Belize - Not Just for Honeymoons
Text & Photography:
If youre planning a honeymoon
these days, theres a good chance that youve
heard of Belize. And if youve heard of Belize,
youre 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.
Location: Belize is a small country on the east coast
of Central America, just South of Mexicos Yucatan
peninsula, with Guatemala on its Western and Southern
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: http://www.travelbelize.org/
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
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.
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.
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
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
Lobby of The Inn at Roberts
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
The restaurant at Roberts
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 wed 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 were a bit on the non-traditional
side anyway, maybe we should come back on here on our
honeymoon and bring the kids, too. Im 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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