Summer Belize family trip - planning /researching

Old Mar 10th, 2019, 01:10 PM
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Summer Belize family trip - planning /researching


We are a family of 5 (2 adults, 3 children ages 7,7 and 11 all boys). We are going to Belize at the end of July for 9 days/8 nights. We would like to split our time between the jungle and beach. So, my thought was to head west upon our arrival and head to the Cayo District/San Ignacio area for a 4 days and then go to Amergris Caye for the other 4 days. I'm just starting my research and need a little advice on transportation, accommodations and planned activities.

First, a little background, my husband and I traveled a ton before we had children. We loved doing things on our own and going off-the-beaten bath. We've spent time in Costa Rica, Peru, Columbia, Ecuador, Galapagos. Our children have traveled but mostly in the US, Canada, and some of the Caribbean Islands. We like to stay in nice places, ideally with a pool, but really we look at the room as only a place we lay our heads at night. We don't plan on spending much time in the rooms. Clearly, we want a clean place with comfortable sleeping arrangements for all of us.

So, here are my questions:​​
1. If we arrive around noon on a Saturday, rent a car, and drive towards the Cayo District, do we only have time for a stop for lunch and the Belize zoo? Anything else we should consider the first day? Any suggestions for places to eat for lunch?
2. My plan would be to stay in the jungle area for 3 full days. Do you think that's enough time? We would like to do some hiking at Mountain Pine Ridge, go see a Mayan ruin (Xunantunich), cave tubing, zip lining, jungle trek to waterfalls and swimming holes. Any suggestions on how to arrange my 3 days to maximize those activities? Do you think they are all doable with the 7 year old twins? They are good swimmers and very athletic. I see that most of the hotels arrange for these types of activities. Is it better (cheaper) to do it on our own or should we try to do it through the hotels? Is there a certain tour operator that you all prefer?
3. After our time is over in the jungle, we would drive east to catch a water taxi to Ambergris Caye. Is that possible? Should we drop off the rental car before we go to the islands?
4. We will have 3 full days on Ambergris Caye. Is that enough time? What activities should we not miss doing? Shark Alley? Great Blue Hole for snorkeling? What other suggestions do you have?
5. Finally, our flight out on Sunday is around noon. Do you think we should stay in Belize City Saturday night? Or, can we stay in Ambergris Caye that night and still make it to the airport with enough time?

For hotels near San Ignacio, I was looking at the following hotels: - Please let me know if anyone has stayed at any of these properties and the types of rooms I've mentioned. We don't really want to spend more than $300/night and would love to do less per night if we could. We are going in the off season (end of July/beginning of Aug) so our thought that things would be a little bit cheaper.

1. Ian Anderson's Caves Branch Jungle Lodge. Particularly, interested in the Riverview Treehouse, Jungle Bungalows, or Jungle Cabanas.
I'm concerned about the remoteness of this lodge, but I guess if we have a car that's not much of an issue.
2. Chaa Creek; Looking at the Camp Casistas or the Cottage Collection
3. Sweet Songs Jungle Lodge - Double Queen Casita Deluxe.
4. Any other suggestions?

For hotels on the beach: Any suggestions for the type of rooms that will fit our size family?
1. Xanadu Island Resort;
2. Tranquility Bay Resort; (a little worried about negative reviews). Is this too far remote?
3. Any other suggestions?

Should we rent a car or not? If we have a car, that gives us freedom to go anywhere and eat where we want so we don't need a meal plan?

Should we buy the packages through the hotels, tour operators or do it on our own?

Should we only have the car only for the first part of the trip?

Do you think the ATM tour is too much for the 7 year olds?

Thank you in advance for your help. As you can see, I'm a bit all over the place. I'm open to suggestions to anything/everything on my rough itinerary.

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Old Mar 11th, 2019, 06:23 AM
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We stayed at Chaa Creek and loved it. On Ambergris we stayed at Victoria House, and it was wonderful. I think they've raised their rates since we were there though. I wouldn't miss snorkeling at Hol Chan; we saw huge rays, beautiful fish, sea turtles, etc. there. You don't need a car on Ambergris; you can take taxis or rent a golf cart. We flew over on Tropic Air, much faster than the ferry. We did a day trip to Tikal from the San Ignacio area; PACZ tours is a good company to go with. We also really enjoyed the Barton Creek canoe caving.
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Old Mar 11th, 2019, 10:03 AM
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Thank you volcanogirl for your response. The Victoria House looks nice but I'm afraid it's more than we are willing to spend on this trip.

Do you think we need to come back and sleep in Belize City on Saturday night to catch our noon flight on Sunday? Or, will we be fine just taking the ferry on Sunday AM?

Also, has anyone done an AirBnB or VRBO for the beach area? Any particular one that you have found that you absolutely love?
We have done that a ton in other places. We like the options of having a kitchen and more space for everyone, plus it's usually cheaper than a hotel room.
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Old Mar 12th, 2019, 06:20 PM
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4 nights and 4 nights works. Whether you rent a car or not depends on how you set up your inland time; paying for a package with your lodge or arranging tours that include transportation might mean it makes more sense to include coming and going with a driver since you wouldn't need the car much. Stopping for lunch and at the zoo is probably enough since it's nice to hit your jungle lodge with some daylight left (gets dark around 6pm).

We've stayed at Caves Branch (but it has changed a lot since our visit), the jungle casitas at Chaa Creek (which we loved and highly recommend), and at Sweet Songs when it was duPlooy's. Friends and I stayed in the Macal House which might be a good fit for you. Prices have gone up with the ownership change; for us, a package that included activities, transport, and meals during the off season (October 2016) was a good value and made everything easy.

You can fly from San Ignacio or Belmopan to Ambergris Caye or head to the dock and take a water taxi (there are 2 services). Loads of transport links and schedules here:

We've stayed 3 times at Tranquility Bay - it's a good fit for us in part because we can snorkel from shore and my husband can flyfish his brains out unguided. The rooms have kitchenettes (micros but not stoves or hot plates) and while they aren't luxurious exactly (spots of rust here and there), they are comfortable, and the beach is beautiful. We shop before we head there and prepare most of our own meals. It's secluded so preparing your own meals and the lodge restaurant are your only options.

Have you considered Caye Caulker? Except for Tranquility Bay, we prefer it. Both islands have options for rentals and condos.

Our kids at 7 would have loved the ATM cave - if they're ok with being wet for a long time, aren't claustrophobic, and aren't too creeped out about skulls and skeletons, real ones, they're probably capable and might love it.

My photos with blog links on the main page of each collection are below in case you're interested - all my recommendations are embedded there.
Happy trails!
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Old Mar 12th, 2019, 07:03 PM
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Still doing our research. Just realized that the Costa Maya Festival will be going on while we are there. I think we may want to avoid this, plus, all of the hotel prices were almost 3x as much during the festival. So, that now means, we will start out our trip at the beach and then head to the jungle.

Has anyone stayed at the Mahogany Bay Village?

For excursions:
HOL CHAN AND SHARK RAY ALLEY - is this a 1/2 day or full day tour? Do they usually combine this tour? How much does it usually cost pp?
MEXICO ROCKS AND TRES COCOS - is this also a 1/2 day or full day? How much? Would you do both of these snorkeling trips or pick one?
snorkeling with manatee viewing?
Kayaking or SUP

We are still trying to decide if we want to stay at Xanadu Island Resort, Victoria House or Mahogany Bay Village? I can't figure out if we will be out all day on our excursions and will have very little time to enjoy the amenities of the resorts.

Is the Sargassum seaweed an issue now or will be in August?

Thanks for your help!

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Old Mar 13th, 2019, 08:27 AM
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Yes, Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley are usually combined. We did snorkeling at Hol Chan first which was great, and then they stop by Shark Ray Alley afterwards. Shark Ray Alley is a bit of a show, not so natural; they chum the water and all the sharks and rays come flocking for a food frenzy. Kids would probably enjoy it though. We did Mexico Rocks, and it was much smaller scale than what we saw at Hol Chan. Things like eels and lobsters vs. the big rays, nurse sharks, turtles, and fish we saw at Hol Chan. Also did a manatee tour; ours was a bit crazy - out in very rough waters. I think I was the only one on our tour that happened to see a manatee, had to swim really fast to even get a glimpse; others may have had a better experience. We booked everything though our hotel since they had their own little dive shop.
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