From ::More Rambles Around the Cayes and Coast, Summer 2004::
Placencia, like the rest of Belize, has grown up. Back when Ted Williams (no, not that Ted Williams) had the first real hotel on the peninsula, or when Rum Point Inn first opened, Placencia truly was a “little bit of the South Pacific in Central America,” as one pioneering travel writer put it. Now you have sophisticated resorts like the Inn at Robert’s Grove and Turtle Inn and another 65 hotels and guesthouses dotting the peninsula. You can get good fresh-made pasta (at Trattoria Placencia) and delicious Italian gelati (at Tutti Frutti). The internet is seemingly everywhere. Scotia Bank has built a fancy new office in Placencia village. Both TMM and The Moorings now do sailboat charters out of Placencia. Homes on the peninsula formerly all were little wood cottages and shacks. Now we’re seeing big new reinforced concrete houses. The actual number of new vacation and second homes built is still fairly small, especially compared with Ambergris Caye, but every month sees new homes going up, from little Mennonite prefabs to 5,000 sq. ft. beauties.
I understand that there’s a new coffee house opening soon in Placencia. The fact that Belize now has specialty coffee houses (in San Pedro, Belize City, and elsewhere, too) got me thinking about how Belize has changed. When I first started visiting Belize about all you could get was instant coffee. Even the best restaurants in Belize City served instant coffee.
There’s really no excuse for serving bad coffee in Belize, given that Guatemala next door has some of the best high-grown coffees in the world. As the best strictly hard bean Arabica coffees are grown at high altitude, generally over 3,500 ft. and as high as 8,000 or 9,000 ft. in North Africa where coffee first developed, you can’t grow truly great coffee in Belize. Barry Bowen’s Gallon Jug brand is the only commercial coffee operation in Belize, and it’s not bad at all. Some of the lodges in the Mountain Pine Ridge, including Hidden Valley Inn and Blancaneaux, grow coffee for guests at the lodges.
Hotels are getting bigger. One of the owners of Zeboz, the new condotel north of Maya Beach, says he plans eventually to have 144 units. According to some reports, another large resort at the north end of the peninsula is in the works for a tract of The Plantation land. I did stay the night at Zeboz. One of the most impressive things about Zeboz is the size of the swimming pool. It’s like a lake. Without question, this is the biggest pool in Belize. I only ate breakfast at the restaurant, so I can’t report firsthand on the food, but the dining room is large and pleasantly proportioned. It is lined all around with big windows, so you enjoy a wonderful view of the Caribbean. The beach is a very good one. If you like a condo-style place with ice-cold A/C, jacuzzis, kitchenettes and that jumbo pool, you’ll probably like Zeboz. Zeboz Caribbean Resort, Placencia, Stann Creek District; tel. 501-520-4110, fax 520-4112; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, www.zeboz.com.
Rates: US$175-$225 year-round, with some packages available. Meal plan is US$65 per day per person.
I have stayed at the Inn at Robert’s Grove three or four times since it opened in 1997, and like a good cabernet it just seems to improve over the years. This time, in the so-called off-season in July, the hotel was almost completely booked, and I think it was 100% full one night. Robert and Risa Frackman truly have their fingers on the pulse of their market. They understand what upscale travelers want, and they deliver the entire package: beach, sports (water toys are free, and there’s a fitness room and tennis courts, plus fly fishing center and dive shop), spa, tours (they’ve added horseback riding through Little Hill Bill Ranch in San Roman village) and good food. They’ve had the same chef for years, Frank daSilva. Indeed, each time I return I see many of the same hotel staff, always a good sign. A highlight of the week is the Saturday evening poolside barbecue, with all you-can-eat lobster, fish, chicken and shrimp. My son, in his last year at Harvard (and thank the tuition gods for that) would travel to Belize just for this one meal. For 2005, Robert’s Grove is adding room service.
This trip, my family and I had one of the deluxe two-bedroom condo units, and it was a delight. The Frackmans have purchased the property just south of the resort, adding another 200 ft. of beachfront. Under construction on this land are two new “haciendas,” each of which will have two ground-floor two-bedroom condos and on the second floor a three-bedroom unit, which as I understand it will be a flex unit which can be rented in various configurations. Bob and Risa also are building a third swimming pool for these new units. Several hotels in Belize have two pools, including the Radisson Fort George, Turtle Inn and Banana Beach, but this will be the first with three. Robert’s Grove is shooting for completion of the new haciendas and pool late this year. Robert’s Grove has also upgraded its regular rooms, with a new paint scheme and other improvements. They look 100% better, and I can now say that even if you don’t choose a suite you’ll be happy with Robert’s Grove.
After a stay in Placencia, we headed out to the resort’s new private island option, Robert’s Caye, about 10 miles off Placencia. We were one of the first to try it out, and I’m happy to say we enjoyed it. Perched around on the island “Bora Bora style” are four newly built thatch cabañas. They’re situated partly over the water, so you can actually enter the sea from your cabañas for swimming or snorkeling. If you swim out a little ways there’s a good bit of patch coral, and you can expect to see a variety of fish, lobsters, starfish and other sea life. Yes, the island is small, hardly more than a spit of sand, and the cabins aren’t air-conditioned, but there’s hot and cold running water and most of the units enjoy a stiff sea breeze to cool them down. Packages include all meals, boat transfers, use of kayaks and snorkel equipment, and drinks and beer, so all you have to worry about is not getting sunburned. The Frackmans own Robert’s Caye, and they still lease another island, Ranguana, which has three cabins (with newly installed bathrooms). Ranguana is larger and has a fabulous setting on the reef, about 18 miles out from Placencia.
Inn at Robert’s Grove, Placencia, Stann Creek District; tel. 501-523-3565
or 800-565-9757, fax 501-523-3567; e-mail email@example.com, www.robertsgrove.com.
Rates at the main resort: US$179-$500 double in-season, US$130 to $300 off-season. Meal plan is another US$55 per person per day. At Robert’s Caye, all-inclusive rates (all meals, drinks, transportation) are US$347 per person for one night, with discounts for longer stays; at Ranguana the rate is US$323 per person all-inclusive.
Even with all the changes on the peninsula, most of which I applaud, I still like some of the old style places. Wendy’s restaurant, for example, in the village. While it hasn’t been in Placencia too long, Wendy’s reminds me of the old Belize dining rooms. Atmosphere it has none, and on a hot night it can be stuffy despite the air-conditioning. But the service is friendly as pie. I do believe I had the best meal of the entire trip there. It was just a simple grilled fish, but oh so tasty, and even with some beer well under US$10.
PLACENCIA ODDS AND ENDS
To pave or not to pave -- that is the question. Until recently, it was a “firm thing” that the road from the Southern Highway to Placencia would be paved in Spring 2005. Now, with the budget crisis, apparently it’s not so firm after all. The paving has been postponed. Currently, only short sections of the road at Seine Bight and Placencia villages are surfaced. • The new “owners” of Luba Hati took off unexpectedly. Franco is back. The hotel is temporarily closed. • Septic tanks are out; sewers are in. Word is that no more septic tanks will be allowed for new commercial or multi-lot building building projects on the peninsula. • The troubled Serenity resort has been closed by order of the government. • Ellen Lee and her husband bought the Maya Beach Hotel in April and are upgrading it. In October the hotel has plans to open the Maya Beach Hotel Bistro, serving meals to guests and the public. Double rooms goes for US$65-$85 in low season and US$ 85 to $105 in high. • Lost Reef at Riversdale is open under new management. Rooms and grounds have been upgraded, a swimming pool has been added, and there’s a pleasant bar and restaurant. Each of the five cabins goes for US$89 double. • Nautical Inn has a new operator. • Rum Point Inn is for sale for US$3.5 million. Among other hotels and resorts reportedly for sale on the peninsula are Kitty’s Place, Manatee Inn, Maya Breeze Inn and Green Parrot. • Kitty’s, by the way, looks incredibly good these days. What a beautiful pool Kitty has added, and the beach remains in my opinion one of the two or three best on the entire peninsula. Next door, Mariposa is also looking great. It’s a charming little place.
--Lan Sluder www.belizefirst.com