One of the highlights of staying in Placencia, Belize is the easy access to several beautiful cayes on day trips. Laughing Bird Caye is less than an hour away and offers great snorkeling and relaxing on the soft white sand oasis.
AFAR sent Ambassador Kirsten Alana on a trip to all 7 regions in Belize to learn what it truly means to "Discover How To Be.” We are pleased to bring you the 7x7 Guide to Belize with Kirsten’s recommendations from each region.
Discover the 7 Regions of Belize
The least-visited district of Belize, Toledo is a playground of unspoiled rivers, mountains, and rain forest. Island Expeditions, a company that specializes in Belize adventure trips, recently launched a four-day, five-night tour called Wild South. Guests navigate the rapids of the Moho River in inflatable kayaks and follow Mayan guides on nature treks through the jungle. At night, camp sites are set up on the riverbanks. Photo courtesy of Island Expeditions. This appeared in the June/July 2013 issue.
Black Rock Lodge is the ultimate Belizean jungle lodge, located a few miles outside San Ignacio and down a dirt road that leads you into a high-walled, karstic river valley. All the cabinas are perched on the hillside with spectacular river views and wildlife viewing opportunities from the front porch. The main dining area offers more opportunities to spot birds and monkeys on the opposing hillside or watch intrepid guests go over the waterfall on an inner tube directly below. The lodge is a great place to base yourself for a range of activities and sights, such as Maya ruins, cave exploration, canoeing and rafting, hiking and bird watching.
If you rent a car in Belize, make sure to cruise the Hummingbird Highway from Dangriga to Belmopan. Take your time and check out all the amazing locations, such as Marie Sharp's Hot Sauce Factory, St Herman's Cave, Five Blues N.P. and the Blue Hole. The Blue Hole is an oasis of cool blue water, which is refreshing after stopping and exploring all the sights in the blazing Belizean heat. The Blue hole is created by a horizontal opening in the limestone, similar to a verticle cenote. The Blue Hole is well posted on the highway and worth a stop, so bring your swimwear with you.
by Heidi Mitchell The ultimate jungle adventure is found just a short puddle jump from the States, in the only English-speaking country in Central America. At Francis Ford Coppola’s former family retreat, Blancaneaux Lodge, you can ride on horseback in search of gray foxes, have a picnic at nearby Green Hills Butterfly Farm, or survey jaguars with a conservationist. You could also just tuck yourself in for a papaya body polish at the Waterfall Spa and listen for the mating calls of the swallow-like gray-breasted martin, which doubles its population in the winter. From $230. (800) 746-3743, coppolaresorts.com. Image courtesy of Blananeaux Lodge. This story appeared in the November/December 2011 issue.
Anywhere whose address is "Mile 8" of a dirt pot-holed road is my type of place (even when your busted rental car shocks are creaking and only one headlight is working because the battery has bounced out of place). Arriving at Mountain Equestrian Trails Lodge is truly a reward; not only because it takes a bit of bumpy work to get there, but because it is more reasonably priced and packed with more authentic charm than the well-known upscale resorts of the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. The small staff of horse-riding adventurers embraces you like family and makes everyone's stay a personalized experience with their endless knowledge of the land, animals, history, surroundings and active excursions. The rooms are cozy kerosene-lit Spanish bungalows with palm-thatched roofs. The Cantina, the central hang-out spot where meals are drinks are served, has electricity and wi-fi so that you're not completely off the grid but with views like the one pictured, you could care less even if you were.
Anya Fernald, a former director of Italy’s Slow Food Foundation, has dreamed up the ultimate foodie getaway in the jungles of Belize. Belcampo’s 12-room lodge is set on a 3,000-acre farm that grows tropical fruit, coffee, cacao, and striped purple sugar cane. These crops are the focus of the one-, three-, and five-day educational courses that Belcampo’s Farm and Food Center will start offering this November. Taught by leading food and drink artisans, such as Katrina Markoff of Vosges Haut-Chocolat and rum expert Martin Cate, classes might include making bacon-smoked chocolate bars or distilling your own rum over a fire. Courses start at $85. Punta Gorda, 501/722-0050. Photo by Tara Donne. This appeared in the October 2012 issue.
Quite used to tourists by now, the resident sea turtles of the reefs off Ambergris Caye are ideal models to try and capture grace underwater. While the diving is spectacular it is not necessary - it's a snorkelers paradise just off shore!
Planned as only a day or two pit stop between Mexico and Guatemala, I hadn't planned on indulging in much of Belize's crystal Caribbean waters. But as the life of the traveler goes, plans changed. After misinterpretated directions and a wrong turn or two, the group and I stumbled upon this little piece of paradise in Placencia, Belize. Surrounded by miles of warm blue ocean and sky, there was not a worry to be seen. Always a smile in sight, it was hard to find anything wrong in the charm of the garifuna caribbean side of Belize. And if you venture all the way out to Placencia, bunk it up in Julia's! Best deal and location by far. Oh, and a bottle of local rum is $5. Just sayin'. You better belize it.
After a long and arduous day of driving hours over bumpy roads and climbing up and down the pyramids at Caracol, my wife and I were dying for some relief. We were about half way back to San Ignacio, Belize when we saw the famous Blancaneaux Lodge. I looked over to my wife and suggested we pull over and get a cocktail and relax for an hour, before subjecting ourselves to the relentless washboard road again. Anyhow, one drink led to another and before we knew it, neither of us could drive or even wanted to get up. So, we ended up paying for a very expensive night at this posh, Coppola owned resort. Coupled with the night we already paid for at our original lodge and these cocktails really added up. We put the cost of our "travel emergency" out of our minds for the rest of the evening and enjoyed the luxurious confines to the fullest.
After lunch on Laughing Bird Caye, we were treated to a visit by a curious Lemon Shark. The boat driver told us the shark was not dangerous and we all proceeded to continue snorkeling, despite the shark's presence. Later on, I watched a show back at home about the top ten most dangerous sharks in the world and the Lemon Shark was number ten.
Belize is a beautiful mix of garifuna, Mexican, Mayan and other cultures. just outside of San Ignacio are amazing maya ruins, rainforest, jaguar sanctuaries... Mountain Pine Ridge is a beautiful mountain area near San Ignacio where you go up a dirt road with a rental car or there are many outfitters in San Ignacio who will drive you up on a day trip. see amazing waterfalls, go on hikes and check out rio frio cave which has a 65 ft entrance and goes back like a tunnel with cool pools inside. it seems like another world looking out into rainforest. San Ignacio is only a couple hours from Belize city. you can bus from Belize airport easy! I took this shot of an NGO group I was shooting last year.
I was so nervous watching them. Daddy had daughter on his back crossing the suspension bridge. Daddy had no free hand holding daughter because he had both his hands tight on the bridge to maintain balance. Once you've got to the other side, the only way back is crossing the bridge again. That's called 'giving mommy (me) heart attack, twice!'
Many people go to Belize and head straight for the islands and who could blame them? But just north of the international airport is the Classic Maya site named Altun Ha. Altun Ha is a small site, but has been wonderfully restored. The site provides sunseekers and divers an easy opportunity to mix in some culture, before heading off to the sea.
This is just the beginning of the beauty and adventure you'll experience at Actun Tunichil Mukna Cave. Skeletons, waterfalls, sink holes, and experiencing the majesty of total darkness just as the ancient Mayans did.
Learn authentic and traditional cooking from Maya women on site in hotel's own traditional maya kitchen. We learned to cook tamalitos, corn tortillas, and caldo. What a (tasty) treat!
Over the past year, I spent five months living in Belize. One of my favorite places in the country was Placencia, a peninsula in the south with Belize's longest stretch of beaches. But it wasn't just the landscape, as much as it was the slow pace of life in Placencia. A pace that reminded me of how the Caribbean used to be.
The pot-holed dirt road into the small fishing town of Hopkins Village dead ends at this pier that seems to go into an endless horizon. After hiking through jungles and driving through the lush mountains of the Hummingbird Highway, this was a refreshing site to stumble upon.
Belize by far as the most amazingly crystal clear blue water and breathtaking aquatic life in the most swim-able stretch of ocean I have ever encountered. Home to the second largest barrier reef in the world, it is no wonder that scuba divers and National Geographic explorers alike flock from all corners of the globe to suit up and dive deep into the prestige waters of the Caribbean sea. I've been to Belize 3 times now and each time I have ventured out on a privately owned sail or speed boat to do some snorkeling out and around the reef(s) and near Blue Hole. The marine life you will encounter and literally swim side by side with is unmatched to any snorkeling trip I have ever done throughout the entire Caribbean. Eels, sea turtles, hammer head sharks, nurse sharks, and every type of colorful beautiful fish you can imagine were all right there swimming along side me as I floated through the water. As someone who's usually pretty aware and rarely ever loses track of time, I honestly felt for the first time in my life that time stood still. So fun, a must do in Belize.
The massive ruins of Caracol were once a major Maya metropolis in prehispanic Belize, during the Classic Period. The majority of the site is still yet to be reclaimed from the forest, but the structures that have been uncovered are truely impressive. The main structure is still the tallest building in all of Belize and places you "on top of the world". The jungle surrounding the site is teaming with wildlife and a pair of binoculars come in handy. The ruins are located south of San Ignacio along the rough Mountain Pine Ridge Road. There are several worthwhile stops on the way, such as Rio Frio Cave and Rio On Falls, but the best stop is a cool libation at the Blancaneaux Lodge Bar.
Caana, or Sky Temple, at Caracol archaeological site in western Belize, is one of the largest, most impressive pyramids in the Maya world. Even more than a thousand years after it was built, Caana remains the tallest manmade structure in all of Belize. Caracol is located at the end of a long, red-clay road near the Guatemalan border. On December 21, 2012, the Belize Institute of Archaeology issued special camping permits and off-hours access to travelers. The reason? 13 b’aktun: the completion of the Maya Long Count calendar.
a morning walk to ak'bol for multigrain banana pancakes and a chilled banana smoothie was a delightful start to the day, and offered up some great photo opps. the view of this abandoned shack against the turquoise reef signified a simpler time and place. peace.
A short boat ride north from San Pedro will deposit you onto a portion of Ambergris Caye that feels worlds away from any town or city. Once ensconced in a private bungalow on a private beach, there isn’t much to distract the guest from complete enjoyment of the charms of Caribbean water, sunshine and the slower pace that characterizes day-to-day life in the North Islands. Massage therapists are available, as are spa services and a full range of excursions and activities can be arranged via the concierge. 13 exclusive villas are available, one of which includes a steam room and private infinity pool, while other villas either feature beach access, jacuzzi tubs, private outdoor showers or decks that stretch over a salt water lake. El Secreto’s full-service restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a bar is poolside in the main lodge. Rates begin around $3,000 for a three-night stay, and more information is available at www.elsecretobelize.com
My girlfriend and I were wandering along the beach and saw this pier beckoning us to stop and stay awhile. We did and had a magically glorious sunbathing experience, including swimming with barracuda under the dock, a diving contest and swimsuit photo shoot to beat the band. Best part was we had this slice of paradise all to ourselves.
I've been to Vietnam twice and fell in love with the Banh Mi sold along the streets (especially in Thanh Hoa). But I never expected to find a fusion version in Central America. Banh Mi Tacos are served at Lola's Pub, a delightful rendition of the street fare favorite with grilled chicken, cilantro, lettuce, pickled carrots and hoisin sauce. Best thing about it for me... the corn tortillas! Surprisingly perfect combo I would have never imagined.
If one meditates atop a Mayan ruin, one is certain to ascertain magical, mystical and ancient powers. Cassidy on top of Xunantanich overlooking Guatemala and Belize.
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