My version of a trip report. March 2004. Only based on places stayed at, restaurants sampled and activities done on this most recent trip. From a travel agent’s point of view…
Best surprise find – tie between The Aguada Hotel & Banana Bank Lodge’s Renovation/Addition. The Aguada, a sweet multi generational family run place in the Cayo’s twin town of Santa Elena, is a quiet but popular spot out of the hustle & bustle of San Ignacio. Great for families with its pool, playground & pond (tons of frogs, turtles, fish to feed). The 3 P’s that make any family vacation better! Add puppies and you’ve got it made! The hotel dog, a roti mix named Maxine, had 4 recently. My 6 yr old’s favorite hotel of the 5 we stayed in. Good food, reasonable prices (doubles starting at $35/nt, family rooms at $45), friendly helpful staff. Best if you have your own vehicle but can take a taxi into SI town for about $5. Great tours available for less than you would pay in town. Family tours a specialty. Internet, TV, A/C. Conference/community room being built along with 4 new pond side rooms. Artists on site! Kids on site! Hair braiding on site!
Banana Bank Lodge is located on the Belize River at Western Hwy mile marker 46 near Belmopan. Close enough for a day trip from San Pedro. I had been to the lodge several years ago but was very impressed with the renovations and improvements. The addition of Chateau Brio adds another dimension to an already lovely property. It houses 3 suites and 2 standard rooms with stained glass windows, 4 poster beds, A/C, outside spiral stairs. The roomy 2 bedroom cabanas have been cleaned up and seemed brighter so offer a good alternative for non A/C loving patrons. Additional 2 new rooms with community room now located under artist/owner Carolyn Carr’s studio. Equistrian center on site – possibly the best in Belize. Lots of wildlife on site with large aviary, spider monkey runs, & Tika, the most photographed Jaguar in Belize! The new, neighboring Green Dragon property offers a pool for Banana Banks guests, along with a few lodge rooms and cabanas to come. Pool BBQ’s and a light menu top the treat! Flights now available from San Pedro to Belmopan for $150 R/T and a Banana Bank fly & horseback ride daytrip tour package runs $259 per person (from San Pedro or Placencia). A good value for people wanting a day in the jungle without staying overnight.
Best Food – this was a hard one so I decided to break it into many categories. In the years I have been coming to Belize, the food has improved so much! Used to be mainly chicken, rice & beans, fish, seafood. Now, the variety is endless!
Best breakfast – (island) Josie’s Kitchen (at the old La Margarita) S of town, a block inland from the municipal dock. The Huevos Rancheros were the best I have ever had (and I live on the Mexican border!) The homemade tomatillo based salsa is awesome. Good coffee too! Best part – serves breakfast till 2 PM!! Chef Duane does it again! This place is newly taken over by the folks who own Café Ole and I wish them success with it!
Of course the pastries at Rubies are always a must and the Seafood omelet at El Divino was divine, as is the setting.
(Mainland) Cahal Pech Village, San Ignacio - Banana pancakes with a side of ham (try the ham in Belize it is terrific!)
Best Lunch – (island) The Bicho BBQ – ‘nuff said!
(Mainland) Mancho’s (on Burns Ave San Ignacio) Great garnaches, tostados, salbutes – try some of each! Kids ate & ate. Watermelon & other fresh fruit juices too. We drank about 9 juices between the 4 of us! Total cost was about $18 BZD. No sign on the place but it is between Tai San Chinese Restaurant & Mickey’s Ice Cream.
Also terrific on the island – Pauly’s Pizza (and I am a NY pizza snob), Annie’s Deli next to Jaguar’s Temple (try the chicken puffs, they are spicier than you would think!), and of course, the meat pie guy selling around town.
Best Dinner – (island) tie between El Patio and Caramba’s. El Patio (Black Coral St) had a special on garlic oregano shrimp that was just delicious. Came with salad or steamed veggies, coconut rice & dessert. Always get the special of the day in Belize – you cannot lose!
Cocina Caramba’s (Pescador St) bacon wrapped shrimp was excellent. Actually I ordered the shrimp in coconut sauce, my 6 yr old had the fish & chips and my 10 yr old had the bacon wrapped shrimp but we all shared and decided the bacon wrapped shrimp was the best! Great ceviche appetizer too. Rene, the owner, is as personable as he is good looking!
(mainland) Iguana Junction – New little place located outside San Ignacio in the village of Bullet Tree Falls. Very limited menu (2 choices for dinner, vegetarian or not) but whatever local resident Naida is cooking, it’s the best you will eat! My find was curried chicken, coconut rice and sautéed veggies. Even the kids loved it! And excellent banana cake for dessert.
Best View – (mainland) from the balconies of the cabanas at Cahal Pech Village. With the misty morning rising over the San Ignacio valley….can’t get much more peaceful than that!
(island) Anywhere you look!
Best rooms – (island) The new Tower Suite at Victoria House is possibly the finest room on the island! Can rent the suite only ($310 – 465/nt) or the whole 4 bedroom house ($1150 – 1600/nt). Large, spacious, gracious digs. Full size Jacuzzi Hot tub in the huge master bath, king size 4 poster bed, spiral stairs, private pool, gorgeous beachfront – all adjoining the lovely Victoria House property & serviced by the top notch V H staff. Casitas are getting a face lift with french doors, etc too.
Also notable, The new O’Farrell House. Just N of the Yacht club behind the Jade Garden restaurant. Fun, funky colorful 3 bedroom house owned and operated by The Palms people. Top notch place with private pool, lots of hammocks, laundry facilities, free satellite hook up for laptops. Great for families. Kids on site! Private dock, boat & catamaran connection.
(mainland) New Tree top suites or Orchard Villa at Chaa Creek
Best attention to detail – Chaa Creek (Cayo district) hands down. The place is looking good! Spa is fab! I’d like to stay there for a month (sans kids!) But even the kids had fun canoeing and swimming while I checked out the rooms. The new treetop suite are huge and stunning – perched over the river in lush lush setting with private sunken Jacuzzi hot tub on balcony. New family suites & conference/community center with board games, internet, etc. As always, immaculate grounds (for the jungle in Belize!)
Best find – (mainland) Bol’s Jungle Tours – nature trails, caves, birding, trekking on private reserve just short of the gate to the Pine Ridge. Basically you just have to go there – no phone, no email. Great people & place.
(island) Master Lee! On Bucaneer St across from the big pink post office building. Accupressure/massage/healing master. Did his thing on my 10 yr old and totally got rid of a headache/neckache (probably gotten on the roads in the Pine Ridge!) We saw him in the fried chicken shop but he has a real massage studio across the street in the P.O. Building. Also makes great fried chicken!!!
Best Improvements – besides the previously mentioned Banana Bank Lodge…the renovations and painting at The Sunbreeze. Added beach area and “kayak marina” in front of Xanadu.
Best new place –(island) Hammock House – walk or take a taxi to the cut. Good music, good food, good people. My kids loved the hammocks and slide but the open 2nd floor construction might be a bit stressful for those with kids under 3 or 4.
Also the new Ambergris Jade Museum, Barrier Reef Dr. Great collection of jade artifacts and historical info. Very educational and interesting. Beautiful jewelry and pieces for sale, can also arrange lectures and educational tours for school groups, etc.
(Mainland) - Cohune Palms, Cayo (Sweet little new place in Bullet Tree Falls – 3 shared bath cabanas and 1 private bath cabana, communal kitchen/palapa with hammocks on the Mopan River. Walking distance to Iguana Junction (see best food section). Great for families or small groups on a budget. $30-40 US/nt.)
Best place to work (if you have to!) – (island) Caribbean Connection Internet Café (Barrier Reef Dr) High speed internet, Jazz, cappuccino, espresso. Had my first latte in Belize (needed rum!!) Cheap, easy calls to the US & overseas. Even had my digital camera disk downloaded to a CD. Open till 10 PM.
Island Internet, S of town, or the "gutted but soon to be reopened" Coconet also good options.
(mainland) – Café Cayo, Burns Ave San Ignacio – Ultra modern (for Belize!) cyber café & Italian bistro/ bar. Board games too.
Best Gift Shops – (island) Lots to choose from…The Sea Gal (in the Holiday Hotel) is always great and has unique items. Mambo Chill (related to Mata Chica both literally and artistically) for chic and cool clothes & shoes. Toucan di Bush, Ambergris Handcrafts (Pescador Dr), Ambar Jewelry (in Fido’s).
(Mainland) Caesar’s – mile 60.5 on the Western Highway. Awesome woodworkers!
Best Attraction/Activity – (mainland) Barton Creek Cave. Tremendous powerful place half way up the Mountain Pine Ridge in Amish country. Can canoe or tube through 2+ miles of stream running through the cave. Quiet peaceful place which stays cool with the breezes from the cave. My 10 yr old’s favorite spot of the trip. Mike’s Place on site rents canoes, spotlights and all the gear. Need a licensed guide to tour with.
(island) Bicho fishing trip. My 6 yr old’s favorite day!
Best nightlife – Surprise!!! This trip it was in San Ignacio. Bar hopped the night away from Cahal Pech Entertainment Center (big enough to be a skating rink!), to Déjà vu (just over the bridge in Santa Elena), to Coco-nutz (downtown San Ignacio) to late night dancing spot Legends 2000. Too much fun!!!
Dancing like a maniac with Elisabeth & friends at Fido’s to Category X was a close second!
Best ice cream – (island) – Manelly’s, Barrier Reef Dr. Try the coconut!
(mainland) Yoli’s on West Street, San Ignacio – try the pineapple! Also serves light food and pizza.
Best Bakery – (island) – Rubies or La Popular, the old stand bys never fail
(mainland) The Old French Bakery on the lower floor of the new JNC “mall” across from the San Ignacio town Park. Also accessible off Burns Ave.
Another great trip to Beautiful Belize. It’s a tough job, checking all this stuff out, but someone’s got to do it! Thanks to everyone who put us up (The Palms, The Holiday Hotel, The Aguada, Cahal Pech Village, Cohune Palms) and who put up with us! Thanks to Budget Auto Rental for the vehicle, Maya & Tropic for the flights, Patrick Warrior for the guiding service and companionship, Frances for the kid stuff, Ana for everything, Jules for letting the kids play on the water toys, Casa Picasso for the Birthday cake, Cap’t Bicho & family, all the hotel staff who showed me rooms, Elisabeth, Barefoot Skinny, Pablo, Tim, Oscar & Javier and my whole “Belize Family!”