- Ambergris Caye,
- Cayo District,
- Central + South America
Belize is somewhere I would like to go at some time in the near future. Here's what I would do.....
See + Do
Mayan Sites in Belize
Occupying the southern half of the Yucatán's Caribbean coast, Belize was part of the Mayan heartland for centuries. The most visited ancient site is Altun Ha, about 30 miles north of Belize City, where several pyramids have been excavated and restored, but much of the city remains gorgeously entangled in the jungle.
The approachby boat up the New River and into an adjoining, jungle-hemmed lagoonis one of the most compelling aspects of a visit to Lamanai (also in Northern Belize). El Castillo, once the Mayan world's tallest building, continues to offer prime jungle and lagoon views from the top.
In Western Belize, the massive site of Caracol covers 35 square miles in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve (www.caracol.org). However impressive the ball court and carved glyphs, the scene-stealer is 143-foot-high Caana ("Sky Palace"), now the tallest Mayan pyramid in the country.
In the Cayo district of the Mayan Highlands near the Guatemalan border lies Xunantunich, an easily accessible hilltop site, with fantastic views from the top of its 130-foot El Castillo pyramid (be aware this El Castillo is different from the one in Lamanai).
Arguably the Mayan magnum opus, Guatemala's Tikal is close enough to the border that you can easily go for the day. (Or stay the night at nearby La Lancha, Francis Ford Coppola's newest property; www.lalancha.com.) The five huge temples (and countless other ruins) that make up the complex are surrounded by a 143-square-mile national park, where Technicolor flybys and simian theatrics round out the experience, lest you not be sufficiently dazzled by the neighborhood's millennium-old high-rises.
Elvi's Kitchen, Ambergris Caye, Belize
San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize
Tel: 501 226 2176
Elvia Staines has come a long way since she started slinging burgers out of her home in 1974. With the help of daughter Jennie, this Ambergris native now runs one of the island's most popular restaurants: a screened-in, sandy-floored outpost with a tree growing right through the thatched roof. The dishes are local, the ingredients fresh, and the tastes tremendous. Stop by on a Friday night for the famed Mayan buffet. Aside from winning raves, dishes such as chicken mole and toro pinto (boiled corn bread with beans inside) reflect Staines's effort to keep Mayan traditions alive.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 11 am to 2 pm and 5:30 to 10 pm.
Tel: 501 226 2809
A seaside restaurant with an open patio about three miles north of San Pedro (take a water taxi), Capricorn is one of Belize's most famous eateries. Signature offerings include rosemary focaccia, medallion of filet mignon in a red wine and mushroom sauce, peel-and-eat shrimp, stone crab claws with a creamy garlic and dill dip, fresh seviche, sautéed conch, seafood crepes, and Key lime pie. There are also three air-conditioned cabanas on the beach if you'd like to stay the night. Reservations for the restaurant are a must.
Open daily 8 am to 9 pm, September through mid-June; Thursdays through Tuesdays mid-June through August.
Matachica Resort & Spa, Ambergris Caye, Belize
San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize
Tel: 501 220 5010, Fax: email@example.com
Matachica is the anti-generic beach resort. Despite all the requisite trappings (a gorgeous stretch of white sand, iguanas that scuttle across it on cue, a generous endowment of gently swaying palms, and perfect margaritas), distinctiveness is what defines this remote corner of Ambergris Caye. Each of the 21 cabanas is painted its own sorbet-reminiscent shade. And the lobby aesthetic is essentially shabby chic meets Mesoamerican at the Casbah. In the Moroccan-veil-draped, Guatemalan-pillow-strewn lounge area, a manager-cum-DJ spins a steady supply of world music for the guests who are invariably gathered there. Despite the full complement of activities on offer (diving, kayaking, biking), most people check in mainly to chill out. To that end, there are hammocks everywhere, a sweet restaurant, and a desert oasisevoking spa tent.
Blancaneaux Lodge, Belize
Tel: 800 746 3743 (toll-free), Tel: 501 824 3878
Blancaneaux is the kind of place that makes you feel as if you were being put up by your rich, eccentric uncle. Of course, he's merely your figurative uncleunless you happen to be, say, Nicolas Cage. Yes, Francis Ford Coppola is the proprietor in question, and his tastes and travel loot pervade the place, where he's blended Central American textiles, Mexican curios, a Thai spa (with some of the best massage this side of the Mekong), and most recently, a Guatemalan restaurant to supplement the Italian fare already on offer at Montagna. The mix works beautifully, not least because of its setting: on the banks of a cascading river in the middle of a pine forest. Napping is a constant temptation, whether in one of the 19 breezy, thatch-roofed rooms or one of the innumerable hammocks hanging around. But then you'd miss the hiking, river swimming, and horseback riding on the property; not far away, you can survey jungle-shrouded ruins. Combine a trip here with a visit to Coppola's Turtle Inn for an abridged version of the best of Belize.