My short career as a Virtuoso Travel Advisor began in the later of 2014. I promised myself that I’d take every opportunity to explore the world in order to myself a better travel professional. Thanks to a few friends who were up for the challenge that promise was upheld. Each visit gave me a unique experience.
Get your mental boarding passes ready as we head to Central America.
Belize, July 2015:
– Quick Facts-
Travel Time: About 2hrs from Miami International Airport
Main Languages Spoken: English, Spanish
Currency: Belize Dollar- although they readily accept US Dollar.
Exchange Rate: 1BZE = .50USD
Recommended Amount of Days: 4-8
Being somewhat of an unconventional traveler, I don’t like going places everyone else has been. When thinking up my first big trip since 2013 Central America came to mind. People I knew had been to Mexico and, the increasingly popular, Costa Rica. Although both locations seemed appealing they both also had stories attached to them, other peoples stories. Pulling up Google Maps on my web browser I saw it, Belize. Under the radar and about the size of the state of New Jersey with a modest population of just over 300,000. I vocalized the idea to one of my travel-nomad colleagues and before I knew it Belize was booked.
We were off. Well, not without accidentally missing our connecting flight in Miami.
Travel Tip: No matter how hangry you may be never, under any circumstances, attempt a sit down meal between flights at an international airport.
First stop, San Ignacio. A city in the Cayo District of western Belize, San Ignacio is about a two hour drive from Belize International Airport. We set up our transfers through Cayo Adventures and our driver, Zach, was the roadway-tour guide we hoped for. On the way to our hotel we stopped on the side of the road for some fresh coconut water that we drank straight from the plastic bag (no gold fish required). Getting hungry, we enjoyed our first authentic Belizean meal at Lydia’s in the heart of San Ignacio town– rice, beans and chicken, with their local brew of Belikin Beer.
Driving about 5 minutes further down the road from the bustling town, we arrived at Ka’ana Resort. I sensed the dedication and passion that went into this 4 Star hotel. The place immediately felt like home as the staff treated us like we’ve entered into a family. Cool towels and Champagne upon arrival, nightly treats left in the mini fridge.
They have their own gardens and activities right on property, including complimentary yoga. I’m the furthest thing from a Yogi but a calming workout outdoors in a foreign country was convincing enough. The best part of this hotel was the couple running it. General Manager Wolfgang Brandl & his wife Anoushka describe the hotel as “luxury by night and adventure by day.”
Adventure by day was taken literally as Wolfgang recommended us to Hanna Stables where we’d travel by horseback through the forest, over the river and to the ancient Mayan ruins of Xunantunich (zoo-nan-to-nich) we’d go!
Santiago, the stables owner showed us around personally. He was an easy going guy with a big personality, and he seemed to enjoy my New Yawk accent, immediately pin pointing the borough I was from.
Our second accommodation was at Blancaneaux Lodge, owned by Hollywood filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola (who I learned is an alumnus from my alma mater, Hofstra University). This luxury, eco-lodge resort is tucked away in the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve with it’s own air-strip. If you do not choose to take a plane directly to the property it is a very long, 1.5hr drive on an extremely rocky road…great for back massages!
The eco-lodge is more startling in concept than actuality, this coming from a girl who once thought Nassau County, Long Island was rural. The ceiling fans were efficient with a swift breeze from the forest coming in screen windows. As a plus, rather than hearing the buzzing of an AC I was surrounded by peaceful sounds of the forest, which is why I went in the first place.
Travel Tip: Bring bug spray! The outdoor spaces are not equipped to fight those bites.
Having two waterfalls on property I was coaxed into swimming in the man-made one, upstream. Well, not so much swimming as it was attempts to maneuver around the slippery, algae covered rocks in the water.
All in efforts for obtaining the perfect photo.
However, Big Rock Falls, the natural waterfall about a 20 minute bike ride down the dirt road (bike supplied by the hotel) was well worth the workout.
Through a guide with Pacz Tours, and a hike/swim/stumble over a mile underground, I was able to explore a site Mayan’s once went to connect with their ancestors and conduct sacrificial worship– the ancient ruin of the ATM Caves (Actun Tunichil Muknal. While the stalactites and stalagmites are an amazement on their own, nothing will compare to the eerie satisfaction of viewing The Crystal Maiden, the thousand year old skeleton.
Through Pacz Tours we also took a day trip into Guatemala, making a pit stop for a cup of Guatemalan Joe. Yes, it’s everything coffee addicts dream of. We came to visit the Mayan city of Tikal, best recognized by Star Wars fans as Yavin 4 from the 1977 original movie. Luckily, there was no intergalactic war going on.
After all the exploring in the ruins it was time to head south to Placencia . On the way down we made a pit stop to cool off in a natural park, St Herman’s Blue Hole (not the famous diving site of The Great Blue Hole). This was a great way to break up the drive.
Placencia, unlike the touristy area of Ambergris Cay located in the north, is a small fishing village in southern Belize and was just named one of Travel & Leisure’s Best Places to Travel in 2016 (not under the radar for much longer). Arriving at another Coppola property, Turtle Inn welcomed us warmly. It was a short bike ride from town with plenty to do but you don’t feel in the thick of things.
Francis Ford Coppola was once quoted as saying, “A number of images put together a certain way become something quite above and beyond what any of them are individually,” which was perfectly executed at this property.
From the large thatched roof entrance way to the detailed carvings of the wooden furniture, flown in from Bali, every piece of Turtle Inn feels like an artfully positioned movie set, except you’re living in it. Another eco-lodge, I borrowed my colleagues computer one night to watch Apocalypse Now (DVD provided by the resort). Watching a Francis Ford Coppola movie in one of his resorts was the quintessential moment I longed for, as long as I didn’t smell napalm in the morning.
On Mondays The Mare, a restaurant on property, serves an Indonesian-Dutch dish called Rijsttafel, an idea created by General Manager Martin Krediet who happened to join us for dinner on our first night.
While the hotel was an experience in itself, it was time for some snorkeling. We took a day trip with Splash Belize. The hour and a half long boat ride took us over to Silk Caye to see the second largest reef system in the world, after The Great Barrier Reef. We docked on a private island with just enough beach to accommodate about 20 or so people, along with a few tables, a grill, and a restroom.
I’m not a fish expert but, while snorkeling, I called out quite a few characters from Finding Nemo, along with childhood books like Rainbow Fish (this goes to show my level of education about the aquatic world). It was two of us to one guide who swam along, pointing out everything as we circled our private island, leaving no coral un-turned. Before we sped off to the next location we enjoyed a nice lunch and tanning session on the island.
After a break we boarded the boat again to go swim with nurse sharks, sea turtles, sting rays and eagle rays. This was a moment I’ll never forget, being along side these four different creatures as though I was part of their every day life.
TIP: Wear sunscreen and apply it three times during the day. We were out on the water for about 7 hours, applied sunscreen once when we boarded the boat and again before we swam with the sharks, and we got a decent sunburn that lasted two days.
The best way to get from Placencia to the international airport is by a small put-put plane that takes about 45 minutes. I’d never been on an eight seater plane before. When a storm began to ensue an hour prior to departing the hotel needless to say I was a bit panicked. JFK Junior and Aaliyah popped into my morbid mind. By the time we got to the airstrip, down the street, the storm had cleared and I went from timid school girl to a fearless flyer once in the air. #YouBetterBelizeIt!
Once upon a time there was a girl who dreamed of the world. She imagined exploring the unknown, tasting the unfamiliar. She dreamed of talking to strangers, walking on foreign grounds. Most of all, she hoped her experiences would benefit those who followed. She wanted her own story to tell.
Well, this girl got her story and is continuing to write it every day.
Questions or interested in traveling to Belize? Comment below