Articles on Belize and San Pedro|
Belize-y Does It
by: Peter Sikowitz,
Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, November 27, 2002
'Tis the season when, beyond our holiday lists, plans, and
commitments, many of us occupy our minds with thoughts of sunny, tropical
vacations. If that sounds right, Belize is a country that deserves serious
consideration—it's rustic, relatively undiscovered, much more than just
beaches, and less expensive than most of the places competing for your
winter attention and dollars.
Not that Belize (formerly known as British Honduras), which borders Mexico
and Guatemala on the Caribbean, is exactly unknown (you can blame the
producers of that TV show "Temptation Island" for popularizing the place).
But this Massachusetts-size country is still a bit rough around its edges in
the best sense (don't worry—it's extremely safe). The country has an
ambiance that's more Caribbean than Central American. Its populace is an
unusual English-speaking rainbow blend of black, Creole, Hispanic, Maya, and
even German Mennonite in the midst of its Spanish-speaking neighbors. And
its significant cultural and natural offerings, including world-class
diving, wildlife preserves, tropical forests, ancient ruins, and ecotourism
make it an exotic, low-cost destination. Re: that "undiscovered" aspect, it'
s wise to go sooner than later—in the past few weeks, Air Jamaica and US
Airways have started service to Belize, which won't make it any less unknown
The Belizean dollar is stable and pegged at 50¢ to the U.S. greenback (no
need to pay commission fees when changing money; almost any tourist
establishment will take U.S. dollars and give you change in Belizean dollars
at a rate of two to one). One last thing to know: "cayes" are offshore
islets pronounced "keys."
Naturally, it's the high season in Belize now (the cheapest deals can
be found from around Easter through Thanksgiving, which includes the rainy
autumn hurricane season). But we've managed to unearth some well-priced
packages, each with a different objective.
TWO FOR THE PRICE OF ONE
For first-time visitors or anyone looking for a relaxing beach experience,
here's a fine offer from Capricorn Leisure Group, a Belize specialist
(800/426-6544, www.capricorn.net). Its seven-night "Island Hopping in
Belize" package, which costs $704 from Miami including air, includes stays
at not one, but two properties—the first a basic, secluded hotel, the second
a bit more upscale (think A/C and TV), within walking distance of San Pedro
and its many restaurants and shops. To be more specific, you'll land first
in laid-back Caye Caulker where you'll spend three nights lounging about at
the beachfront Anchorage Hotel—swimming, snorkeling, fishing, or doing
nothing at all are some possible activities (scuba diving available for an
extra charge). You then take a local water taxi (cost is approximately $10)
to popular Ambergris Caye (it's where the swinging singles of Temptation
Island romped) where you'll spend four nights at the SunBreeze Hotel. The
offer is valid through Dec. 8 then again from Jan. 2 through March 31.
American is the airline and departures are midweek from other gateways
including New York and the eastern seaboard for $812, Chicago and Midwest
for $910; Los Angeles and San Francisco for $974. Additional nights are $28
at the Anchorage, $60 at the SunBreeze. Single supplement is $258.
You'll need to book this one by Dec. 4! Dive travel specialists
Caradonna Caribbean Tours (800/328-2288, www.caradonna.com) is offering a
seven-night, five days of two-tank diving package (10 dives in total) for
$1,061 including air. You'll stay on Ambergris Caye at the SunBreeze Hotel
once again, surrounded by lush tropical gardens overlooking the Caribbean.
The hotel is just a few minutes from the quaint resort town of San Pedro,
adjacent to the barrier reef, the largest in the Western Hemisphere. Here
you experience "Shark Ray Alley" where it's possible to swim with nurse
sharks and stingrays. Optional activities include snorkeling, fishing trip,
visits to Mayan ruins, rainforests and reserves on the mainland. The $1,061
price includes round trip tickets on US Airways from East Coast cities.
Other gateways include Cleveland and Chicago for $1,141 and Los Angeles or
San Francisco for $1,384; carriers are US Airways, Continental, or American
and departures are midweek. Blackouts are in effect Dec. 20 - 24,
southbound, Jan. 1 - 5 northbound except Los Angeles and San Francisco,
which don't have blackout dates. Extra nights are available at $63 per
person based on double occupancy (divers add $55); single supplement
available for $351 for seven nights.
THE LONG HAUL
At $1,340, The Adventure Center's (800-228-8747,
www.adventurecenter.com) 14-day "Discover Belize" package focuses on the
cayes and tropical forests inland, providing an excellent overview of the
country's essential offerings. It also dips briefly into neighboring
Guatemala. Groups are limited to approximately 16 people; hotels along the
way are small with a lot of character. Highlights include boating through
lagoon and marches at the Crooked Tree Bird Sanctuary, hiking in Cockscomb
Basin Wildlife sanctuary, a jaguar reserve, and a trip to Tikal in
Guatemala, one of the greatest Mayan sites. Optional, but reasonably priced
excursions including diving, horseback riding, caving, and sea kayaking, are
available. The next available departure date is Jan. 5. After that, the next
trip sets out Feb. 2 and cost $1,390. Air is not included, but the Center
does offer discounted fares.
And if you don't think 14 days will quite do it, the Center also offers a
22-day package for $1,795.
As mentioned earlier, US Airways and Air Jamaica have recently joined
American Airlines and Continental Airlines, longtime carriers to Belize.
Here's an idea of what you can expect to pay for roundtrip air this time of
year: From Miami on American Airlines with a midweek departure, tickets are
currently in the low $600 range. Jan. 11 the fare goes to the mid $500s
through the end of March. Out of Newark on Continental (midweek departure)
you'll pay in the mid-$400s through the end of March. Blackout dates are in
effect Dec. 20-22 southbound and northbound Jan. 4 and 5. It would cost
around $300 more during the blackout period—if you can get a ticket.
Be aware that published fares change frequently. Also, US Airways
and American are currently offering winter sale prices through tour
operators with bulk ticket contracts. Check with a tour operator or your
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