Amberbris Caye, Belize -- Windy quiet nights with a sky full of shooting stars and swaying palm trees. An inland jungle paradise with resorts built into the lush, green countryside snaking around brooks and rivers. Two hundred-plus remote islands flanked by the biggest barrier reef in the Western hemisphere. That's Belize, and that's where I am now. The people walk slower here, and Belize time means take it very easy time. Belize makes the old travel adage "no worries" seem stressful.
Accessible in slightly more than two hours from Miami and Houston, Belize comes in a close second to Costa Rica as the number one Central American destination for American and Western tourists. So laid back that flip-flops are dressy, the country formerly known as British Honduras has made tourism the country's number one import. Every year, Belize remains peaceful, maintaining its "No shoes, no shirt, no problem" ambiance and astounding travelers with an array of diverse activities and geographic differences. Only in Belize can you go from a jungle spa to a remote island hotel with four huts and no electricity to diving in Jacques Cousteau's Black Hole and swimming with sharks. Oh yeah, nothing is crazy expensive in Belize, unless you want it to be, and English, not Spanish, is the official language of the country.
You can get to Belize via American Airlines (tel. 800/433-7300; www.aa.com), Continental (tel. 800/525-0280; www.continental.com) or USAir (tel. 800/622-1015; www.usair.com/caribbean). Taking advantage of American Airlines current Caribbean specials, round-trip airfare to Belize costs $425 out of New York, $378 out of Miami and $388 out of Phoenix. Other U.S. gateways are also available. Travel is good through March 31, 2006 with a travel deadline of midnight on February 7, 2006. U.S. Air has direct flights out of Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina, into Belize City and Continental arrives in Belize via Houston and Dallas.
Once in Belize, you can puddle jump around the country on one of the country's two domestic airlines. Both Tropic Air (tel. 011 051/226-2012; www.tropicair.com) and Maya Island Air (tel. 011 051/226-2435; www.mayaislandair.com) offer flights from Belize City to inland and island areas. A round-trip ticket from Belize City to the largest of Belize's islands, Ambergris Caye, costs $53 round-trip on Tropic Air. From Belize City to Caye Caulker costs $40. Taking Maya Air from Belize City to Placencia, starts at around $55. To Flores in nearby Guatemala to visit the Mayan ruins at Tikal costs about $202 round-trip. You'll want t jump around as well to take advantage of all Belize has to offer, from bird watching to beach sitting.
Currently, the most popular Belizean destinations are the islands off the coastline a short hop from Belize City. Ambergris Caye (www.ambergriscaye.com), the most popular and tourist friendly of these islands, draws tourists of all ages who come to the island to enjoy the friendly atmosphere, exciting nightlife and world class scuba diving. Composed of mostly dirt roads where trucks are as scant as fancy restaurants, Ambergris Caye has a hopping town center with live music venues right on the beach. Most people with some cash in their pocket putt-putt around on golf carts rentable for about $60 US per day from Ambergris Golf Cart Rentals (tel. 011 501/226-3455) or a rent on weekly basis to get a discounted rate of $35 per day. Others rent bicycles for $6 to $10 per day or just walk the small island by foot, enjoying the tourist shops, public beaches, and beachfront cafes and eateries. Most hotels offer free bicycles for paying guests.
Of course, there are a variety of places to stay from luxury hotels available at reasonable rates to tourist class and budget accommodations centrally-located in town with fewer amenities. Ambergris Caye is so laid-back, it isn't far-fetched for anyone to walk the beach and sample the wide selection of hotel pools or long boat docks. These hotels are both popular and known for outstanding service or outstanding prices. All of them can arrange day trips for snorkeling, diving, Mayan ruins, jungle excursions or fishing trips.
The Victoria House (tel. 800/247-5159; www.victoria-house.com) Perhaps the island's premiere hotel, the Victoria House has a pool setting comparable to any boutique hotel on the Caribbean. A popular wedding spot, the hotel resembles a British Colonial Mansion. At night, the lit up palm trees and hotel bar provide a romantic setting out of any Kipling or Maugham novel. Rooms run from $175 per night to $270 depending on size of room and the view. The only phone is in the lobby. There are no televisions in the hotel's bungalows or standard rooms.
Ramons Village Resort (tel. 011 051/226-2071; www.ramons.com) Over 60 palm-thatched bungalows make this longstanding scuba-oriented hotel with a long-swath of beachfront property and winding hotel pool a fun place for Spring Breakers and romantic dive enthusiasts. The hotel's restaurant specializes in simple Belizean grilled cuisine. Rates start at around $150 per night.
The Holiday Hotel (tel. 011 051/226-2014) is a budget class hotel located downtown. The lobby sports a big screen today where global tourists can catch up on American football or real football, baseball and any other sport. The rooms are Spartan with beds and lamps, but the hotel's balcony bar and central location put you in the middle of all the action. Rates start at around $30 per night.
Sun Breeze Hotel (tel. 011 051/226-0191; www.sunbreeze.net) Filled with amenities such as in-room televisions, air conditioning, a massage studio, small conference center, and massage studio, the Sun Breeze has 42 rooms, 24 of which are standard costing approximately $110 per night.
Restaurants range from outdoors and fancy to greasy spoon with some of the best food carts in Central America.
George's Country Cooking (tel. 011 501/226-2222) Great breakfasts flap jacks and unique double whipped and then refried breakfast potatoes make a nice way to start the day. Chicken Fried Steak rivals any Texas fare.
Papi's (tel. 011 501/226-2047) Fried chicken with French fries for $4.50. Spartan in appearance and a nice ride to the Northern part of town make this local favorite a no-frills hit.
Palmilla Restaurant (tel. 011 501/226-2067) Upscale restaurant at the Victoria House serves tasty chicken wings fore lunch and a grilled fish sandwich that some people order everyday of their trip. Make reservations for the restaurant at night.
Jambel Jerk Pit (tel. 011 501/226-3515) This jerk pit with two locations (go for the top deck at the town square locale) has great jerk shrimp, rice and beans and a cool Key Lime Pie to put out the fire in your mouth.
Fido's (tel. 011 051/226-2056) Cheeseburgers melded with onion and spices make this beachfront café a place where people come to eat while listening to live music, their hands on an ice cold Belikin (the national Belizean beer) and their eyes staring at the people strolling along the waterfront. The hopping bar scene at night is a meeting place for travelers.
For business services counting more than just an Internet Café, try Lavin Business Services (tel. 011 501/226 3784) towards the quieter hotels on the South side of the island. The small shop provides telephone and Internet services and real estate consulting on buying property on the island.
Tune in Friday for a rundown on all the water and land activities, and then on Monday for rundown on Belize's jungle scene and all-inclusive packages.
Talk with fellow Frommer's travelers on our Belize Message Boards today.