We returned home from Belize four days ago and my soul is already craving a trip back!
Sound familiar? I experience the same feeling every time we return from Nicaragua.
I’ve come to realize that every time we leave a new place I enter into a borderline depressive state.
But not your usual UGH, vacation is over time to go back to the real world kind of way.
I genuinely feel heartbroken. It feels as if a piece of me is grieving. Grieving the people we’ve met, the experiences, the food.
I’m torn because part of me craves stability for my children at this young age. But another part of me just wishes we could pick up and travel the world.
Anyways, phew! Listen, this post is going to be LOOONG. It’ll be worth it though, I promise. I have so much to tell you!
Here’s the thing. Before leaving for Belize, I read about 1500 blogs, no exaggeration (maybe a little.)
Of these blogs 1,499 of them were about “places you must visit while in Belize.”
These places are very obvious after doing about two minutes of research. The diving, the temples, the fishing.
While that’s great, I don’t feel these blogs give you a true sense of what to expect and that is what I want to provide you because hi, hello, this blog is all about living intentionally which includes adding value as opposed to fluff. I’m going to try and not leave anything out, but take a taxi in Belize and you’ll quickly learn information that I’ve probably forgotten.
So, first things first. Let’s discuss why we chose Belize.
Originally we were planning a trip to Thailand to volunteer at an Elephant sanctuary. About 6 months ago my husband started experiencing problems with his back and a 23 hour plane ride quickly became a bad idea.
Back when we first started dating I told my husband that I crave a tropical experience where the water is so clear I can see anything and everything. Once Thailand was out of the picture, we decided to think clear waters within a couple of hours from home (via airplane.) Our family business has been doing jobs in Belize for years so my father-in-law suggested we go for vacation, because p.s. he loves it over there.
The next step was to decide where in Belize we wanted to stay and what hotel we would be staying in.
The first thing I did was visit tripadvisor.com and filter what amenities we wanted included in our stay. Because we only take one major trip per year with just my husband and I, we knew we wanted to stay in a top ranked resort with 5 star reviews.
We ultimately decided on the Grand Caribe Belize Resort and Condominiums.
When I say this hotel is a dream, I can’t even begin to tell you how deeply I believe that.
From the time we booked the room, to the time we left the resort, the experience was one unlike any other we have ever had. Because I am considered an “influencer” the resort offered support to the blog by offering us a discounted stay. But stay with me, I have some things I want to say about our choice to stay here that you will want to hear.
I booked directly through the hotel. As soon as the dates were set and the room was paid, the hotel took it upon themselves to make sure I had a flight from Belize city to Ambergris Caye (an island of Belize.) Once that flight was confirmed they sent me a “welcome email” with information about the resort, the island, transportation, and activities. We immediately booked a snorkeling tour directly through them.
I say all this to say, if you crave convenience, this is 100% the way to go. I had to do next to nothing. They took care of everything. If we wanted to book an activity, they dealt with the back and forth with the tour company. Needed a taxi? They had one waiting. They arranged all transportation from our airport in the United States, to the resort, and back again.
When we arrived in Belize city we made our way through the airport to Maya Island Air which is the flight company that you take to get to Ambergris Caye via a 12 seater plane.
One thing to note about airports in Belize — they are not like airports in the U.S. There were a couple of times where my husband and I felt a bit impatient because we were asked to wait in line while the employees casually discussed their plans for the day. We stood in line for 15 minutes as we watched two gentlemen crack jokes. Once they had our passports in hand they continued to laugh, converse, and have a good time while we were trying to make sure we didn’t miss our flight. This laid back attitude in an airport made my military veteran husband a bit on edge, but hey! It’s not the worst thing to ever happen.
We hopped off the 12 seater and were greeted by our taxi driver, Abby, from the hotel. In 20 minutes we arrived at our hotel, and within the hour we were seated on the resort dock, staring out into the crystal clear water, eager to start our vacation.
I’m going to stop with the play by play at this point because I don’t want this post to drag on forever, but I just want to be careful I don’t leave anything out. There are things I wish I would have known before our trip that I want to make sure you know so you can better plan yours.
Like I said, all of those “10 activities to do in Belize” articles are great, but they don’t paint a full picture of what you can expect while in Belize.
Speaking of which, many of the blogs label these activities “activities on a budget.” I’m here to tell you that their idea of a budget is not my idea of a budget. Originally I had planned to pack our week full of the typical Belizean adventures. I quickly found out that these activities, back to back, would cost us a pretty penny. To give you an idea; if you want to snorkel the most popular place in Ambergris Caye, you are looking at spending roughly $130/person for a half day. This doesn’t include meals. If you want to do a fishing trip, you’re looking at roughly $350+. Of course these prices fluctuate depending on who you book through, but it’s not “cheap” by any means. Add a couple of those through the week and you’re easily looking at $1000-$1500 for all of the major tourists attractions.
Also food. Food is pretty comparable to prices in the U.S. We spent $70-80 on average per meal at both larger and smaller establishments.
That being said, I decided that most of the activities weren’t worth the money and travel time (you have to fly back to the mainland for many of them,) but snorkeling at Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley was a non-negotiable for me. By the way, this is the most recommended tour on the island. Half of the reason we chose Belize is because I wanted crystal clear waters where I could do things I’ve never done aka snorkeling the second largest barrier reef in the world and swim with sharks.
This was 100% worth every penny spent. As someone who dives for his job, my husband wasn’t terribly impressed, but he did enjoy himself. Myself, however.. the girl who won’t even get in the ocean because I can’t stomach murky ocean waters with obnoxious waves.. I was completely captivated by all of the insanely gorgeous corals, swimming face to face with a sea turtle, and cuddling up next to the sharks and sting rays. Truly the most magical part of our trip hands down.
We used the tour company Tuff E Nuff Tours and they were fabulous, again from start to finish. They picked us up at our dock, fitted out gear (we brought our own masks,) drove us out to the spots, and did a fantastic job of sharing knowledge about the area and the marine life. On the way back they showed us all of the spots that the locals go to eat, dance, and drink and had us laughing every five seconds. If you book with these guys make sure you request Peppa, Buddah, and James as your tour guides.
Moving on to the next and only other tour we did –> The Belize Food Tour with Felipe. I wish I had an endless amount of time to share our entire experience with the tour (a video perhaps?) because Felipe taught us everything there is to know about Ambergris Caye. Every time my husband and I travel the very first thing we do is research food so this tour was crucial. We believe that eating local food will give you the best insight into a country, its people, and the culture.
The Belize Food Tour was created by Felipe and his sister. At the time of this post they are the only two individuals who operate the company with Felipe being the sole tour guide. Felipe was born and raised in Ambergris Caye so he has the best insight into the island. We soon realized that those are the people you want to travel the island with; the born and raised natives.
Not only did Felipe share with us the customary meals of Belize, he also shared photos and stories regarding Ambergris Caye before it became a popular tourist destination.
Before booking the tour I was asked if I had any food allergies. Reluctantly I shared my inability to consume gluten and my preference for a vegan diet. I told them that I realize my dietary restrictions put a damper on the situation and to please not feel pressure to accommodate me. I honestly just wanted my husband to have a good time. That being said, Felipe worked with each restaurant to make sure there was something I could eat. Felipe was kind enough to offer a 10% discount since I wouldn’t be able to eat every meal provided.
I can happily say that I ate at every restaurant without sacrificing my health or beliefs and still feel it is a tour worth taking for someone in my position.
As a side note, most hotels will not book with Felipe because they don’t want to take business away from their onsite restaurants. You will need to book with him directly but it’s something you don’t want to miss. Swear it.
The food tour included any and all categories of food including, but not limited to, local beers, appetizers, entrees, coffees/liquor, and desserts.
Below is a list of places Felipe brought us to with the food served. I highly recommend these spots as they are the original restaurants on the island. However, even more so, I recommend you go to these places with Felipe. He does a phenomenal job at sharing what makes each place special and the story behind the start up.
- Elvi’s Kitchen for Akin Maya Tacos
- Lily’s Treasure Chest for fresh Seafood Ceviche
- Las Paletas for local fruit popsicles
- Brianna’s Food Place for Traditional Rice and Beans
- Rum, Coffee and Beans for Rum Cream Shots
- Pupuseria El Salvadoreno for Pupusas
- El Fogon for Fishballs and Conch Fritters
- The Belize Chocolate Factory for Belizean Chocolate
On our second day on the island we rented a golf cart to explore San Pedro Town (on the south side of the island.) As we were making our way back towards our hotel we were stopped by a nice gentleman who started to tell us about life on the island as a local. Eventually he said to us, and I quote,
What are you doing over here in town man? There’s nothing going on over here. If you want to have a good time you need to go to Secret Beach.
All this in a Jamaican accent making it that much more fun!
So, guess where we made our way? You guessed it, Secret Beach.
(Pssst, it’s the “not so secret Secret Beach.”)
Now, I must preface this by saying that yesterday I read a blog that said you should skip Secret Beach.
Don’t skip it. You absolutely should not skip it.
But okay, I get it. Because, here’s the thing. Secret Beach is a %!&@# to get to. From our hotel it was about a 35 minute leisurely pace….. on a golf cart…. on a ridiculously rocky road. Imagine the most rocky, obnoxious road you can, and then multiply that by about 5 or so. The entire time you are wondering if you are lost. Personally my mind started to wander and I pictured this local sending us to our deaths. I’m only joking. Kind of.
So yes, some might think the drive makes the trip hardly worth taking, but once you see this view and you dip your toes into the crystal clear, warm water, you’ll forget all about the drive.
By the way, we’ve been told this beach gets super packed. We went during “off season” so there weren’t many people present. We spent the entire day in the water, drinking out of coconuts (followed by eating the flesh which is a fave of mine!) meeting new people, and snorkeling around the docks. This trip resulted in an awful sunburn that you would have seen if you follow me on Instagram or Snapchat (@TaraCreel.) Only to be followed by burning even worse the following day on our trip to Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley. For your information, I reapplied sunscreen multiple times.
Be prepared, there is a gentleman named Coco Loco who will approach you on the beach or in the water offering to make you a coconut drink. He’s pretty great. Definitely a lover of life. He really caters to all of the guests and was thrilled to be filmed for my YouTube channel.
Anyways, Secret Beach is great for the person wanting to get “off the beaten path” and relax in or near the water all day.
We spent all day at the beach and then made the rough drive back to the hotel in our golf cart. On our way back we drove at a much faster pace. It probably wasn’t the safest thing we’ve ever done, but we did make it back much quicker.
Now, let’s discuss transportation because you need to know this. Maybe I’m reading the wrong blogs, but none of them mentioned this.
First things first, San Pedro Town is on the south side of the island. This is where your plane lands and you will find the local cuisine, hostels, and more affordable tour companies.
We were staying on the north side of the island, as most tourists do. On the north side you will find all of the more luxurious hotels. It’s more “modernized,” as the locals say.
The north and south ends are separated by a small bridge.
Let me put it this way; while we were obsessed with our time at the Grand Caribe Resort, if we returned to Ambergris Caye we would possibly consider booking a hotel on the south side of the island. The Grand Caribe Resort was incredible for what it was; an inclusive resort where you are catered to every second of every day and the convenience is unreal.
We were in Belize for 7 days and we spent the majority of our time at the hotel. We were on a first name basis with everyone, especially the pool staff. There is a swim up bar at the hotel where we spent much of our time drinking, eating, and getting to know others. The pool staff became like a second family. They shared about their country, we shared about ours, and they became our go-to whenever we had questions.
Even room service is phenomenal. They go as far as washing your clothes if you so desire. It’s a vacationer’s dream.
Here’s the thing though; we didn’t necessarily stay at the hotel the majority of the time by choice. And here’s why:
We ventured off to San Pedro a few times, but only did so if we had somewhere specific to go. To rent a golf cart which is the most common form of transportation, you will spend $80/day and $40 every consecutive day. We didn’t want to pay that because we wouldn’t be driving to town every day, therefor it seemed like a waste of money.
Also, something I read nothing about previously, there is a bridge you have to pass to go from the north end to the south. This bridge is $5 round trip on the golf cart, in addition to the rental price.
By the way, we spoke with our taxi driver (who was born and raised in Ambergris Caye,) about how our resort rented out the carts for $80 as opposed to the $45 in town. He told us that in town they market the golf carts as $45 but that’s before taxes and hidden fees. So regardless of where you rent from, you will be paying the same amount on average.
We took a taxi a few times and the taxi is $35 round trip. Fun fact, the taxi drivers are required to pay $12 round trip to cross the bridge. Every local we spoke to said they try to avoid the area because they feel ripped off by the fee.
Aside from that, your other transportation method is the water taxi. We never used this method because the taxi only runs by your hotel every 2 hours and 40 minutes, I think it was. Not convenient when you are exploring on a whim.
Bottom line, we didn’t feel the cost of transportation was worth venturing often from our hotel. That’s unfortunate. For this reason, we think your stay needs to be dependent on your expectations. If you are the type to luxuriate by the pool all day, as comfortable as you possibly can be, go the Grand Caribe route. If you crave experience and are relatively low maintenance with lodging, stay on the south side of the island in San Pedro. Definitely don’t stay on the north end if you are planning to spend the majority of your vacation budget on food and activities.
So what did we do then? We spent a lot of time eating at the pool restaurant and the hotel restaurants, Rain and EVOO.
Rain was fabulous. We ate there four different times and their vegetable curry with tofu is delicious and filling. Like most other restaurants on the island, Rain is super accommodating to dietary restrictions. They have an allergy menu, but they will also work with you to modify anything you need. When we returned, the waiters recognized us each time and handed me the allergy menu before I had to ask.
EVOO, while also accommodating, has far less options for a gluten free vegan (one to be exact.) I expected that as it is an italian bistro. However, they were kind enough to serve me hummus at no charge to be sure I had something to eat.
The other restaurant we frequented semi-often was The Dive Bar. This is my favorite restaurant on the island. It’s right on the water and they made me an off the menu meal that suited my needs. They provide complimentary kayaks and paddle boards so you can enjoy the water while you wait. They also have swings in the water as an additional way to cool off while enjoying the water.
One morning we ventured off path and ended up at a coffee shop called Marbucks that I would recommend. I ordered an ice coffee with almond milk and it was surprisingly delicious. The almond milk was like nothing in the U.S. It was super sweet, but in the best way possible. Authentically sweet, nothing artificial about it.
We also really enjoyed a place called Palapa. This restaurant is right over the water and they are known for having innertubes that you can float on while you relax and drink. Unfortunately the tubes weren’t available while we were there (renovations) but the atmosphere is enjoyable enough. There’s bar seating all around the restaurant looking out to the water. One of the unique things about this restaurant is that people write on every inch of it with permanent marker. I wrote the link to my upcoming website in a few different places, so if you ever go be on the lookout! Also, if you have a flag of any kind you can give it to the manager and he will hang it on the ceiling for display.
Other than that, restaurant choices were limited without going into town, south of the bridge. There are a few other options near the resort but because we went during “off season” many of the restaurants were closed and/or doing renovations. If you are visiting Belize in October be mindful that the upside is that it is way less busy. Nothing is crowded. But the downside is that some of the hot spots are closed so you might not be able to eat at that really cool place that you saw on someone’s blog.
Also, if you are like me and love to snack late at night on vacation, that’s gonna be tough here. Fast food is not a thing in Belize so be sure to stock up on some snacks. Which reminds me, there is not a single chain restaurant on the island. The more you know …
Since we’re talking about how accommodating all of the restaurants are, let’s talk about the people of Belize. Belize is actually known for their people. I know that probably sounds silly reading that, but there’s no better way of saying it.
I truly believe one of the reasons people return to Belize over and over again is for the people. Every single person we met on the island was kind, selfless, and accommodating. People would stop us on the streets to offer up suggestions, assuring us that they weren’t looking for money. They truly just want you to experience the best of their country.
We met people on day one that we ran into days later that remembered us and referred to us by our names. Every time we walked out to the pool at the hotel each person greeted us – everyone from the front desk, to the waiters, to the bartenders.
I don’t have a single bad thing to say about the people on the island. If you want to learn the ins and outs of the island, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask. Anyone will be glad to talk your ear off and offer up suggestions. Belizean pride is a real thing!
You are unlikely to run into any overly aggressive vendors, but if you want to avoid that all together I’ll offer up a little piece of advice. A few people would approach us because we had “Grand Caribe Resort” displayed on the front of our cart. Nothing super aggressive, but we heard multiple times that we were “staying at the resort where all the rich people stay.” This obviously made us a target for sales, but when we respectfully declined their offers they thanked us and moved on.
A few quick notes before I close out this post.
One of the coolest things about Belize is the abundance of marine life that you see without going out of your way. A lot of this has to do with the fishermen. Many fishermen will offer a tour where they take you out on a fishing trip and include an oceanside picnic at the end of the day. They take the fish you caught, clean them near the shore, toss the remains in the water, and cook them up for you to eat.
Because of this, the marine life has learned their habits and swim around waiting for food. Fun fact, this is how “Shark Ray Alley” came to be.
I thought it was also worth sharing that while my husband and I are not necessarily the partying type, we did speak with a young man who told us about Ambergris night life. He said the Jaguar Club is the place to be if you want to drink, dance, and listen to music all night. You can’t miss it. It’s right in town at Central Park.
One last mention. We loved Belize. Truly we did. We even went as far as discussing purchasing land for a vacation property. The people, the water, and the activities make for the most relaxing environment.
I’m not sure how to go into this without causing offense, because I truly don’t mean it as such. And in fact, I think this is part of what makes Belize so great.
We often joked that Ambergris Caye has an identity crisis. I think we went into it thinking it would be like all other Central American countries with the exception of english being the primary language.
It’s not that at all. Belize, Ambergris Caye specifically, is one big melting pot, much like the U.S. There is a wide variety of people, cultures, music, food…
So for example, one night we went to this restaurant that was known for their Thursday Sushi Night. I wasn’t sure how to dress (much like other times during our stay.) Was it formal? Casual? I stayed on the safe side and went for business casual, a chic jumpsuit with heels. We walk in and the hostess is wearing a formal black dress. We sit down and our waiter is dressed semi-casual wearing a button up polo with black dress pants. Nick Jonas’s “Close” is playing over the speakers. I look over and see a waiter dressed like he’s serving food at Joe’s Crab Shack. Meanwhile the overhead speaker changes to smooth jazz.
This restaurant is a great representation of Ambergris Caye.
One moment you’re salsa dancing with your partner and the next you are belting out Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.”
Long story short, go into Belize with an open mind and expect anything.
And that’s all I really have to say about that (name that movie.)
Seriously though, I would visit Belize 100 times over. It was a trip of a lifetime, but then again aren’t they all?
Thank you to the Grand Caribe Resort and Condominiums for being exceptional hosts and making this trip one that my husband and I will never forget. We can’t wait to come back!
If you are looking for the best Belizean experience, the Grand Caribe Resort will be a dream come true for you. With delicious food, divine service, and knowledgeable staff, you’ll have everything you need at your fingertips to have a true Belizean vacation. Be sure to bring your snorkel gear, go where the locals go, and be ready for anything and everything. It’s truly an adventure of a lifetime!
If you are interested in reading more about Belize and what you can expect in terms of safety and other general information, my friends over at AllTheRooms have shared a post all about that here.