• Nikki Busuttil

You Better Belize It

In search of winter sun, warm waters and epic aquatic adventures, I packed my dive gear and a steady supply of bikinis, and journeyed to Ambergris Caye, a small island in the Central American country of Belize.

Getting there was easier than I had imagined. Many airlines fly into Belize City, but I chose Delta flights and once in Belize City, I quickly boarded a tiny Tropic Air plane (below) for a 15-minute flight to San Pedro. Think Madonna and ‘La Isla Bonita’; this is the place she was singing about on Ambergris Caye.

If song were my forte, I’d be serenading the island too. San Pedro is a smail, walkable town, although everyone seems to rent golfcarts, as the preferred mode of transport. Not knowing just how popular this practice was, before arrival, I opted for a taxi (very reasonably priced), to my home for the next five days. Since I love exercise, everywhere is truly accessible on foot.

The boutique hotel/condo I stayed at (above), with a huge oceanfront terrace and incredible view, was Caye Casa, right on the beach, with its own dock. As well as allowing easy pick-up for excursions, it also made for a perfect spot to sunbathe and practice a little morning yoga, without getting sand in unmentionable places. This mini-pier was also a prime lookout for observing eagle rays and other aquatic life gliding by, in the surrounding crystal clear waters.

Snorkelling can begin from pretty much anywhere off the island, except where the larger ships dock and depart, but trips to the most populous reefs can be arranged with any tour operator on the island, since prices, by and large, are the same everywhere.

Renowned for scuba diving, made famous by the explorer Jacques Cousteau, Belize is a veritable tropical paradise. Drawing scuba divers, much like myself, from the world over, we come primarily in search of the Great Blue Hole (above), with its fascinating stalactites and stalagmites about 40m down. Come with advanced certification, or take the opportunity to get certified, so you don’t miss out.

If for some reason you don’t, won’t or can’t dive the Blue Hole, you’ll still have a blast under the waves, visiting other such dive sites, as the Lighthouse Reef and Half Moon Caye. I, thankfully, chose to dive with Amigos Del Mar, and would, wholeheartedly, do so again next time I go. They took incredible care of me, arranged food and drinks all day long, and made a stop on one of the picturesque small islands for lunch. (Video below from Amigos Del Mar).

The Belizean people and other island residents are some of the most hospitable people I’ve encountered, on my many varied travels. The warm climate and stunning natural beauty that abounds seem to put everyone in a permanently good mood. Everyone offers assistance, wherever you go, greeting you with heartfelt smiles, shared laughter and glowing compliments. What’s more, the lingua franca is English, which everyone speaks, in addition to Spanish and other local dialects. Nothing gets lost in translation, and it’s easy to make friends, even if you travel solo.

There are no shortage of entertaining bars and delicious restaurants in San Pedro. A couple of the highlights include: Crazy Canucks with live music and wicked cocktails; with attractive happy hours, Palapa Bar & Grill serves light bites over the water; while traditional Belizean cuisine is a feature of Elvi’s Kitchen with its sandy floor, local ambience and long history. Amazing homemade tortilla chips, guacamole and salsa are everywhere too, for when you crave a quick snack!

While there, I developed a love for Belize’s smokey hot sauce, a local speciality, especially Marie Sharp’s! I’m not a drinker, but another local must-try, so I’m told, is their 5 Barrel Reserve Belizean rum, served neat. Made from freshly cut sugar cane and distilled for 5 years in aged oak casks, the scent is heavenly, even though I didn’t taste it. There are echos of butterscotch and caramel and it is apparently incredibly smooth, with no after-burn.

Another extraordinary find, on the oceanfront in San Pedro, was the Belize Chocolate Company, a small boutique dedicated to the glorious pursuit of producing inventive deliciousness from organic and fairtrade Belizean cacao. Their slogan ‘every bean, every bar, born in Belize’ is self-explanatory.

I stopped in for a sample and left with a bag containing a few homemade dark chocolate covered marshmallows. I was ecstatic, since they were non-dairy and gluten-free, although those without allergies and dietary requirements are spoilt for choice. Both boutique and café, this Front St. location is the perfect punctuation for a stroll along the beach, with all manner of ready-to-eat and take-home gifts.

Tan topped up, palette satisfied, parties attended, new friends made and awesome aquatic adventures checked off, Belize has left me with the fondest memories and promises to return and explore more of their idyllic islands and inviting waters.

Plans need to be made, and you'd better Belize it too! Enjoy the slideshow below...

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© 2019 created and curated by Nikki Busuttil.