What do 5 Canadians, 3 South Africans, 2 graduate students from Louisiana and Indiana, and a Taxi driver from Guatemala all have in common? If you guessed they were all recently in Belize and some of the interesting people we met while travelling there, you’d be correct.
With a population of around 330,000 (half the size of the US District of Columbia), Belize is still a very young tourist destination spot, which provides a lot of opportunity for those who prefer to get off the beaten path and avoid some of the crowds that more well known travel destinations are prone to. That said, you do get the feeling that because they’re still pretty new at this that they’re also just sort of figuring it all out as they go along. Our first taste of this was when we were climbing on board our little bush plane, that carried us from Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport (the only airport in Belize large enough for commercial jets to fly in and out of) in Belize city, to Palencia, our vacation destination, and a crew member told us that one of us could sit front with the captain if we’d like. “What….what?!” Gazing up ahead to the cockpit area, I could see the co-pilot’s seat was indeed vacant, so I immediately scrambled into the seat and turned to the captain and said, ” Hey, that guy back there just said it was okay if I ride here…” To my delight, and utter disbelief, the pilot confirmed it was indeed okay and proceeded to show me how to get strapped in.
I have no flight experience whatsoever, so the rest of the passengers may have been slightly terrified – but that couldn’t be helped because I was having the time of my life. Below is a picture of me in the co-pilot’s seat, the plane we flew in, and my view from the windshield as we approached the tiny landing strip in Palencia.
Arriving at our hotel, we learned we had a lovely 3rd floor ocean view room with a balcony. It’s the left most balcony on the top floor of the building pictured below (directly behind the giant palm tree fronds), and there is no such thing as an elevator in Belize – or at least not in the parts of Belize we saw, so it was beautiful, and great exercise, going up and down the stairs every day. I could have lived without the exercise…
The hotel decorated our room with fresh flowers – for our anniversary. They were so colorful, I thought they were fake, but they were actually real.
All the rooms had their own private balconies, a couple of patio chairs, and a hammock. Having never spent much in a hammock, I decided to check it out, and discovered how utterly addictive they are: particularly when paired with not working, drinking lots of tropical drinks, and basically doing absolutely nothing productive every single day.
We spent some time on the beaches, reading and walking along with our feet in the in the surf, but the waves were pretty rough most of the time we were there, and more than we wanted to deal with for much swimming, so along with most everyone else we saw, we just used the hotel’s Infinity pool which was located directly below our balcony (and pictured below).
The thatched roof restaurant, located next to the pool and the building our room was in, was very nice. They also welcomed new guests with a complimentary glass of rum punch, which we highly enjoyed (see below pictures).
It was about four miles from our hotel to the local village so the 2nd day of our stay, we decided to ride bikes into town. The road was almost totally flat so it was a pretty easy ride of about 20 minutes. That said, it’s about a 5 minute Taxi ride and cabs are cheap there, so we only did it one time. No need to wear it out, you know?
After our bike ride into town, we stopped at a local beach bar and had a drink to cool off – an ice cold mango smootie. Yum! In the pictures below, my husband is looking at something on the beach just outside the window, and two female students (who we ran into at a half dozen different locations over the course of our stay) leisurely converse and enjoy the view.
We enjoyed a number of the places we ate very much, with a couple of honorable mentions going to Tuttifrutti Gelateria (my husband’s favorite) and the Rumfish Gastro Bar, for their pork belly tacos and habanero infused pineapple drink. Yum! But, the place we went back to more than once for a dinner was the Maya Beach Hotel Bistro, for their overall deliciousness of food, atmosphere and level of service. Below is a picture of their beautiful rum punch presentation (that was every bit as delicious as it was pretty to look at) and a pork chop my husband ordered, which as you can see for yourself was of a prehistoric, dinosaur pig, like size.
We took a day long excursion to a remote area called Monkey Island while on the trip, where we saw so many uniquely jungle sights, that it would take days to tell about it in detail, but it was all super interesting. Below are a nearly a dozen pictures of some of the things we found most interesting, from giant Iguanas to tiny bats and Manatees, with some howler monkeys and crocodiles to round it all out.
We happened to be in town over the weekend of the village’s annual Lobsterfest celebration, and who doesn’t love lobster, so we threw on our most festive colored clothes and set out in search of the festivities – which was much like a local fair or carnival – with a parade (which we became part in our cab ride into town since there is only one road in and out of town), fishing competitions for cash prizes, lots of food vendors selling every imaginable type of lobster dish, music, and a general happy beach vibe throughout. We meandered in and around the village, hung around for a bit in the main party area near the Tipsy Tuna bar on the edge of the beach, imbibed in a seaweed shake (sounds gross but was delicious!) and ate a lobster omelette for breakfast, at a local breakfast and lunch place owned by a Canadian couple and their adult children who decided to leave the cold winters of Toronto and go live on a beach in Belize.
Dinner included yet more rum punch – and you guessed it – lobster.
Most mornings started off very leisurely – waking up to the sound of the ocean and sea breeze blowing in over the balcony, and coffee and breakfast at the restaurant on our hotel grounds. Below are a few pictures of a typical morning, the view from where we sat, and some local Belizean fare.
Below, the captain of the boat from our Snorkeling excursion was friendly and perhaps a bit of a magician. At one point as we were approaching the end of the hour and half ride out to the barrier reef where we were to begin snorkeling, he came down below the top level where he normally sat at the helm (as pictured below) and went to the bathroom. The boat was still going full speed ahead, and all of us recognized that was the captain. To my knowledge none of us ever really figured out who was driving the boat for that 5 or so minute lenght of time –
The reef surrounded this tiny little island (in the below picture). We snorkled half way around it for about 45 minutes, then took a break and ate lunch (provided by the tour) on the island, and then snorkled about 45 more minutes to make the complete circle of the island. We saw small sharks in the water as we were eating lunch…call me crazy, but I seriously hoped we wouldn’t see any more sharks, besides those, in the water while we were snorkeling.
Remember how I said earlier that sometimes it seems like they’re still figuring this all out? Well, after completing the full circle of the reef surrounding the island, and an hour and a half in the water, we were red as lobsters (even having used lots of sunscreen), and we had seen tons of colorful fish and nothing very scary to me – like a shark – so I’m pretty happy with us having just had a successful snorkeling experience. At which point, the captain informs us that we had one more special place he was going to take us to. We would only be there about 20 minutes, but it was going to be great! We were going to be seeing sharks, sting rays, and sea turtles. What…whaa?! We missed the turtles, but 6-8 foot sized gray reef shark and giant sting rays we saw. It was good I’d already been in the water, because I’m not 100% sure I didn’t pee my pants over that!
The cheesy grin (in the picture below) is due to my joy, and pure amazement, at having made it back into the boat without having been eaten by some monsterous sea creature. If you want to get closer to God, my advice is to to Belize, and do this excursion. You’ll learned to pray like you never prayed before…I promise.
One of my favorite flowers, due to its unique shape and bright orange color, is the Bird of Paradise (below) so it was a real treat to see them just growing here and there all around the area we were in.
Headed out for dinner on the last night of our visit. Many of the trees (as seen in the below picture) are leaned over due to the fairly consistent wind that blows off the ocean nearly all the time there.
All packed up and ready to head to the airport on the last morning of our stay, but before leaving, I had to spend a little time enjoying our beach vacation in Belize the way its supposed to be enjoyed – in a hammock, with the smell of sea breeze in the air, and with the sound of the ocean surf all around. Did I have fun in Belize, you ask? You better Belize it!