If you've ever experienced one of NYC's 5-month-long winters, then you are familiar with the slew of unpleasantries that affect every aspect of life: SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) - arriving to and departing from work without having seen the sun (after all, it sets at 4pm) - wearing your heavy "puffer" jacket from November until the end of April - must I go on? As bad and as brutal as 'Old Man Winter' treats us, you've got to hand it to the guy because, after all, he is quite inspirational in motivating New Yorkers to get the hell out of town, at least once, during this season.
On a frigid day in February, two girlfriends and I decided to start planning a getaway of our own for sometime towards the end of April. To a beach. Somewhere far away. Jean threw out Portugal, Guatemala, and Panama. Ceci suggested Rio de Janeiro or Costa Rica. And one of us, I forgot who, mentioned "Belize." The three of us looked at one another in awe. Instantly, the decision was unanimous: Belize, it was! Finally, something warm - tropical - and far, far away from NYC to look forward to.
After spending a countless number of hours researching hotels, motels, lodges, resorts and B&B's, we were down to two choices: one hotel was located on the mainland of Belize, in a town just outside of Placencia - and the other was situated on an island called Ambergris Caye. Ultimately, we chose the Matachica Resort & Spa, located on Ambergris Caye, because of its proximity to San Pedro, a town that has a reputation for having superior restaurants and nightlife.
For those of you considering Belize as a travel destination, I wanted to share some websites, tips, opinions, and advice that helped me plan my trip and, I hope, will prove invaluable to you should you choose to proceed. For more detailed information or specific questions, shoot me an email: Lindsay@TheLunchBelle.com. I'm happy to help!
Best general travel websites:
- About dot com: choose the best destination based on its monthly forecast! Don't laugh at the "honeymoon" portion of the page - think about it, though, if the website is recommending trip ideas to future honeymooners, you KNOW it's legit.
- Bing Travel: check pricing for airfare and hotel - includes invaluable "know when to buy" ratings
- Frommers: free travel guides, including "when to go." No one wants to get stuck somewhere during "monsoon season." I particularly love their suggested itineraries.
- Journey Mart: can't decide where to go? This site will help you whittle down your choices.
- Seat Guru: before you select your seat for a flight online, check and see whether or not it reclines - is located near a restroom, etc.
- Travisa: determine whether a passport and/or a visa is required for your trip
- Trip Advisor: learn more about your destination or destination of choice and read reviews from "real" people. Trust me, I will never stay in a hotel without first viewing this site to make sure that the online community - who has previously stayed there before me - approves. Priceless.
- Weather dot com: even though it's not always accurate, I habitually check this site prior to and all throughout the month leading up to my trip. Make sure to view "record averages" before you make any final plans - this is another valuable "when to go" indicator.
Websites specific to Belize:
If you're staying on an island other than mainland Belize, you will have to get to/from point A to point B. There are two options: ferry boat or small plane. The deciding factor boils down to time which, in turn, equals money. At least to me. I'd rather eat $60 and take a 15-20 minute flight than sit on a ferry for 1.5 hours and get seasick. To each his own - the choice is yours:
Tips for your trip to Ambergris Caye/San Pedro Belize:
- To gel or not to gel? That is the question. Ladies, if you want your mani/pedi to last long after the sun and sea, then I *highly recommend* that you spend the extra bucks for Shellac or OPI's "Axxium" treatment. Trust me, it works!!
- If you have the choice, consider flying Delta Airlines to Belize. I wasn't really familiar with the carrier prior to this trip, but I can tell you, now, how impressed I was by their service - aircraft - snacks - and facilities. Plus, 9 times out of 10, you'll be routed through Atlanta, which means a pit stop at Chick-fil-A (located in the airport)!
- Cash. You'll need it. While there are ATM machines in San Pedro, it's best to have bills prior to your arrival in Belize. Plus, the country accepts US dollars! Who wants to pay the exorbitant ATM fees, anyways?
- Belize is not St. Tropez or St. Barth's. If you're opposed to "dressing down" and would rather "see and be scene," then this country is not for you. By any stretch of the imagination. That's not to say that there aren't 5-star resorts or services here, though. Remember folks, Reese Witherspoon did choose Belize for her honeymoon destination!
- Don't expect to be able to stay in touch with folks from home via your mobile device, especially if you're footing the bill (as opposed to your company). Data services are outrageously costly and not worth paying for. My friends and I turned all services, except for text messaging, off. **There are internet cafes and, most likely, your hotel will have a business center with internet access.
- Eating: you will see a lot of Italian-influence on the menus here, for some reason. I can't tell you how many pizzas and pastas that I came across only to wonder, who the hell comes to Belize to eat pizza? For the love of god, people, try to enjoy the local offerings: fresh seafood, tropical fruit, rice and beans, etc.
- Unless you're on your honeymoon, I would not recommend staying more than 3-miles north of San Pedro. A ferry boat is the only way to/from, and it gets costly and annoying.
My favorite day-trips/excursions:
My favorite eating/drinking establishments on San Pedro (Ambergris Caye), Belize: ceviche and homemade tostados, red snapper, grouper, conch, stone crab, tuna, Key Lime pie, rice 'n beans...are all delicious, local Belizean staples.
- Blue Water Grill
- Cotton Tree Chocolate: *this is not a restaurant, but a brand of chocolates* quite possibly, the best chocolate bar I've ever had. You will find this brand sold all over the island - make sure to try the 'Light Milk Chocolate with Cocoa Nibs.' Divine.
- DandE's Frozen Custard
- Elvie's Kitchen
- Fido's: great venue for live music, cocktails, and art (shops worth checking out located within perimeter)
- Hidden Treasure
- The bar at Mambo Restaurant: best mango-margarita I've had, to this day.
- Various street cart offerings: think pupusas, quesadillas, gorditas, and other Mexican/Central American staples.
- Wild Mango
Things (restaurants, excursions) that I found overrated:
- Blue Hole: as a snorkeler - remember, I cannot speak as a diver - this wonder was much better viewed overhead or from a postcard. The 6-hour round trip - that was just to get there - was nauseating and violent. If you have the money to hire a private helicopter, then my feelings may change a bit.
- Capricorn Restaurant: horrible service, food tasted rancid, completely overrated
- Mambo Restaurant: this was the restaurant at our hotel. The food was mediocre at best and outrageously expensive.
I wish I would have known/done this before my travels:
- Dive/scuba certification: snorkeling is great, but you can only see so much. Belize is home to the second best diving - outside of Australia's Great Barrier Reef - in the world. Damn it.
Items NOT to leave home without - in other words, make sure to include these on your packing list (in addition to your essentials):
- Camera (plus extra batteries/battery-charger, media card)
- UNDERWATER camera: who cares if it's one of those disposable kinds! If you can't find them in the US, they sell these cameras in Belize.
- Sturdy day pack/pool bag, preferably something with closure
- Sunblock: I recommend using a block that's both waterproof and sweat-proof. I lathered myself with SPF 50 for the first half of my trip, then stepped down to SPF 30. The sun is no joke.
- 100% pure ALOE VERA GEL: if you don't bring this, then you're a complete idiot. Period.
- Bug/mosquito spray: luckily, during the time that I was in Belize, we didn't have an issue with critters. Still, it's better to be safe than sorry.
- Antibacterial sanitizing gel and/or wipes: I make sure to carry wipes with me on the airplane to wipe down the food/drink tray.
- Motion-sickness pills/relief: trust me on this one - whether it's a plane or a boat, Belize will keep you very mobile. You don't want to risk the chance of getting sick!
- Pain reliever medicine
- Shower/room shoes: for your hotel
- Wash cloth: I always bring my own, just in case...
- Goggles: great to have for ocean swims, especially in Belize, where the underwater world is such a sight. Protects your eyes and contacts (if you wear them), as well!
- Polarized sunglasses: trust me, folks - the sun is no joke in Belize, and fashion should always come second to your health/wellbeing. Those cute designer shades should stay at home.
- Pre-packaged snacks: in between meal service, I was so happy that I brought nuts.
- Enjoyable books and magazines
- Teva-like sandals: for day-trips and excursions. They may not be the most glamorous shoe, but who cares - sure beats scratching your feet on coral or stepping on something sharp.
- Light jacket
- A couple of nicer outfits for evening/dinners out.
Items to leave at home:
- Expensive jewelry
- Fancy clothes
- Your entire makeup collection: trust me, you won't wear much!
- Strong perfume: it only attracts bugs/creatures and creepy men
What an unBELIZEable vacation it was!
Until my next adventure!
The Lunch Belle