone was delighted -- a good trade all around.

Sandbar and sea life at Little Water Cay
Throughout the week it became increasingly difficult to imagine how we could ever enjoy anything as much as we had been enjoying the sailing, but the last day aboard arrived and we returned to the dock at Moorings base, completed a thorough debriefing, and headed for the Inn at Roberts Grove.
For "Cumulative Overall Stay Experience", Roberts Grove is the loveliest hotel I've ever been in. Situated right on the beach, the main building has the feel of an old lovingly maintained villa: from the beautiful tile and woodwork, to the elegant but extremely accommodating decor, to the extraordinary art collection that graces both the hotel's public rooms and its private guest quarters. Additional buildings, each housing four guest units, are arranged along the beach. Their layout and spacing maximize the feeling of privacy.

Lobby of The Inn at Roberts Grove

We had reserved a deluxe suite, which had a spacious and airy bedroom, a luxurious bath, and a comfortable, roomy sitting area. Our room was accessed from a full wraparound deck, thoughtfully supplied with terra cotta water pots for rinsing sand from feet at the foot of the stairs.

Sitting area, deck, and the beach beyond

The restaurant at Robert’s Grove has received well-deserved accolades. Meals are served in a beautiful dining room and on the adjoining deck. While there is a breakfast menu that has an appealing selection, I could not bring myself to pass up the buffet of fresh fruits, cereals, coffee cakes, fresh-squeezed juices, and cookies! The lunch sandwiches were hearty, generous, and tasty. Dinners were delightful, the specialties, naturally, are well-prepared fresh fish and seafood, complimented by varied and flavorful salads, satisfying desserts, and superb coffee.

For our last few days in Belize, we entertained ourselves principally by relaxing on the deck, swimming in one of the two pools, and talking with other guests about the various adventures we’d all been enjoying. There are numerous day trips available, and there were unanimous endorsements of the tours to Mayan ruins in the region (which can require some climbing and caving), as well as the fishing and diving options. We had opted to take a boat trip up the Monkey River, which gave us a close-up view of the rain forest. The dense greenery, and wading through several swampy areas (pictured at right) required a deep breath and banishment of all thoughts of snakes and leeches, but worth it for the chance to observe howler monkeys, parrots, iguanas, a sleeping boa constrictor, and crocodiles, to name just a few.<

A vacation to Belize is not an inexpensive proposition, but if you are looking for something special, it is an investment not likely to disappoint. We economized somewhat by going in July, rainy season, with hot and humid weather. After a couple of days of adapting, the tropical heat was a welcome change from the cool Pacific Northwest summers our family typically experiences. The steady tradewinds provided cooling breezes. The scattered showers and occasional downpours were refreshing during the day, and distant thunderstorms made spectacular light shows in the evenings.

There is no doubt in my mind that Belize is a nearly ideal place for a sun and surf type of vacation, whether you are honeymooning or not. We spoke with two newlywed couples who were extremely satisfied with their choice. We were well able to enjoy it as a family destination for ourselves, and in fact had such fun that my fianc├ę even suggested that, since we’re a bit on the non-traditional side anyway, maybe we should come back on here on our honeymoon and bring the kids, too. I’m going to let him think about that a little further, but ultimately whether we return as a couple or as a family, we departed Belize reluctantly, and are already talking hopefully about our next visit there. `

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