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#469479 - 08/03/13 06:55 AM Touring Our Belize
Marty Offline

by The Guardian

Media tour

Belize is now a well-known destination in the international tourism market, so much so that the Belize Tourism Board had to abandon its logo, “Mother Nature’s Best Kept Secret”, in January of this year. Belize is not a secret anymore, at least not to foreigners, because we had well over a million tourists visiting Belize last year alone. However, for those of us who were born and raised here, there is much to be discovered, explored and enjoyed. The Belize Tourism Board is starting a new campaign to encourage domestic tourism in Belize. When the BTB wants to promote Belize as a tourism destination to new markets, it takes a press team from that area on a familiarization trip to tourist destinations across the country. Since the BTB is trying to promote domestic tourism, agents of the local press were taken on a familiarization trip from Thursday, July 18th, to Sunday, July 21st.

On Thursday morning, we boarded a rental van and headed up the Phillip Goldson Highway to start our trip by visiting the Lamanai Archaeological Reserve. A little after the toll bridge there is a docking compound. From there, we got on a boat and headed down the New River for an hour journey to the New River Lagoon. Ruben was our boat captain and guide. It didn’t take him long to break the ice. Ruben drove the boat towards the river bank to show us a brown spot on some trees and revved the engine. Immediately, a colony of bats came flying out towards the boat. After the screams subsided the group enjoyed the joke and the journey continued. Ruben holds a wealth of information on the area. He said that he has been taking tourists on expeditions to the area since he was twelve years old, despite their hesitance in the early years. Ruben is now a mature adult in his forties and he enjoys sharing his information on the area and the species that call the New River home. With Ruben, the hour long boat ride is actually an hour and forty minutes. He stops to point out different species of birds, orchids and other wildlife. During our visit to Lamanai, the weather refused to cooperate but we were sheltered by disposal raincoats that were provided by Ruben and the tour went on. The Lamanai Archaeological Reserve is located on the bank of the New River Lagoon. Our first stop was at the museum where Ruben gave us a background on some of the artifacts on display. Some dated all the way back to the Pre-Classic Period of the Mayan civilization but what stands out at Lamanai are the artifacts that date back to centuries after the Post-Classic Period which proved that Lamanai was the longest occupied Maya City. Ruben explained that Lamanai, which means “submerged crocodile,” was able to survive because the Mayas were farmers and the land is extremely fertile. Being far inland also didn’t hurt. From the museum, we passed the Mask Temple where special ceremonies were held. After the Mask Temple, we visited the High Temple which is the third highest Maya temple in the country. Dorian Nunez of Ambergris Today, Arturo Cantun of Love FM, Benjamin Flores of Reporter and yours truly were the four of thirteen journalists brave enough to climb to the top of the temple. From 108 feet high, we could see miles and miles of the green and dense rainforest. After a few minutes to digitally record our accomplishment atop the High Temple, we gently made our way down (crawled down) to continue the tour. Ruben led us to the Pok-A-Tok arena where he explained the rules of the game as we debated whether we would prefer winning or losing. The answer arrived at on the question of winning or losing was “depending on what sacrifice is needed”. Ruben went on to explain that in the Maya world it was an honour to be sacrificed after a Pok-A-Tok match – no one claimed to be worthy of such honour. We then went passed a residence where someone related to the royal family would live and we were quite impressed. The structure was designed with a drainage line for water to exit after baths. The bathroom could comfortably fit up to eight adults and the sleeping quarters were quite large. A huge plus for the residence was that it was built in front of the Jaguar Temple, which seems to have been the location of “the happening”. A lot of musical artifacts were found at the Jaguar Temple, which causes the archaeologists to believe this was the temple for celebratory ceremonies. Due to time constraints, we were unable to climb that structure. Before leaving the reserve, we stopped by a gift shop operated by a lady and her son from nearby Indian Church Village. There are many art pieces and accessories that resemble artifacts found at Lamanai. We then boarded the boat but changed captain since Ruben chose not to return with us. Instead, he called it a day and left for home towards Indian Church Village. Therefore, the journey back only took one hour and we boarded our van and left for Placencia.

From the dock near the toll bridge, we travelled down the Phillip Goldson Highway, unto the Boom Road and then the George Price Highway. Our final destination for the day was the Laru Beya Resort in Placencia where we would spend the night. However, we decided to stop in at the Sleeping Giant Lodge which is located at mile 36 ½ on the Hummingbird Highway. By this time, it was after 8 pm. and most of us were tired but the warm welcome from Eric, General Manager of the hotel chain, revived our spirits. Well, the warm welcome plus the fresh fruits plus the ceviche and the punch that awaited our arrival. Eric explained that the owners originally purchased the property back in 1991 and used it for their family home. They eventually added several out buildings to accommodate visiting friends and finally in 2004, they started the process of converting place into a lodge. Emerson, Manager of Sleeping Giant Lodge, took us to see a couple of the rooms. The River House was the first we visited. It is located about one hundred yards from the main building and overlooks the Sibun River. The two bedroom structure is a vacationers dream. It is made for four guests but can comfortably accommodate up to six. Any attempt to verbally describe the beauty of the River House would fall well below par. The feature that is most impressive in the River House is the roofless out shower with glass walls, surrounding neon green lights and jacuzzi. Honeymooners will definitely enjoy that setting. The beds are creatively set with flower petals and towels twisted into the shape of different animals. Perhaps we were all tired at that time of the night but nothing seemed more beautiful than those beds at the Sleeping Giant Lodge. The next room we visited was a Spanish Casita. There are three Spanish casitas at the resort. They are made for six but can easily accommodate nine adults. There is more interior and exterior space in the casitas. It is primarily for families and large groups. After visiting the rooms, we were escorted back to the main building where we spent some time at the Creek Side Lounge. The name of the lounge is based on the fact that a creek runs throughout to property. The name of the resort is based on the scenic view from the third floor where one can look across the rainforest unto the Maya Mountains in perfect range of the Sleeping Giant. We left the Sleeing Giant Lodge at about 9:30 p.m. and headed to Placencia.

There is not much I can say about the journey to Placencia since I was only awake for a few minutes of that drive. Based on such comfortable sleep I enjoyed, I can say that the new road provided a smooth ride. We arrived at Laru Beya Resort sometime after 11 p.m. Rene Nunez, Manager of Laru Beya, stayed past normal working hours to welcome us to spectacular Laru Beya. Our dinner from Wendy’s Restaurant was waiting for us. Everyone expressed extreme satisfaction with the food. I surely enjoyed my filet fish with mashed potatos and garden salad. After the late dinner, it was time to rest in the luxurious rooms at Laru Beya. The bed was nice but I chose to sleep in the hammock on the balcony of the third floor where the cool sea breeze and restful sound of waves approaching the shore provided a setting for the best sleep I have had in years. A day full of adventure was ahead.

Next week, I will tell of our day in Placencia where we went fishing and snorkeling with Splash Dive Center and dined at the Maya Beach Bristro.

Touring Our Belize - Pt. 2

Dorian Pakeman and his monsterous Bacali Jack and view from Owner's Suite

Last week, I wrote of an adventure that led members of the local press corps on top of the 108 feet tall High Temple at the Lamanai Archaeological Reserve and ended with the best view available of the Sleeping Giant in the Maya Mountains. On day two of our familiarization trip, we got to enjoy the best of Placencia.

There are few things more beautiful than the sunrise from a third floor sea view balcony at Laru Beya Resort. Various species of birds fly up on the trees that stand next to the rooms and make pleasant sounds that even a morning grouch like me can appreciate. Such a peaceful rise from sleep makes the morning much easier to handle. On Friday morning, July 19th, we had breakfast at Laru Beya’s restaurant. Due to time constraints, we had a choice between breakfast burritos and breakfast sandwiches. Most of my colleagues chose the breakfast burritos. Nobody warned them that these burritos were not like the ones in Belize City; therefore, they were surprised and intimidated at size of the gigantic wraps. The burritos were about eight inches long and two and a half inches thick very loaded! Respect to those who ate the whole thing. My breakfast sandwich featured fried eggs, cheese and ham captured between two slices of perfectly toasted bread. Both dishes came with a side order of freshly cut fruits and a glass of fruit juice. Immediately after breakfast,we started our tour of Placencia.

The first activity for the day was to go fishing or snorkeling with Splash Dive Center. However, we delayed that adventure for a brief chat with Jolie Pollard, Executive Director of the Belize Tourism Industry Association-Placencia Chapter. Pollard describes the Placencia tourism experience as “having village integrated into the tourism aspect of things”. She says Placencia offers tourists “a more authentic experience” because visitors are attracted to the cultural environment that provides a very “rootsy vibes” and a true ecotourism package. Pollard says that Placencia has only been a tourism destination for over twenty years and it is already one of the most popular destinations across the world. She says the BTIA’s goal is to ensure that there is sustainable development going forward.

After our conversation with Pollard, we went on our way to Splash Dive Center. We were greeted by Patricia Ramirez, Manager of Splash, who introduced us to the boat captains and dive masters. Ramirez divided us into two groups: snorkelers and fishers. Before we boarded the boats, we signed a contract acknowledging that we realize the dangers involved with such activities. Those of us who chose to go fishing then followed Edlin to our boat. Edlin is a cool dude who doesn’t talk much but when he does it is direct and informative. He has only two rules: stay on your side of the boat to maintain balance and don’t fall off. As soon as those rules were established, we headed out to sea. We travelled a little over an hour out to sea where Edlin says the water is 120 to 140 feet deep. I asked him, “Where will we be fishing?” Edlin responded, “Nature will tell us bro.” I did not understand what he meant by that but I soon found out when he spotted a flock of birds flying above the water. Edlin said to me, “There! There is where we will catch the fish.” He took out two fishing rods and attached lures to them. Lures are designed to look and move like the prey of a fish. Unlike real bait, lures can be used over and over again because they are made of a rubbery material. Edlin then took the rods and connected them to the boat. He slowly drove the boat in the direction that the birds are flying. In a few minutes, we heard the rod made a sharp whistle like sound and the line became extremely tight. “Who is first?” Edlin asked. Dorian Pakeman, Director of the Government Press Office, accepted the challenge. It was an epic battle between Pakeman and the distressed creature. After trying to reel in the fish for a good four minutes, he suddenly remembered that he had an injured hand. Now, I know Pakeman to be an honest individual but it seemed a little convenient that he remembered an injury at the time when it appeared that the fish was winning the match. Nevertheless, we rallied behind him and cheered him on. The fish eventually got tired and Pakeman reeled it in. It was a huge Cobali Jack and the biggest catch of the day. However, in the words of our Captain Edlin, I caught “the only fish worth selling”. Like a professional, I reeled in a beauty that belongs to the tuna family. Fishing with Splash was a remarkable experience. After we overloaded our icebox with four huge fishes, we journeyed on to Silk Caye for lunch. There we had a delicious barbecue chicken with potatoes and beans. Our lunch break was short because Edlin wanted to give us an opportunity to do a little snorkeling as well. We went just five minutes out from Silk Caye and met a group of sea turtles, sharks and sting rays. The animals were very friendly, except for one huge sea turtle who seem to have been in a bad mood. It was aggressive to everyone in the water and had to be pushed away multiple times by the snorkeling guide. The turtle ended our day with Splash on a sour note but the overall experience was incredible. After snorkeling, we headed back to Splash Dive Center where we spoke to the owner of the establishment, Ralph Capeling. Capeling said, “Our goal is to not only be the best dive shop in Belize but the best in the Caribbean and eventually the entire Western Hemisphere.” He says they offer special prices to Belizeans and many times when the tours are not full “Belizeans get to go free”. Splash also provides free dive lessons to youths from the area. Splash Dive Center was recently recognized by the Belize Tourism Board as the Tour Operator of the Year.

After our adventure with Splash, we returned to Laru Beya to freshen up and then we visited Chabil Mar Villas. Chabil Mar is Maya for beautiful sea. It is a guest exclusive luxury resort that blends the natural and cultural wonders of the Placencia Peninsula with the lavish and upscale lifestyle of the rich and famous. There are only 22 villas available and prices range from US$250 in the slow season to US$650 in the tourism season. The rooms are spectacular and there are at least 1,000 square feet of living area in each. The resort offers personal butler service and many other services that can only be found at Chabil Mar. There is wireless Internet service, fully equipped and stacked kitchen, flat screen televisions in the living and bed rooms, washer and dryer and much more. There is no special package for Belizeans but management is open to offer very special deals for honeymooners and family vacation. For honeymoon or anniversaries, I personally recommend the owner’s suite.

After leaving Chabil Mar, we went to have dinner at the Restaurant of the Year, Maya Beach Bistro. The restaurant and hotel is owned by John and Ellen Lee. Maya Beach Bistro offers a wide variety of appetizers, meals and desserts. John says that opening a restaurant in Belize “provides a unique opportunity”. It allows them to feature several Belizean dishes with their own twist. The Belizean staff has a strong influence on the menu and John says the success of the restaurant is due in large part to them. Chef John receives an overall A for variety, taste and serving size of the three course meal he prepared for our group. The shellfish combo was a spectacular appetizer and the slowly cooked roast pork was perfect. Maya Beach Bistro certainly deserves that recognition as Restaurant of the Year.

From Maya Beach Bistro, we returned to Laru Beya and retired for the night. Another adventure awaits us Saturday morning. Next week, I will write of our day in Hopkins Village and our cultural experience with the Lebeha Drummers.

#469878 - 08/09/13 06:05 AM Re: Touring Our Belize [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Touring Our Belize Pt. 3

Historical Serpon Sugar Mill

Last week I wrote about a few of the marvelous attractions that make Placencia Belize’s Destination of the Year. This week you will read of a destination that is even more relaxing but just as beautiful and fun, Hopkins Village. Most of the members of the press team had never been to the cultural haven and based on their reviews most will make a return trip very soon.

On Saturday morning, July 20th, we checked out of the luxurious Larubeya Hotel and started our journey to Hopkins. The Belize Tourism Board’s familiarization trip could not have been going any better. The destinations and operators had truly impressed local journalists from print, radio and televised media houses which meant immediate endorsements for domestic tourism. On our way to Hopkins Village we stopped at the Serpon Sugar Mill. The Serpon Sugar Mill marked the arrival of the industrial era in Belize and is the country’s first historical reserve. It is located one mile in on the access road to Sittee River Village. The site, managed by the National Institute of Culture and History, preserves remnants of the steam powered Serpon Sugar Mill which was established in 1865. The mill was bought by William Bowman who is of Scottish origin and it fueled Belize’s economy for about thirty years. According to historians, In the late 19th century, Serpon was a technological marvel that featured machines from the United States and England. Those include a three wheel main crusher known as a six oiler, high powered boilers, beam engine, furnace and hot air exchanger. The operation was powered by steam. By the turn of the century sugar production was found to be more profitable in the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts and the Serpon mill was eventually abandoned by 1910. Most of the machines remain in the exact position they were more than a century ago and the site provides a setting for beautiful photos.

From Serpon we continued on towards Hopkins Village. The rocky road soon proved to be a huge threat to our journey as our right rear tire collapsed. We drove for more than half a mile before one of our group members, Fortunato Noble, instructed the driver to check the tires because something felt funny. Discovering the puncture was a huge let down but the dynamic duo of the Government Press Office, Noble and Dorian Pakeman, sprung into action declaring, “this shouldn’t be much of a problem”. Pakeman removed the flat tire while Noble released the spare from beneath van. It took them a little more than five minutes to complete the operation and get the show back on the road. It was not long after that we made it to Hopkins Village and checked into Belizean Dreams resort. Belizean Dreams is an all inclusive resort with the motto “Casual Elegance Surrounded by Adventure”. The resort sits in front of the sea and is carefully landscaped to promote the natural elements of the property. There are different types of trees throughout the grounds with a neatly trimmed lawn and carved floral walkway. The villas are huge and well equipped with living, dining, multiple bathrooms and kitchen. The prices range from US$225 in the low season for a one bedroom suite for two (US$295 in high season) to US$575 for a villa that houses up to eight guests (US$675 in high season). There are also extremely generous offers for Belizeans. After checking in at Belizean Dreams we went for lunch at the Barracuda Bar and Grill. The food was delicious but after being spoilt by Maya Beach Bristro, the serving size fell way below par. In any case, I would never sacrifice quality for quantity and Barracuda Bar and Grill will certainly leave you wanting more.

BTB’s Media Relations Officer and organizer of the tour, Andrea Polanco, was crafty in developing the schedule. She knows there is no better way to recover from a heavy meal than exercise. After lunch we went to the northern part of the beach to participate in a cultural presentation by the Lebeha Drummers. The group is made up of young men and women who are dedicated in ensuring that the Garinagu culture stays alive. We met the group after they had recently returned from a trip to Canada and they shared a few pieces with us; mainly, the Chumba, Paranda and Jankunu. A few members of the team even decided to step from behind the cameras and display their dancing skills. Ronald Williams is the leader of the group and he explains that their goal is to become ambassadors like the Garifuna Collectives who have been around the world sharing the Garinagu culture and music; however, that is not nearly as important to them as making sure the next generation learns to play the drums and continues the tradition of passing on their history by using music and dance. Williams says that the drummers hold regular classes for kids. They have also produced a few albums that are available for sale. The group can be reached on Facebook.

We ended our evening by visiting the Jaguar Reef Lodge and Spa. It is in the same hotel chain as the Sleeping Giant Lodge and like the Sleeping Giant the Jaguar Reef Lodge got its name based on its location. It is sandwiched between the Caribbean Sea, near the midpoint of the second largest barrier reef in the world, and the dense southern rainforest, also known as the Jaguar Reserve. The Jaguar Reef was named Hotel of the Year in 2011 and continues to provide top quality services to guests and offers four star accommodations. It also features a spa that offers a wide range of therapeutic massages from Jetlag Defrag, hot and cold stones and deep tissue to signature massages such as the Butterflies Massage, Pineapple Coconut Sea Scrub and Chocolate Massage. There are multiple pools for children and adults and equipment for various beach activities. After a tour of the resort we had dinner in the dining room. Dining at Jaguar Reef Lodge is a relaxing yet elegant experience. The service is superb and there is a wide variety of dishes to choose from. Like the Sleeping Giant, the Jaguar Reef offers luxurious services at reasonable rates. Suites range from US$200 to US$350 a night. Belizeans may receive 30 to 50 percent off, depending on tourism season. After dinner we returned to Belizean Dreams where we spent our last night together at the pool.

We travelled home on Sunday but first we stopped at the Sleeping Giant Lodge for a daylight view of the resort and we also visited Jaguar Paw for a Chukka Adventure. Details of those will be in the final piece on the Belize Tourism Board’s local media familiarization trip.

The Guardian

#470402 - 08/17/13 06:50 AM Re: Touring Our Belize [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Plus TV explores history and culture in the South

BTBWe’ve been bringing coverage of BTB’s media familiarization tour, where members of the local press were treated with a first class exploration of the country. Tonight, we take you back into history and show you what was the driving force behind the country’s initiation into the industrial era. That and more breathtaking resorts in Southern Belize. Here is day 3 of the trip.


Shadell Young:

After an early breakfast at our host hotel The Laru Beya Resort, we packed our bags and headed further down south. Our first stop was at the Serpon Sugar Mill, where hundreds of years of southern sugar history are preserved. Located one mile inside Sittee River Village, the Serpon Sugar Mill is considered to be the country’s first historical reserve and the beginning of Belize’s industrial era. The mill was established in 1865 and bought by Scottish man William Bowman, fueled Belize’s economy for some thirty years. Interesting fact – at its peak, the mill was producing and shipping close to two thousand pounds of sugar a month. What you are seeing now are the remnants of that industry. In the recent years, thanks to support from the US Ambassadors’ Fund For Cultural Preservation and Belize’s NICH – the area was restored and protected so that we can take pleasure in this technological landmark.


Following our trip to the mill, we checked into our suites at the Belizean Dreams Resort located in Hopkins Village. Now I’ve heard of Belizean Dreams before, but nothing prepared me for the breathtaking atmosphere that encapsulates the resort. Belizean Dreams – the perfect combination of modern casual elegance and resort-style service, is an all inclusive resort comprised of private villas tailored for those of us who crave relaxation and adventure. After having a quick sit down for complimentary drinks, it was around lunch time. Culinary artiste Tony Marisco and his wife Angela hosted us at Barracuda Bar and Grill at Beaches and Dreams for a finger linking feast. We wasted no time devouring our seafood meals, but lingered around the estate to take in the beauty of the Caribbean Sea.


Then back into the van we climbed and we were off for a cultural experience with the Lebeha Garifuna drumming group. The passé may be young, but they have already racked up some serious accomplishments – including winner of 2011’s Battle of the Drums as well as a Grammy nomination.


As the day winded down, the remainder of our Saturday was spent at the famed Jaguar Reef Lodge. Surrounded by acres of reef and rainforest, the resort is known for its four star accommodation, exhilarating tours and a premium Butterfly Spa. Words alone cannot do this lodge justice; so you’d certainly have to take a trip here to fully experience the treasure that is the Jaguar Reef Lodge. After having dinner at the lodge, we retired to Belizean Dreams to get some much needed rest for what was about to be the most daring day we’ve had yet.  Shadell Young reporting.

We want to take this time to remind you that the Great Blue Hole at Light House Reef Atoll is up for a competition to be named the 8th Wonder of the World. According to the BT, should the Great Blue Hole win the competition, Belize stands to major PR push and an audience of 2.6 million viewers via American TV Show ExtraVoting is open to the public and you can vote once per day at www.virtualtourist.com/8thwonder. As the results stand, Belize is presently in the top 10, so keep on casting those votes. Voting closes on September 30.



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