Coastal village is an exotic paradise friendly to English and the dollar
Good morning: Sunrise in Belize.
Savvy travelers looking for sun, sand and culture off the beaten path should consider packing their bags and bikinis for a different, untouched paradise: Hopkins in Belize, a small village in a tiny country with a dynamic split personality.
Home to seven distinct cultures living amicably side by side in a country the size of New Hampshire, Belize embodies numerous contradictions. It’s located in northern Central America, but locals speak English peppered with Creole slang. Though the country was granted independence from Great Britain in the early 1980s, a British sense of order remains, mixing with a laid-back vibe that comes standard with proximity to the tropics. The Stann Creek District, Belize’s coastline dotted with villages and towns, is also home to Hopkins Village, a hidden gem and cultural paradise.
A welcome mural at the entrance of Hopkins Village.
So whether you want to submerge yourself in the Western Hemisphere’s largest barrier reef, play Indiana Jones at an ancient Mayan ruin, stalk jaguars in the lush rain forest or lazily work on your tan on a deserted beach, Hopkins has you covered. Get there, before everyone else.
SIGHTS, SOUNDS AND SNORKELING
Hopkins is a Garifuna village bursting with culture. The Garifuna are an Afro-Caribbean people with a strong heritage of fishing, music and dance. Join a drum circle on the beach with local Garifuna instrument makers at Lebeha Drumming Center
in the village center. Practice your bartering skills and bring home a handmade drum.
Left: Jabbar Lambey, left, owner and founder of the Lebeha Drumming Center, practices with two students. Right: Waterfall rappelling at Antelope Falls.
Belize is known for its cats, especially jaguars. Stalk — or be stalked by — jaguars at Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
. If you think you hear a lion, don’t worry. It’s probably just a howler monkey being territorial. The trails are self-guided, but hiring a guide in Hopkins is recommended if you want a better chance of spotting wildlife.
A family cooks lunch on the beach. Inset: Stewed chicken washed down with the local beer Belikin.
Kayak and snorkel with manatees, barracudas and whale sharks off Belize’s Great Barrier Reef. Rent a kayak and a snorkel and start paddling until you see coral. Daring (and certified) scuba divers can take a day trip to the world-renowned Great Blue Hole
. The underwater sinkhole was made famous by Jacques Cousteau, who “discovered” the phenomenon in 1972. Snorkelers can look for reef sharks in the coral surrounding the hole. Hamanasi Dive and Snorkel
organizes trips to the Blue Hole.
Belize was the heart of the ancient Mayan empire since 2000 B.C. and has the ruins to prove it. Lamanai
, one of Belize’s many ancient Mayan sites, is accessible by riverboat and comes complete with crocodile effigies, tombs and hundreds of temple steps leading up and up to epic views of the surrounding rain forest. Jungle Jeanie’s
offers inland tours by request.
Those seeking adventure can arrange day trips through Bocawina Adventures & Eco Tours
to the nearby Mayflower Bocawina National Forest
for hiking, zip-lining and overnight canopy stays. For the truly intrepid, Mayflower’s majestic Antelope Falls is the place to be for waterfall rappelling.
Eating in Hopkins is an informal, delicious and affordable affair. Creole and Garifuna flavors are sold at a plethora of casual snack shacks and kitchens up and down the streets of Hopkins. Put on your favorite flip-flops and follow your nose to whatever looks good.
Garifuna cuisine is made from scratch and labor-intensive. The highlight is sweet cassava bread made from coconuts that takes several days to make and is a requirement at all meals.
Marie Sharp is the patron saint of habanero hot sauce in Belize. Every table in the country has at least one bottle. Burn your tongue on varieties ranging from mild to “No Wimps Allowed.”
Stew chicken, with meat so tender it falls off the bone, is Belize’s national dish. It’s usually served with coconut-scented rice and beans, potato salad and sweet plantains on the side.
Though Mexico is Belize’s northern neighbor, don’t expect to cool off with a Corona, which is considered contraband. Opt instead for a locally made Belikin Beer, a lager easily identified by a drawing of a Mayan ruin on the label.
Belize City’s Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport is a three-hour direct flight from Houston, but skip the bustle of the capital and head straight to Hopkins, a relatively lesser-known village in the southern district of Stann Creek. Hopkins is ideally situated near both the jungle and the Caribbean, and is a 20-minute puddle jump from Belize City via Tropic Air.
Feeling adventurous? Get to know the locals and learn a little Creole during a “chicken bus” (brightly colored old U.S. school buses) ride on the scenic Hummingbird Highway. Hopkins itself is easily and ideally explored by foot, though golf carts are available for rent. The village technically has street names, but no one uses them. Instead, there is North Hopkins at one end of the village, South Hopkins at the other, and a whole lot of scenic coast connecting them.
There is no need to change money as the U.S. dollar is widely accepted and easily calculated at a long-standing value of about 2 Belize dollars for each U.S. dollar.
Hopkins is safe, especially for tourists, and traveling women can walk freely at night.
When to go:
Belize’s weather is similar to that of Florida, and its high season for travel runs late November to late April. The rainy season, from June to mid-November, is also marked by hurricanes from July to October.
WHERE TO STAYJUNGLE JEANIE'S BY THE SEA
Left: One of the seaside cabanas of Jungle Jeanie by the Sea Resort in Hopkins Village, Belize. Right: One of the buildings at Hamanasi Resort, Hopkins Village, Belize.
Stay in this comfortable, moderately priced cabana built on a private sandy beach. Each cabana has something special to offer. Families can feel like the Swiss Family Robinson in the Jungle Loft, while honeymooners can enjoy private sea views from the deck of the Tree House. Sunlight drenches rooms at 6 a.m. and the Caribbean calls out for an early morning dip or paddle board. Rooms from $50.
North Hopkins Village
Stann Creek District
A boutique resort with the looks, ambiance and service of a luxury hotel twice its size. Guests can choose to stay in private tree houses, honeymoon suites or beachfront rooms, each with ocean views, Central American folk-art décor and hardwood furnishings. Dine on fresh ceviche by the pool, or relax with rum and pineapple juice on the ocean pier after a day of Hopkins activities. Rooms from $260.
South Hopkins Village
Stann Creek District
Megan Wood is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Photos by Tony Rath