The Caribbean for landlubbers I: Belize, baby
Belize for budgeteers: roundtrip airfare from $347; week-long air/hotel packages from $568
By Reid Bramblett
ARTHUR FROMMER'S BUDGET TRAVEL
June 24 — The swaying palms, the sugary sand beaches, the reefs teeming with tropical fishies, mornings spent hiking jungly interiors and afternoons lazing in the hammock—what would you say if you could have the typical Caribbean vacation, only without the cruise ship or island hopping? A holiday on which you could go beyond the beaches and reef diving to enjoy white water rafting, volcano climbs, or flying, harnessed to a zip-line, through a cloud forest a hundred feet above the ground?
THAT’S WHAT’S on offer along the Caribbean western edge, where the fabled Sea’s warm waters tickle the beaches of Central America, and nowhere are those beaches more welcoming than in the diver’s paradise of Belize and the eco-tourism capital of Costa Rica. Today we’re going to stick to the Yucatan’s shore and show you the best deals in Belize. Tomorrow, it’s off to Costa Rica.
AWESOME AIRFARES ON AMERICAN
Lucky for us then that American Airlines (www.aa.com
) has just put both on of those countries on sale, as long as you don’t mind transferring planes in Dallas/Ft. Worth. For travel ending by July 31, you can get roundtrip airfare into either Belize City, Belize (from $347) or San Jose, Costa Rica (for more on that, tune in tomorrow) from dozens of US gateways—mostly in Texas and California, but also Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Oregon, and Washington. You must book seven days in advance and by June 30 at the latest; the minimum stay allowed is three days, the maximum 30 days.
The fares listed below are for Monday to Thursday travel (weekends are a tad pricier):
$347—Abilene, Albuquerque, Amarillo, Austin, College Station, Corpus Christi, Dallas/Ft. Worth, El Paso, Houston (Bush Intercontinental or Hobby), Laredo, Lubbock, McAllen, San Antonio, Tyler, Waco.
$377—Colorado Springs, Las Vegas, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Ontario, Orange County, Reno, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose,
$496—Portland (OR), Seattle
Figure on taxes and various airport and security charges to total about $38 to $40.
Is there a drawback to buying just airfare? Well, a bit of one, at least from a pricing point of view. Truth be told, the capital of Belize City isn’t much fun to hang around, so you’re likely to want to get out of the proverbial Dodge pretty soon after your arrival. Most visitors don’t even both spending the night in town, beating a hasty retreat for the eco-lodges or beach resorts that are the real draws down here. It’s not really a problem to get outta town, as car rentals or short flights and ferries to the offshore cayes are readily available, but it does mean you’ll have to arrange and pay for these services yourself.
Given how inexpensive packages vacations can be these days (buying airfare and hotel, sometimes other services like a rental car, all together as one package), this option can make sense both from a logistical and an economics point of view. In short: they’ll get you out of the city and on your way to having fun, and they’ll probably cost less than booking everything on your own.
BELIZE ALL TIED UP IN A BOW
Belize is a modest Massachusetts-sized country taking up the southern end of the Yucatan peninsula where Mexico and Guatemala meet. It’s a land of palms and mangroves, sun and sand, reefs and fishies, $10 seafood dinners and ancient Mayan ruins. Most people don’t stay in the city, though, preferring to visit those ruins either over the course of two or three days whilst staying at a jungle lodge, or, more frequently, on a daytrip from their vacation base at a holiday resort on one of the renowned cayes. This tiny islands lie just 20 miles off the coast hard against the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere.
Some folks like the bustle and beat of Ambergris Caye, the largest and most developed of the main islands—though when I say “developed” I just mean there’s a proper town (San Pedro), plenty of hotels, and some restaurants and nightlife action. We’re not talking Cancun here or anything; it’s still a laid-back Caribbean destination. Other vacationers head just to the south to shack up on Caye Caulker, a slip of an island miles long and a mere mile or so wide at its fattest point, inhabited by 800 friendly lobster fishermen and sporting a few modest resort hotels. Old Belize hands tend to prefer tiny, fishhook-shaped Tobacco Caye far to the south, a lazy-days destination for budgeteers and snorkel heads (though you’ll find few packaged vacations here; it’s more of a DIY destination). http://www.msnbc.com/news/930338.asp?cp1=1