I'd like to invite you to a tropical paradise, one of the finest vacation destinations that I have had the pleasure of visiting.

Recently my girlfriend and I set off on a two-week open-ended adventure in the Central American country of Belize. We had a loose itinerary: she wanted to see Mayan ruins and I wanted to add more world-class dive sites to my log book.

After landing in Belize City, we hopped a bus to the city of San Ignacio in western Belize, almost to the Guatemalan border. The bus was a e-ticket ride - an experience we vowed not to repeat! You can typically get around in Belize by foot or using the "people's taxi" (private citizens' cars).

The people's taxi fare is set at one Belizean dollar, about 50 cents American. You share the ride with other folks, so it's a nice way to meet people. Did I mention that English is the primary language of Belize? Until 1981, Belize was known as British Honduras.

In San Ignacio, Eva's Restaurant is the place to hook up, book adventures (tours), kick back, enjoy some ice-cold Belikins - the national beer of Belize - and chow down on some good food.

Scoping out a Mayan ruin near San Ignacio

We enjoyed exploring Mayan ruins and pyramids, some dating to circa 900 B.C. It's amazing what they were able to build with Stone Age tools and technology.

Along the way to a canoe trip up the Macal River, we visited a butterfly farm, a museum, walked the rainforest Medicine Trail and saw howler monkeys squawking in the jungle canopy. The canoe trip was an enjoyable drift/paddle on a meandering emerald river.

We caught a ride back to Belize City with the lovely lady who owns the Bullet Tree Inn where we'd been staying. There, our cozy cabin on stilts with a private bath was just 100 feet from the Mopan River. A wonderful place for a cool refreshing swim. The Bullet Tree Inn also had a caf´┐Ż that served tasty meals.

Our next exploration was the beautiful islands that run along Belize's Caribbean coast like a string of pearls in a sea of turquoise.

Brain coral

We took a boat out to Caye Caulker. Belize has the second-largest barrier reef in the world, which makes for easy, safe snorkeling conditions near to shore; think paddling around in a warm-water aquarium. We saw rays, sea turtles, starfish, multicolored sea shells crawling across the sand (sea snails), beautiful corals and a schools of lovely fish.

While my sweetie explored the shops and street vendors, I took off for a day of diving with Frenchie's Dive Service. We dove the famous Blue Hole and several other amazing sites. At an island lunch stop, I saw all the big, beautiful boobies I'd ever thought I'd see in one place - at a red-footed booby nesting area! That's in addition to the magnificent frigatebirds, parrots, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, kingfishers and many others I couldn't name.

I must say, the diving is spectacular. Wrecks, walls, reefs, caves, swim-throughs, kelp, bommies and mangroves. Belize is a diver's wonderland.

After our island time, we returned to the mainland to rent a 4x4 and explore the rainforest jungles in southern Belize. We cruised through the mountains and bumpity-bumped along dirt roads. What fun!

Our accommodations in Belize were clean, comfortable and ranged from $35 to $109 per night. You can pay a whole lot more, as we did, to stay on a private island. On Caye Caulker we had a beachfront room with satellite TV and a private bath for $50.

Everywhere we went the food was fresh and inexpensive. The average meal price was $3-10 a person, and drinks are very reasonable. Be sure to try the local beer, Belikin, and the local hot sauce, Marie Sharp. Wow, best hot sauce I've ever had. It's a thick carrot-based condiment that come in mild to OMG!

Whenever I need a stress break, I go to my "happy place," a warm, white-sand Caribbean beach in Belize.