basic ingredients Cayo District & Western Belize: The Cayo District embraces some 2,000 sq. miles of rain and cloud forests and in and around San Ignacio—particularly in the Mountain Pine Ridge highlands—the attractions have long been exploring Mayan ruins, horseback riding through the hills, picnicking by waterfalls, and canoeing and kayaking on the Macal and Mopan rivers. More recently, visitor-excitement is focused on the region’s enormous labyrinth of caves, many once sacred to the Maya. The Caves Branch River system—a gently flowing body of water coming down off the Mountain Pine Ridge—flows in and out of a series of long limestone caves that are excitingly explored on foot and tube float tours. One main entry point is at Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Jungle Lodge, and the other is just above the luxury Jaguar Paw Lodge. Just off Jaguar Paw’s grounds is the fabulous Cave of the Crystal Sepulcher, dotted with Mayan ceremonial and sacrificial chambers. Jaguar Paw has also added Belize’s first zipline canopy tour.
Her Mayan Majesties: Located 30 miles from the capital, Altun Ha, a site covering 25 sq. miles with ornamental temples, palaces and pyramids, is often a traveler’s first introduction to Belize’s extensive Mayan heritage. An hour and a boat ride away on the New River is Lamanai, among whose hundreds of structures is the Jaguar Temple. In the Cayo District, one finds Xunantunich whose 130-ft. pyramid El Castillo, crowns the ceremonial center. Also in this area, travelers should devote a full day to visiting Caracol, one of the major finds in the Mayan World.
Ambergris Caye: Only 20 miles long by a mile wide, and a 15-minute flight from Belize City, Ambergris Caye is Belize’s leading dive resort destination. And well it should be since the barrier reef lies just a half-mile offshore and is home to over 430 species of fish, 70 species of hard coral, and communities of manatees and sea turtles. On land, visitors have a wide choice of accommodations—from budget to deluxe—in some 70 little inns and lodges, as well as informal restaurants serving up the best in local food, and shopping and nightlife in the island capital of San Pedro.
Southern Coast: Flights from the capital serve Placencia, the fastest growing resort area that lies at the tip of the sandy, 20-mile-long peninsula and which caters to divers, anglers and those who just want to swing in a hammock on Belize’s best mainland beaches. All inns offer options to go birdwatching along the Monkey River and hiking in the Cockscombe Basin Wildlife Sanctuary (the world’s first jaguar reserve).
adding some spice On Ambergris Caye, recommend clients visit in August for the 4-day San Pedro Costa Maya Festival, a carnival of pageants, parades and nightly entertainment by groups and participants from Central America’s Mayan countries.
The second weekend in February, Placencia hosts its Sidewalk Arts Festival, during which local artists showcase their work and restaurants set up outdoor booths. In any season, Lola’s Art Gallery and Art N’Soul are the major little arts centers.
Dine-around—some restaurant favorites in Belize include the elegant Harbour View in Belize City, as well as the less-formal Wet Lizard by the Swing Bridge; Cafe Sol in San Ignacio; the ever-popular Elvi’s Kitchen on Ambergris Caye, plus the island’s finest, Pamilla; and The French Connection with its excellent bistro fare in Placencia.
new products on the shelf Ka’ana Boutique Resort, a 15-room deluxe lodge in the Cayo town of San Ignacio, has instituted a Trade Trees for Travel program in which guests plant the tree of choice—ginger and mahogany are among the options—on the property to offset their carbon emissions. The hotel offers a 3-night Balam package including transfers from Belize City airport, accommodations in a Balam suite, all meals and drinks, 20-minute massage pp, one facial mask pp, a hosted “Caraboo” welcome at Ka’ana wine cellar, one full-day tour to Caracol, and one half-day tour to Jaguar Paw Cave for river tubing. The pp dbl cost per night is $295. Call (877) KAANA21 or visit kaanabelize.com.
For the ultimate in scuba thrills, divers can book Magnum Belize Tours’ Dive the Atolls!, a 7-night dive package based at Turneffe Flats. Long recognized as a premier salt water fly fishing and scuba diving resort, Turneffe Flats has eight cabanas and two 3-bedroom villas facing grand white beaches; the package features 18 dives, including the famous Blue Hole, as well as all meals, transfers from Belize City and taxes. The package is priced at $2,460 pp dbl; while shorter packages are available, a $300 pp rebate is offered when confirming the week-long program. Call (800) 447-2931 or visit magnumbelize.com.