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#351134 09/11/09 01:35 PM
Joined: May 2000
Posts: 3,281
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I normally never write trip reports but on this last trip to Cayo & San Pedro, I had such a relaxing wonderful time, I thought I would share a few tidbits. The first few nights were spent at Chaa Creek's Macal Camp. I admit I had my reservations about bringing my family to such a remote, no electric, shared baths, almost camping type place. But it really exceeded my expectations. This part of the Chaa Creek Lodge often gets overshadowed by the superb upscale main resort. But it deserves a lot of credit in its own right. The fully screened permanent tent like casitas are spacious, with kerosene lanterns, comfortable twin beds, and large porches with hammocks. The casitas are arranged around a center fire pit, large thatched roof dining palapa & separate staffed kitchen. Breakfast & dinner is included in the per person rate & the food is plentiful and typically Belizean - chicken, rice & beans one night, salbutes the next night, scrambled eggs with tomato, pepper & onion, fryjacks & tortillas for breakfast. Luscious homemade desserts. Beer & soda available on an honor system. The shared dorm style shower house and bathrooms are spotless, easily accessible and fully run on solar power. Hardly inconvenient at all. I spoke with most of the other guests, some of which had been there for several nights and everyone was pleased with the accommodations and food. The setting was quiet (as quiet as the jungle can be!) relaxed and peaceful. But I bet in high season and with a full house, evening fire pit going and lots of excited guests comparing travel experiences, it would be a happening place. Great for groups who could take over the whole camp.

The main lodge is accessed by a 15-20 minute trek along the original "Don Eligio Panti rainforest medicinal trail" which has been upgraded with hand rails, steps where necessary and leveled. Trees and foliage are marked with named signs and medicinal uses. The lodge facilities including computer business center, great new pool, spa, luxurious restaurant & bar are all available to the camp guests, as well as quality tours, horseback riding & river access. Chaa Creek is always a pleasure to visit, and one of the best run places in the country. The property was looking great and the new large pool, with poolside bar (serving smoothies and bar food as well as adult beverages) & open air massage area is a welcome addition to this Green Globe award winning eco lodge.

Day trip to Big Rock Falls, where due to the recent rains, the falls were roaring and the normally small stream was 6 feet deep and swimmable! The hike to the falls has been graded and has large steps and handrails added making it much more accessible to tourists. Still an awesome spot and so worth a visit. One on my favorite places on this planet! Met a few workers from Blancaneaux taking their lunch break by the falls - must be nice!

San Ignacio was quiet, funky & fun as usual. Not a lot of tourists this spring & summer has the local establishments & street vendors vying for business, and has resulted in some shop & restaurant closures. After a quick check of email at Tradewinds Internet Café (new location upstairs across from Martha's) had a wonderful dinner at the old Hannah's - now called Ko-Ox-Han-Nah. My favorite Ginger Rum Shrimp cannot be beat but they offer lots of vegetarian entrees, huge quesadillas and their own naturally raised pork, lamb & chicken from their farm in Calla Creek. Bought the cookbook too this time!

Off to Guatemala & Tikal�. I have been to almost all the ruins in Belize, some several times and while always impressive, I have to say Tikal is something else! I never thought I would be as impressed as I was. Not just with the sheer size of the place (almost 600 sq kilometers) but with the energy of the place. Powerful. Really powerful! We were there for the day and left as the sun was low over temple #1. Wow. I could feel what the Maya's must have encountered and can see how the tribal leaders could coerce "volunteers" for sacrifice! Truly amazing. (Hours 6AM - 6PM, admission 150 Quetzals per person. Located about 40 minutes drive from El Remate Village or 1 hr from Flores)

I toured all 3 lodges in the park (had to do some work after all!) The Tikal Jungle Lodge is the most "upscale" and full service with 38 cabanas, and 2 jr suites with king beds spread over a large sprawling property. Pool with large nature deck, big restaurant & bar, gift shop. The Tikal Inn is a bit smaller and more cozy with poolside or jungle cabanas, and smaller standard hotel rooms. Pool, restaurant & bar. The Jaguar Inn is most basic and offers inexpensive camping ($70 Q - about $10 USD currently) as well as hotel rooms. Popular restaurant & bar, internet connection, but no pool.

La Lancha Hotel & more to come.....

Joined: Feb 2004
Posts: 2,208
Thanks Barbara. Looking forward to the rest of your travelogue.
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collyk #351295 09/13/09 09:28 AM
Joined: Oct 2001
Posts: 4,672
Barb, I loved San Ignacio! On your recommendation, we had the Ginger Rum Shrimp at Hannah's - bro and I thought it was one of the best meals on our trip. I could kick myself for forgetting to buy the cookbook and when I went back the next day, the restaurant was closed.....

Joined: Oct 2000
Posts: 1,603
Great report Barb, can't wait to read the next entry.

Joined: May 2000
Posts: 3,281
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La Lancha is a little slice of heaven on the shores of Lake Peten Itza near El Remate, Guatemala. Part of the Francis Ford Coppola chain of hotels, this one is delightful and compared to the others, a bargain price wise ($110 - 175USD/nt dbl occ summer). The excellent service and amenities are comparable to Blancaneaux & Turtle Inn, and the lush rainforest & lake views rival both. The staff is completely attentive and friendly, the setting deluxe but not at all pretentious or stuffy. The manager, Bernie Matute, has managed both of the other properties over the years, and frankly, wherever he oversees operations, success ensues. The property layout (like Blancaneaux) is steep with well furnished paired cabanas tucked into the hillside, and the restaurant/bar & pool areas near the top. Potentially problematic for guests with mobility issues. But also results in each cabana pair having a lot of privacy, and great views of the huge lake from the wide balconies. The food was imaginative, delicious and plentiful. Even the continental breakfast included with the room price, was filling and well presented. The overall ambiance was lovely & relaxing. Lots to do in the area and on site (fishing, boating, swimming) with the lakefront a 15 minute low to mid strenuous hilly hike thru wooded terrain. A fantastic place to relax after a day at Tikal or any of the other numerous Maya ruins in the area, or explorations among the small villages surrounding the lake. I will definitely be back for a longer stay one of these days!

We stopped in the village of El Remate for lunch at a small local place called Cahui Café which was excellent, but there are lots of little inexpensive places all around the lake. Visited the small inn Casa de Don David which has clean basic lodgings for $38 - 52 including breakfast or dinner daily for 2! Continued around the lake to the island village of Flores. Very cute, touristy with lots of shops inns, restaurant & bars, laced among the windy hilly narrow cobblestone roads. Tons of colorful Guatemalan textiles and items at really inexpensive prices, plus the usual tourist nic-nacs. My son was happy to find a Guatemalan futbol jersey for $26Q. Great street food cheap cheap cheap.

Crossing the border back to Belize was more of a hassle than going over, but was not difficult. Basically our tour guide, the illustrious Patrick Warrior, did all the talking and monetary stuff while we waited, here, then there, then somewhere else till all was processed. Got back to San Ignacio at sunset and checked into our next hotel up on the hill overlooking town, Cahal Pech Village. This place gets some mixed reviews on TripAdvisor and such but I always enjoy it and my kids think it's one of the coolest hotels in Belize. Some of the rooms and cabanas are showing a bit of wear and the decorating in some is fairly dated but they are going through each unit and renovating "poco a poco" (bit by bit, for you non Spanish speakers ;-) The location & views overlooking town can't be beat, there are now 2 pools connected by a stone waterfall, and the service is friendly. We only ate breakfast at the restaurant but it was great. I highly recommend the Royal Mayan egg dish but there is lots to choose from, good coffee & fresh juices at reasonable prices. One person in our party did have the surf & turf dinner one night and said it was excellent. The cabanas are clean & spacious, with large screened in porches with hammocks where I have to admit, I spent a lot of time. Very unlike me on a "normal" Belize trip! But after the peaceful, unwinding setting at La Lancha worked its magic, I was in relax mode for the rest of the trip!

Spent most of the next few days in San Ignacio with friends. Kicked around town, visited our land in Bullet Tree Falls and basically enjoyed doing a lot of nothing. Picked up some Cohune Palm Oil and Coconut Oil at the market, watched some local soccer. Had a dinner at Hode's Place which is always great and cheap, and a good place to run into people you know (or want to know!) There was a group of American teens who set up some tables & were playing "beer pong" much to the amazement & pleasure of the locals. Kids running in & out of the arcade & playground, good tunes on the juke box, poker upstairs, and a general fun good vibe. Had some drinks with friends at Stallions Bar & Grill at Smith Family Farm further down Branch Mouth Road. Always a good chill spot to meet interesting locals. Attended the "Cayo's Got Talent" competition at the community center which was fun. And man, Cayo does have some awesome talent! My favorites were a group of 4 young teen boys from Benque who sang a "Boyz II Men" kind of rockin' R&B ballad. Hope they won in the subsequent weeks.

Back to Belize City. Tried to see some friends in the city but it didn't happen so dropped the family off at the marine terminal for the water taxi to San Pedro, while I took the vehicle back to Vista Rentals at BZE. I try to support the smaller local companies as much as I can and Sabrina, Mike & the gang at Vista Rentals always have good vehicles at good rates, and have gotten me out of a few jams over the years so I remain loyal to them as much as possible. A quick stop to chat with Ms Margie (an excellent resource if you are ever stranded in BZE or Bz City 225-2016 or 600-5049), check in to Tropic Air and off to Jet's to wait for the plane�..

Joined: Feb 2002
Posts: 5,255
just thinking about hode's makes me smile. smile

good report, barb. its nice to read YOU for a change! waiting for the next chapter...

Joined: May 2006
Posts: 3,299
Great information thanks - sounds like you all had a blast.

San Pedro based Belize Blog since 2007 - great travel resources & discounts

Joined: May 2000
Posts: 3,281
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Thanks. It's been fun writing it. I'll get to SP next....

Joined: May 2000
Posts: 3,281
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Final installment - Sorry it took so long�.
Arrived in San Pedro at the new Tropic Air terminal. Having seen photos of the large concrete building, I didn't think I would like the change. But I have to say I do, I think it defines that corner well, has certainly cut down on traffic congestion, and is nicely done. The large waiting area with huge colorful panels, aquarium focal point and upstairs observation deck is a welcome addition to the San Pedro tourism services. Met up with my family & friends and grabbed a taxi to our first island hotel, Grand Colony. What a place. We had a huge 3 bedroom suite with large living/dining room, state of the art kitchen with granite countertops, etc, large screen TV (one of 3), private porch�you name it. Very nice new ultra deluxe place located about 1 � miles S of town, between Banyan Bay and Banana Beach. The kids swam in the large multi sectioned pool and we were the only ones in it. Actually we were the only ones at the whole resort. San Pedro was dead slow this summer. Walked into town and picked up some bikes at Joe's Bike Rental on Caribena St. Joe always has bikes of every size and style for all the members of your group, including kid's bikes. Prices have gone up, but still a value at $10US/day or $40/week. Stopped in the free, kid friendly Hol Chan Aquarium across the street and saw some of the lionfish that have been caught around the island in the efforts to eradicate this nasty fish. Picked up some supplies and refreshments & biked back to the hotel to relax awhile, now that I was in my new "vacation" mode!

Biked into town (noticing some hotels with no lights on at all) and tried for dinner at Wild Mango's but they were closed so continued up the beach to Caliente's. Great as usual, and they have terrific Margarita's that never disappoint. Ceviche for appetizer and Ginger Rum Shrimp for the meal. Had to compare it to the one I had in San Ignacio at Ko-Ox-Han-Nah a few days before. Both were great and very differently prepared, but I have to say I liked the Ko-Ox-Han-Nah one better. Wandered around town and of course ended up at Fido's. They had a decent crowd for a Sunday night and a fab duo on stage, Brandi & Tull. She has one of the best voices I have heard in a "bar band" type setting and both are talented on guitar, complementing each other nicely. They played an interesting assortment of new & classic tunes and did justice to all of them.

The next day I had some business to attend to so after a lovely breakfast next door at El Divino at Banana Beach (huevos rancheros & seafood omelets to die for, along with good brewed coffee) we split up. The owner of Banana Beach said they had been doing well all summer. Not too surprising considering their well run establishment, assortment of rooms & suites and good "word of mouth" reputation. I made my way to town walking up the beach and stopping at the various hotels I needed to see. Tough job but I am obligated to do a little "work" while in Belize! ;-) Visited with my good friend Veronique who sells her lovely jewelry at various hotels most mornings. Seek her out and buy some - a great and unique hand made souvenir of San Pedro. Walking up the beach I saw a new massage & spa operation out on a pier just N of Banyan Bay so stopped in to introduce myself and have a look around. Ocean Essence Spa run by Ms Shirley & Ms Helen offers massages, facials, mani & pedicures either on site on their private pier or in room at various hotels on the island. They have special star light or moon light massages, as well as couples massages. Lovely setting and ambiance. I didn't have time to experience one for myself, but I will be back! Give them a try when looking for that something special.

Stopped in at Xanadu and saw Martin, the manager. They actually had quite a few guests, and he said they had been consistently occupied all summer. Must be the special rates they have been running, along with their good reputation, as well. With so much competition and the glut of hotels on the island now, so much depends on superior service and good reviews from past clients. Passed by Carribean Villas and took a few photos of their new beachside bar & grill. Looks great! Barefoot Watersports Windsurfing operation is now based there too. Coral Bay Villas looked good with their large beach area out front. Noticed the area just S of the Belize Yacht Club has been filled in (finally) and a "sidewalk" poured. Really cleaned up the area but what is going on with that Perla Escondida? Is there ever anyone there? Will it ever be finished looking? One of the many unanswered San Pedro mysteries. Passed by the very blue and crowded Coconuts property, remembering how cute and nice it was back when�. Stopped at Playador (Exotic Caye) and chatted with the bartender and the usual assortment of expats at the bar. Many many fond memories of crazy nights spent at that place, including my 40th Birthday party, a Miss San Pedro contest, lots of Punta Boys & Barefoot Skinny gigs, even a dinner or two at the various restaurants that occupied the upstairs over the years.

The next morning we packed up and moved to our next hotel, The Palms. Dropped our bags and headed to Ramon's dock for our fishing expedition arranged by my good friend Ana, at The Palms front desk. Met up with Cap't George at Ramon's dock, picked up some snorkeling gear and set off on the crystal blue sea. Stopped up North to net some sardines. This was half the fun for the kids. Caught a bunch of fish, did some snorkeling and headed to a spot up north for a beach BBQ. It happened to be close to Portofino so while the gang relaxed, I went back to work. The new pool is a great addition to this already very nice resort. I had seen most of the rooms before but not the 2 story beach "mansion" so toured that with one of the staff. Very nice 4 bedroom 2 bath villa which can be rented all as one or 2 separate floors of 2 bedroom suites. Each floor has a big living/dining room, full kitchen, huge balcony or porch overlooking the sea. Located on the Portofino property but off to the side for some privacy. Didn't get a chance to eat at Portofino but the newly expanded restaurant area & al fresco bar is inviting. Business seemed pretty good here.

The BBQ lunch was great and we still had fish left over for our dinner with friends that evening. The kids had picked a bunch of seagrapes which we ate for dessert, and then they entertained us with some tossing game they had devised with the rotten ones. Boys! Back on the boat, and back to town. I can never get over the changing "sky line" of the N island. So much growth in the last few years and no signs of stopping. Remember the above mention of the "hotel glut" in San Pedro. Anybody listening???? (where's that little roll eyes icon?)

Checked into our room, a top floor 2 bedroom executive suite with 3rd floor loft. Amazing views! You cannot beat The Palms for the perfect views from every room. The guys went into town for "panti rippa" supplies and cigars, while I claimed a hammock. Kids scattered. They love staying close to town so they can do their own thing. Biked to our friend's for another fish BBQ (and chicken) dinner. Caught up on the local San Pedro happenings, politics, daily life and events, while the kids played futbol in the sand street. Most of my friends in Belize are Belizean and it is interesting to hear their views of how things are going. Not usually the same perspective as ours.

Sent the kids home and made a stop at Wet Willies for ladies night. One of my friends that traveled with us (first trip to Belize) had not been interested in going to any bars but I forced him. He needed to see the local San Pedro nightlife, dancing and punta in all its glory. It was crowded as usual with a mix of Belizeans and expats, not too many tourists. He went for drinks and came back excitedly telling us how he had been approached by a local "lady of the evening," a first for him. Again, I found myself reflecting on the rapid changes San Pedro is undergoing as it grows. Not all good changes either. Tourism certainly has its negative repercussions. Being in the industry and directly influencing this growth, I often find myself feeling somewhat responsible for the "bad" that comes along with the "good" of tourism. It certainly is a duel edged sword, as they say. I speak loudly & often to the powers that be against the "killing of the golden goose" that Belize is so wont to do. But the supply & demand evils, are way beyond anything I can do. I had the first glimpse of it after the first "Temptation Island" show was filmed in Belize and changed the character of the guests who were coming. Then after Hurricane Keith came through and tore up the people's housing but left the resorts basically untouched, the social atmosphere dropped another level, the us vs them became more pronounced, and the crime rate started inching up. OK I should stop now - this is supposed to be a trip report not a philosophical manifesto. Blah blah blah.

The rest of the trip was filled with lounging around, swimming, snorkeling, fishing off the piers, biking around visiting friends, seeing who was working where. Lovely, relaxing, enjoyable. Several meals were notable - the Sunset Grill was probably the best food of the whole trip. From the staff to the presentation to the excellent food itself, everything was top notch. Of course the kids loved feeding the tarpon and spent a lot of time doing it. But they especially loved the seafood fettucini alfredo and sigh about it to this day! The other meals of almond crusted snapper, etc were all fab and perfectly prepared. We even managed to have dessert and the chocolate rum cake was a work of art for all the senses. The next night at El Patio was a pleasure as well. Garlic Shrimp, coconut shrimp & chicken, all terrific. They remodeled the restaurant so there is more space and an entrance on Front St so more people can find this previously hidden gem. A breakfast at Lily's Treasure Chest is always a delight - great food (lobster omelet, Caribbean French toast, fresh fruits and juices and of course, fry jacks!) and a fantastic people watching spot. I love seeing the locals walking to work along the beach, or the fishermen preparing the bait and boats, the dive shops lining up the tanks, & the kids walking to school in their blue & while uniforms. Island Life.

Had a great beachside massage from Jordana. She works the beach area near Ramon's and does hair braiding, wrapping, etc. The massage was a treat from one of the friends I brought along to Belize for the first time, and it was much appreciated. For a casual, lovely massage in your choice of locations call Jordana at 620-3263. Very exfoliating too due to the sand that's impossible to get off hands or body during a beach massage!

Spent a lovely full moon night at a yoga & drumming event at Ak Bol Resort up North. New-ish small place offering several yoga classes a week and catering to yoga groups but I have seen the cabanas and they are very nice. Rustic Chic with artsy detail, but no A/C or TV so not for everyone. The on site palapa bar & grill was not open that night, unfortunately (the husband wanted to pound a beer more than a drum!), but I know from a previous visit the food is good, and cheap.

Departure day brought the usual tears and "waaaaaa-s" but as they say, if you don't leave, you can't come back. And we'll be back soon enough. It is my JOB after all! Returned the bikes, checked in at Tropic and got the behind the scenes tour of the new building. Impressive. I love San Pedro. I love the mainland, the south, PG, the mountains, caves and rivers. Placencia, Caye Caulker, Hopkins. Even Belize City with it's ratty & rough edges. Crooked Tree, Lamanai, Corozol. Cayo and the Pine Ridge. This is Barb's Belize. I love it all!

Joined: Feb 2004
Posts: 2,208
Lovely trip report. Thanks for sharing your experiences and your opinions. San Pedro certainly is changing and as you said, the good and the bad will come along with those changes, but for now lets hope that you are seeing more good than bad and that you will keep on coming back for more.
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