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It's not often that a country puts out a welcome mat like this one. And it's not like it is winter and you are being invited to Greenland. December is the beginning of the high season in Belize, a time when the weather is perfect, the beaches beckon and visitors can experience some of the best diving in the world, tropical rainforests teaming with wildlife and magical ancient Mayan temples.

Travel to this Central American haven between December 3 and 7, 2006 and 30 hotels are opening their doors to you, saying "come on in, rest a while -- the tab is on us." Normally there would be a catch with an offer like this, for example stay four nights free but pay for the following seven-nights, but we looked and couldn't find anything but an upside to this deal.

These hotels have banded together for the first time with the Belize Free Stay program (http://forums.btia.org/FreeStay/index.html) to fill last minute inventory at their hotels before peak season sets it in mid-December. You actually get four-nights free accommodation. Hotels are budget to mid-range properties, with a couple that are quite luxurious. They are located throughout Belize, from Punta Gorda to San Pedro, Cayo to Dangriga, Belize District to Placencia. Properties include waterfront cabanas, jungle lodges, eco-cottages, mountain retreats and traditional resorts.

For example, the Maruba Resort Jungle Spa (tel. +501/225-5555; www.maruba-belize.com) is a boutique hotel in the heart of the Mayan rainforest, offering rustic romantic charm and jungle architectural accents with a designer edge. It is located near the Altun Ha Mayan ruins and features in-room Mayan "hot tubs". 

The Casablanca Hotel (tel. +501/423-1018; www.casablancabelize.com) is set on the Bay of Consejo and offers its guests a tranquil beachfront location in an intimate setting. Rooms are comfortably furnished and rates here usually start from $75 a night.

Hamanasi Resort (tel. +501/520-7073; www.hamanasi.com) is a more luxurious boutique option with intimate, private treehouses raised on stilts, set in a coastal jungle surrounded by orchids and birds. Two honeymoon suites and 12 beachfront and beachfront deluxe rooms boast breathtaking ocean views. There are king or queen sized beds with comfortable mattresses, plush linens, air conditioning, ceiling fans, private balconies and colorful Mexican tiled bathrooms in all rooms.

Mata Rocks (tel. +501/226-2336; www.matarocks.com) in San Pedro is a gorgeous 17-room boutique hotel located right on a white sandy beach. Featuring a fresh water pool, complimentary bicycles and a beach side bar, room rates here in early December usually start from $80 a night.

Ramon's Village (tel. 800/MAGIC-15; www.ramons.com) also in San Pedro, is one of the larger properties, with 60+ thatched roof cabanas located in a stunning beach setting, complete with a lagoon style pool, pier, restaurant and beach bar.

You won't find information about the "Belize Free Stay" program on individual properties' websites -- it's a bit of a secret. Reservations must be made by either emailing or telephoning the individual property -- an international phone call is a small price to pay for a free accommodation offer. The program's website features links to each property's website and contact details. Space is limited, so get moving and book early as this deal is sure to sell out soon. International airfare to Belize, meals and other activities are obviously not included.

Belize is a mere two hour flight from Miami (although strangely the airfare from Miami is more expensive than other departure cities located much further away). Getting there in December is relatively inexpensive. Sample fares to Belize City including all taxes and fees through American Airlines (www.aa.com) are:

  • Dallas $462
  • Chicago $481
  • Los Angeles $485
  • Seattle $505
  • New York $508
  • Miami $555

Talk with fellow travelers on the Belize Message Boards.