Your Guide to Belize

This Central American gem offers ocean adventure and luxurious R&R for snowbirds

A sunrise seen from the grounds of Victoria House Resort & Spa in Belize

Photo courtesy Victoria House


From the jungle to the ocean, with an exotic dash of island living, the Central American country of Belize has a diverse range of opportunities for snowbirds looking to retreat from the cold of the Midwest.

Having recently been invited to visit Belize, I was delightfully awakened to its vast, varying topography. A running joke among many natives is how unaware most humans are as to where in the world Belize is located. So, just in case you are scratching your head right now with the vision of that grade school globe spinning around in your mind, let’s back up and do a quick refresher game of “Where in the World is Belize?”

Belize is located roughly where North America and South America meet, east of Guatemala and north of Honduras. The country is bordered by the Caribbean Sea on the east. Belize is divided into six districts, similar to what we in the U.S. would refer to as the states, with Corozal and Orange Walk to the north and Cayo to the west. Toward the south, there’s the Placencia Peninsula, known as a resort destination, and Belize City lies to the east. The islands of Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye are off the eastern coast. Until 1981, Belize, a country with a population of under 400,000, was a British colony and is therefore an English-speaking country. 

At Victoria House

Photo courtesy Victoria House


For Midwest folks who need to refresh their fading memory of that yellow blazing object in the sky, Belize may be just the ticket you are looking for. Sun Country has announced they will be running non-stop flights to Belize through April 20, 2019. The flight is just under five hours, the perfect amount of time to thaw the chill in your Midwest bones, preparing you for the heat of the tropics.

During my five-night/six-day tour, I visited the jungles of Cayo, the beaches of Placencia, Ambergris Caye (Belize’s largest island), and the city of San Pedro, located on the southern portion of Ambergris Caye. The charming, unfettered authenticity of Belize, combined with the warmth and hospitality of the people, made my short stay a memorable trip and a destination I am sure to revisit.

One of the villas at Chaa Creek

Photo courtesy Chaa Creek


Once you are on the ground, the warm and humid air may be a welcome shock to your Bold North blood. In my carry-on, I packed tropical attire, including flip-flops, shorts, and a linen shirt. Being a self-proclaimed professional packer, I pride myself on having this part of travel down pat. One thing I hadn’t planned for was the need to change shirts frequently (Belizeans refer to this as “2-3 shirt days”), and, boy, could I have used a few extra shirts!

To experience the vast opportunities Belize has to offer, be prepared to spend some time traveling between the different districts. However, do not let this deter you. Traveling through the villages and viewing the varied terrain is as enjoyable and educational as getting to your final destination.  

One of the villas at Chaa Creek Resort

Photo courtesy Chaa Creek


Cayo District, San Ignacio, and Chaa Creek Resort 

I was ready for my maiden jungle voyage, heading west through the Cayo District’s main hub of San Ignacio, en route to the Chaa Creek resort. The Cayo District is home to Maya archaeological sites, the Macal River, and the largest Mennonite community in Belize.

My stay in the Cayo District and at Chaa Creek was an enriching experience filled with adventure. In order to take in all Chaa Creek has to offer, my days consisted of an early morning and very late nights. Chaa Creek is nestled in the tree tops of the jungle in a mysterious, luxurious setting. The staff, guides, and owners of the award-winning property make the stay true to their tagline, “A Wildly Civilized Luxury Resort.” I took advantage of as many of the guided tours I could fit into my 48 hours at Chaa Creek, including horseback riding, canoeing, hiking, bird watching, a visit to the ancient Mayan ruin Xunantunich, and a night walk that I fondly refer to as the “creatures of the night tour.” We had our fill of tarantula sightings, snakes, and many other jungle inhabitants only visible with our head lamps capturing eerie animal eyes staring back at us through the trees.

At Chaa Creek

PHOTO COURTESY CHAA CREEK


The early-morning sky was filled with toucans, often replaced at dusk by the deafening sound of the howler monkeys. Mick and Lucy Fleming founded the property and their love for the land, the people, and the country of Belize is carried through in every interaction I had with the resort. Prince Harry was a guest at Chaa Creek during Queen’s Day, and it looks like there’s one thing the prince and I have in common: I stayed in the same signature Chaa Creek thatched-roof villa that Prince Harry stayed in during his visit. As Mark Twain stated in his novel The Prince and the Pauper, “If it’s good enough for the prince, it’s good enough for the pauper.”

An aerial view of Naia Resort and Spa

Photo courtesy Naia Resort and Spa


Placencia and Naia Resort and Spa

It was now time to head south, to the area of Placencia to rest, relax, and rejuvenate at the lovely Naia Resort and Spa. The resort is located on a 200-acre reserve on the Placencia Peninsula, and the accommodations make it difficult to motivate yourself to leave the trappings of this charming oasis. The beach-front property is dotted with cottages that face the captivating Caribbean Sea. The cottages have quaint front porches tucked amongst the palm trees, with hammocks strung between accompanying trees inviting you to crawl in with a glass of wine preparing you for the relaxed pace at Naia.

A spa visit at Naia

Photo courtesy Naia Resort and Spa


I did take them up on the relaxation plan with a visit to their tranquil and beautifully appointed spa. To balance the rest and relaxation, Naia also has a number of activities available both on and off the property. I took advantage of the property’s convenient and easy access to the Caribbean Sea and set out with one of the local guides to kayak in the beautiful, open ocean water.

Plan your visit to allow time to stroll through the city of Placencia. I fell in love with the authentic, raw feel of this historic fishing village. My hometown guide and dinner companion suggested we stop at Rum Fish for a traditional Belizean dinner of ceviche followed by red beans and rice with stewed chicken and a side of fried plantains and potato salad. For dessert, we stopped at TuttiFrutti Gelateria for the best gelato I have had outside of Italy. Upon my return to Minnesota, I soon discovered that I was not alone in my love for this scoop shop. The reviews on multiple platforms are “out of the park” for this Placencia favorite.

At Naia Resort and Spa

PHOTO COURTESY NAIA RESORT AND SPA


We closed the night at Tipsy Tuna, raising a glass of local brew Belikin Beer. On my final day at Naia, I booked a snorkeling catamaran excursion with Nautical Adventures to the Laughing Bird Caye National Park. The island setting on the Caribbean Sea, combined with the tropical air and the beauty of the serene marine life, made for a heavenly day on the ocean.

The Tower Suite at Victoria House Resort & Spa

Photo courtesy Victoria House


Ambergris Caye and Victoria House Resort & Spa

As my visit to Belize drew to a close, I had one more stop to make. I boarded a small commuter plane for a visit to the Island of Ambergris Caye, where I had booked a stay at the boutique ocean-front property Victoria House Resort & Spa. This award-winning luxury property outside of San Pedro has 42 rooms located on the Caribbean Sea. After checking into my room, the vision of my king-size four-post bed, draped in silk netting, was calling my name.

However, I had 24 hours of exploration ahead of me that included dinner and a day of swimming with the sharks. The dinner, on property at the Palmilla restaurant, was complemented by the ocean breeze and sunset view over the ocean. I awoke for my final day in Belize ready to head out to the Great Belize Barrier Reef for a day of snorkeling in what is rated one of the best snorkeling reefs in the world. The adventure was as thrilling as I had imagined it would be. We snorkeled amongst the tropical fish and magnificent coral formations.

After immersing ourselves in this aquatic world of sea life, it was time to head to our second stop and Hol Chan Marine Reserve. This was the moment I had been anxiously anticipating: a chance to swim with the relatively harmless but still foreboding nurse sharks. Nurse sharks get up to 10 feet long and close to 300 pounds.

On my final morning in Belize, I had gathered my thoughts from this spectacular week of adventure as I overlooked the ocean from my veranda. I enjoyed a traditional Belizean breakfast of fry jacks (deep-fried dough, basically beignets), scrambled eggs, blended beans, and bacon. It was time to head to the airport, kiss the warm weather and ocean air adieu, put my big boy Bold North pants on, and prepare to trade in the white sand for the white snow.

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