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What Do You Know About Belize?
Today Norm Goldman, editor of sketchandtravel.com and bookpleasures.com is pleased to have as a guest Joshua Berman, co-author of Moon Handbooks Belize. Joshua is an expert at traveling to Belize, and recently chose this small Central American country for his own honeymoon; he also lived and wrote extensively about Nicaragua and Honduras.
Welcome to Sketchandtravel.com and Bookpleasures.com Joshua and thank you for accepting our invitation to be interviewed.
Please tell our readers a little about yourself and your Belize-related experience.
I have been living, working, teaching, and traveling in Central America since the US Peace Corps sent me to Nicaragua in 1998. Since then, I have returned to the region to write guidebooks, lead service trips, and visit friends and adopted families. Last year, I was asked by Avalon Travel Publishing to take over Chicki Mallan’s Moon Handbooks Belize, which, when it first appeared 15 years ago, was the country’s first and most acclaimed guidebook. I gladly accepted and proceeded to research and write the sixth edition, which was published in early 2005.
Where is Belize?
Belize is tucked into the northeastern corner of Central America, bordered by Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula to the north, Guatemala’s Petén Desert to the west, and the Caribbean Ocean to the east. However, culturally, Belize and its hundreds of cayes (islands, pronounced keys) are more Caribbean than Latin. English is spoken everywhere (along with seven other languages). The diversity is staggering, especially considering there are only 260,000 people in the entire country.
Would you consider Belize a good choice for a romantic getaway or a wedding and honeymoon destination? Why?
Absolutely. Belize’s tourism board actively markets the country as a destination for lovers, and there is no shortage of special honeymoon and romantic packages to choose from:
You can rent your own waterfall for the day at Hidden Valley Inn.
Couples can enjoy mood mud massages at the Maruba Resort Jungle Spa.
They can abseil into a vertical cave shaft, at the bottom of which they’ll find a flower bed next to an underground spring in Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch. The list goes on and on.
Belize’s size (smaller than Massachusetts), easy access (just a two-hour flight from Miami or Houston), and a surprising selection of small, intimate resorts and accommodations seal the deal. To solidify my endorsement of Belize as a romantic destination, I even took my own girlfriend here on our honeymoon (ah, the work never stops)
What is the best time to visit Belize in terms of weather, costs, crowds and availability of flights from the US, Canada and Europe and Australia, etc.?
Some resorts distinguish the holiday season from the normal high season, with even higher prices and lower availability around Christmas, New Years and Easter. Be sure to make reservations during these periods. High season (re: more tourists and higher prices) is generally from mid-December to April; this is also the dry season for most years, although December, January and even February can host cool fronts that open or linger for days.
Your best bet: Be prepared, both with your clothes and your attitude. A week of stormy weather can ruin a vacation planned solely around snorkeling, but it can also provide the perfect backdrop for exploring rainforests or enjoying a hot tub and fireplace at Mountain Pine Ridge.
June, July and August technically fall in the rainy season, and travelers during this period are rewarded with significantly discounted prices on most accommodations. Rain during these months can mean just a quick shower each afternoon or it can last for several days. August is the big month for backpackers and European travelers, while December and February are dominated by North Americans. Some tour companies close completely during the months of September and October, the peak of hurricane season.
Could you give our readers an idea of the costs if the trips are originating from the US, Canada and Europe and Australia?
Conventional traveler wisdom calls Belize the cheapest Caribbean vacation spot and one of the most expensive in Central America. There are many mid-range and luxury accommodations across the country, ranging from $25 to hundreds of dollars per night. Exact hotel rates are somewhat elusive in Belize; Seasonal fluctuations are compounded by various taxes and service charges, sometimes up to an additional 25 percent. Always make sure that the rate you quote is actually the same amount you will be asked to pay. And of course, great deals abound in the low season (May to November), when room rates plummet.
As for food, budget travelers can live on less than $20 a day, but you’re on vacation, right? Tickets range from $5 to $25, depending on where you are; in San Pedro’s trendier restaurants, a fancy dinner can cost up to US$75 per person. Some resorts include meal prices in their nightly rates, which can be a good deal.
Don’t forget to budget an extra US$40-80 per person per day for activities such as scuba diving, sailing trips and guided tours of Belize’s rainforests, ruins and fascinating cave systems. Independent and experienced travelers can get around for less, but transportation can be an issue.
$10 per person per night is the bare minimum for budget accommodation, and will get you anything from a cramped, covered concrete box in most towns to a generous log cabin at the Trek Stop (in Cayo) and other backpacking spots.
If you had to choose 5 unbeatable places in Belize for a romantic getaway, honeymoon or wedding destination, what would they be and why?
First of all, remember that choosing a place to stay has a lot to do with where you want to be and what activities you would like to do during your stay: beach or rainforest? Diving or hiking? Reef or ruins? Want to be pampered with massages or get sweaty and muddy with your loved one on a jungle trek? Get an idea of the type of trip you and your honey are looking for, then dive in and book. The following are just a few of the unique romantic accommodations in Belize that stand out in my mind for quality and intimacy. For more information on Belize’s wide range of budget options, check out a copy of my book, Moon Handbooks Belize.
Starting on elegant Ambergris Caye, just off the coast of Belize’s famous barrier reef and three miles north of the village of San Pedro, you’ll find the Capricorn Resort, which offers intimate beachfront seclusion in one of three bright, elegant cabanas. Capricornio’s restaurant is one of the best (considered by many to be the best) on the island.
Located on 7,200 acres of private property in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Preserve, Hidden Valley Inn is a peaceful haven for hikers and bird watchers who will have fun exploring the more than 90 miles of hiking trails and old logging roads and then relaxing. in front of your home’s fireplace, listening to the birdsong outside (especially nice during the cool, misty, rainy season). The property encompasses a lush broadleaf forest and pine habitat. The two diverse ecosystems are divided by a geological fault, which marks the edge of a towering 1,000-foot escarpment. Numerous streams flow from the mountain and then cascade down the steep slopes, often into deep, inviting pools; Hidden Valley’s trail system goes all the way.
On the Placencia Peninsula, Kitty’s Place is one of the best and most unpretentious resorts in this long strip of beach resorts, call it “understated luxury” and check your shoes at the front desk. Be sure to schedule a day trip or overnight stay on Kitty’s private island, French Louis Caye, 12 miles off the coast with great snorkeling and exclusive accommodations.
Two of the most romantic, beautiful, and expensive options in Belize are Francis Ford Coppola’s beautiful pair of resorts: Turtle Inn and Blancaneaux Lodge, located on the Placencia Peninsula and Mountain Pine Ridge, respectively, and offering a number of group packages. Both locations feature stunning architecture and artwork from around the world, and top-notch service and facilities.
Located an hour north of Belize City, the Maruba Resort Jungle Spa pampers body and soul, as evidenced by its acclaimed spa treatments and unique focal points spread throughout the grounds: a small glass-decorated chapel; a stone chess table covered with palapa; two pools that seem to spring from the jungle complete with waterfalls. Rooms are spread out for privacy and are named after Moon, Fertility and Bondage to name a few. All have an eclectic neo-primitive motif with carved masks, mosaic tile floors, standing candles, cement fountains, tiled bathtubs, shuttered windows and fresh flowers in the huge feather beds and bathrooms.
What should people know about having a wedding in Belize in terms of requirements, the experience of different hotels, etc.
Belize is gaining quite a reputation as the perfect place to get married. A growing number of resorts cater to weddings of all sizes, some quite creatively (like underwater ceremonies or atop Mayan pyramids). If you are eloping, you must be in Belize three business days before submitting your marriage application to the Registrar General’s Office (tel. 501/227-7377, not open on weekends or local holidays). You will receive the documentation the next business day for your ceremony. If you were divorced or widowed, bring a photocopy of your death or divorce certificate. The Government of Belize charges US$100 for the license and you will need a birth certificate or passport.
How far in advance should a couple prepare for their honeymoon, romantic getaway or wedding in Belize?
Honeymoons and getaways are easy and don’t take much time to book, except during the holidays and at the most popular resorts. If you are planning a high season wedding that will require numerous guest rooms, book a year in advance if possible. If not, a few months is usually enough.
What resources are available on the Internet regarding weddings and honeymoons in Belize?
Various wedding specialists can facilitate formalities, ministers, flowers, hotel bookings, celebrations and more, including Katie Valk anywhere in the country, Iraida Gonzales in San Pedro and Lee Nyhus in Placencia.
Is there anything else you want to tell our readers that we haven’t covered?
Yes, keep an eye on my WEBSITE for new links and news related to romance in Belize and beyond; I have the most popular Belize news and forums posted on my links page. In addition, MY EDITOR’S SITE will soon feature sample itineraries and other excerpts from my book, to make planning your trip to Belize even easier. Finally, remember the words of Kurt Vonnegut’s prophet, Bokon: Quirky travel tips are God’s dance lessons.
Happy trails everyone, Joshua
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