Here's a mainland trip report with some good info on Hopkins, Tobacco Caye, etc. from a Belize First reader -- we'll post on our Web edition but thought I'd pass it along.
Thanks to Belize First, I got some great info that really influenced my trip plans. My wife says this trip was the best she had ever taken.
Hopkins-Tobacco Caye-San Ignacio
Day 1 - Arrive in Belize City, find that USAIR lost our luggage. We got on a Tropic Air flight to Dangriga, which has a pretty rustic, but effective airport. Patricia from Tipple Tree Beya picked us up for the 45 min trip to Hopkins. Tipple Tree is a budget accommodation, but probably the nicest one in Hopkins. We were right across the street from Iris's restaurant, where we had lobster for $22 Belize ($11 US) for two tails, a bit overcooked, but still quite a bargain. We also ate at Innie's, Yagadda, and the Watering Hole (literally across the street from Tipple Tree).
There is not much to do in Hopkins. We were there to dive, but since our dive gear did not make it for 24+ hours, we could not go diving on the day we arrived or the day after. I did set up dives for Monday. I contacted both Hamanasi and Second Nature. Hamanasi was excellent to deal with. Second Nature divers never did respond to my e-mail. As luck would have it...I ran into Second Nature on their boat on the Sittee River while canoeing. They were quite nice, but for some reason did not want to arrange any dives in the next few days?!?!? In my judgement, they will not be in the dive biz long if they don't improve their response time, and actually go on the occasional dive trip (two other couples mentioned difficulties with Second Nature to me).
Our luggage showed up Sunday evening...after several discussions with the USAIR manager in Belize City. They wanted me to jump in a cab to pick up my luggage in Dangriga...about 1:30 round trip. I said they had an obligation to deliver my luggage, they agreed...but were very reluctant. Finally, one of the agents called a friend in Dangriga, that drove our luggage to us.
Day 2 was spent biking and canoeing. We rented canoes from Toucan Sitee river. An excellent 3+ hour paddle. We saw lots of wildlife including a croc. We met several couples while staying at Tipple Tree. We ended up drinking and having a blast together (Patricia even came out for a "Tipple".) It seemed odd to me that so many people kept showing up wondering if there were rooms available. I was amazed to find that a dozen or so people would just show up in Hopkins and stager around for a place to stay.
Day 3 we spet with Hamanasi on a dive trip to Glover's reef. This is an excellent organization. They were a bit unorganized on the dock before the trip (it felt like I was watching a 5 stooges skit), but once we got rolling, all went well. Richard is an excellent dive master. The crew was also above par. The only issue was how conservative they were (60' max on first dive for 40 mins, then 50' for 40 mins on the next two dives). As usual, there were a few door-knobs exceeding the Haminasi requests (not me), but they handled it well. Glover's is exceptional diving...turtles, coral, and the usual reef fish were healthy and plentiful.
Day 4-5- found us traveling from Hopkins to Dangriga, then out to Tobacco Caye. Patricia took us again, but we suffered a flat on the way. When we went to change the tire, we found that one lug nut was stripped...ouch. Just then, a pickup pulled up, and out rolled Richard from Haminasi...who had a wrench that loosened the lug nut. Hell of a guy that Richard.
We got to Riverside Cafe in Dangriga, and took the shuttle to Tobacco Caye with Cap'n Buck. He's good. We set up a dive with Andy at Tobacco Caye Diving, and went out that afternoon along with several other folks. The diving was good...not as good as Glover's, but who can complain. We stayed at Ocean's Edge. Nice folks, decent enough accommodations (rustic, bargain, but it had hot water, hot food, and a bar).
Ocean's Edge was $90 per day US, and included meals. Meals were served family style, so we met several other couples. I'm a pretty big guy, and found myself leaving the table a bit hungry on nearly every occasion. Since the weather ran afoul, I suspect the fresh fish was tough to come by. We subsisted on chicken, pork chop, some fish, and frozen/thawed conch. Pretty tasty, food, but again, not quite enough. I don't want to make it sound like meager portions...and I'm sure if I would have asked, they would have brought out more, but still...if nearly everyone cleared everything from their plates you almost expect to hear "would you like more?"
There are two dive operations on the island. Ocean's Edge has a deal with Tobacco Caye Divers (Andy and his cap'n Terri) do a decent job of things. Andy was sick, so he was a bit snippy at times, but I understand. One day, Andy took
another group out for a bird watch, so we did a dive with Reef's End Lodge (Eric). They ended up to be $5 cheaper a dive, and went out much further along the reef. Andy tended to drive out 3 or 4 mins, then drop into the water (again, he was sick...and that undoubtedly played a part). We did do the same dive twice...I didn't realize until I looked at my pictures of the same coral head. Reef's end was very cautious about taking biz away from Andy. I found them to be very customer focused...but I only did one dive with them. I don't think Eric is a certified dive master, but he knew his stuff just like one. Good enough for me. One odd observation. Andy at Tobacco Caye was selective about who he would take diving. I thought that was odd and not very cool until I dove with the folks at Reef's End. The people they took (who had been diving with them all week) were awful divers. They would constantly zip around in front, and on top of others, taking pics of everything. They ended up scaring much of the sea life away, and burning up their air quickly. They also took FOREVER to get into the water despite constant "lets go" from Eric. Andy mentioned he wouldn't take certain divers that lacked ability or that were staying at a certain other budget place on Tobacco. Now I know why, and I have to agree. I inquired about several other places on Tobacco about the accommodations. Everyone I talked to that stayed at Gaviotti's did not like it (including some staff). I understand they refereed to Raymond at Ocean's Edge as "the devil". I cannot confirm or deny his affiliation with Lucifer, but I do know he makes a mean rum punch. I can strongly recommend Ocean's Edge and both dive shops on the island.
Day 6 we took the very rough trip via boat to Dangriga. 45 mins of constant fanny slapping 4'-6' waves. We chose to wear our wet suits. It made for an odd arrival in Dangriga, but we were much more comfortable for it...thanks for the suggestion Andy.
We had arranged a trip with Aguada hotel to San Ignacio. Their shuttle turned up right on time, and the drive was very scenic. We mentioned we would like to visit the inland blue hole, but the driver said that we wouldn't like it as it was "rubbish". Still, I would have liked to have stopped by.
Aguada is a real hotel, about a mile or so from downtown San Ignacio. The staff is friendly, the room is comfortable, and the price is right. A taxi to town is US $2.50 for two people...and they are all over the place.
San Ig is a cute town...not literally, as it has dirt roads and shabby looking store fronts, but it is touristy without leaving you feeling taken advantage of...
We did a tour of Aktun Tunichil Muknal cave with Mayawalk tours. An outstanding tour, but not for the old, weak or obese. It's a 45 min hike with 3 river crossings, then a dive into cold water, with several 15 to 20 yard swims interspersed along the cave. It took about an hour to get to the payoff in the cave. The cave itself is an excellent tour, but to see Mayan artifacts...skulls, and full skeletons just inches from your face is outstanding. There are no ropes or barriers to keep you from touching these things...often just inches from your foot. They often have to lead you step by step so you don't tread on 1800 year old artifacts. The guide is exceptional. One of the best tours I've every taken.
Summary of Belize:
-The people are very nice, and genuine. I felt that I should be on guard at all times, but often discovered that the people are very honest, sincere, and friendly. You don't have to feel like you could be fleeced at any time.
-I was on a budget, and the places I stayed were all decent, but not Hyatt material. I chose the less traveled road, and was quite thankful I took that path. Belize can be a cheap place to stay. I think you miss out on something if you stay at a large resort. On the other hand, the ultra budget places that I saw were not inhabitable for my standards. I suggest you stay at a budget place, but not the cheapest place in town...there is a reason they are so cheap.
-I used a combo of Fodor's and Lonely Planet guide. Both were accurate enough, and worth the price.
-Don't take the bus unless it is cost prohibitive. I saw two overloaded busses broken down on the road with dozens of people thumbing for rides. Try to arrange transport with your inn.
-Bring Off, long sleeve shirts, socks, and pants. We were eaten alive in all places we stayed...sometimes even pure DEET didn't work. You get it mostly around the ankles.
That's enough for now I guess. A big thanks to Belize First...I just thought I owed them a note of my own.