The following description of the somewhat rambling thought process and early steps I take when planning a vacation to Belize may be a helpful to guide you through decision making for a multi-destination trip as you research and plan your own itineraries.
This is my fourth trip to Belize and my first trip back since 2005. A person planning their first trip would likely be looking at much different options, probably what is called Surf and Turf in Belize. A mixture of a beach or diving vacation (surf) combined with a land adventure and/or cultural exploration (turf). My first trip was a 2 night jungle lodge stay at the ruins of Tikal and a 7 or 8 night stay hanging around on Ambergris Caye.
Sometimes, I can be very decisive. Within minutes of reading about Off The Wall Resort in Belize in a copy of National Geographic’s The 100 Best Affordable Vacations I picked up at the office, I was emailing about availability. I’m usually very lucky, but knowing the popular Whale Shark Season was approaching, followed by the planned hurricane season closure – and the fact that they only have 5 cabanas, I wasn’t hopeful…
Off the Wall is a small eco-resort on Long Caye, one of the few developed islands on Glover’s Atoll. It’s a Saturday to Saturday package, unless you want to pay $350+ to charter your own boat to get there. It has marvelous reviews and supposedly amazing shore snorkeling. My recent trip to Bonaire got me in the mood, and I’m uniquely doing two similar but completely different trips in a row. Bonaire had real toilets and electricity!
Lighthouse Reef Resort off the coast of Belize was one of the best vacations I’ve ever had, and I’ve long wanted to visit a similar place on Glover’s Atoll. Unfortunately, Manta closed before I ever got there – and there were mixed reviews about 2 of the other resorts. Slickrock, the kayaking operation, seemed too rustic/kayak-focused for me. Not sure how or why I didn’t know about Off the Wall, or if years ago a more princess-y Eva ruled it out because the Moon Belize Guide described the accommodations as having outhouses. Either they were using the term broadly, or the upgrade to composting toilets is recent.
Kendra and Jim, the owners, got back to me immediately with available dates. Unfortunately, the week following Memorial Day weekend was the only available spot, which was too close to my last trip for my office to handle. They had a feeling something was about to open in June – and I went away last weekend thinking, whatever happened. I still needed to get back to the Yucatan anyway…
By Monday, I had an email that a June week was available (and that turtles lay eggs on the beach in June!) – and I began to search for flights. Ever since the flight to Belize connecting to the only weekly flight to Lighthouse Reef Resort almost turned around due to a sick passenger, I’ve stopped cutting it close – and opted to fly down on a Thursday to be sure to meet the Saturday noon boat departure from Dangriga.
As soon as I noticed a variety of available flights, with a lot of seats – I reserved my spot at Off the Wall.
Deciding between American, Continental and Delta was easy. Delta is a commuter flight from Atlanta to Belize – and I avoid commuter flights whenever possible and always for flights over an hour. Watching Captain Sully Sullenberger on Bill Maher talking about the safety issues surrounding commuter flights was the decisive factor for me.
Continental’s hub is Houston – an airport I will avoid given any other option just because of the zoo-like nature, the immigration stadium situation upon return, and the endless loop security message. And, the outbound connection is 40 minutes, which is obscene and shouldn’t be allowed at an airport where I’ve needed every minute of 3 hours to make connections.
Given the choice, Miami is the least horrible – and I know I can fly down the night before and Hotwire a decent 3-4* Hotel with a free shuttle and an air conditioner that won’t keep me up all night listening to truck-like humming. Besides, I’d rather be up at 6am for a 10 am flight than 2am for a 545am flight.
After checking to see the level of availability, I put off making a decision on the Miami airport hotel. The only 4* Hotwire Hotel is $106 – I figure there will be more and better deals closer to the trip.
The next decision becomes where to stay in Belize for the 2 nights between arrival and the boat for Off the Wall on Saturday. Although there is a lot crammed into such a tiny country, I’ve already seen a lot of it – and anything I’d want to repeat would involve more of a time commitment. And 1.5 days is not enough time to delve into an entirely new area, like Placencia, or Punta Gorda. I’ve been to Tikal twice, Caracol, Cachal Pech, Xunantunich, Lamanai, cave tubing, Ambergris Caye, Hol Chan, Shark Ray Alley, Half Moon Caye, Chechem Ha (the cave filled with Mayan pottery and an alter), Barton Creek Cave, snorkeled the Blue Hole and many of the Lighthouse Atoll dive spots. I’ve been to butterfly farms, seen Mennonite settlements. I’ve even spent “quality” time in Belize City.
But, I’ve never spent much time in southern Belize, so it looked like Dangriga or Hopkins were my 2 options. Dangriga is described as a place you don’t want to walk around at night, with not much to see during the day. Hopkins is supposed to be a much nicer town – and cool for the Garifuna drumming jam sessions. Neither has a lot to do except excursions to places I’ve already been (or smaller Maya ruins), but I only really have a full day and 1 half of another. Both towns have a variety of artists to visit – and Dangriga has the added attraction of informal tours of the Marie Sharp (THE hot sauce of Belize, jams and more) factory 8 miles away.
The other factor in the decision is the hotels. In Hopkins, I would stay at the Hopkins Inn (based on availability), and be able to walk to nearby restaurants for dinner. In Dangriga, I would either splurge for a resort – the Pelican Beach Resort – or opt for one closer to town like Chaleanor Hotel, Bluefield Lodge, or Jungle Huts. At Pelican Beach, I would have a restaurant on the premises, but would be on the outskirts of town. But, there would be a beach. And, it would have biting sand flies. A stay in Hopkins would require a $40 cab ride each way or an early morning bus back to Dangriga. I actually posted a question about this choice on the Belize forum, and got very mixed responses from Belizeans, and regular travelers I trust. I will do a little more research but I’m sure either one will be fine.
I also needed a hotel for a night in Belize City before flying out. Belize City can be a dodgy place, but other than seemingly non-threatening men asking for money, I’ve never had a problem in the 1-2 nights I’ve spent there before or after trips. But, I don’t like to take chances, and like to stay in a hotel with a decent restaurant or one very very close by.
The choice is between The Great House, The Radisson (where I’ve stayed before) or a different, less expensive hotel like the Mopan – closer to the last minute shopping I will want to do – minimizing my street contact. Or, since I will likely have time to shop in Hopkins or Dangriga, do I want to stay away from Belize City at a place Off the Wall recommends, Black Orchid?
My next step will be to email all of these hotels, ask about off season discounts – and make a decision about where I will be staying.
Once I finalize the hotels, I will take Kendra at Off The Wall up on her offer to book internal flights for me. Although I’ve had nothing but positive experiences with both Maya and Tropic Air, having a local hotelier with more clout book is always a better option. Unless there is a huge markup, which I doubt based on past experience in Belize. And since it takes time to get to the bus station in Belize City, the bus or flight depart at the same time, but the flight arrives 2.5 hours sooner.
Next, Greenport and the North Fork Wineries…. Really.