Belize was my first overseas trip in two years. I was desperate to go somewhere but knew I had to be realistic. And a fast trip of 5 countries in 7 days was not realistic in a COVID world. Even multiple stops within the same country could prove difficult. After some research, I settled on Belize for a few reasons:
- Belize has clear, consistent, easy to follow COVID guidance.
- It is a small enough country that I could see a variety of areas from one home base in a week.
- Most activities are outside.
- It has a mix of activities.
I was not disappointed. Belize is beautiful. The country has very few exports and relies heavily on tourism. The trip was both relaxing and filled with fun and unique adventures.
Getting There: From the US, there are direct flights from Dallas, Denver and Miami. The airport was a mess and the process of COVID testing verification, immigration, and customs was cumbersome. But in the end it was all fine. We were surprised and thankful to learn that Tropic Air kept flying until everyone was accounted for and at their final destination. I also heard from numerous people, that if you want to skip the customs line, stop in the duty-free store to make a small purchase. The line for those with something to declare was much shorter!
Picking a Home Base: When researching our trip, it appeared there are 4 home base options for the typical traveler: Caye Ambergris, Caye Caulker, Palencia, or elsewhere in the jungle. I decided to stay on Caye Ambergris and am glad I did for several reasons. Most importantly, Caye Ambergris was a beautiful location to begin and end every day! There were dozens of fantastic places to eat. And while land excursions cost a little more from Caye Ambergris, they were easy to arrange.
Don’t get me wrong, we took a day trip to Caye Caulker and it was beautiful. It has a much more relaxed vibe and would be a great place for a sabbatical. But honestly I think I would have been bored there after a day or two. (You can take a water taxi for $33 round trip). When thinking about Palencia or somewhere in the jungle, they are probably beautiful, but not necessarily more centrally located. You still have to get somewhere else …
Ramon’s Village Resort: Once I figured out our home base, I had to decide where to stay. I’ve been to over 90 countries on hundreds of trips and this was my first “resort.” It is also the first time I have stayed in one spot for a week. I needed a location that met Belize’s COVID “gold star standard.” And honestly, I wanted a place that I would want to hang out if COVID made excursions and eating out not feasible. Ramon’s turned out to be an AMAZING choice. The grounds were beautiful. The staff was helpful and kind. I especially appreciated that they appeared to enjoy each other’s company as well as their beautiful surroundings. While I was often the only guest up to watch the sunrise, I was joined by several staff members. The front desk staff knew my name. Rick at the dive shop was able to expertly arrange all of my ocean and land excursions. The diving and tours offered by the hotel were comparable or in some cases less than those I was able to find elsewhere. The onsite restaurant was fantastic. The hotel arranged our COVID test and our transportation to/from the airport (for less than I was able to find on my own). And even though the resort was fully booked, it never felt busy or crowded. I highly recommend Ramon’s. Ramon’s Village Resort – San Pedro, Belize – Ambergris Caye (ramons.com)
Blue Hole: Flying over the Blue Hole with Tropic Air is one of the coolest things I have ever done! It was an amazing sight and worth every penny! Flights sell out and are not offered every day, so I highly recommend booking in advance. There are two airlines that offer the tour but Mayan airlines was not flying while we were there. It is a small 11 seat plane but they only sell 9 tickets so everyone has a window.
You can also snorkel or dive the Blue Hole. While I am appropriately certified, I chose not to dive the blue hole. However, we did snorkel it and saw the surrounding coral, wall and swam over the black abyss.
Mayan Ruins: There are thousands of Mayan ruins in Belize and only a little more than a dozen have been partially excavated. I chose to visit Lamanai and Xunantunich. Lamanai was my favorite by far. Xunantunich was busier and felt more developed with its gift shops and signage. Plus, half the fun of visiting Lamanai was the journey there. After a speed boat to the mainland and a bus north to Orange Walk, we took a river boat through the jungle before reaching Lamanai. It was a day outdoors filled with history, culture, and wildlife. Of note, when asking locals about their favorites, I was told Altun Ha.
I also spent a day visiting Actun Tunichil Muknal (also known as ATM). The cave was part of the Mayan underworld used for ceremonial purposes almost 2000 years ago. Everything has been left as it was re-found in 1989. Getting there is half the fun, but make sure you know what you are getting into and if you are up for the adventure. The trip is about 5 miles and 3 ½ hours round trip. The terrain is easy walking but does include 3 river crossings and 1 short swim. I fell when crossing the river but you are soaked regardless so it doesn’t matter much. Once you reach the cave, you will do some river walking which includes climbing over rocks and some tight spaces. You will then remove your shoes and walk the rest of the way. I was told to wear closed toed shoes, but I wore Teva sandals and they were fine. Make sure to wear something that can be wet all day. I wore yoga pants and a synthetic tank top. I am always cold, and while I was a little chilly it wasn’t as bad as you would think being completely soaked in a cave would be. You are not allowed to bring anything with you other than socks. You can carry water about half way. No cameras. No bags. The cave is filled with pottery and skeletons right where they were found. The tour guides were amazing and paint a vivid picture of what we know and don’t know about the cave’s purposes.
Water Adventures: I did two days of diving and a day of snorkeling. There are dozens of dives just minutes out of San Pedro. They are all great and after talking to people who come every year to dive every day, I don’t think it matters which spots you go to. The trip to the Blue Hole was phenomenal. Over half the boat snorkeled the hole, but this is the only trip that goes far enough to get you to some of the other amazing sights. Half Moon Caye Wall and The Aquarium were both amazing and worth the time to get out there and back.
Likewise, Shark Alley and Hol Chan are famous for a reason. This is some of the best snorkeling I’ve ever done. The turtles were just hanging out and the number of sharks was unbelievable. I would also offer it isn’t worth it to dive these sights. You can see it all up close with a snorkel and fins.
Eating in San Pedro:
Elvi’s Kitchen was by far our favorite place! It is charming with outstanding food. They also had my best drink of the week – the Pineapple Margarita and their Keylime dessert is the best in town!
Blue Water Grill is an island favorite right on the beach. It had great food.
Caliente was also a fun place on the beach with great music.
Estell’s is known for its breakfast. It was great and I recommend trying it.
Pineapple’s at Ramon’s Village has an outstanding breakfast with a view of the sunrise. They open at 0600 so you can fit in breakfast before your day gets started.
El Fogon is known as the best restaurant on island. We thought it was overrated and it was our worst meal of the week.
I was really impressed with Tropic Air. In addition to the examples already mentioned, they also let me take an earlier flight twice when I arrived at the airport earlier than scheduled.
We went Cave Tubing after our trip to Xunantunich. Cave Tubing is a favorite for both locals and tourists and was a relaxing way to spend the afternoon. It wasn’t as long as I thought it would be, but still worth it. Don’t forget to check out the stall selling rum pineapple and coconut drinks.
As with most trips, there is never enough time, and I did leave a few things undone. We didn’t make it to Secret Beach. I didn’t see the Sea Horses in Caye Caulker. I didn’t eat at the Truck Stop. And I didn’t get to see the other ruins. Next time…
Our group was generally agreed on our top 4 activities:
Flying over the Blue Hole
Snorkeling Hol Chan / Diving The Aquarium (Shark Alley and Half Moon were runner up)
I would add the ATM as well as enjoying the sunrise / sunsets.
Belize is a poor country that relies heavily on tourism. You can reliably find toilet paper and WiFi but won’t run into a McDonalds or a Starbucks. You won’t drive more than 2 hours in any direction. The mix of ocean and jungle is ideal. It is un-Belize-able!!