Not to put another thing on your plate. But just in case you're hoping to take a vacation this year, now's the time to start planning, or at least dreaming. Here's my pitch: Go Belize. I know a zillion people might already have told you about it. I know there's press up the wazoo about what a trendy Green destination it is. I've just gotta say, though, that after taking a two-year hiatus from big ticket travel, this trip was not only just what the doctor ordered last Spring. It was probably the best trip we've taken as a family. Here's why:
1. Logistics are stupid simple. Hop an easy flight to Belize City with a switch in Houston or Dallas (in many cases). Then let those smarty-pants Belizeans take it from there....the resorts work together, picking you up at the airport and getting you back to the next resort driver for the coming leg of your trip. This isn't hoidy-toidy chaffeur stuff...just a smart strategy to get timid tourists off the beach and inland to explore (and spend money in) the rest of the country. To top it off: There's no significant time difference, English is the official language and American dollars are accepted just about everywere. Truly an adventure vacation that doesn't leave you needing a vacation.
2. Belizeans actually seem happy to see us. Call me neurotic, but it's nice traveling to a place where people don't want you dead. Plus, although Belize is relatively poor, the country--unlike many Caribbean islands--has an economy that extends beyond tourism, so you don't have that feeling that everything is hinging on you and your Tourist Dollar. Plus, the tourism economy itself is being developed in a relatively environmentally and culturally responsible way. In short: You don't feel guilty vacationing here. You might actually feel like you're doing something good.
3. There's plenty to keep culture vultures happy. Archaeological ruins, along with excellent, government-licensed guides, are everywhere. Bonus: Unlike a number of other ancient sites, many of these are in lush jungle, so you're not burning up under the blazing sun. If you're really hot on ruins, Tikal (in Guatemala) is an easy day trip from Belize's popular Cayo region.
4. There's outdoor adventure up the wazoo. Sure, you've heard about the diving and snorkeling. But inland is a wonderland, too: We canoed through pitch-black caves used by the ancients for human sacrifice (the skeletons are still there); we zipped off on airboats into the night and helped preservationists capture and tag crocodiles; we woke at dawn to the screech of howler monkeys congregating over our cabin; we hung out with a brigade of bat researchers at our lodge at Lamanai and actually hung with the bats, too. Who needs Disney's thrill rides when real thrills await?
5. The country is compact. You really can get a taste of everything without getting all "planes, trains, and automobiles" about it. We spent three nights at a far flung river outpost in the jungle, three nights in the mountains and three nights on the beach near the second largest reef on earth. Not for even a minute did we feel rushed, overwhelmed or harried. You can also hole up at one spot, do some day excursions and be perfectly happy.
6. There are amazing and affordable places to stay. Belize has its share of budget and backpacky accommodations. But it also has a wealth of gorgeous, comfortable and unique resorts that meld beautifully with their surrounding culture and ecosystems. These places aren't cheap by any shot of the imagination. But many, if not most, offer packages that include excursions, activities and meals, which makes it easy to budget for your trip. All said and done, we spent less on this trip than we did on a 10-day vacation at the Basin Harbor Resort in Vermont two years ago. And it was a fabulous and and less costly alternative to the Galapagos trip we've long dreamed about but will likely never be able to afford.
Want details on where we stayed and what we did? Stay tuned for Part II, coming soon.