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Oct
26

Flight to Belize-see it while you still can

belize barrier reef

belize barrier reef

Fly to Belize and be confused.

Belize may be in Central America, tucked under the Yucatan Peninsula between Mexico to the north and Guatemala to the south and west, but it was a British colony for more than 100 years, becoming independent  in 1981. You will hear Creole, Spanish and Garifuna spoken but English is learned and spoken by all, which feels a little weird in a tropical land peppered with Mayan ruins. But this is just one of the qualities that make this such a diverse and rich place to see.

map of the area

map of the area

National parks and nature preserves make up almost half of Belize’s 8,800 square miles. Coppola built his first resort here in the mountains, Blancaneaux Lodge,  and the second by the glittering sea, Turtle Inn. If you really want to do it right and you happen to have a lot of cash on you which means you most probably hail from the few Eurozone countries kicking butt-Germany, Netherlands, Sweden- then you book your stay half in the rainforest and half in the sea.

Blancaneaux Lodge

Blancaneaux Lodge

First the upcountry:

Hop on a flight to belize-city then rent a car and head into its lush interior, thick with rain forests, Mayan ruins, tiny villages, intense wildlife and intricate cave systems that can be explored by floating on inner tubes is an experience you will not forget.

Belize‚Äôs population hovers around 500,000 and most are poor here. The national food is rice and beans and there is little in the way of fresh fruits and vegetables. But strangely, everyone here knows what a Guinness Stout is. Queen Elizabeth II stares from Belize‚Äôs paper currency. English is its official language. Everyone smokes Colonial Lights. Well, I guess it figures, it’s not that easy to find fresh food in England either. I remember when I lived there and asked for vegetables, they always brought me a baked potato laden with butter and sour cream.

people of belize

people of belize

Ian Anderson‚Äôs Caves Branch is a few hours‚Äô drive from Belize City, nestled along the lovely and aptly named Hummingbird Highway. Heed the warning posted on its Web site:‚ÄúIan Anderson‚Äôs Caves Branch … is neither a ‚Äėsightseeing‚Äô business nor a ‚Äėresort‚Äô! …If you are looking for a jungle resort that is sanitized from its surroundings … then we are not it.‚ÄĚ

caves branch lodge

caves branch lodge

Because Mr. Anderson is dedicated to adventurous and sustainable tourism, e.g. eco-tourism, and because he hires first-class guides, the crowd he attracts is hardy, inquisitive, international and a lot of fun. The options for exploring are numerous, the guides explain in the evening. There are jungle treks and trips to Mayan ruins, river kayaking survival expeditions, and rappelling and spelunking.

water falls

water falls

Meals are communal, and the rooms range from inexpensive huts to quite luxurious treehouse suites, which are hillside rooms that have trees growing through the center.

river tubing

river tubing

Spend the day on inner tubes, drifting in the dark cool water for what seems like miles, bats hang within reach overhead; the guides point out cave markings and large cave spiders. End your day by jumping off a 25-foot cliff into a deep natural pool.

The jungle wakes¬† well before sunrise, a combination of howler monkeys, frogs, toads, toucans and cicadas that, together, make a sound that will pound through you, making you rise even if you really don’t want to.

your alarm clock

your alarm clock

Hike into the jungle on those early mornings,  there’s remarkable wildlife, including giant king vultures, their red and yellow heads atop imposing white, black and grey body plumage.  Monkeys watch.

toucans

toucans

A mile or so from the lodge, a trail leads down to a small natural freshwater pool, or cenote, known as the Blue Hole. It is easily one of the most beautiful spots you will ever see: a turquoise swimming hole fed by a cool underground river and surrounded by limestone cliffs and deep jungle. It is empty.

Blue Hole National Park Belize

Blue Hole National Park Belize

Coppola’s next resort is Turtle Inn located in¬† Placencia, a popular beach town farther south at the end of a long, narrow peninsula. Placencia¬† has a¬† major laid-back end-of-the-line Key West vibe. American country music spills from the bars, and beer is cheap and plentiful. Vendors hawk ‚ÄúYou Better Belize It‚ÄĚ T-shirts. Bootleg copies of week-old American movies are for sale in shop doorways.

belize clear waters

belize clear waters

In the clear water around the tiny atoll that is so perfect you will distrust it, there are nurse sharks, barracuda and squid.

turtle inn

turtle inn

Coppola family‚Äôs Turtle Inn is a quiet,¬† lovely resort, and the food is fresh, finally, and it is sophisticated. As are the dinners, it feels a little like LA here, everyone’s good looking. Check out the Maya Breeze in for less than a hundred bucks a night with a beach cabin on the sand. Pretty cool and way less stuffy.

dive this

dive this

Diving here is what they all come for, so don’t miss that whatever you do. Who knows how long the blue hole will be here. Nothing lasts forever.

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