Rambling the Coast
and Cayes of Belize: 2004
By LAN SLUDER www.belizefirst.com
On this visit to Belize, in July and August 2004, I spent most of my time rambling the coast and cayes. I was in Hopkins, Placencia, Belize City and Corozal on the mainland, and in San Pedro, Caye Chapel and a couple of small islands off Stann Creek. I also revisited San Ignacio and Belmopan, Spanish Lookout and Orange Walk Town.
My family and I stayed at 11 different hotels. Over the last 15 years, I’ve probably stayed in about 100 different hotels, resorts, lodges, and guesthouses in Belize, maybe more, and I’ve visited and toured another 150 or 200.
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 Lodge and Turtle Inn, the deluxe condos at Robert’s Grove, and the suites at Hamanasi. The two-bedroom condos at Villas at Banyan Bay and the villas at Victoria House, both south of San Pedro town, are also in the running.
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). On Caye Caulker you've got a whole bunch of great values. Tree Tops is at the top of my list.
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-Niebaum 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 that 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, that’s already more than 10, so I’ll stop there.
There are two ways of looking at Corozal Town and environs: Either it’s still a sleepy small town, where very little has changed in the past 15 or 20 years, or else it’s a place about ready to take off, at the edge of the booming Yucatán, with big-time gaming on the way and a bunch of new retirees moving in. You can argue either side, and in Corozal you do get both views, and sometimes from the same fellow.
On the surface at least, not a lot has changed. True, a couple of new hotels have opened (see below), but some of the other hotels in town are either for sale or barely have their doors open. One of the biggest changes, in 2003, was that the new Gabriel Hoare Market replaced the old vegetable market. I sorta liked the old one, myself. On the other hand, some things are definitely moving in Corozal. The Free Zone is still rolling along. It consists of more than 200 acres, with another 200 acres available for development. There are over 250 businesses in the Zone, including five gas stations, employing over a thousand people. One small casino is open, and the new Las Vegas Hotel & Casino (architects Lee & Sakahara, contractor El Dorado Investments, Ltd.) adjoining the Zone is supposed to eventually have 300 hotel rooms. How much all this has benefited local residents is hard to say. It has generated jobs, but as one Corozaleño put it, “Pumping gas in the Free Zone is not a career.”
One reason Corozal may rock ‘n roll, if it does, is its next-door neighbor, Chetumal. The Mexican government and private investors have poured billions into development along the Cancun-Tulum corridor, and now they’re moving farther south. Cruise ships now dock several times a week at Majahual.
Chetumal, a city with a population nearly equal to that of the entire country of Belize, may at long last get an international airport. Already, it has a U.S.-style shopping mall, La Plaza de las Americas, which sports ultra-chilled air and a 10-screen cineplex (most movies are in English with Spanish subtitles.) The mall is anchored by a large Chedraui store and by Liverpool department store.
Supposedly, Wal-Mart will also open in Chetumal. You can get a Big Mac at one of the McDonald’s in Chet and buy your office supplies at Office Depot. If you need to see a doc, you can get first-rate medical care. Dental, too. All at very reasonable prices. Of course, for non-citizens and nonresidents of Belize, the Belize government’s US$18.75 exit fee is a deterrent to crossing the border. Which I guess is the idea.
One expat couple who retired to Corozal, Roger and Deema Kay Thompson, make this point, however: “We used to do a lot more shopping outside of Corozal—Belize City and Orange Walk along with Chetumal and even vacations to Cancun to pick up some items. But Corozal now boasts three new fully stocked, locally owned grocery stores. Also, back in Corozal after an absence of one year is A&R Variety Store. With these stores close at hand there is no need to go out of Corozal for more than a couple of items.” They note that as residents they don’t have to pay the exit fee.
On another front, the area is also generating more interest from would-be retirees. The authors (under pseudonyms) of Belize Retirement Guide still live in Corozal. In my own guides to living and retiring in Belize — Adapter Kit: Belize and my new eBook, Easy Belize — I’ve always touted the Corozal area as the best place in Belize for affordable, safe and comfortable living. Despite what you may have heard, there’s plenty of real estate still available, at relatively inexpensive prices, compared both to the rest of Belize and certainly to the U.S. and Costa Rica, though Nicaragua and parts of Honduras and Panama are far cheaper. The road to Consejo is still lined with undeveloped land. Granted, though, a few places have actually been selling lots. Smuggler’s Den reportedly has only one seafront lot left (contact Ray Wagner at [email protected]
or call + 501-614-8146). Art Higgins’ Mayan Seaside next door has sold quite a few lots. Lots (not on the water) there have been offered for as little at US$9,000 to $10,000, with financing. There are a couple of little houses already built. Higgins was in Houston when I there, so I didn’t get a chance to talk with him. You can probably reach him at [email protected]
, tel. 281-497-7797.
I did get to see Bill Wildman, Belize’s best surveyor, real estate guy extraordinaire and overall fine fellow who developed Consejo Shores many years ago. Bill, by the way, is recuperating from some serious surgery, which was done in Belize City at the Universal Medical Services hospital. He raves about the people and medical care there. Jenny Wildman is in Placencia handling real estate sales on the peninsula. They have a new address in Placencia: Bayshore Limited, 100 Embarcadero Rd., Maya Beach, Stann Creek District, tel. 501-523- 8019; www.bayshorebelize.com,
e-mail [email protected]
There are three or four houses under construction there now at Consejo Shores, to go with the several hands full of homes that are already there. There’s even a new little 9- hole golf course under construction at Consejo Shores. The only beachfront lots remaining are a couple of re-sales up near Consejo village, but there are some lovely big lots with water views in the US$20,000 range. I think of all the places I’ve seen in Belize over the years, I still like Consejo Shores the best. I don’t know why I’ve never bought a lot there. Maybe I will, one of these days.
Next to Consejo Shores, at the site of the old Don Quixote Hotel, a new fertility and genetics clinic, Reproductive Genetics Institute, is being built. It’s one of some 20 clinics in the U.S. (Chicago, Boston, Denver and elsewhere) and around the world (Russia, Cyprus, Belarus and elsewhere). RGI performs in vitro fertilization and embryo transfers, preimplantation and preconception genetics diagnosis for families at high risk for producing children with genetic disorders and other testing for genetic disorders. A principal of RGI is Uri Velinsky, based in Chicago.
Charming Charlotte Zahniser at Charlotte’s Web cybercafé and used book exchange on Fifth Ave. (which is for sale, by the way, if you’ve ever wanted to own an Internet café in Belize) runs a little side business locating rental houses for expats. She says the cheapies, US$200 to $300 a month, are the most in demand, and that such places are still available, at least off-season. And there are plenty of more upmarket houses in the US$400-$700 range.
The food scene in Coro hasn’t changed much. Café Kelá on First Ave. across the street from the bay is still the best in town, although this summer, due to an addition to the owner’s household, hubby Stefan is holding down the fort and the restaurant is open only by advance reservation. You can eat well there for under US$10. Tony’s is still pretty good (fajitas are the way to go here), and the seaside setting is pleasant. We are saddened to hear of the death in August of longtime owner Tony Castillo. Next door, Corozal Bay Inn’s outdoor restaurant gets a good bit of business for drinks and meals, and there’s a new waterfall backdrop for the restaurant. One of my favorite joints, Cactus Plaza, on 6th St. South is renovating and adding another floor and appears, unfortunately, to be moving more towards being a bar and nightclub than a restaurant. TJ’s restaurant wasn’t open when I stopped by, but I’m told it serves breakfast and lunch six days a week and attracts a good number of foreign retirees for morning coffee. The guesthouse and restaurant are for sale.
My family and I had a huge, filling dinner with multiple appetizers, drinks and main dishes for almost nothing at Patti’s Bistro, next to the undertakers. But don’t worry — the food is good and a real bargain. Out in Consejo, Smugger’s Den still gets some activity on weekend nights.
Yes, you’ll find a few changes in the lodging end in Corozal Town: Central Guesthouse has closed. Hok’ol K’in Guesthouse, TJ’s and the Hotel Maya are up for sale, most at what I consider somewhat unrealistic prices. TJ’s is asking US$650,000 (on a cash flow basis, probably worth one-third to one-half of that), and Hok’ol K’in has been reduced to US$760,000. With the death of Tony Castillo, I don’t know exactly what will happen with the estate, but Tony’s Inn has been at least informally on the market for several millions. Rosita May of Maya’s also has a campground now. Nestor’s has changed hands again, and the rooms are undergoing a major renovation. I’m told a nice young couple now owns it, and we wish them well, but frankly, I don’t quite get it. You’re not going to be able to ask much more for rooms at that location in the middle of town, away from the water. But the renovations will be an improvement. I also don’t get the upscale B&B at the South End, Villa Americas, with rates of US$315 a night in- season — who in the world would pay prices like that in Corozal?!
Also in the same South End area as Tony’s, (sometimes called Gringo Trail), there are several welcome additions to the lodging inventory in Corozal:
Corozal Bay Inn, Almond Dr., P.O. Box 1, Corozal Town; tel. 501-422-2691, fax 800-836-9188 in the U.S. and Canada; e-mail [email protected]
Rates: US$80 double (with possible discounts off-season) plus 7% tax. V and MC accepted. Corozal Bay Inn has been around for several years, but owners Doug and Marie Podzun sold their original funky units (now renovated, called Hotel Paradise, and offered up by the new owner, locally known as “Herman the German,” as mostly weekly or longer-term accommodations, at affordable rates) and have created a charming new cabaña colony by the bay. Doug and Maria — she’s originally from Mexico, and he’s a Canadian by birth of German heritage who moved to Belize with his family when he was a youngster — have built 10 attractive cabañas on the water. The cabañas, painted in colorful tropical pastels, are surprisingly spacious and have bay thatch roofs. While most of them are situated to catch the breeze from the bay, they do have air-conditioning (though on a hot day the A/C units may struggle to cool all that open space under the thatch), tile baths, two comfortable beds in each cabaña, and 27” TVs with cable. Two units at the back connect, making them ideal for families. Doug had several hundred dump truck loads of sand brought in and created a tropical beach on the bay. There is a seawall, but you’ll love the water view and the concrete pier. You can sit by the pool, sip something cold in the redone outdoor restaurant and bar and, if you have a wireless laptop, check your e-mail, as Corozal Bay Inn boasts one of the only hot spots in Belize. All in all, the Podzuns have turned their place into one of the nicest spots to stay in northern Belize.
Copa Banana Guesthouse by the Bay, 409 Corozal Bay Rd., P.O. Box 226, Corozal Town, tel. 501-422-0284, fax 422-2710; e-mail [email protected]
Rates: US$55 double/US$350 week, plus 7% tax. V and MC accepted. If you’re in town shopping for property around Corozal, or staying awhile en route farther south, you couldn’t do much better than this guesthouse, new in early 2004. The rates are affordable, you can cook meals in the common kitchen, complete with dishware, stove, coffee maker, microwave and fridge, and the owners even run a real estate business, Belize North Real Estate Ltd. Connie and her partner, Gregg, have done up two banana-yellow one- story, ranch-style concrete houses, with a total of five guest rooms (some with queen beds, some with two twins) across the street from their expansive home on the water. The house where my family and I stayed had three bedrooms, each with en suite bath and cable TV, plus a modern kitchen, dining area and living room, so guests have private bedrooms but share the common space. As it happened, there were no other guests when we stayed there, so in effect we had our own private house. It would be a little different if there were other guests. It would be a little like spending the night at your cousin Joe’s house, sharing a hallway and living area with other folks who happen to be in town. They also have a car or two for rent for US$70 a day, and scooters for US$8 an hour. There’s no pool, and you’re not directly on the water, but there is a view of the bay, and the owners are bringing in sand from the bay for a beach area. Water toys such as boogie boards, rafts and inner tubes are available for guests.
It always makes me feel good to be back in Hopkins. Folks are so friendly, and there’s always something quirky or funny or engaging in the village to make you smile. The two big (well, big by Belize standards) resorts here, Jaguar Reef and Hamanasi, are both looking great. Hamanasi’s grounds are now nicely filled out with tropical plantings, and I like the way the new entrance is set up.
I’ve stayed at Jaguar Reef several times, but this trip we spent the night at Cocoplum Caye, (tel. 501-520-7040 or in the U.S. and Canada 800-289-5756, fax 501-520-7091; www.cocoplumcay.com)
a 16-acre island which Bruce Foerster, head honcho at Jaguar Reef, leases from a prominent Belizean businessman. Cocoplum is about 35 or 40 minutes by boat from Jaguar Reef. Rates are US$346 per night, double, off-season and US$397 in-season on an all-inclusive basis (all meals, tours, boat transfers, taxes, tips and beer, liquor and soft drinks included). Dive packages are only a little more. There’s a three-day minimum. We enjoyed our brief stay. Meals are served in a thatch cabana at water’s edge — a delicious lobster was the entree the night we were there. Snorkeling around the island is better than from the mainland shore, but for the best snorkeling and diving you still need to take a boat to the reef. We didn’t see it, but I’m told there’s a sea cow (a manatee) that visits the island most afternoons. The pastel-colored wood cottages, built before Jaguar Reef took over management of the island, are comfortable, and they have air-conditioning. When the wind dies down, sand flies can be a nuisance. The A/C went off in the cottage where the kids were staying and, not thinking clearly, I suggested they open the windows. Bad idea. They woke up covered in bites, as the pesky critters are small enough to get in through screens, even though the cottages are up on pilings. My wife and I slept like babies though, with the A/C blowing out some of the coldest air in southern Belize.
Next door to Jaguar Reef is Belizean Dreams Villas. These are three-bedroom, three-bath condos, which sold out at US$300,000 to $440,000, according to Ron Forrester at Belize Development Company, which is selling lots in Sittee Point and elsewhere. You can rent units in these condos for US$150 to $340 a night; for information, call 800-456- 7150. It’s hard for me to imagine what Hopkins residents think about all this. The village didn’t even get telephone service until the mid-1990s.
Speaking of lots, Ron Forrester must be a good salesman. Most of the beachfront lots marketed by Belize Development Company have been sold. The few remaining beach lots in section 4 start at around US$85,000 for 75 feet of beachfront, with a few in section 2 for around US$55,000. That works out to a little over US$1,100 a front foot. Sittee river front lots start at around US$25,000. Lots with beach and canal frontage are around US$100,000. Some houses have been built, but it’s not yet what you’d call a heavily built-up area.
Placencia, like the rest of Belize, has grown up. Back when Ted Williams (no, not that Ted Williams) had the first real hotel on the peninsula, or when Rum Point Inn first opened, Placencia truly was a “little bit of the South Pacific in Central America,” as one pioneering travel writer put it. Now you have sophisticated resorts like the Inn at Robert’s Grove and Turtle Inn and another 65 hotels and guesthouses dotting the peninsula. You can get good fresh-made pasta (at Trattoria Placencia) and delicious Italian gelati (at Tutti Frutti). The internet is seemingly everywhere. Scotia Bank has built a fancy new office in Placencia village. Both TMM and The Moorings now do sailboat charters out of Placencia. Homes on the peninsula formerly all were little wood cottages and shacks. Now we’re seeing big new reinforced concrete houses. The actual number of new vacation and second homes built is still fairly small, especially compared with Ambergris Caye, but every month sees new homes going up, from little Mennonite prefabs to 5,000 sq. ft. beauties.
I understand that there’s a new coffee house opening soon in Placencia. The fact that Belize now has specialty coffee houses (in San Pedro, Belize City, and elsewhere, too) got me thinking about how Belize has changed. When I first started visiting Belize about all you could get was instant coffee. Even the best restaurants in Belize City served instant coffee.
Even though Belize formerly was a British colony, there’s really no excuse for serving bad coffee in Belize, given that Guatemala next door has some of the best high-grown coffees in the world. As the best strictly hard bean Arabica coffees are grown at high altitude, generally over 3,500 ft. and as high as 8,000 or 9,000 ft. in North Africa where coffee first developed, you can’t grow truly great coffee in Belize. Barry Bowen’s Gallon Jug brand is the only commercial coffee operation in Belize, and it’s not bad at all. Some of the lodges in the Mountain Pine Ridge, including Hidden Valley Inn and Blancaneaux, grow coffee for guests at the lodges.
Hotels are getting bigger. One of the owners of Zeboz, the new condotel north of Maya Beach, says he plans eventually to have 144 units. According to some reports, another large resort at the north end of the peninsula is in the works for a tract of The Plantation land. I did stay the night at Zeboz. One of the most impressive things about Zeboz is the size of the swimming pool. It’s like a lake. Without question, this is the biggest pool in Belize. I only ate breakfast at the restaurant, so I can’t report firsthand on the food, but the dining room is large and pleasantly proportioned. It is lined all around with big windows, so you enjoy a wonderful view of the Caribbean. The beach is a very good one. If you like a condo-style place with ice-cold A/C, jacuzzis, kitchenettes and that jumbo pool, you’ll probably like Zeboz, though you may not like all the development that's going on up here, with land being cleared for all kinds of new places. Zeboz Caribbean Resort, Placencia, Stann Creek District; tel. 501-520-4110, fax 520-4112; e-mail [email protected]
Rates: US$175-$225 year-round, with some packages available. Meal plan is US$65 per day per person.
I have stayed at the Inn at Robert’s Grove three or four times since it opened in 1997, and like a good cabernet it just seems to improve over the years. This time, in the so-called off-season in July, the hotel was almost completely booked, and I think it was 100% full one night. Robert and Risa Frackman truly have their fingers on the pulse of their market. They understand what upscale travelers want, and they deliver the entire package: beach, sports (water toys are free, and there’s a fitness room and tennis courts, plus fly fishing center and dive shop), spa, tours (they’ve added horseback riding through Little Hill Bill Ranch in San Roman village) and good food. They’ve had the same chef for years, Frank daSilva. Indeed, each time I return I see many of the same hotel staff, always a good sign. A highlight of the week is the Saturday evening poolside barbecue, with all you-can-eat lobster, fish, chicken and shrimp. My son, in his last year at Harvard (and thank the tuition gods for that) would travel to Belize just for this one meal. For 2005, Robert’s Grove is adding room service.
This trip, my family and I had one of the deluxe two-bedroom condo units, and it was a delight. The Frackmans have purchased the property just south of the resort, adding another 200 ft. of beachfront. Under construction on this land are two new “haciendas,” each of which will have two ground-floor two-bedroom condos and on the second floor a three-bedroom unit, which as I understand it will be a flex unit which can be rented in various configurations. Bob and Risa also are building a third swimming pool for these new units. Several hotels in Belize have two pools, including the Radisson Fort George, Turtle Inn and Banana Beach, but this will be the first with three. Robert’s Grove is shooting for completion of the new haciendas and pool late this year. Robert’s Grove has also upgraded its regular rooms, with a new paint scheme and other improvements. They look 100% better, and I can now say that even if you don’t choose a suite you’ll be happy with Robert’s Grove.
After a stay in Placencia, we headed out to the resort’s new private island option, Robert’s Caye, about 10 miles off Placencia. We were one of the first to try it out, and I’m happy to say we enjoyed it. Perched around on the island “Bora Bora style” are four newly built thatch cabañas. They’re situated partly over the water, so you can actually enter the sea from your cabañas for swimming or snorkeling. If you swim out a little ways there’s a good bit of patch coral, and you can expect to see a variety of fish, lobsters, starfish and other sea life. Yes, the island is small, hardly more than a spit of sand, and the cabins aren’t air-conditioned, but there’s hot and cold running water and most of the units enjoy a stiff sea breeze to cool them down. Packages include all meals, boat transfers, use of kayaks and snorkel equipment, and drinks and beer, so all you have to worry about is not getting sunburned. The Frackmans own Robert’s Caye, and they still lease another island, Ranguana, which has three cabins (with newly installed bathrooms). Ranguana is larger and has a fabulous setting on the reef, about 18 miles out from Placencia.
Inn at Robert’s Grove, Placencia, Stann Creek District; tel. 501-523-3565
or 800-565-9757, fax 501-523-3567; e-mail [email protected]
Rates at the main resort: US$179-$500 double in-season, US$130 to $300 off-season. Meal plan is another US$55 per person per day. At Robert’s Caye, all-inclusive rates (all meals, drinks, transportation) are US$347 per person for one night, with discounts for longer stays; at Ranguana the rate is US$323 per person all-inclusive.
Even with all the changes on the peninsula, most of which I applaud, I still like some of the old style places. Wendy’s restaurant, for example, in the village. While it hasn’t been in Placencia too long, Wendy’s reminds me of the old Belize dining rooms. Atmosphere it has none, and on a hot night it can be stuffy despite the air-conditioning. But the service is friendly as pie. I do believe I had the best meal of the entire trip there. It was just a simple grilled fish, but oh so tasty, and even with some beer well under US$10.
Up north in Maya Beach, there is new management at Mango's and a bunch of changes going on.
PLACENCIA ODDS AND ENDS
To pave or not to pave — that is the question. Until recently, it was a “firm thing” that the road from the Southern Highway to Placencia would be paved in Spring 2005. Now, with the budget crisis, apparently it’s not so firm after all. The paving has been postponed. Currently, only short sections of the road at Seine Bight and Placencia villages are surfaced. • The new “owners” of Luba Hati took off unexpectedly. Franco is back. The hotel is temporarily closed. • Septic tanks are out; sewers are in. Word is that no more septic tanks will be allowed for new commercial or multi-lot building projects on the peninsula. • The troubled Serenity resort has been closed by order of the government. • Ellen Lee and her husband bought the Maya Beach Hotel in April and are upgrading it. In October the hotel has plans to open the Maya Beach Hotel Bistro, serving meals to guests and the public. Double rooms goes for US$65-$85 in low season and US$ 85 to $105 in high. • Lost Reef at Riversdale is open under new management. Rooms and grounds have been upgraded, a swimming pool has been added, and there’s a pleasant bar and restaurant. Each of the five cabins goes for US$89 double. • Nautical Inn has a new operator. • Rum Point Inn is for sale for US$3.5 million. Among other hotels and resorts reportedly for sale on the peninsula are Kitty’s Place, Manatee Inn, Maya Breeze Inn and Green Parrot. • Kitty’s, by the way, looks incredibly good these days. What a beautiful pool Kitty has added, and the beach remains in my opinion one of the two or three best on the entire peninsula. Next door, Mariposa is also looking great. It’s a charming little place.• For up-to-date info on Placencia, your best bet by far is Mary Toy's Web site -- www.destinationsbelize.com.
What a great site!
I didn’t get to spend as much time in Cayo as I wanted to. Cayo District, and specifically the area around San Ignacio Town, is nearly everybody’s favorite part of mainland Belize. As well it should be.
It’s the land of M&Ms, with a delightful mix of Mestizos, Mayas and Mennonites and the beautiful Macal and Mopan rivers. The Mountain Pine Ridge is cool and green. The Maya sites of Caracol, Cahal Pech, Xunantunich and El Pilar are wonderful, and you’re only a hop, skip and a bus ride to Tikal. The caving isn’t an M, except for Actun Tunichil Muknal, but it’s amazing, too.
We spent one night at Banana Bank Lodge. John and Carolyn Carr are engaging hosts, as always, and the air conditioning in the new chateau units is welcome after a hot day of traveling. The Carrs told me adding A/C has expanded their base of guests, so that visitors who wouldn’t normally stay in a jungle lodge stop off for a few nights of cool relaxation on the banks of the Belize River. By the way, the new bridge over the river is complete and should be open soon. So now you can easily drive to Banana Bank without either waiting for the hand-pulled ferry or crossing the river by boat.
I spent part of an enjoyable morning in Carolyn’s atelier. Her paintings (available on-line and in galleries and shops in Belize as lithographs, giclees or enhanced giclees) offer a remarkable window into Belize, especially the old Belize of open markets, turtle shell bands and Zebra brand “fish.” Much of this Belize is quickly disappearing. Carolyn now is working on a large painting of the horse races at Burrell Boom. I’m reminded that at one time (but no longer) horse races were held regularly at Banana Bank.
The atmosphere at Banana Bank is homey rather than tony. You dine on simple but filling home cooking, family-style. Dinner might be lasagna and a simple salad. Many guests come here for the riding — more than 50 horses, mostly quarter horses, are available for riding trips on the ranch’s 4,000 acres.
At Banana Bank, you will also see Tika, a jaguar from Guatemala the Carrs have kept since 1982, along with various exotic birds, a spider monkey and, while we were there, a brockett deer fawn.
Banana Bank guests now have access to a swimming pool, at the Belize Jungle Dome guesthouse (info at www.greendragonbelize.com)
built by a young European couple who bought a piece of land from the Carrs. They also offer rooms.
Banana Bank Lodge & Jungle Equestrian Adventure: Box 48, Belmopan, tel. 501-820-2020, fax 820-2026; www.bananabank.com,
e-mail [email protected]
Rates US$100 to $135 double, breakfast included. Lunch is US$10 and dinner, US$15.
We also overnighted at one of my favorite lodges in Belize — Ek’Tun Lodge, on the Macal River 12 miles upstream from San Ignacio. Owner Phyllis Lane is the feisty, opinionated lady who has created a most interesting place to stay, though it isn’t for everyone. To get to the lodge, you have to cross the Macal by boat. There are only two cabañas, rustic but nicely done with traditional thatch roofs. Lighting (except in the main lodge) is by kerosene lamps. Guests need be able to walk actively, as you’ll be trekking up and down hills and rough trails. Since I was last at Ek’Tun, an orphaned howler monkey has come aboard. The monkey — it has no name as Phyllis thinks naming it would be inappropriate — has the run of the lodge now. At times it seems that it runs the lodge. The lodge has a beautiful setting, and a refreshing dip in the swimming pool, carved out of a native limestone, is one of the great treats in western Belize.
Ek’Tun Lodge: Tel. 501-820-3002; www.ektunbelize.com,
e-mail [email protected]
(E-mailing is the preferred way to reach Phyllis.) Rates: US$226 double, including breakfast and dinner.
A special treat for me in Cayo was getting to meet Ray Auxillou in person. Previously, I had only known him via the Internet. Ray is one of the great characters of Belize. The author of several novels and books on Belize, with a colorful history as a tourism pioneer on Caye Caulker and a host of enthusiasms from finance to ultralight flying, Ray has a strong opinion on everything and everybody. How an irascible old codger like Ray ended up a beautiful family and a lovely wife is hard to understand. He now has a place in Hillview, near Santa Elena, which he plans to run as hostel beginning in early 2005. The hostel is called Falconview, with rates tentatively set at just US$7 a person.
On a more touristy note, I revisited the gift shop at Caesar’s Place, at Mile 60 on the Western Highway before you get to San Ignacio. I have to say that this is by far the best gift shop in Belize. Julian Sherrard has the widest selection — really a huge inventory — and the lowest prices of anywhere in Belize. If you want handicrafts, from zericote woodcarvings to handmade hardwood boxes to Belizean junque and Guatemalan stuff, this is the place to load up. One of the better ideas I’ve seen recently in souvenirs from Belize are the cutting boards made from a selection of tropical hardwoods. They’re unusual, practical and beautiful. They come in several sizes. I think I paid around US$25 for ones I brought back.
I also spent a little time in the Spanish Lookout area. Most of my family hadn’t been there before and were interested to see all the “American-style” cornfields, chicken farms, feed stores and other businesses. I did some comparison shopping for Mennonite prefab houses at Linda Vista, Plett’s, Midwest and other lumberyards and builders. In general I thought the quality of construction was decent, given the relatively low price (US$10 to $25 a square foot, depending on the size and degree of finish, which if you like can include wiring, plumbing, sinks and other fixtures.) Framing and floors are of Santa Maria and other hardwoods. You can buy “off the shelf” or have the house built to your custom specs, usually with your choice of roofing materials (zinc, asphalt shingles or metal) and wood or glass louvered windows. They’ll deliver to your lot and set it up on posts. The work is done quickly, and you can usually have a house built and set up on your lot in six weeks or so. The Mennonite builders in Little Belize also do prefab houses. Of course, concrete is the preferred building material if you have the time and money.
ODDS AND ENDS IN CAYO: • With the completion of the new, improved road, Caracol (admission is now US$7.50, and admission rates to most of the other Maya sites have been increased to US$5) soon will be a lot easier to reach, even on day trips from Belize City. • Blancaneaux Lodge has a new pool and spa, and the Coppola stable of hotels (Blancaneaux, La Lancha near Tikal and Turtle Inn in Placencia) have a new Web site. Very hip stuff. • Look for a major expansion of tours to Aktun Tunichil Muknal cave. About 50 guides recently completed training to offer tours of the fabulous cave. • Black Rock Lodge has staged a real comeback. After an unfortunate incident a few years ago, I didn’t know what would become of the lodge. But with new on-site management, and its stunning location above the Macal River, Black Rock is getting excellent reviews from guests who like its easy-going style and its prices.
Much of what is happening in and around Belize City now is somehow connected with the cruise industry. Belize will get about 900,000 cruise day trippers this year. Over 450,000 arrived in the first six months of the year, a 72% increase from the same period in 2003. Belize has limited cruise ships to no more than 8,000 visitors a day, but that’s a huge number given that on the average day fewer than 1,000 overnight visitors arrive by air. When (and if) the new US$50 million Carnival cruise ship dock and pier opens in early 2006, we’ll see an even bigger impact on Belize. Carnival reportedly is now backing and filling on its plan to build the cruise dock, probably to try to wring more concessions out of Belize government and to get a freer hand to bring in more passengers for less money.
Numbers like these can mean big bucks, but only for a handful of operators. Hotels, restaurants and the average small tourist operators get very little from the cruise ship business. In fact, as we’ve already seen, popular cruise excursion destinations like Goff’s Caye soon get trashed by hordes of palefaces from the ships.
Several new places are opening around Belize City to capitalize on the cruise tours. Among them: Gran’s Farm, at about Mile 14 of the Western Highway, tel. 501-227-0406, offers swimming in a swimming pool, a restaurant and bar, picnic area, hiking on trails, and canoeing in Hector’s Creek. The “package price” is US$25 for the day. I was there on a weekday and saw nobody taking advantage of this package. Orchid Gardens, at Mile 14 1/2 of the Western Highway, tel. 501-225-6991, has a restaurant, a gallery showing some of Carolyn Carr’s work, gift shop, and a small museum where part of Emory King’s wonderful antique bottle collection is on display. Most significantly, the Old Belize Cultural and Historical Centre at Cucumber Beach, at Mile 5 of the Western Highway, opened in August. it is housed in an 18,000 sq. ft. building on a 14-acre site where 40 years ago farmers used to load their cucumbers to ship to the U.S. The Woods family, of Cisco Construction fame, has reconstructed part of Belize City’s North Front Street, a Maya village, and Garifuna kitchen and other displays about different periods in Belize history. Admission is a fairly steep US$15. Don’t confuse this with the Museum of Belize in the Central Bank Building downtown. Also at Cucumber Beach is a much-needed new marina. In this area of the Western Highway is another new attraction, airboat rides similar to the airboats in the Florida Everglades.
A few other notes: Our favorite guesthouse, Colton House, is no longer a hotel. It’s a private residence. Alan and Ondina Colton are retired to Consejo Shores. Our favorite B&B, Villa Boscardi, is on the market. I met the real estate agent and a prospect.
Again this trip I rented a diesel. For most of the mainland portion I had a Land Rover Defender — the classic Land Rover that to my knowledge is not sold in the U.S. I rented this one from Budget. JMA Motors, which is operated by the same folks as Budget is the Land Rover dealer in Belize. I had previously rented a Suzuki Vitara diesel from Budget. As always, Budget provided helpful and highly professional service.
I think diesels are the way to go in Belize. Too bad more of them aren’t offered for rent. Diesel fuel is available at almost all stations and costs about one-third less than gas, and diesels typical get better mileage than gas vehicles. With gas at over US$4 a gallon, the mileage you get definitely is a factor. I’m not that much of a Land Rover fan, except for the old Series II Land Rovers from the 1960s, but I have to admit the Defender was a strong horse. As they say, nothing stops a Defender. And it got me a lot of extra respect from parking lot attendants.
Caye Chapel Island Resort, Caye Chapel (Mailing address: P.O. Box 5059, Ashland, KY 41105 USA); tel. 800-901- 8938 or 501-226-8250, fax 501-226-8201; e-mail [email protected]
Rates: Villas: In-season, US$399 per person, per day, based on four people to the villa, (US$100 more at Christmas), US$329 off-season. Casitas: US$279 per person in-season and US$229 off-season, based on two people per casita. Rates include all meals, unlimited golf and the use of golf carts and clubs but do not include a total of 20% service and tax, drinks (a regular Belikin is US$2, piña colada US$7), snorkeling, fishing or other tours, or transport to the island from Belize City. (The resort arranges transport by air for US$100 per person, or you can go by water taxi — water taxis to Caulker and Ambergris stop at Chapel on request). All major credit cards. Some package plans may be available.
To paraphrase a famous comment from Mae West, “I’ve stayed in dumps, and I’ve stayed in luxury, and believe me luxury is better.” In Belize, the villas at Caye Chapel Island Resort are about as luxe as they come. The villas at Blancaneaux, Turtle Inn and Victoria House are fantastic, the private villas at Cayo Espanto, with their foldaway walls, are incredible, and the deluxe suites at Robert’s Grove and Hamanasi are terrific, but the seaside villas at Caye Chapel are the choicest digs in Belize. Or just about anywhere, for that matter. They’re almost 4,000 sq. ft. of upscale living right out of the pages of fancy shelter magazine. Marble floors, soaring ceilings, bedrooms big enough to play soccer in, supersized bathrooms, walk-in closets, industrial-grade air-conditioning that really gets the job done, expensive furnishings and bedding, and even your own laundry room with washer and dryer. It’s all here, with broad expanses of glass to better enjoy the sea, and a private rooftop patio, just steps from your own stretch of beach and a short putt from the only 18-hole golf course in Belize.
All of this comes at a price, of course: In-season, the villas are priced US$399 per person per day, based on four people. So a week’s stay for a family of four would come to almost US$13,500, not including drinks, tours, or transportation to Belize or from Belize City to the island. But that does include all meals, unlimited golf, and the use of golf carts. Our family had three carts full-time, handy to run back and forth to the clubhouse for meals, or to the swimming pool, and even for a little golf. Our stay on the island coincided with a full moon, and each night we’d go out for a beautiful moonlight ride around the island.
If you like golf, you’ll be in hog heaven here. I’m not a duffer, but my son enjoyed the 7,000-yard course. With the sea on both sides of the 2 1/2-mile long island and all the water traps, he went through a bag of a balls a day. It is strongly recommended that you not jump in the lagoons to retrieve balls, as sizable crocs make their homes there. In fact, when you register, each member of the party has to sign a statement acknowledging he or she has been informed of the risk. Otherwise, though, the island seems as carefree and safe as any place you’ll find in Belize. You don’t even lock the doors to your villa when you go out.
If you aren’t staying on the island, you can come over and play golf, again for a pretty penny. The daily package, including unlimited golf from 9 until 4, lunch, use of the island’s swimming pool and beach, cart and club rental, is US$200 per person, plus transport by air or water taxi.
The marina-view casitas, at 700 sq. ft., are quite nice, and at US$279 per person a bit cheaper, and are based on double occupancy rather than requiring four persons, but they don’t even begin to compare with the villas. It’s no wonder that the villas are far more popular than the casitas.
You take meals in what I’d describe as a country-club setting, in the expansive second-floor dining room of the clubhouse. I thought the meals were excellent, though not quite up to the cuisine of Cayo Espanto, where a chef prepares meals to your order and you dine at your villa. The resort GM, Cynthia Ringgold, and her staff provide guest services that are friendly and competent, but not obsequious, a service style that I think most guests prefer.
The entire island of Caye Chapel, except for one home owned by a lady from Belize City, is the fiefdom of Larry Addington, chairman and CEO of AEI Resources, based in Ashland, KY. AEI is one of the largest coal companies in the U.S. In the 90s, Addington, a big player in Republican Party circles, developed the island into a golf resort. The resort initially focused on the corporate retreat market, but now it also welcomes private guests. It would be an astoundingly great place for a wedding. When I first started coming to Belize, Caye Chapel was home to a modest resort that was favored as weekend getaway for British Army squaddies. Lordy, they ought to see it now.
Nobody asked me, but if I were a consultant to Caye Chapel, my recommendation would be to tear down the casitas, put up a dozen more villas, cut the rates, add more non-golf activities, make most everything a la carte and promote the heck out of the place. You’d have a waiting list to get on the island, because Caye Chapel has the potential to be one of the most remarkable resorts in the world.
If Caye Chapel sounds like your kind of place, and you happen to have an extra US$50 million or so, you can own it. It was put on the market last year for US$55 million. Last time it was for sale, before the golf course and other development, the asking price was US$11 million, if I recall correctly.
Over the years I have been visiting Ambergris Caye, the face of San Pedro has changed dramatically, and the psychological tenor of the island has changed, too. Until the mid-1990s, Ambergris was still a sleepy island, with the flavor of both Mexico and Belize. Even then its fishing village days were past, but the style and pace of the old times remained in evidence.
Most anyone who came in the 90s and has revisited San Pedro recently well knows the physical changes. San Pedro town proper, if we ignore the new bank buildings and other developments along Front Street and don’t look too closely, still resembles its former self. The big changes have come south of town, where Coconut Drive has lost much of its open space and, with the condos and fences abutting the roadway, is beginning to look closed in. And on North Ambergris, where the number of new homes on the beach amazes me. I can’t imagine what North Ambergris will be like when a bridge is finally built across the river channel.
To me, however, what has changed more is atmosphere of the island. The pace of daily life is faster. People walk faster. Drivers of golf carts and the ever-multiplying cars seem more intent on getting to where they’re going. I’ve even seen a few mild instances of road rage.
How many people are on the island? The population was 4,499, according to the 2000 Belize census. But surely the number is much larger, especially if you include construction workers, folks from the mainland living with relatives, and part-time expats. Closer to 7,500, I’d say, and growing every day.
A lot of Sanpedranos are making money. Most hotel owners and tourism operators are doing well. Annual occupancy at some popular resorts is 80%, an unheard-of rate in Belize, where 40% used to be considered great. Business people are flying in and out. They’re e-mailing right and left. San Pedro has always been one of the most prosperous places in Belize. Now the money that’s starting to pour into the island is showing up in tangible ways. In new boats and cars. In US$400,000 and US$500,000 condos and houses.
Real estate prices like these aren’t even remarkable any more. They’re just accepted, as they are in Atlanta or San Diego. Tourists shop for real estate, and there’s an edge to their looking. “Are we coming in too late? Are there still some deals on beachfront?”
And the visitors to San Pedro are changing. Most of the tourists I see remind me of the ones I used to see in Sint Maarten and Anguilla in the 1970s and 80s. They expect to pay a couple of hundred bucks a night, or more, for a hotel room. They expect to dine well, and they don’t mind paying twenty or thirty bucks for dinner. They drink tequila, even though it costs several times what a local rum costs. Most of them are snorkelers, not divers. They’ve been to St. Thomas. They’ve been to Cozumel. They’ve been to Key West. Now they’re trying San Pedro.
You can probably get a sense of the types of folks attracted to San Pedro now by visiting the forums on //www.ambergriscaye.com. By and large, it’s a different crowd than those who come to Belize for birding, ecotouring or adventuring, though of course there is some overlap and many who visit San Pedro also spend time on the mainland. The questions on the Ambergris Caye forum are often about panty rippers (the drink made from coconut rum), where to go to dinner and which condotel is the best deal. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s exactly the same kind of chitchat you hear in conversations about Honolulu or Playa del Carmen.
San Pedro has not one but two wine stores — Wine Devine, in a new location at Vilma Linda Plaza on Tarpon Street and the new Premium Wine & Spirits at AquaMarina Suites shops. Plus, Rendezvous restaurant makes and sells wines. A bottle of Beaujolais-Villages from Georges du Boeuf goes for around US$11, just two or three bucks more than in North Carolina. Groceries are well stocked, too. You can buy almost anything you can back home, but on the other hand very few items on the shelves are unique to Belize or anywhere in the region.
I’m not saying all these changes are bad. The booming tourist economy has provided a lot of decent jobs. Not a few Sanpedranos have become wealthy from real estate, contracting or running a business. For visitors, the island offers a lot more of everything — more and better restaurants, a much wider choice of accommodations, and plenty to do, whether partying or touring. Ambergris Caye remains a very special place, and comparison with so much of the world, it is still relatively uncommercialized and undeveloped. The beauty of the reef and the sea will never fail to amaze me.
What I do think, though, is that San Pedro has already reached the threshold of major change. There’s no turning back. Barring an economic slowdown in the U.S., we’re going to see an acceleration of growth on Ambergris Caye. While we’ll continue to see some new resort development, and perhaps a casino or three, the driver will be real estate, with hundreds of new condos, vacation homes and retirement homes going up over the next few years. The key is whether local government and local business leaders can manage that growth and provide for infrastructure, or whether the island will turn into a smaller, sprawling version of parts of Mexico’s Costa Maya.
Most visitors are probably pleasantly surprised to find so many good restaurants on one little island. Belize doesn’t have a rep as a great eating destination, but I can easily gain 10 pounds per visit to San Pedro. Most of my old favorites are still well worth revisiting. Elvi’s is as busy as ever. Many probably miss Clarence and Annabelle (who returned to Africa, I’m told, and bought 20 acres on the ocean), but the food at Capricorn seems to be as good as ever. Jam-Bel still serves hot and tasty jerk in that incomparably funky rooftop setting. Blue Water Grill still draws big crowds.
Some of the new places are packed, too. We had to wait 20 minutes on a weeknight for a table at Caramba! Restaurant. No wonder Rene Reye’s place is popular — the food is well prepared and well priced, and the service is fast and friendly. A whole grilled snapper with rice and beans and salad is US$7.50, fried chicken is US$5 and a rum and tonic is US$2. Wow!
The list of good places to eat at fair prices goes on and on: Casa Picasso, Caliente, Papi’s, Tastes of Thailand. And there are still plenty of cheap places where you can fill up for very little — Antojito’s Santelmo, Ruby’s (for breakfast), the vendors at Central Park (now there’s a little row of takeout places.) You’d need at least two weeks on the island just to sample them all. Even the hotel restaurants on Ambergris are usually pretty good. Cases in point: the restaurants at Victoria House, Mata Chica, Banana Beach and Caribe Island, among others.
This trip I stayed at two hotels on Ambergris Caye, Banana Beach and Mata Chica, and revisited a number of others. I’ve had the pleasure of staying at Tim Jeffers’ Banana Beach a number of times, and I’m glad to report that it is as good as ever. The staff is still pleasant, perky and professional. My wife and I stayed in a seafront one-bedroom suite in the older section, but my kids tried out the regular rooms in the newer addition. I’m impressed by the value you get with these rooms. Double rates off-season are US$81 and US$114 in high season, and that includes breakfast. The rooms are new and bright, with quality furnishings, either a king or two twin beds, cable TV, phone, safe and of course A/C and en suite bath. The breakfast deal works with way: You get a voucher good for the Banana Beach breakfast (usually scrambled eggs, fresh cinnamon rolls, fruit and coffee, plenty for most people) or if you want extras the voucher is good for US$5 toward anything on the menu. It’s served in the new El Divino restaurant. I didn’t get a chance to eat dinner there, but I can attest to the fact that it has killer martinis. Banana Beach, Coconut Drive (Box 94), San Pedro; tel. 501-226-3890, fax 226-3891; www.bananabeach.com,
e-mail [email protected]
Mata Chica is a place I’ve visited many times but never as an overnight guest. My family stayed in a two-bedroom villa. Like everything at Mata Chica, the villas have style and, although they are back a ways from the water, a nicely tropical view of the grounds and sea. Staying at Mata Chica was very nice, but what has my motor running is the new La Perla del Caribe, the new villa colony Mata Chica’s owners are building a little ways north of their existing resort. These are truly mansions by the sea. They’re expected to open around March 2005. Mata Chica, (North Ambergris Caye), San Pedro; tel. 501-220-5010, fax 220-5012; www.matachica.com,
e-mail [email protected]
At the other extreme is what apparently will be called Royal Caribbean Resort, a little south of Victoria House. This is a collection of little thatch huts, all jammed up together in a totally unappealing way. I call it DFC South. Who knows what plans Bob Witte has for this place? It supposedly will have 50 units. A casino, maybe?
ODDS AND ENDS
The Belize Social Security Board, already swamped in red ink and bad loans, reportedly is looking at 2,000 acres on North Ambergris. • Barges are still coming in at municipal pier. The new marina, which was expected to handle barge traffic, apparently has some problems — it’s not deep or wide enough • San Pedro is trying to clean up its beaches. You’re no longer supposed to take golf carts on the beach, and boat owners are supposed to remove their skiffs. But walking up North Ambergris I came across enough old shoes, cans, bottles and other garbage on the beaches to fill a city dump. • The first elevator on the island is now in operation at Corona del Mar. It takes guests up to the third floor rooms. • San Pedro now has a tourism information center — it’s located on Front Street at the Town Hall.
Lan Sluder is the author or co-author of a number of books on Belize, including Adapter Kit: Belize, Fodor’s Belize & Guatemala, San Pedro Cool and Belize First Guide to Mainland Belize. He also wrote the e-Book Easy Belize and is editor and publisher of Belize First Magazine at www.belizefirst.com.