All we can say is watch out, and protect yourself in Belize, or you’ll have problems! We found out the hard and expensive way this December, 2006. Bad communication, poorly maintained equipment, electricity failures, and many other problems make Calypso Retreat a poor choice for a vacation. If you want to know the details, please read on…
My husband and I stayed for a week at Calypso for week this December, and it was a very expensive fiasco. For weeks before we left we had problems communicating with Cheryl Steinmeyer, the absentee owner of this island resort who lives in the US. On the phone she was friendly, but by e-mail she ignored questions, failed to share information that would have helped us immensely, and downright lied to us.
Two days before our departure, we STILL didn’t have all our problems worked out, (we didn’t even know what dock to meet her “boat” at or a name of who to ask for) and we were sending desperate e-mails saying “if you don’t get back to us by 2 p.m. tomorrow, before we leave for the airport, we’ll have to assume we need to cancel and find somewhere else at the last minute.” It was then she decided that would be a good time to charge our credit card number even though she’d been holding it for a week. She got around to responding to us, just hours before we were to board our flight, and she still didn’t answer all our questions.
All we were really asking for was functional SCUBA equipment, functional kayaks, 6 tanks of air, and one steak dinner during the week, and we didn’t get any of that. Here’s a catalog of the problems we encountered AFTER we got to the island, which is 35 miles off the coast, has only five inhabitants, and no way to fix any of them once we got out there:
--The SCUBA equipment Calypso provided was Cheryl’s own family’s personal gear, and the “Dive Master” on the island, Ron, said it was so poorly maintained he couldn’t get two sets to work properly out of the four available: one of our BCs still leaked, both regulators had leaks, and only one of the regulator gauges worked (Scary!!). We had to borrow weights from Ron, who lives on the island (Yes, there were some good things about the island, and Ron was one of them - more about him at the end of this post). The kayaks were leaking, sun baked, all the seats were torn out, and only one of two paddle was in good working order. There was no function fishing gear. It was really sad.
--Of the six air tanks we rented for the week, we got only a two half-dives each, because they were leaking so badly; they had never been stamped for inspection, and the O-rings on the 10+ year ld tanks were dry crusty originals. Two tanks were just flat out unusable, and two others leaked air even when the valve was closed with no regulator attached. We rented them from Amigos Del Mar dive shop in San Pedro, and while the poor quality wasn’t Cheryl’s direct fault, she was the one who set us up with them, even though her own staff at the island knew Amigo’s was one of the worst dive shops in San Pedro. Unfortunately, they were our ride out to the island, and we did three SCUBA dives with them, which was another story onto itself. We were rushed on the dives, we didn’t have enough dive masters down with us, and instead of a hot-barbecue lunch on an island, we were offered inedible cold food on the rocking boat; I couldn’t eat more than a few bites, even though we’d just had two dives after a small, early breakfast; my husband wouldn’t even try it, and everyone else threw most of theirs away too.
--Before we booked our trip, we really asked for only one only thing beyond the functioning SCUBA equipment: one steak dinner. We knew we’d get pretty tired of fish and chicken for a whole week. Well, guess what; no steak was purchase, we got pretty tired of fish and chicken. The food was tasty most f he time, and it was nice to have it prepared for us, but they couldn’t have spent more than $20 on food for both of us for the whole week combined for the whole week, but we got charged $50 per day. We did not eat one vegetable for the entire week, but we did have fresh fruit for two days, although the meat portions were never generous. There was always four times enough bread, only it was a month past its expiration date, and a dry as sand. We were taken out fishing one night by our dock and caught the fish we ate for three more nights, but we didn’t eat a tenth of what we personally caught, and we never saw it again. The “really good” tasting fish our guide caught mysteriously never got cooked; we’re guessing they got sold later.
--Jennifer, the cook/housekeeper, wasn’t even there when we arrived, and we ended up cooking for ourselves the first night and eating granola bars we’d brought with us for breakfast the next morning, before she got there in the afternoon of the second day. We were charged for her cooking meals that first day she wasn’t there anyways, and for the day we returned and didn’t eat on the island.
--The house itself hasn’t been maintained very well since it was built only two years ago- scary how fast it goes downhill down there! It was still lovely, all rough wood, but was very dark inside, and there wasn’t very good air circulation, even though there were fans, louvered windows, and the top foot of the walls was open to allow circulation between the rooms. The beds were nothing more than 6-inch springs with an inch of cotton batting, and not comfortable at all. Worst of all, all the screens have huge holes, and the bugs munch you all night.
--THERE WAS NO PRIVACY!! The bathrooms, bedrooms, living/dining area, and kitchen were all left open to each other along the ceiling line – ironic that it still didn’t allow enough airflow, but ruined any feeling of being alone or private in the bathroom or bedroom. We discovered they have no real building codes in Belize, and the engineering is left to local tradition. If you are looking for a romantic hideaway, you would have done better to stay at Glover’s Island in a tent.
--The electricity, provided by solar panels and batteries, went out almost every night, even though it was a particularly sunny week, with only one afternoon shower the whole time we were there, and it was gorgeously clear the rest of the time. The batteries were only two years old, but from what we were told, they hadn’t been maintained in all the whole time, and they just couldn’t hold enough electricity to last the night, even though we only ran lights a few hours after dark and the fans all night. And we only used the sheets one night; but the other 80 degree humid nights we sure did want a fan. I can only pity the people staying there when it’s even hotter, and the fans can’t run the whole night through. And then, of course, there’s no warm shower in the morning either.
--The biggest shock was the trash everywhere. It washes in from the ocean, and we were told there’s no way to keep up with it, but we were also told they had never made an attempt to actually clean up the island. When we say trash, we are talking every inch of the beach, one to two feet deep in some places, and 10-20 feet wide through the mangroves. It is vile, and after four of seven days into our trip, we must have commented enough on it that they hired some locals to clean up the stretch in front of the Calypso Retreat. Too little too late I’m afraid though.
--I was also shocked, at first, at how rough the place was, and how awful the bugs were. By the third day, I was in love with the pristine isolation of the place, but I really feel that full disclosure would be in everyone’s best interests. The couple who was there the week before us left after only two days - forfeiting their pre-paid week’s stay, and paying for another hotel inland for the rest of the week. The website kinda says how it’s rustic, but I don’t think it says it clearly enough; I read the website several times, but I didn’t understand the implications of what they hinted at, and neither would anyone else who hasn’t been to such an environment. For example, I’d read about and thought I could handle these things called “sand fleas” that jumped around your ankles and could be dissuaded with mineral oil; what I didn’t know about were the “sun flies” which are completely different bugs, - you can’t see them, even when you can feel that they’re biting you, and they’re so small they go right through mosquito netting. So basically you can’t go outside for a couple hours around dawn and dusk without getting bitten so bad you look like you have measles; apparently after you live with them for a few years you get so the bites just itch mildly for a few hours, but my arms and legs itched so bad I thought I’d go nuts; give me mosquitoes any day! They also filled the house at night, and going to bathroom was a dreaded experience because of them. Then there’s the fact, not even hinted on the website, that in the rainy season “mangrove island” means “funky-smelling brackish-water swamp.” There’s a reason the website doesn’t really have many pictures of the house itself, inside or out. Also, there aren’t any real beaches like we think of beaches; on the whole island there are only a few 50-200 ft long and 5-15 ft-wide stretches of sandy beach, with a big hump/line of grass/weed/debris where the waves wash it up, filled with TONS of trash everywhere. There are only a few trails around the island, and just a couple of boardwalks over swampy areas. This is no eco-paradise.
WORST OF ALL, now we’re home and ultra-busy trying to catch up with our small-business’ backed up work, sick as dogs with colds and stomach bugs back to back, and today when I went to pay my credit card bill, I found that CALYPSO CHARGED US ANOTHER $665 TWO WEEKS AFTER WE LEFT THE ISLAND!! Without even telling us they were charging more to our credit card, or telling us what it was for!!! Turned out it was for an extra day, but we were told we were paid up before we left for an itinerary of 7 nights - that did not change. We were also charged a rental fee on gear that we were told was included (BC and weights) and Cheryl even acknowledged that she knew the gear didn’t work, but charged us anyways. We also got charged for a guide that we didn’t order to bring us out on dives we couldn’t go on, because the gear didn’t work. We were also told transportation to and from the island was included (in writing twice) but we got charged twice for that too. We are astounded at the incompetence and callousness of Cheryl Steinmeyer and this Calypso Retreat, which is not retreat at all.
We’ll make sure to post an update of how our lawsuit we are filing this Friday turns out.
Okay enough of the bad stuff, HERE’S THE GOOD PARTS:
We absolutely loved the island and its surrounding waters and coral, we loved how natural and beautiful it was, but it’s surely not for everyone, and there are many other Cayes you would want to say at before choosing this one. I was so happy to be able to hop into warm water and snorkel within sight of the shore and sit out on the dock at night and shine my light on a crocodile.
The sad part is that I really wish I could say something nicer- the island is stunningly beautiful underneath all that garbage, and I’d go back to live there in a heartbeat if I could. There’s so much snorkeling and scuba diving and fishing and exploring to do around there, you could never get tired of it. Just pitch a tent if you go to Long Caye.