February 20, 2013
February 26, 2013

Mayan ruins. Check. World class diving. Check. Jungle, wildlife and birds, white sand beaches, plus inland and ocean adventures. Check, check and check. “Mother nature’s best kept secret”, says the Belize Tourist Board, and I would have to agree. There are a multitude of experiences offered by this compact Central American/Caribbean country.

I spent a week with my husband in a cabana at Captain Morgan’s Retreat. Located on Ambergris Caye (am-ber-grees key), about 3 miles north of San Pedro Town, it takes a little more effort to get here, but it is so worth it.  There’s something very romantic about arriving at an island destination by boat, schlepping your bag down a dock and then slipping your toes directly into the sand. I think the only times we wore shoes while on vacation was during our bike rides back and forth to town, hiking through the mainland jungle, and just sometimes, at dinner. Needless to say, Belize is barefoot paradise.

Most of the 200 islands that dot the coastline are uninhabited, but Ambergris Caye has the most developed tourism infrastructure and offers a wide range of accommodations, plenty of restaurants and shops, as well as a wide selection of tour operators and dive shops. That being said, most of the roads are made of sand and the best way to get around is on foot, by golf cart or bicycle—there are relatively few vehicles on the island. For divers and snorkelers, the meandering barrier reef is just one mile off shore.

In order to not miss out on a jungle experience I booked a full-day Lamanai Ruins tour through Tanisha Tours lead by Daniel Nunez. We pushed off early from the dock at Captain Morgan’s and enjoyed homemade Johnnycakes (prepared by Daniel’s niece) in the boat as we made our way towards the mainland through the mangroves and finally to the New River. The Lamanai Ruins are only accessible by this waterway so along the river we learned about birds and wildlife, flora and fauna, as well as Belizean culture and Mayan history. Daniel was quite knowledgeable and kept us interested and curious throughout the entire trip. We explored the jungle and the expansive ruins for a couple of hours followed by a lunch of chicken and rice & peas with pickled jalapenos. This one day gave me a taste for the beautiful and wild jungle so on our next visit we’ll definitely split our vacation between stays on the beach and at a jungle lodge. I’ve pegged Hidden Valley Inn & Reserve in the Mountain Pine Ridge as tops on my list.

Back on Ambergris Caye we snorkeled at Mexico Rocks and Hol Chan Marine Reserve, sailed to Caye Caulker, strolled the sandy streets of San Pedro Town, celebrated Christmas with the locals and biked the entire length of the island and back again. The superb blend of adventure and relaxation makes this country a pretty perfect fit for just about any traveler.