A new travel guidebook to Belize -- the first to focus only on the mainland -- also is the first to include star ratings of hotels and visitor attractions.

Belize First Guide to Mainland Belize by Lan Sluder rates and ranks hotels and tourist sites from one to five stars.

Four hotels, including Blancaneaux Lodge in the Mountain Pine Ridge, Chaa Creek Spa and Resort in Cayo, Chan Chich Lodge at Gallon Jug in Orange Walk District, and Inn at Robert's Grove in Seine Bight received the top rating of five stars. Another 13 hotels received four stars: Banana Bank, duPlooy's, Ek 'Tun, Jaguar Paw and Mopan River Resort in Cayo District, Lamanai Outpost Lodge in Orange Walk District, Great House and Radisson Fort George in Belize City, Jaguar Reef near Hopkins, and Kitty's Place, Luba Hati, Nautical Inn and Rum Point Inn in Placencia.

Altogether more than 120 hotels earned stars for overall quality, service, amenities, value and location. Among them were 33 mainland hotels which received three stars, 37 which received two stars, and 34 which received one star. Several hotels were considered too new to rate.

The Belize Zoo and Caracol head the list of attractions of interest to visitors, both earning five stars. Four stars went to a number of other attractions including butterfly farms, Maya sites, national parks and recreational activities. The new guide covers all areas of mainland Belize including Belize City and Corozal, Orange Walk, Cayo, Stann Creek, Toledo and Belize districts.

Lan Sluder is editor and publisher of Belize First Magazine and has been writing and reporting about Belize since 1991. He recently updated and revised the Belize sections of Fodor's Belize & Guatemala Guide and UpClose Central America, both recently published by Random House. Sluder is the author of several other books and also has contributed to Caribbean Travel & Life, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, Canada's Globe & Mail and many other magazines and newspapers. He is at work now on a new book covering relocation and retirement in Belize, to be published by Avalon in 2001.

Sluder says he personally visited nearly all of the hotels and sites covered in the book, logging thousands of miles in buses and cars. For the few hotels and visitor attractions he didn't visit personally, Sluder says he relied on reports from other travel writers and from readers of his magazine. "Belize has some of the best hotels you'll find anywhere -- friendly spots with a lot of personality," says Sluder.

The new guide came out just after Hurricane Keith hit Belize, but information in the book remains accurate and up-to-date, Sluder says, since few mainland tourist attractions, hotels or restaurants were seriously affected by the storm. A companion to the mainland guide, Belize First Guide to the Cayes, is planned for early next year, covering Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker and other offshore islands. That new guide will have complete "post-Keith" information on these areas, Sluder says.

The 288-page Guide to Mainland Belize has more than 75 photos and maps. It is available, at US$14.95, from on-line and other bookstores including and also from the publisher, Equator, at 270 Beaverdam Road, Candler, NC 28715 USA, e-mail [email protected] Subscribers to Belize First Magazine in more than 30 countries around the world also will receive the Mainland Belize guide as part of their subscriptions.

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Lan Sluder/Belize First