You Better Belize It
What I enjoyed the most about planning our wedding really had nothing to do with the wedding at all. Since the day Nick and I got engaged I was all about the honeymoon. I love discovering some place new and we both wanted to go somewhere neither us had ever been before. I toyed with many different locales that we could go to and we settled on a few parameters: tropical, a short-ish flight, and within our budget. Weddings take a toll on your budget, let me tell you, so my dream honeymoon to Bali had to be put on hold. I mean it's never too early to start thinking about your five year anniversary, right?
For awhile I had my heart set on Turks and Caicos. Blue water, white sand beaches, palm trees: it ticked all the right boxes. Unfortunately as I started to look, I felt like it wasn't the best bang for our buck. I still want to go some day but it just wasn't in the budget post-wedding. Then I randomly decided on a place that wasn't on our list at all: Belize.
After visiting Belize I realize that it is not exactly exotic to many Americans (or should I say Texans since that's mainly who we met). Except that here on the East Coast very few people even know where Belize is and there's nothing I like more than going to somewhere a little rustic and a little out of the way. It has beaches and palm trees and good food. We went back and forth between Belize and the U.S. Virgin Islands before deciding that we could probably visit St. John but Belize would truly be an adventure.
For those of you who were clueless about Belize like me, it sits right below Mexico and east of Guatemala in Central America. It was a British colony until the 1980s and pretty much all residents speak English but most speak Spanish or a more local native language depending on the region. It also has everything: beaches, jungle, and Mayan ruins. There is so much to do in Belize but we only scratched the surface. Belize has a stretch of islands, both inhabited and uninhabited off the coast, which they call cayes. Nick and I wanted a tropical beach honeymoon so we chose the most popular caye, Ambergis Caye, as our final destination.
What I loved about Ambergris Caye was pretty much everything. It's a Caribbean island through and through but it's so much smaller. There is one town, San Pedro, with three main streets and most of the rest of the island is populated by small resorts that are more like hotels, and vacation homes. There is one paved road that leads to the north part of the island where many of the resorts are situated but eventually it turns to a dirt road and then nothing. So for as built up and "modern" as it seems to the residents, it's definitely more rustic than your typical tourist-y Caribbean spot.
There are so many things you can do in Belize besides just Ambergris Caye. For this trip, since it was our honeymoon, and I was burnt out from planning, we did very little except for hang out by the pool and grab food when we wanted. And that's perfectly okay when you're in Belize. There's a laid back pace to everything, including "delayed" luggage (which turned out okay in the end). The main modes of transportation are bikes and golf carts which also keeps the pace slow.
Since we were on a caye there was a big focus on the water sports. We stayed at Coco Beach Resort which has hotel rooms, larger condos with full kitchens, and casitas that are like little mini houses. There are two pools on the property, one with a giant rock structure that kids and adults jumped off of. The resort also had a small cafe which was perfect for breakfast, a poolside bar with a swim-up bar, and a fancier restaurant for dinner that also served lunch in the poolside area during the day. If you are looking for an all-inclusive resort, Ambergris Caye is not the place for you. While I think there may be one or two, most of the resorts are simply hotels with restaurants and bars attached. Which is fine because there are so many good places to eat.
Whenever we travel somewhere I plan most of our days around some type of food. While I barely planned anything for this trip, thanks to the blog San Pedro Scoop, I was able to locate some delicious meals during our stay. There is no shortage of great places to eat both in San Pedro and at the hotels and resorts around the island. The great thing about restaurants on the caye is that there is a variety of cuisines and each restaurants does their thing really good. One of our favorites was Blue Water Grill in San Pedro where we shared pizza and I had the best white sangria I've ever had. For traditional Belizean food we loved El Fogon where we were able to share an entree between the two of us that was so flavorful. I expected to have a lot of beans and rice and tortillas and I could have if I wanted but there were so many different options to choose from.
Speaking of options, there was also such a variety of activities for us to choose from. Though you can go into the country and explore the jungle and see animals and hike the ruins and go cave tubing, you don't have to leave the island to enjoy some of the best snorkeling and diving in the Caribbean. The world's second largest barrier reef is about a mile off the coast of Ambergris Caye and the Hol Chan Marine Reserve protects 18 square kilometers of marine area on the reef near Ambergris and Caye Caulker. Nick and I went snorkeling twice on the vacation. First we took a kayak out with rented gear and paddled out to buoys located a few yards from the reef. It's too dangerous to go onto the reef but there is plenty to see in the coral gardens. Our second snorkeling trip was to Hol Chan which we booked through the adventure company located at our resort. Having the company there was definitely a benefit and if we had been more motivated we could have gone inland. We had an amazing guide who grew up on Ambergris Caye and learned to fish and dive at a young age. He guided us through the reserve where we saw a spotted eagle ray, sea turtles, an eel, schools of every different type of fish, along with sea cucumbers and sand dollars that he scooped up from the ocean floor. After snorkeling through the coral there we were taken about five minutes away to Shark Ray Alley, an area where nurse sharks and sting rays gather because it used to be a place where fisherman cleaned their fish and threw the scraps in the water. We swam above the sharks and rays as our guide fed them scraps of fish. It was such an amazing experience! Next time I will have an underwater camera but it was also amazing not to be distracted by taking pictures.
I'll be honest in saying that I am no expert on Belize and I feel like we didn't get to experience the true depths that the country had to offer. But what we did see was spectacular. It is not overpopulated with tourists like popular parts of Mexico or the Caribbean islands but it feels safe and tourist friendly. There is so much to do or not do depending on your mood. We spent a few days just taking in the blue skies and dipping our toes in the water and that was enough. Even though the summer time is their rainy season, we didn't experience a drop of rain while we were there and everything was just so rich and green.
There are a few important things to note before you travel: since Belize is closer to the equator, the sun rises and sets much earlier. The only problem was that it threw off our circadian rhythm and we went to bed pretty early. The power shut off unexpectedly one morning for the whole north side of the island and they said that sometimes happens. It wasn't a problem since the ocean breeze was nice and cool and we stayed by the pool. Be aware too that the beach is not the same as other places in the Caribbean. They are soft and white sand but much, much smaller than, say, Turks and Caicos. Also they get a lot of sea grass but the resorts are diligent about clearing the beach each day.
Belize accepts American dollars so there's no need to exchange currency. However, you may pay in U.S. currency and receive Belizean bills back. Also because they take American currency, they've adapted their prices to match American prices. So it's not always cheap (we paid $30 for a bottle of sunscreen and bug spray that were imported!) but they're fair. And last but not least, the water taxi. Sure, there is a paved road going to most places on the island and to many resorts but getting around via the water still rules. You have to pay attention to the schedule since it only runs until 10pm unless you get a charter. But getting around by taxi on Ambergris Caye is cheaper than a NYC taxi ride.
Where we stayed:
Coco Beach Resort - the friendliest staff around that takes pride in their resort. Connected to the resort is the tour company Tuff E Nuff which is excellent and offers all the different types of tours you could want in Belize at (what I thought) reasonable prices.
* We also wanted to stay at Matachica Resort which looked beautiful when we went to visit it. The resort is made up of small cottages and it's a little more pricey than where we stayed. We did talk to one honeymooning couple that was staying there and they said it was just too quiet for them.
Where we ate:
El Fogon - traditional Belizean cuisine and just so good
Blue Water Grill - cocktails were excellent, pizza was delicious, and it's home to the I heart Belize sign
Caliente - Mexican Caribbean food and the chicken mole was to die for
Rojo's Beach Bar - on the northern part of the island, on the unpaved road, but you can get there by water taxi. More expensive but the pizza here is even better than Bluewater
Aji Tapas Bar - right by the water and the food was amazing. We had the most romantic dinner here under their twinkle lights
Palapa Bar - a bar over the clear blue water that's just a good time. People write on the floors, staple koozies to the wall, and dogs hang out under bar stools. There are black inner tubes in the water and they will lower a bucket of beer down to you. Also the fresh pico de gallo is the perfect palapa snack!
Belize Chocolate Company - not a place for dinner but go and try some authentic and inventive Belizean chocolate
Places we didn't go but that I'd like to try next time: