THE BEST AND BADDEST BELIZE HOTELS
One of these days, I’ll get around to updating my Belize Book of Lists, which listed the top 10 everything in Belize. In the meantime, here’s my take on the best and baddest of Belize hotels, in several categories.
MOST LUXE My vote has to go to the villas at Caye Chapel Island Resort. These 3,800 sq. ft. villas have marble floors, incredible wide screen views of the Caribbean just steps away, furnishings out of Architectural Digest, ice-cold A/C and of course all the golf you can stand at Belize’s only 18-hole golf course. The Caye Chapel villas soon will have some serious competition from the new villas Nadia and Philippe of Mata Chica are building just north of their present resort. La Perla del Caribe will probably open around March 2005. Among other top luxury digs: the private villas at Cayo Espanto, where I stayed last summer, the two-bedroom villas at Francis Ford Coppola’s Blancaneaux and Turtle Inn, the deluxe condos at Robert’s Grove, and the suites at Hamanasi.
TOP VALUES Belize gets a bum rap for being an expensive place to visit. Fact is, you can sleep and eat well in Belize for not much money. True, Belize doesn’t have the dirt-cheap spots that Nicaragua has, but it has plenty of clean, affordable guesthouses and hotels. Some of my picks for top value: Hotel Aguada in San Ignacio, or rather, in its sister town, Santa Elena. When you can get a clean, modern room with A/C, a pool to swim in and a good restaurant, all for around US$30 double, go for it. No wonder it is often full. Also in and around San Ignacio, The Trek Stop (US$10 a person) has tiny but nice cabins, and Martha’s and Casa Blanca Guesthouse offer excellent rooms in San Ignacio town at highly affordable prices. In Bullet Tree, not far away, there’s the Parrot’s Nest and several other good-value country lodges. Even in pricey San Pedro, you can stay for a song, or US$12.50 a person (and not much more for a couple, off season) at Pedro’s Backpacker Inn. And, for the money you can’t go wrong at Ruby’s or the newly renovated rooms at Coral Beach. My son and daughter recently stayed in the standard rooms in the new section of Banana Beach, and I thought they were great, with attractive furnishings, cold A/C, cable TV and phones, considering the rate was only US$81 double in low season. Another top value in San Pedro is Corona del Mar, with regular rooms in the summer from just US$55 double and seafront rooms at US$95 (plus tax and 10% service).
JUNGLE LODGES FOR THOSE WHO LIKE THEIR COMFORTS The great thing about jungle lodges in Belize is that, after a hard day in the bush, you can get a cold beer and even a Cuban cigar. My picks for top comfort in the jungle include the Lodge at Chaa Creek, the queen of jungle lodges with its new honeymoon suites and Orchid Villa, and Blancaneaux Lodge in the Mountain Pine Ridge, when you can drink Coppola-Neibaum wine and enjoy handmade pasta. You’ll lack no creature comforts, either, at Hidden Valley Inn in the Pine Ridge, now with refurbished cottages and a dashing new pool. If you must have air-conditioning, Jaguar Paw does the trick, and though it’s not a luxury lodge, some of the units at Banana Bank Lodge now are air-conditioned, too. Barry Bowen’s Chan Chich, though not as luxe as some, is extremely comfortable, with an incredible setting and unmatched opportunities for birding and wildlife spotting.
HOTELS I STILL MISS Hotels come and go. Of those in Belize that have gone, I still miss Four Fort Street Guesthouse in Belize City, with its Colonial-era ambiance and good food. It closed in 2001. I have to bemoan the conversion, earlier this year, of Colton House in Belize City to a private residence. People still ask me about Bill Wildman’s old Adventure Inn in Consejo, closed now for over 10 years. In July, I looked at one of the original Adventure Inn cabañas, with about 66 feet of beachfront on the bay, which was for sale for US$66,000. It sold a few days after I visited it.
HOTELS THAT HAVE NEVER LIVED UP TO THEIR POTENTIAL At the top of my list is the Princess Hotel & Casino. The public areas and the casino are pretty nice, but the rooms are third-rate with leftover furnishings from its previous two hotel incarnations.
NEW HOTELS The burst of new hotel construction of the late 1990s has slowed a bit, but new places are opening here and there. One of the most impressive is La Perla del Caribe on North Ambergris, by the folks who brought you Mata Chica. It should open in Spring 2005. Zeboz on the Placencia peninsula, a modern condo-style property which opened in late 2003, has plans to eventually grow to 144 units. The Inn at Robert’s Grove has just opened its “Bora Bora” style cabanas at Robert’s Caye, a little dab of sand 10 miles off the coast of Placencia. Then there’s Royal Caribbean Resort south of San Pedro, which is a story in itself.
ALL-INCLUSIVES I’m not a big fan of all-inclusives, but I’ve got to say that with rates for meals and tours and such going up, up and up, some of the all-inclusives are looking pretty good. Mopan River Resort remains for me the best value of the bunch. For a rate that works out to about US$350 double per night, you get everything included, from a lovely room and good food to tours (even to Tikal), transport, taxes and tips. Kanantik between Hopkins and Placencia is a gorgeous all-inclusive on the beach.
BEACH RESORTS Belize has too many to begin to list, but among my top 10 are Caye Chapel Island Resort, Turtle Inn, Inn at Robert’s Grove, Hamanasi, Victoria House, Villas at Banyan Bay, Banana Beach, Portofino, Kitty’s Place, Kanantik, Jaguar Reef. Hey’s that already more than 10, so I’ll stop there.