RAMBLES IN BELIZE
Part 5: PLACENCIA
By Lan Sluder
Those who haven’t been to Placencia for awhile may be surprised by what’s on the road -- pavement instead of dirt. At least, from Seine Bight village through Placencia village, except for a short stretch that’s still unpaved between the two villages. Elsewhere on the peninsula, however, the road is as before -- muddy and sometimes treacherous after rains, dusty otherwise.
The hot button in Placencia remains real estate. Americans yearning for their piece of the Caribbean are still snapping up seafront lots, at prices that sometimes exceed US$1000 a front foot. Seems high, until you look at oceanfront prices in the U.S. I’ve seen building lots with ocean frontage in South Carolina going for more than US$5 million.
What’s new in Placencia? Condos, for one thing. Can you believe that this little piece of the South Pacific in Central America now has condos? There’s a “condo zone” being established by the Belize legislature. As we understand it, the zone will run from just south of Seine Bight to the airstrip. Inn at Robert’s Grove have built and are selling condos, and we’re told others are planned. Speaking of condos, we had a delightful cocktail hour with Mary Toy, of Kevin Modera Guide Services, on the verandah of the condo suite where we stayed at Robert’s Grove. It was nice to put a face to a long-time computer friend.
There also are several new resorts in Placencia. Whether the new properties will do sufficient business is hard to say. Placencia is busy enough during the high season, but in the summer things really slack off. It’s always an eye-opener to visit Ambergris Caye and Placencia in the summer -- San Pedro hops with visitors even in the slowest weeks, but Placencia still dozes. Calico Jack’s Resort, at the north end of Maya Beach, is a new thatch cabana colony. The six cabanas and restaurant were still under construction when we were by, but the resort should be opening soon. For information, call 1-800-500-5212, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Web site at www.calicojacksresort.com.
Ocean’s Edge Beachfront Resort (http://www.oceansedge-belize.com/
) -- not to be confused with the similarly named hotel on Tobacco Caye -- is expected to open later this year. It will have Mennonite-built cottages for rent on a weekly basis. (* * * ) Maya Breeze Inn, operated by Tressa and Buddy Olson, is expanding. They are adding apartment units on the beachside and are building a small hotel on the lagoon side. The one and two-bedroom “cabins” on the beach look like good choices for families wanting housekeeping units. For information, contact Maya Breeze Inn at 501-6-37012, e-mail email@example.com, www.mayabreezeinn.com.
(Don’t confuse Maya Breeze Inn with Maya Beach Hotel or Inn at Maya Beach or Maya Playa.) We’re happy to see the increase in housekeeping units on the peninsula. (* * * ) Barnacle Bill’s, one of the first self-catering options at Maya Beach, is looking great. Run by Bill and Adriane Taylor, Barnacle Bill’s now accepts credit cards.
Down at the other end of the peninsula, at the north end of Placencia village, we were delighted to find a wonderful new option for budget/low moderate accommodations -- the (* * +) Manatee Inn. Run by a friendly young couple, Slavek and Lenka Machacka, from the Czech Republic by way of Canada, the Manatee Inn (tel./fax 501-6-24083, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, www.manateeinn.com)
offers top value for the money. New rooms on the second floor, with fans and private baths, are US$30 double off-season, and US$40 in high season. The hotel isn’t on the beach, but it does have a fresh-water above-ground pool. The Machackas are finishing apartment units on the first floor. Of course, (* * +) Tradewinds remains just about everyone’s favorite beachfront budget spot. The little pastel cabins at the south end of Placencia village are cute as bugs’ ears.
Other changes, good and bad: We’re told that the sale of (* * * *) Kitty’s Place is near at hand. Kitty’s has long been one of our favorite places in Belize, and we look forward to revisiting it under the new ownership. Changes at Serenity are perhaps less happy. Of course we were stunned and saddened to hear of former owner Tom Giblin’s murder in Honduras (see Late News of Belize, elsewhere). Tom was well liked in Belize, and even though he had been away from his home in Connecticut for 12 years, we understand more than 500 people attended his funeral there, and 750 came to the wake. The resort, however, seems to be slip-sliding under its present management. We hope that things will turn around here soon. The former Hotel Seine Bight/Bahia Laguna is still sitting empty, fading under the sub-tropical sun. We’re told the American owner of this troubled property has run into a bit of trouble himself back in the States. Francis Ford Coppola certainly has upgraded the old Turtle Inn, and we’re told the restaurant here is very good. But, frankly, we expected to see more of a major change under the new regime at (* * * *) Blancaneaux Turtle Inn. Guess things just take a while. We’re also saddened to learn of former owner Skip White’s death from cancer. Rumors are that (* * * * +) Luba Hati, at least the main hotel portion, may not reopen this fall. It’s such a beautiful and stylish hotel, but in my opinion owner Franco Gentile never had his pulse on the North American market the way that, say, the Inn at Robert’s Grove has always had. A lot of affluent American still love their steak and potatoes -- look at the success of Ruth’s Chris and Morton’s -- and they like a big swimming pool, cold air conditioning and all the comforts of home, in a setting that’s a little bit but not too exotic. There’s certainly a niche market for boutique hotels and chic restaurants, but affluent middle America goes for something, well, a little more middle American. Speaking of something that we can really go for, we had a quick peak at (* * * ) Mariposa. This is a private home, north of Kitty’s, with just two beachside suites, which go for US$125 single or double. Everything is low key here. There’s no sign, but you know you’re in the right place when you see all the butterflies. For info, contact Peter & Marcia Fox, P.O. Box 1080, Belize City, tel. 501-6-24069, fax 6-24076, e-mail: email@example.com, www.mariposabelize.com).
In other news, it’s official -- the Lagoon Saloon has been sold. New owners are expected to take over soon. The Purple Space Monkey rocks, says my son Brooks, a Harvard frosh who is doing an article for BELIZE FIRST on the cybercafes of Belize, including ones in San Ignacio, San Pedro, Punta Gorda and Caye Caulker.
(Update) * * * * * Inn at Robert’s Grove (tel. 700-565-9757 or 501-6-23565 , fax 6-23567, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, www.robertsgrovebelize.com
) The typical guest at Robert’s Grove may not realize what a tremendous feat Bob and Risa Frackman have accomplished with their beachside resort in Seine Bight, which opened in late 1997. To create a smoothly functioning five-star property on what is still a somewhat remote peninsula, where most in the local labor pool may never have worked at any job except in the home or fishing, where fresh fruits, vegetables and meats and other supplies have to be brought in from Dangriga or Belize City or even farther afield, and where the basic infrastructures of resort life, from electricity to transportation, are not always reliable, is nothing short of amazing. But the newly expanded resort, now with 32 units, is definitely five star. The staff is remarkably well trained, with everything working with few glitches even in Bob and Risa’s absence (they were back in New York when I was there). The air conditioning is cold (though the unit in my children’s room required a little tweaking.) The meals in the restaurant, under Chef Frank DaSilva’s guiding hand, were dependably well prepared and nicely presented. My wife and I stayed in one of the new “deluxe suites.” These are condo units built to be sold, starting at around US$185,000, and then managed by the hotel when the owners aren’t in residence. Whether this idea will fly in Placencia we don’t know (though we’re told two units have been sold so far), our unit was a delight, with a large, strikingly decorated living room -- a happy melange of Mexican tile, Guatemalan fabrics and African art -- with cable TV, verandah with a sea view, a bedroom with king-size bed with a luxuriously firm new U.S.-made mattress and a jumbo bathroom with a big, tiled combination bath and shower. The resort has facilities still missing at many other Belize resorts -- not one but two swimming pools, roof-top, tennis courts and complimentary use of small sailboats, kayaks, bikes and other equipment. There’s a tour desk, PADI dive center and a sandy beach where you can actually swim. Rates, while not cheap, do not leave you with the impression that you are being held up at Amex-point. Indeed, by Caribbean standards for a top resort, these rates are remarkably low: This summer, standard rooms start at US$100 double, junior suites $150 and deluxe condo second-floor suites a steal at US$175. A meal plan is US$39 per adult. In the high season starting in November rates increase to US$175 for a room, US$225 for a junior suite and US$275 for deluxe second-floor suite. We think the deluxe suites are well worth the extra money.