by Sue C Travel
Bopping Around Isla Bonita
Belize has been on my bucket list for a long time, so I jumped at the chance to visit a brand new resort hotel development there recently called Mahogany Bay Village- a Curio Collection by Hilton- it’s the newest destination within a destination complex to be built on Ambergris Cay- Belize’s most touristic island. (See feature in next Stay and Play fall edition on Mahogany Bay Village.)
The best way to get to Ambergris Cay and its capital of San Pedro aka “Isla Bonita” is via Tropic Air from Belize City. It’s a fabulous little airline, the flight takes around 20 minutes and the views are spectacular. San Pedro streets are a crazy colorful mélange of golf carts – the preferred mode of transportation- scooters, bikes, a few taxis and trucks… and the main roads have a gazillion hidden speed bumps, so bouncing around facing backwards in the golf cart was more like a carnival ride than a town tour. Aromas ranged from funky to fragrant depending on what you’re passing, and the whiffs of fried fish and seafood also assault your senses as you drive by the multiple food stands and restaurants. We didn’t spend a lot of time in town but we did dine one night at landmark Elvi’s Kitchen famous for its seafood and Mayan feasts, it’s a must try when there.
Did I swim with sharks on purpose?
You better Belize it!
Sadly, I did not have a chance to fly over the big blue hole that Belize is famous for, but I did get to try the second most famous pastime- snorkeling in Shark and Ray Alley. I thank the folks at Mahogany Bay for arranging our tour with Felicity Sailing; we adored our little luxury catamaran with its great crew. This vessel is ideal for small groups. Now about those sharks.
A portion of Hol Chan Marine Reserve set upon the second largest coral reef in the world- was once an area where local fishermen would clean their catch. The marine life soon figured out that boats mean free lunch, so nurse sharks and stingrays began frequenting this area en masse. After fishing was banned and the marine park established, snorkel tours began to go there. Some of the tour operators throw in a bit of chum to attract the sharks (our boat did not,) but they don’t need much encouragement. They make a beeline for every newly arrived boat.
I wasn’t really afraid of swimming with this type of shark, I’ve encountered them before, and as our captain said, the worst you can get is a big hickey as they suck in their food like high-powered vacuum cleaners- they don’t bite it outright. But with a frenzy of them circling right beneath my feet I must admit I was a tad intimidated. But then I saw three magnificent rays waiting below and I decided it was worth it. It was. And once we swam on to the reef I actually forgot about them as we explored the gorgeous healthy coral awash in colorful tropical fish. On the way back however I suddenly found myself smack dab in the middle of over a dozen sharks! Thankfully, they simply parted like the Red Sea so I could pass through them without incident. That was pretty cool. Later, we stopped at Caulker Key for lunch and we were joined by a pod of dolphins on our return sail! It was an absolutely perfect day at sea. If you go to Belize, this it is a must do experience. It’s really not scary at all.
Puerto Rico Is Rising Like a Phoenix
Contrary to what some might think, the tourism infrastructure of Puerto Rico has bounced back big time. My insider sources have confirmed that the port, downtown San Juan and the Condando areas are more than ready to receive visitors. The beaches are in great shape and the majority of the major hotels have reopened, and a brand new resort Serafina Beach Hotel just opened in March! The downtown core is abuzz with music and nightlife, and the historic attractions are welcoming all. The only major natural attraction still not open to the public yet is the El Yunque National Forest.
Miami public relations executive Maite Velez-Coutu visited her family there recently, and she says, “Actually I was very pleasantly surprised at what good shape things were in. Nature has done its job, and all the green beauty is back. It’s still a bit ragged around the edges in some parts- but the island is absolutely ready for visitors. I was also VERY excited to see a younger generation of entrepreneurs popping up and pushing forward in places like Calle Loíza and Santurce. They’ve been busy opening cool new restaurants, trendy bar and shop concepts and areas that were not a ‘must visit’ destination now have new life. That bodes very well for the island’s future!”
So plan your visit to beautiful Puerto Rico now, they are eagerly waiting for you.
Amstar DMC –Terrific Tours & Transfers
As a frequent female solo traveller I’m often asked about my concerns for safety, especially in foreign countries where I don’t speak the language. It’s a fair question, but one thing I’ve learned is to find a reputable tour and transfer outfit that you trust, and use them whenever you can. I found such a company in AmstarDMC. I always check to see if they are operating where I am going, and I have used them all over Mexico, in Jamaica, Costa Rica and in the Dominican Republic. They also operate in Hawaii. I find it worth paying a little more than grabbing a local cabbie to be assured of safe, professional reliable transfers from the airport to the hotel or from region to region. I also use them to book my excursions, because they vet their sub-operators well and use only the most reliable and safety conscious outfits. I have booked amazing experiences with them like whale shark snorkeling in Cancun, rainforest tours in Costa Rica and ruins tours in Tulum. My most recent excursion with them was a cool swim in a bioluminescent bay at night in Falmouth Jamaica. It’s called luminous lagoon and the water was warm as bath water and the effects of the glow in the dark waves surreal. I highly recommend them.
Award-winning travel journalist Sue Campbell is based in Montreal but makes it her business to be on top of everything cool, hot, and new under the sun throughout the Caribbean and Latin America.
World Traveler welcomes her as a regular columnist. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @suectravel
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