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Adventures Through the Sky and Underground

Published in the Summer 2013 Issue of Canadian World Traveller
By Michael Morcos

For a tiny, yet mighty, country, Belize packs a big punch when it comes to offering curious travellers a little bit of everything. I don’t say this lightly either – Belize has shimmering beaches, historically rich landmarks and incredibly delectable seafood to indulge. Not to mention, the Belizean lifestyle makes it easy to adapt to the surroundings – Canadian and U.S. currency is widely accepted and most people speak English. This does not deter from Belize’s exotic atmosphere, though. I was able to feel like I walked into another world full of tropical wonders, adventure and so much opportunity to simply relax.

Gliding into Belize

It is fairly straightforward to get into the country of Belize, which is roughly the size of the U.S. state of Vermont. Flights on several major carriers will bring guests to the capital city (also called Belize). To reach other areas, it is easiest to hop on small planes to discover more remote regions and resorts. I took several of these puddle jumpers and enjoyed some unforgettable views of Belize’s tropical landscape below.

Settling in at The Phoenix Resort

On the Island of Ambergris Caye, I couldn’t help but smile wide as I laid eyes on the luxurious and modern Phoenix Resort. For decades this destination was only a quiet fishing village, which now has been discovered by travellers all over the world as a little slice of paradise. I could have easily never left while spending time by the pool, overlooking the ocean view from my balcony and trying out some of the resort’s luxurious spa services.

Water sports galore at Shark Ray Alley

It was time for some thrills, though, as I made my way to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley. These hotspots for splashing and exploring in the crystal clear ocean offer a wide variety of sports and activities to try, for all abilities.

To get a lay of the land, I boarded a small boat to glide us around the reserve. At the horizon, the water melts perfectly into blue skies, with the environment being wonderfully warm and sunny. While being given an overview of what to expect, divers donned masks and some had tanks to start checking out the underwater surface. The entire reserve is covered in thousands of acres of natural coral and plant life – a perfect place for sea creatures, large and small, to live off the coast of Belize. Seeing sharks up close was a rush, as well as the schools of sting rays and colorful fish.

Some libations at Elvi’s Kitchen

Snorkeling and sailing all day can be tiring, so a meal at Elvi’s Kitchen was welcomed after an exciting day. Its ambiance gives off the perfect, laid-back yet elegant appeal that has had a history on Ambergris Caye since the 1970s. Have some of the fresh lobster with roasted garlic or a traditional Belizean fish with black bean sauce. They also created a homemade basil ice cream that is talked about for miles around.

Arriving at El Secreto Resort by boat

It is not everyday travelers are able to get to their accommodations by nautical means. This escape from reality is perched on a perfect beach and present guests the chance to live exotically. Villas are tucked into swaying trees and placed on white sands and outfitted with cosy décor. The resort is happy to help guests plan some activities as well, whether they are interested in extravagant helicopter tours or want to simply visit the Belize Zoo.

Introducing San Pedro

Still in Ambergris Caye, there are plenty of charming, sleepy towns to immerse in and get a real feel for Belizean island life. San Pedro is one of the best. Nature lovers can bird watch and visit baboons right outside village limits, or they can grab some fun souvenirs for some quality shopping time downtown, from vases and jewelry to art and handcrafted items. It’s fun to watch golf carts zoom around too, which is a popular mode of transportation.

Cave tubing

While many people spend the majority of their time near the coast of Belize, there is also a rush river that splits Dangriga and other regions in half. This calm water is perfect for its warm temperature and friendly, easy current that allows for a day of tubing. Some travelers might go hours without seeing other people, being fully surrounded by wildlife and lush, green river banks. Some people even spot a jaguar or two – I was unlucky this time, but all the more reason to return.

The town of Dangriga

Right at the base of North Stann Creek River is this plucky town worth enjoying after a visit to the local nature preserve. Art buffs will especially love it’s creative, vibrant scene that includes galleries, music hubs and plenty of festivals. The Garifuna culture is strong there, with its own style of expression seen in everything from cuisine to the street art.

Local percussion talent

I could hear hints of music out on the streets of Dangriga, but I was delighted to have the opportunity to see some skills up close as well. The Garifunda drummers display infectious beats and a fantastic use of big and small percussion instruments. They play at festivals, places where people gather outside and just for fun all year round.

The ATM caves

This was not for the faint of heart or those not thrilled about enclosed spaces. But if travellers can overcome their fears, it is worth heading inside the ATM caves to catch a glimpse of some amazing natural wonders and ancient artifacts. To get inside, though, one must swim through the entrance and everyone needs to wear the necessary safety gear. Some areas are tight to squeeze through and most areas are, of course, pitch-dark. But the reward is being able to experience something thrilling and unique in the heart of the Belizean jungle.

The Lodge at Chaa Creek

This resort really was a destination in itself. While it would be a shame not to leave the property, there truly is countless things to do and see right at the lodge, which many travellers indulge in on their Belizean getaways. Chaa Creek had absolutely gorgeous grounds with leafy trees and the distance sounds of tropical birds welcoming the guests. I melted into my room with bright accents and natural wood beams that gave a cheery look to the whole space. Travellers interested in all-inclusive options can book right through the lodge for themed vacations, such as romance, family and adventure.

Memorable Mayan ruins

I really dig history, especially South American ruins and its complex past of culture. I had been looking forward to this part of the trip for days and was not disappointed when I saw the towering steps of these Mayan temples. In some spots guests are able to climb on the steps and get a bird’s eye view of the land just as the ancient people did. What makes it unique is its unspoiled beauty and staff of knowledgeable guides who dispense their wisdom about the local history while on tour.
After, it was relaxing to spend some time at the nearby Rio on Pools and Big Rock Falls – a welcome cool down after a day of exploration.

Zip lining through nature

Although I had climbed to the top of a Mayan temple and explored caves under the ground, I still had not seen the whole landscape at once. This was quickly accomplished on an exciting ride through the trees with Calico Jacks. Zip lining lets travellers strap to a harness and glide down a wire cable between checkpoints, feet skimming the treetops and blue sky above. There are nine runs in total, with the last one being more than 250 meters long. Kids especially love this type of activity, as even little ones can get in on the thrills after a little instruction. Calico jacks has other amenities and features as well in this wild village, including an ancient garden and massive jungle swing.

The Ka’ana Resort

I appreciate resorts that offer a variety of dining options for when I’d like to stay on the property and have some delectable choices. The Ka’ana is a wonderfully relaxing and stylish resort in the Cayo district with spacious, tropical accommodations and several places to dine. The lounge and wine cellar had a more relaxed menu, with many cocktails paired with small samples of local culinary delights. La Ceiba is a full-service restaurant which sources many of its dishes form a 2-acre garden on site. The traditional corn salbutes and lobster ceviche were particularly memorable.

Getting a feel for a different lifestyle

Belize is a perfect destination for the adventurous set, but there are so many ways to relax as well in this exotic and perfectly temperate atmosphere. I loved both aspects of the country – how I could zipline one day and be pampered at the spa in the next. Between the gorgeous shorelines, inland jungles, Mayan ruins and lazy river, I couldn’t possibly choose a favorite region.