The Sea once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.
Tropical air just smells different. Don’t you think? There’s something about stepping off the plane, especially if you just came from frigid air, into the moist warm breeze of tropical goodness. I think it’s an involuntary response but I close my eyes and look up to the sun and pray that it will soak me in. Belize was no different as I was longing for tropical goodness and island warmth.
We were lucky enough to get a direct flight out of Chicago and it was a breeze. About 4 hours later we landed in Belize City, Belize. We were supposed to land at 1:15PM, we landed early, cleared customs, and were on our next 15 minute flight, on TROPIC AIR, before 1:15PM! SCORE!
Ok, but let’s talk about that second flight. Maybe you’ve read this before, or maybe you know me, but for many of you, you see my travel adventures, and have no idea that I don’t like to fly. I’ve gotten much better, but it’s really not on my list of favorite things to do. AT ALL! So the idea of taking a small prop plane over the ocean was a little unnerving to say the least. (Not gonna lie, I chugged a quick beer after clearing customs- and I really don’t drink beer. It tasted amazing!)
I’ve only been in a small plane once in my life, in Alaska, my kids were there, so I had to put on a brave face. I have this philosophy that I will face fears (to a certain degree) so I walked to the plane, sat in the very front and stared down the runway. GULP. The propellers turned on and there was no turning back. Within moments I had a jaw dropping experience. This flight was simply breathtaking. I forced myself to look out and I swear to you I experienced one of the most awe inspiring visualizations of my whole life. Words will never describe the awesome nature of God’s perfect masterpiece of aqua and blue, crystal clear, waters. I swear I could see the ocean floor.
Tropic Air was amazing and efficient and got us into San Pedro (Ambergris Caye) within minutes.
Tip#1 $10 goes a long way for the gate employees at the ticket counter in Belize City. They got us to the front of the line and ensured that our bags were on OUR flight. Sometimes they send your bags later so you have to wait in the airport or nearest bar by the airport in San Pedro until your bags arrive.
Tip #2 I purchased my tickets online. It was simple and it made it a whole lot easier than purchasing them at the airport. (There is also a ferry, which is cheaper, to get you to the island.)
As we landed in San Pedro Jon made the comment that we were early and he was concerned about how we would get the golf cart that we rented because they were meeting us at the airport. He muttered those words, we walked off the tarmac, and Terry, from Coconut Carts Belize, was calling our names! Perfection. His golf carts are the absolute best and his service is impeccable! Golf Carts are the main mode of transportation on the island so although you don’t NEED one, you definitely should have one to get anywhere that you want to go. Terry loaded our carry-ons onto the cart, went through maps, and restaurants with us, pointed us in the direction of Havana’s, the cigar shop, which I’ll get to in a second, and we were on our way. Bumping down the streets of San Pedro like we knew what we were doing. Fake it ‘till you make it baby.
Tip #3 Only travel with carry-ons. I know ladies this can be a challenge but I literally went (because of the awesome recommendation from my sis) with 2 pairs of flip flops and a pair of running shoes. You don’t want to have to wait for your bag in Belize City and it’s much easier to navigate on the way home with the carry-on. The island is so casual. Sundresses and flip flops are the dressiest items you will ever need. Coming from a heel girl TRUST ME on this one! Enjoy the relaxed island life- you won’t be sorry.
1st stop: Cigars. Priorities. Havana’s had a great selection of cigars in a darling building. Carlos the owner was extremely helpful and very knowledgeable. I was left in the cart with our luggage, not going to lie I’m not sure how I felt about that. Don’t park your golf cart by a red line!! OOPS. A sweet man named Ryan (trying to get us to have lunch at his place) stopped traffic so that that I could re-park. (This was our first of several delightful experiences with the beautiful people of Belize, and a big one since it put my nervous heart at ease.)
After getting the smoke sticks we bumped our way to our hotel Xanadu Island Resort. I’ve never stayed anywhere like this! We arrived in what felt like a different world. Well I guess it was. We weren’t sure if we were in the right place and truthfully before we entered we were getting a bit nervous, but we kept bumping along. AND THEN….. A sand road turned into a lush tropical jungle. Quite literally, actually. A young man, who was raking the sand, smiled and directed us on where to park our sweet ride. He then grabbed our bags and walked us through the lush green to the office where sweet Melanie greeted us with a welcome rum punch. YES PLEASE! She instantly teased my husband, which scored her copious amounts of brownie points with me, and showed us to our tree house escape. In reality it had more of a palapa feel, but I like the idea of a treehouse, so I’m going with that. The tropical paradise/ jungle ambiance gave it a sense of mystique and romance, as the hammock on the porch invited you, or at least me, to grab a book and a glass of wine and listen to the beautiful birds serenading me. I took advantage of this. When in Belize…or anywhere else I go.
Things that I loved about Xanadu Island Resort:
The people. The staff was AMAZING. From the moment we got there until we were hugging goodbye every detail was attended to and many great conversations were had. We even saw Melanie and her two girls one night on our way to dinner. They were on their golf cart, pulled over, and we got to meet the girls. She wanted to know how we were doing. This comfort, for me especially, was completely heartwarming.
The accommodations. We stayed in #17. A two bedroom, 2 ½ bath, 2 story gem. I will warn you that the stairs are steep, but if you can do stairs this place was great! It was one of the coolest places that I’ve ever stayed in, when you take the entire ambiance into consideration. (Note: not fancy like a RITZ, but so much more in my opinion.) It came equipped with a full kitchen, dining table, living area (which never got used) and magical porch with a table and hammock, as I mentioned before. Ours was not ocean view, but they do have several on-site that are. The rooms were perfect, beds comfortable, and the bathrooms were well appointed and spacious.
Laid back. If you are looking for white table clothes and silver, THIS IS NOT YOUR PLACE (but I have a suggestion for that later). This was purely island vibe magic and our days were by our design. What I mean by that is that there are no restaurants on site. So we had breakfast, lunch, and dinner when and where the wind blew us. I LOVED THIS!! In the morning I would sit by the pool and Jon would get in the cart, go down the path, to the taco stand. Complete with a blue tarp this place was off the hook (probably literally), delicious. Taco’s were 4 for $1. PERFECTION!
The views. Take my breath away. I found myself praying and thinking a ton, just looking out over that aqua blue water. A few times I got a little choked up and overcome with gratitude. It’s hard not to be when you are taking in so much beauty. It surrounded us. My eyeballs were on sensory overload.
The pool. I personally loved that I could sit in the water in lounge chairs or out on the deck, basking in the sun. Grab a drink from Winston at the bar. Read my book. Get back to my room within 30 sec. Everything is right there! The pool is beautifully landscaped. One drawback for you sun goddesses would be that although you get plenty of sun, due to the tropical vegetation, you may need to move chairs because it provides plenty of shade, which is a plus for those of you traveling with littles, or those of us with maturing (HA, HA) skin! One other huge plus in my book is that there is so much to do on the island that the pool was never crowded and there were several times that we were the only ones there. A private pool is not a bad thing. Just sayin’. At night the pool is illuminated in a deep blue that emulates the Great Blue Hole that Belize is famous for. You can read more about it here. https://belize.com/belize-blue-hole/ It’s simply gorgeous.
The sand. I’m a pool girl. People used to joke that I was born in water, but I really like to see the bottom. Not going to lie I love beaches, but I REALLY love when I’m looking at them, rather than getting sand, well you know everywhere. We did, however, go sit out on the beach one afternoon. I had to say that I did it right? The sand was soft and beautiful and the views from the beach are picturesque. Lunch out there was awesome, and it came with my very own pool boy. I brought him along for a reason! Kidding. He went to one place for me Antoijtos. Directly across from the hotel, their coconut milk rice and beans were amazing! He then went to Kevin’s, there are no real names for the food stands, just the chef’s first name, for barbecue twice. Jon is a huge bbq fan and he said this was some of the best ever! The prices were around $5. Have I mentioned the hot sauce? I have failed you! Belize is known for the their hot sauces and they will not disappoint! In our house Sriracha goes on everything, but it fails in comparison to this delicious goodness. I tried several hot sauces while on the island but I’m loving the Marie Sharps Habanero Pepper Sauce!
Location. Xanadu is south of town a bit. (5 minutes by golf cart- still so close) I loved this location because it was quiet yet we were still close enough to whatever we wanted to do.
Tip #4 Money. American dollars are accepted everywhere. When were were there the exchange rate was $1 Belizean to $0.50 USD. We were told that American Express wasn’t widely accepted, however we found this to be untrue, as we used ours several times.
Tip #5 Try the stands. Eat local. Try local. It may look different than you’re used to, but I promise its delicious and safe. The food is crazy good and the people are fun to get to know. It’s one of my favorite parts.
Tip #5 Grocery Stores. USE THEM! They sell cold drinks and snacks which are super reasonable.
Shall we discuss food? I mean food is life… for me at least, and I’ve already been unable to resist talking about it. Although we weren’t in Belize for very long we made our way around some of the food circuit. We’re pro’s (wink).
Favorite Restaurant Suggestions:
Pier 366 Seafood House. Set right on the ocean the views and ambiance are taken straight out of a vacation magazine. The blue water delicately touched the soft sand just feet from our table. From the blackened fish taco’s and the perfectly fresh ceviche to the crisp white wine our lunch was a great beginning to a magical trip. The swings pulled at every bohemian heart string that I have and placed a smile on my face that never left.
El Fogon. Local Fare. Delicious food. TRY THE SPECIALS. They have different specials every night that won’t disappoint. We started with the ceviche.. holy oh my goodness was it good!! We then had the seafood pot and the curry. Both were literally amazing. Full of flavor, packed with fresh local seafood, and true culinary delight. El Fogon was packed with locals and really felt like we were getting a great taste of the local fare. We sat outside on a sand floor that was everything you would imagine from a local island spot.
Blue Water Grill. On Tuesday and Thursday nights this gem of a restaurant has fresh sushi. Sitting out, looking over the ocean, eating amazing sushi. Does it get much better than that? I highly recommend the Surf and Turf Roll, Crazy Monkey Roll, Firecracker Roll, and the Tuna Tostado. To top it off they had the original Pac-Man game back by the bathroom!
Hidden Treasure. Tucked back into a neighborhood on the south end of the island this place was treasure indeed. We followed the well marked signs through the neighborhood, and then emerged this special spot! This old school style romantic place captivated me, and triggered all of my nostalgic senses. I felt like Hemingway should have been there. My dish, the shrimp curry, was bursting with the perfect blend of spice and creamy texture. C’est Magnifique!
Elvi’s Kitchen. This place, a local dream! Delicious food. Great vibe. The twinkling lights and rustic feel lent itself to all the good feels that island life brings out: romance, fun, a sense of euphoria, and longing for life to be calm and quiet. Guacamole is my thing… and oh my gosh this one!!! My mouth is watering just thinking about it. We both opted for the stone crab that was caught that day. The preparations were perfection!
On Thursday nights on the Island they have something called the Chicken Drop. Trust me I was asking the same questions you probably are right now? A chicken what??? We had to check this out, mostly to say that we did. We bumped our way in the cart to El Caliente (a Mexican restaurant that comes highly recommended, but we didn’t dine at) on the beach. You literally buy tickets to watch Chickens poop on a ceramic bingo style board (that looks more like a tiled floor on the sand). With a dj and bumping beach party music… this place seems like the place to be! We did not buy any tickets but we stood watching this somewhat odd dance party/chicken poop spectacle for 15 minutes… and we moved on.
I’m saving the best for last. On the second day we met Alex and Arnold of Wicked Adventures . We hired them through Xanadu because of Melanie’s recommendation for a day of fishing, snorkeling, and a beach barbeque. This day will easily go down as one of my favorite days of my life. We were picked up on our pier at 7AM. From the first moment we loved Alex and Arnold and we both commented later about how we adored the camaraderie between the two of them. That made the day that much more special. We went and casted for bait and then we were off to the deep waters to catch lunch.
Unlike when I was a little girl and the rule was no talking while fishing (my grandpa said it would scare the fish, he just wanted us to be quiet), we chatted away the entire time. Joking, getting to know each other, and Arnold was a mind full of knowledge when it came to the marine biology. After spending a few hours catching our lunch, with some amazing fishing, we headed to the reef. Clear blue waters, in so many hues of aqua, were surrounding us. First off Arnold and Jon jumped in to snorkel for conch that they were going to prepare as ceviche for lunch. I opted to stay in the boat, because pictures of course. Those two hit the motherlode with beautiful conch, while Alex taught me how to harvest them. Once they had plenty for lunch I hopped in with them. The giant aquarium beneath me and the refreshingly cool waters engulfing me were something that I will never forget. This snorkeling was unlike any other that I’ve ever experienced in my life. My only regret is that I didn’t have an underwater camera to capture the wonder that I was experiencing with my eyes. Arnold, being the excellent source of knowledge that he is, guided us around the reef, pointing out different coral, fish, shark (I know right- but they were seriously spectacular), ray’s and so much more.
Funny story: Momma kicked her swimming skills into high gear. Still got it. I was a ways away from the two guys when under me a GIGANTIC eagle ray came out of nowhere. Being the calm, collected, cool, girl that I am, I quietly observed it, in all of its beauty. I DID NOT. I SCREAMED and probably did the fastest 50 of my life!!! Then I watched from a distance. Grace is not my strong suit.
After snorkeling in these clear blue, crystal, waters we headed to our private island barbeque on Caye Caulker, a nearby island that’s a bit quieter. This place, although not fancy, was a perfectly private, experience. Alex had prepared the conch ceviche for us while we were snorkeling. So as they prepped lunch from the fish we had caught that morning, and lobster they had had caught the day before (it had just gone out of season the day we went, so they brought us a little treat), we enjoyed wine, beer, and ceviche on the peer. HEAVEN. While sitting there, soaking in the abundance of beauty, as if planned, a nurse shark decided to join us for lunch. Swimming about, back and forth, under the pier below. We dined on yellowfish and snapper with grilled veggies, white wine, beer, and rum punch sitting out over the the vast light blue waters.
A few other hotel suggestions.
If you are looking for a more swanky, spa like, restaurant on property place we walked through both of them and they were quite nice, but very different. I would suggest Banyon Bay or Mahogany Bay Resort and Beach Club. Banyon Bay we walked through. It’s restaurant is Pier 366, so we loved the feel, the spa looked amazing and the whole vibe was a little more swanky, east coast beach. Mahogany Bay, which is a Hilton Resort, we toured around as well. It is still being developed but felt a bit sterile to us. It’s on the very south end, or as far south as we went, of the island and has it’s own private beach, several restaurants, hotel and rental homes. It’s upscale and has a private community feel to it. We asked several people how they liked it and all were really enjoying it but a few didn’t like having to take a ferry to their private beach.
What we missed
A few things that we didn’t do but will next time. Secret Beach. It’s a must. We know. We know. We only had three days on the island and honestly in this season of life we didn’t want to make the 40 minute golf cart ride up there. Probably weak sauce, but we will do it next time. By all accounts, and the one that matters most, my sister, it’s not only a great time but the sunsets are spectacular. When you pull into Secret Beach go to Blue Bayou. There are tables in the water, a full menu, and much fun to be had!
We also missed the Truck Stop, which we really wanted to do but again, will next time. This cool little food truck, but in shipping containers, park if you will, has cuisines for every palate. Go enjoy the drinks, the people, and just a cool find!
We didn’t experience the amazing mayan ruins, zip lining, we don’t scuba yet, etc… but we know that those things are all there and definite must do’s in our upcoming adventures.
I love a lot of people and places on earth. A friend recently told me ‘you’re just a lover.’ Maybe that’s true, I’m not really sure. All that I do know is that I didn’t have to try to fall in love with this beautiful place, and I’m grateful for my sister convincing us to go. It unlocked another hidden place within my heart. The moment that I saw the clear blue waters I was sucked into the magical beauty surrounding me. The warm, wide smiles from the people were just what I craved and the ambiance pulled at every heartstring within this bleeding heart. The smell of the ocean never get’s old and this island will certainly keep calling me back. For the clear blue ocean holds within its depths the wonder and beauty that is also in each and every person’s heart.