is a beautiful country just south of Mexico, east of Guatemala and
is bordered on the east by the Caribbean. Formerly British Honduras,
Belize achieved independence in 1981. Belize City is not nearly
as captivating as San Pedro but interesting nonetheless. If you
ever get the chance - GO!
125 miles south of Cancun & Cozumel. Mainland is appx. the size
of Massachusetts with over 200 barrier reef islands
monarchy with two legislative houses
Chief of state:
British Monarch represented by a Governor-general
Head of government:
forested 92.1%; meadows & pastures 2.2%; agricultural &
under permanent cultivation 3.6%; other 2.1%
US Central Time
Belize dollar ($2 BD = $1 USD)
Aerial view approaching Belize City
view approaching Belize City
Radisson Ft. George
Nap time at the Belize Zoo
Toucan at the Belize Zoo
Macaws at the Belize Zoo
Ferry over to Xunantunich
Foliage at the Radisson
at the Radisson
Aerial view approaching San Pedro
Front of Banyan Bay
Pool at Banyan Bay
View from balcony at Banyan Bay
Grounds at Banyan Bay
Dale 'working' on the beach at Banyan Bay
Local vendors carrying their wares past
Rico's at Banyan Bay
Beach scene at Banyan Bay
View from beach at Banyan Bay
View from beach of Banyan Bay
Refreshment stop at Cannibal's
Downtown San Pedro
Coca-Cola delivery truck in San Pedro
Our 'guides' Alex (left) & Stephen (right) & Dale
Pier at north end of island
South end of the island
end of the island
North end of the island
Sunset on San Pedro
Alberto preparing lunch
Keys to Alberto's secret recipe!
REPORT: BELIZE 2004
Depart Oklahoma City for Belize, hour layover in Houston. Besides
the obvious reasons (beach, sun, sand, etc.) one of the attractive
incentives of this destination was the ease in which we could get
there. Five hour total travel time - not bad. As we get closer to
Belize, you can feel the hot sun on the plane window - definitely
a good sign, especially since it was about 33 degrees when we left
We land in Belize City at 4:00 pm without any problems, turbulence
or delays (yet). Customs / immigration took over an hour and it
didn't seem like there were THAT many people in line. No rush here.
Typical small tropical airport - hot, sticky and laid back. Only
atypical thing: very clean bathrooms WITH toilet paper - another
good sign. Oh, and another atypical item: no hustling, hassling
porters grabbing your bags for a dollar tip for a 10 ft. haul. I
like this place already.
Cab ride to hotel through Belize City is not too impressive, in
fact kind of depressing. The city is pockmarked with the blemishes
of age, poverty and run-down structures that have seen their better
days. Our hotel, the Radisson Ft. George (about a 15 minute drive
from the airport) is right on the water and definitely a welcome
sight. First impression is a good one - elegant, old world styling
and seemingly well run. Reception staff is friendly and efficient
and the room is quite nice with a great view of the Caribbean, tile
floors and deep mahogany wood trim and furnishings. Even though
the hotel is older it has been well maintained and cracks and crevices
are dust and dirt free.
We head over to the Princess Casino to spend the evening and try
our luck. Casino experience was so-so - we weren't expecting Las
Vegas and it's a good thing. However, while not a large opulent
venue it was adequate and we enjoyed ourselves. We ordered some
food and afterwards wished we hadn't - cold, overcooked and pretty
much tasteless. Cab to and from the Princess highly recommended.
Full breakfast buffet included with our room reservation was very
good and served in the informal dining room which overlooks the
water. Typical breakfast buffet fare included bacon, sausage, eggs,
potatoes, pancakes, french toast, cereal, fresh fruit, etc. We ate
there both mornings, once early, once late and both times the food
was fresh and hot.
Hired Llewellyn Martinez as our tour guide for the day through the
Radisson Guest Services desk, first stop the Belize Zoo. Had heard
that the drive to the zoo and surrounding areas was awesome, found
it to be only moderately so. It wasn't bad, just nothing spectacular.
Had also heard that the zoo was a don't-miss destination. Again,
only moderately so. It was very well maintained and clean with a
very typical rainforest/jungle setting but the animals were few
and far between and looked painfully thin and underfed.
Left the zoo and continued on the Western Highway towards the Mayan
ruin of Xunantunich, just past San Ignacio. We stopped for lunch
in San Ignacio at a small restaurant called Martha's Guest House.
Outstanding food, quaint and family-style atmosphere and again -
exceptionally clean bathrooms (guess you can tell what my priorities
are, huh?! I figure if the bathrooms that you CAN see are clean,
then the other areas that you CAN'T see - like the kitchen - are
going to be clean too. Neurotic, yes, but I've spent too many vacations
with an up-close-and-personal relationship with Immodium AD.) Anyhoo...
Arrive at Xunantunich via the hand-cranked pulley ferry (nice change
from the modernized, motorized, mechanized world we blindly exist
in). As we walk up the hill to the ruins I again notice how clean
and well maintained the grounds and surrounding areas are. We turn
the corner on the gravel path and the impressive ruin of the ancient
Mayan temple comes into sight. Wow. Painstakingly restored and meticulously
maintained, it is definitely a site to see. Groundskeepers busily
chop, weed, trim and care for the area. We climb to the top (don't
know how high - but HIGH) and the view is spectacular. Only 11 miles
from the Guatemala border, you can see for miles in all directions
in spite of the overcast and slightly drizzly conditions. The misty
weather creates an ethereal and almost surreal vision. Highlight
of the Belize City part of the trip.
On the way back to the hotel our driver gives us an abbreviated
tour of some of the historical sites such as Government House, the
Anglican Church, the old cemetery (Seminary? Couldn't quite understand
all of the commentary). Our car was having mechanical problems and
kept sputtering, coughing and lurching so our attention was divided
between the drivers comments and wondering if/when we would arrive
back at the hotel! Alas, we finally made it back safe and sound.
Dinner that night at the Smoky Mermaid (across the street from the
Radisson) drew mixed reviews. We had run into the owner the night
before and were assured that even though lobster season had closed
the day before (wouldn't you know it?) that they had a generous
stock and it would be on the menu. Well, it wasn't - just ran out.
Dale ordered the potato-crusted snapper, I ordered the blackened
snapper and a salad. The salad had a great dressing (sweet and tangy
honey mustard) but the lettuce was warm and not crisp at all. Dale's
snapper was huge, delicious, crispy on the outside and tender and
moist on the inside. Mine was a fourth the size, scrawny, tough,
overcooked and barely warm. They were out of our first two wine
selections but I have to say the third was divine. All in all it
was a fairly decent dining experience and the disappointing entree
I had was more than made up for by the wonderful outdoor / patio
setting and the friendly, attentive service. I would go back, but
I would get the crusted snapper!
Took the morning flight over to San Pedro - about 15 minutes on
a 13-seater plane (maybe 14-seater - small but not teensy). Still
overcast and a little drizzly but a smooth and comfortable flight
and an impressive aerial view of the coast, sea and cayes. As we
taxied up the small runway I catch sight of golf cart after golf
cart after golf cart with barefoot tourists and happy faces. Immediately
I fall in love with this place. Good-bye mainland, good-bye shoes,
hello island paradise!
Cab to our hotel - The Villas at Banyan Bay. We ended up absolutely
loving the place but in all honesty I had mixed feelings when we
first arrived. While clean, new, modern and 'islandy', the reception
area was very sterile, austere and impersonal. It had high ceilings
with lots of windows and seating areas but the first thing I noticed
was a plethora of fake plants and trees, a new yet non-working fountain,
and a general atmosphere of 'not-finished'. I don't know how long
ago the renovations were completed but softly draped curtains accenting
the windows and warm, human, finishing touches should be next on
the agenda. As they escorted us to our condo all my apprehensions
were allayed though. The grounds are beautiful, tropical, classy
and lush and the pool is beautiful and inviting.
Our condo is right on the beach and is exceptional and being located
on the second floor has a great private balcony / deck with table
and chairs. One of the few privately owned condos, it's decorated
in a Caribbean tropical / jungle / nautical style with dark mahogany
floors and cabinetry, pastel paint, floral fabrics, tile and brass
accents. Sounds like an odd combination but it worked. The master
bedroom wasn't overly spacious but was adequate, master bath really
nice size with separate shower and jacuzzi tub. The water pressure
was abysmal in the shower but at least had a foot wash in the shower
and one wall was glass bricks - a nice touch.
First stop after dropping off luggage: Rico's at Banyan Bay. We
ended up eating several meals there and were mostly pleased with
all. Right on the water, Rico's is a combination bar, restaurant,
tiki-hut-lounge type place with indoor and outdoor seating and a
friendly, happy attentive staff (especially Gilmore - he was our
favorite). Separated from the condos by a 20' swath of sand, Rico's
is surrounded by a redwood deck that wraps around the whole place
and then winds down to the dive shop. Met and fell in love with
a new (to me) tropical beverage - Panty Ripper (hate the name, love
the drink). Consisting of pineapple juice and coconut rum it was
great - very similar to a pina colada but not as cloying.
After imbibing, went down to the on-site dive shop and arranged
a fishing trip with Eli. Very no-nonsense and straight forward yet
friendly and helpful, she booked our activity in no time at all.
Decided to head into town to look around. The walk was fun and seemed
much shorter than the 1 1/2 miles it was. Very rustic and at times
somewhat primitive the residential structures we passed were interspersed
with more recently constructed condos, time shares and hotels -
most fronting the beach but none taller than two or three stories
(can't build taller than a palm tree here - great idea, didn't come
here to stare at Trump Tower). By the time we got to 'downtown'
we had been passed by at least a couple dozen golf carts, a few
small cars and several bicycles. Also quite a bit of pedestrian
traffic. No horns honking, no cross words at close calls or near-misses.
Just cordial, congenial people living, working, vacationing together
in this great little place.
After walking and shopping a little, stopped at Cannibal's on the
beach for a margarita. Cannibal's is another little tiki-hut bar
among many on the beach but fabulous margaritas made from scratch.
Walked back to the hotel via the beach as the sun was setting. (Have
been to some tropical destinations where walking on the streets
or beach after dark is not safe or advisable but here felt totally
safe, sound and serene. Might have been the margaritas but really
think this place is safer than most.)
Dinner at Rico's was very good, actually mine was great. Sat outside
so of course the atmosphere was incredible (beach, sea, palm trees,
gentle breeze - what's not to like?). I had grilled lobster (finally!)
and it was superb. Dale had the seafood pasta (recommended by the
waiter) and while the seafood was plentiful and tasty, the sauce
was thin and runny and the pasta was just plain old overcooked spaghetti
noodles. For dessert we had the flan and coconut pie which were
great so all-in-all it was a good dining experience. After dinner
took our coffee up to the room, sat on the balcony and listened
to the waves crashing on the beach with a warm breeze convincing
us this was heaven.
A little breezy but finally sunshine! Breakfast on the deck of Rico's
was a real treat. We split the Eggs Benedict Royal and it was fabulous.
The poached eggs were light and fluffy, the hollandaise was creamy
and smooth and had a subtle hint of wine and it was all topped off
with meaty chunks of lobster. The potato cake on the side was a
little small (even for one) but was tasty and crispy with pieces
of bacon and really all we needed.
Decide to rent a golf cart and spend the morning exploring, then
head to the beach later. Before we leave the hotel, stop in the
lobby to check email and drop a line to family back home. (Computer
center with four or five computers - $6 US for 1/2 hour - not too
bad). The ride into town is a lot of fun - bumpy, but fun.
As the sun gets hotter, the breeze from flying along the sand covered
streets (no asphalt, no paving) is a welcome respite. Street vendors
hawking their wares, children laughing and playing in the schoolyards,
laundry waving in the tropical breeze makes us forget that just
a few days ago we were mired in pressures, deadlines, responsibilities
and 'real life'. Side note: while proud of their 'art', the street
vendors don't hound you and hassle you to buy, buy, buy - nice change.
After wandering and shopping some more, stop again at Cannibal's
(by accident actually, just ended up there!) After a couple more
margaritas, head back to Banyan Bay.
Sun is high overhead and calling our name so we head to the beach
and fry like bacon for an hour or so and love every minute. Banyan
Bay bills itself as 'family-friendly' (maybe because of the nice
pool?) so we were a little hesitant when we booked but as it turned
out there were only a few kids and they were really well behaved
and didn't intrude at all on our 'adult vacation'. I mention this
now because as we were lying on the beach there were two little
girls (maybe 3 & 5 years old) who were absolutely adorable in
their matching swim suits and floppy sun hats building sand castles
and playing in the surf. They were fun to watch and their youthful
antics added to the whole beach atmosphere without disrupting it.
I think this speaks to the fact that Banyan Bay clientele is in
the 'in-between' realm where it's classy enough that the parents
discipline their kids and keep them under control but not up into
the hoity-toity range where the spoiled kids run amok. When you
say weed out the 'rif-raf' they're on BOTH ends of the economic
scale in my opinion...
A lively game of volley ball was starting up about 20' away but
we were approaching the crispy stage so decided to leave the beach
and go explore the island some more.
As we drive through town school was just letting out so children
were swarming everywhere and they were so cute and polite, very
tolerant of the tourist invaders who regularly overtake their island.
Since we had decided to explore the north end of the island we head
towards the ferry to cross the San Pedro River ('The Cut'). Before
long we realize we have a tagalong 'skitching' a ride on his bicycle
by hanging onto the back rail of the golf cart. We find out his
name is Stephen and he has the cutest cherubic face with plump round
cheeks, a huge smile and the most infectious happy laugh. You couldn't
help but like him. His school uniform is a little disheveled but
it is clean and his enthusiasm and friendliness capture our heart.
He's 12 years old and he tells us his father is a tour guide and
that he wants to be one too.
Game for adventure we ask him to be our tour guide and show us the
north end of the island. Of course he's thrilled and off we go.
When we get to the ferry, Stephen's friend Alex joins us and we
proceeded northward. Alex is ten and much more quiet and reserved,
observing and absorbing everything. The roads north of the cut are
much bumpier and in pretty bad shape so we try to stick to the more
A mile or so past the ferry Stephen tells us proudly that his house
is up ahead on the left and that his mother sells cold Coca-Cola
if we're thirsty. Reluctantly Alex says that he lives next door
to Stephen. We pull into the drive and even though I never drink
non-diet soda I decide to get one (silly, I know - I'll drink multiple
sugar-filled pineapple drinks but not soda). We visit with his mom
for a while, drink our Coke and ask her if it's okay for Stephen
to show us around the north end.
The house/store she operates is really nothing more than a tumble-down
wood shack with no windows or modern conveniences except electricity
but it's clean and the pop is ice cold. Her name is Lena and she's
making Journey Cakes. A Journey Cake is like a cross between a bread
roll and a biscuit and she pats them out without missing a beat
as we visit. She tells us she makes them every day for her family
and cooks them over a wood fire out back commenting that a gas oven
just doesn't make them taste the same. I would venture to guess
cooking them in a gas oven isn't an option for her though. I would
really like to stay and watch her cook them but she still has a
considerable amount of dough left to pat out and it's getting late.
Meanwhile at Alex's house next door, unbelievably loud music is
blaring from speakers on the front porch. No glass in the windows,
probably no running water, but a heavy-duty deluxe sound system.
Stephen and Alex leave their bikes, hop on the back of the golf
cart and we head north. Past Journey's End, all the way up to Mata
Chica we drive, laugh, talk and explore. At one point Stephen and
Alex jump out and show us their palm tree climbing expertise. Most
all of the hotel / resorts we pass are nice places (especially Mata
Chica) but they're so far north that unless you take the water taxi
to and from I don't know if I would recommend staying there.
On the way back we stop at Journey's End again to use the bathroom
and get something to drink. Evidently not used to being welcomed
at such a nice place, both boys climb proudly up on the bar stools,
their happy faces beaming with excitement. Another cold Coke later
we climb back into the golf cart. Evidently both boys are not accustomed
to the sugar and/or caffeine content in pop because within minutes
both are bouncing off the seats and giggling nonstop, their youthful
exuberance fueled by the foreign substance. Needless to say we all
had a good time. By the time we pull back into Stephen's yard the
boys have somewhat settled down but still laughing and bouncing
Lena has finished cooking the Journey Cakes and carefully wraps
three of them up for us to take with her. She won't accept payment
for them but we give Stephen and Alex $10 for being such good 'guides'.
As we pull out of the yard nibbling on the wonderful cakes the music
from Alex's house is still blaring but has changed from a happy
carefree Bob Marley type music to a foul and expletive-filled rendition
of something not even resembling music.
We drive back to Banyan Bay, dinner again at Rico's and it was great.
I have the snapper in a mustard lime sauce, Dale has the shrimp
in a spicy Mayan sauce. Both are served with coconut rice which
is fantastic - not sweet but more chewy, nutty and a perfect compliment
to the entrees. Appetizer is the conch fritters with honey mustard
dip and they are outstanding as well. Hot and crispy on the outside
and steamy and moist on the inside with plenty of succulent chewy
conch. No key lime pie left so we pass on dessert and go back to
the condo for coffee on the balcony. A wonderful day and evening.
On the agenda for today: all day fishing trip and beach BBQ. Awake
to clouds, wind and rain. Wouldn't you know it? We pack our supplies,
food, beverages and sunscreen (eternal optimists) and head to the
pier. Low and behold the sky starts to clear! Our guide for the
day is Alberto and we start by heading to the far south end of the
island to catch bait with a throw net. Takes awhile but we finally
have enough for the day. We head to another spot and start fishing
for snapper, grouper and other local fish. Not many bites and the
fish we do catch are pretty small. Good thing we brought cheese
and crackers along.
As the morning progresses we catch more fish - still small but at
least they are fairly plentiful. We stop to dive for conch but no
luck there. At about 1:00 we pull into a small deserted stretch
of beach and Alberto starts preparing lunch while we gather firewood.
He fillets the fish then slices and dices potatoes, onions, peppers
I have to mention at this point that I was quite nervous because
Alberto's never washed his hands between cutting bait up and filleting
the fish and the cooking / preparation / cutting board is the same
board he used to cut the bait up on and fillet the raw fish. Oh
my. I'm the type that disinfects EVERYTHING (even the kids) before
they're allowed in the kitchen. I was a good little tourist though
and didn't say anything and there were no problems or digestive
repercussions, if you know what I mean. Anyhoo...
All the fish and veggies plus hot sauce, spices and other assorted
condiments went into the mixture, all was wrapped in foil and tossed
on the make-shift grill over the fire. While it was cooking, Alberto
mixed up some fresh cabbage with mayo, got out some flour tortillas
and spread a nice little picnic setting with real plates and cloth
napkins. When the food was cooked, Alberto showed us the procedure
and even though (again) I had my doubts, I followed: take the flour
tortilla, spread the slaw mixture, top with the fish and veggie
mixture, roll up and eat. DELICIOUS!!! Can't wait to try this recipe
at home - I WILL wash first though!
After our beach BBQ we packed up and came back to the hotel - great
day, great food, great fun.
Not even hungry for dinner we knew we wanted to try a restaurant
we had heard about - the Blue Water Grill. Being Friday night we
should have known it would be packed and it was. Wasn't that big
of a deal though, we had to wait about 30 min. for a table but the
whole place was open, breezy and right on the water so we just had
a glass of wine at the bar and watched all of the interesting people
and enjoyed the scenery.
Dinner was definitely worth the wait (except for the salad). I had
the mixed seafood grill, Dale had the snook (caught locally). First
the bad news: The salad was supposed to be butter lettuce (my fav)
with black-eyed pea, bleu cheese and caramelized walnut vinaigrette.
Sounds interesting, right? Especially the infusion of black-eyed
peas in the dressing - could this work? This I've got to see/taste.
First of all, it wasn't butter lettuce, it was romaine (they could
have told me - I still would have ordered it) and the black-eyed
peas seemed like an afterthought dumped on top - too bad. Good news
is that the bleu cheese was fresh and plentiful and the caramelized
walnuts were great, along with the balance of the vinaigrette after
scraping off the peas.
But the really good news: the entrees. Mine was a generous serving
of shrimp, scallops and white fish with a ginger-tomato puree over
garlic mashed potatoes. Plenty of seafood cooked tender and moist
- delicious. The puree was a little overpowering though, but after
scraping 3/4's of it off it was really good. The bed of mashed potatoes
at first didn't seem to go with it but it was a good choice and
added to the dish. Dale's entree was incredible. The snook was black
bean crusted and pan seared over a bed of cabbage with a ginger-soy
sauce and a side of caramelized bananas in a light curry sauce.
Sounds pretty ambitious and overdone but it was prepared with a
light and dexterous touch and was superb. After dinner we walked
on the beach for a while then headed back to the room.
Unfortunately we have to leave today but not until 3:00pm. Breakfast
at Rico's, we split the breakfast burritos (two large ones per order.)
Great - full of scrambled eggs, sausage, onions, peppers and salsa.
And except for a little too much lime, the Bloody Mary's were pretty
good too. We go back to the condo to pack and sort through our trove
of tourist essentials - shells, T-shirts, etc. and cram it all into
our now too-small bags.
We go into town for one last time and pick up a few more trinkets
and stop at Cannibal's for a good-bye margarita. This is the third
time we've been there and each time there has been a different eclectic
assortment of fellow visitors that makes for colorful conversation
Since we have a little bit of time to kill, we drive further south
on the island and stop at Victoria House. Beautiful place, beautiful
setting, but a little more stuffy and staid than we prefer but still
a great place.
Before we leave Banyan Bay we decide we should eat something so
we go back to Rico's and have conch fritters and the conch ceviche.
I'm sooooooo glad we did - the ceviche was out of this world. Just
the right amount of lime and cilantro and light and flavorful. Excellent
choice. Then it's on to the airport and the trip home. Hate to leave
and definitely want to come back soon!
Old, crowded, bedraggled yet still fairly interesting. Nice to see
once, not dying to go back
Rainforest, jungle, scenic. Like Belize City, interesting but not
dying to go back. Really enjoyed the ruins though.
Great place, great food, incredible people and a safe, friendly
and welcoming atmosphere. Of course the allure of the beach goes
without saying and the fact that you weren't hassled, haggled, hustled
or felt threatened made this place a wonderful destination. Want
to go back SOON!
Villas at Banyan
BELIZE BBQ FISH
with this recipe and came up with this. Not AS good as Alberto's
but not too far off. (I'm sure preparing and eating it on the beach
in Belize makes it taste better!)
1/2 c. bbq sauce (we used Kraft, any will do)
1/4 c. real mayo
1 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. tabasco or hot pepper sauce (or less to taste)
2 tsp. Tony Chachares seasoning (or any cajun or red pepper seasoning
1 tbsp olive oil (or butter)
pouch or baking dish arrange about 2 lbs. fresh fish fillets, cover
with sauce. Top with:
1/2 white onion, finely sliced
1/2 green pepper, finely sliced
1 small tomato, cubed
Cover with foil and grill or bake at 350 until sauce bubbles and
fish is flaky and done (about 8-12 min) - don't overcook!
Wrap in flour tortilla with shredded fresh cabbage that has been
mixed with real mayo (appx. 1-2 tbsp mayo per 1 cup of cabbage).
Can also serve over rice.