Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (
-   Mexico & Central America (
-   -   To hopefulist and other Belize Specialists (

crosscheck Jan 17th, 2009 04:08 PM

To hopefulist and other Belize Specialists
Just reserved FF tickets for late March and would appreciate an itinerary review. (I've been to Belize before, but in another life as a backpacker.) We're a family of non-birders who like adventure and cultural experiences. Two teen boys, 15 and 18.

Here's what we're thinking:
- 5 nights Caves Branch
- 4 nights Hopkins - Hamanasi or Almond Beach - H seems more appealing, or is it just their website?

You seem to have been to the places we're considering at the same time of year and would love your opinion.

Chose Hopkins over other beaches because the logistics seem easier - no internal flights necessary. But we're open to other suggestions.

hopefulist Jan 17th, 2009 07:49 PM

I'm probably not your best resource since all our Central America trips have been in the summer months and I haven't been to Belize since 2003. That said, I always have opinions. :o) Our kids were 17, 18, and 20 when we spent 3-4 weeks in Belize and all of us loved Caves Branch. If you like adventure you'll like it, too. Don't miss taking a dip in the Blue Hole just across the road from the entrance and take pictures of the food and the outdoor showers. Drink lots of water and don't eat hard boiled eggs if they still pack them around for the mid-adventure picnics.

If you like cultural things it would be a shame to miss seeing Maya ruins - there are some really lovely ones in Belize plus magnificent Tikal just over the border in Guatemala. Maybe you could do see some on a Caves Branch tour. We stayed in Sittee River Village last time and just visited Hopkins on day trips; this time we're planning to stay there a few nights either side of our week on Glover's Atoll. We prefer villages to resorts when given a choice and will be staying in Hopkins at one of the nicer little beach cabaña places, Hopkins Inn. Try to get to some drumming while you're there - really fascinating and memorable. I think both Hamanasi and Almond Beach are lovely but keep in mind that the sand flies and mosquitoes can be voracious in that area. The other downside is it's 10-15 miles out to the reef for snorkeling or fishing.

Other "beach" options would be Placencia, Ambergris Caye, and Caye Caulker, 3 places I haven't visited though we'll have 4-5 days on Caulker in August. The advantages of the cayes are they're much closer to Belize City (by ferry or plane) for your flight home and much closer to the reef for snorkeling or diving.

Try to fit in a stop at the zoo, too - really great and definitely one of a kind. Every time they print a new Fodor's Guide to Belize a statement I made about the zoo on a forum is included so I get a free guidebook - sweet!

There's a pdf of our travelogue linked on the main page of the Belize collection here:

Keep us posted and have a blast, whatever you decide!

Hoyas Jan 18th, 2009 04:36 AM

We returned 2 weeks ago , travelled with our mid twenties daughters. We rented a truck and drove through the mainland and then looking for better weather and snorkeling took the water taxi to Ambergeris Caye and really enjoyed it. Stayed in San Ignacio 3 nights and saw Barton Creek, Tikal and Caracol. All 3 are recommended. Drove to Hopkins and stayed at Beaches and Dreams, very nice place and well run, although 2 nights was enough for us in Hopkins (see the Cockscomb Sanctuary). We did walk into Hamanasi hotel and their rate was too high. Drove to Placencia which was just OK, enough after 2 nights. Decided to venture to Ambergeris Caye for 3 nights and really enjoyed that, wish we had skipped Placencia. Great snorkeling and the only great weather we had in Belize. You can return same day for your flight from Ambergeris to the airport.

crosscheck Jan 18th, 2009 06:01 PM

Thanks for all the info.

We were thinking of a jungle/beach combo and hadn't planned on going to Tikal (I have been there - boys haven't, but have been to many of the Yucatan Angkor.) Will reconsider. Seems like too long for a day trip and too much moving around if we do it properly and decide to stay there.

Big dilemma now is whether to do Ambergris instead of Hopkins. I had a bad experience w/ sand fleas in Caye Caulker, and don't really want to return - even decades later.

crosscheck Jan 18th, 2009 06:47 PM

Everyone just said they do want to go to Tikal - It is too long of a day trip from Cave's Branch?

hopefulist Jan 18th, 2009 07:05 PM

Possible but doesn't sound like that much fun to me. It's probably about 4 hours each way which would only leave you a few hours in the middle of the day to explore. If you work it out so you can spend the night you'd get to explore the ruins and jungle in the cooler evening and early morning hours when the wildlife is active and you practically have the ruins to yourself. Maybe you could head from Caves Branch to Tikal and then from there to the beach. Or you could do the day trip - it just sounds like a really long day to me. Happy trails!

Hoyas Jan 19th, 2009 01:05 PM

Our day trip to Tikal started at 7am from San Ignacio, 3 hours later we were having lunch at the Jaguar Inn at Tikal. Our driver agreed to depart Tikal at 3:30 pm sharp, so we were back in San Ignacio by 6:30 pm. That was enough time at Tikal for us. And our driver moved fast and helped expedite at the border. So from Caves Branch it might be a bit much. Why not consider Caracol? it includes a drive through the beautiful forest. In my mind Ambergris Caye is better than Hopkins, there is much more to do, weather is sunny and hot and the snorkeling is great. You are somewhat isolated in Hopkins.

crosscheck Jan 19th, 2009 04:54 PM

Thanks, hopefulist and Hoyas. The Caves Branch people also said that Tikal was three hours away (but they leaves at 6:30, so I bet it's 3.5). I agree that we don't need more than 6 hrs at Tikal and think we will do the day trip. Everyone is up for the adventure.

Where in Ambergris do you recommend staying? I can't seem to find a good place that's near town, and if we're not near town, we might as well be in Hopkins. Also, my husband liked the idea of no small planes and the drumming center in Hopkins.

crosscheck Jan 19th, 2009 05:11 PM

Just had a thought - maybe we should skip the beach altogether and do 5 days Caves Branch (everybody is looking forward to the extreme adventures), then 4 days in the forest area near San Ingnacio, where we would be closer to Tikal. Would this be too redundant?

StanKase Jan 19th, 2009 05:56 PM

Hamanasi Resort is very nice. The dive operation is quite good and they also cater to snorkelers. The food id pretty good considering where you are. The rooms above the lowest ones are quite nice with effective A/C. The only problem is they only go to the Blue Hole and Lighthouse Reef i 4 or more divers want to go and it is $175/person but it is great. But if 4 do not do or weather is not on your side you are out-of-luck. We liked the resort. We are going to Turneffe Island Resort which is closer to the Blue Hole and they go at no-charhe at least once a week regardless of number going, xo they tell me. It is priced about the same as Hamanasi, maybe a bit less. Just another thought.

hopefulist Jan 19th, 2009 06:18 PM

If you really love outdoor adventures like caving, hiking, and canoing that might work for you. If my family had 9 days we wouldn't want to spend all of it inland, but we're all flyfisherman and/or divers and all love to snorkel so the blue water is our friend. You could break it up a bit by staying in Flores for a night or 2 before heading home - it is a very different environment than
Belize in my opinion. It's cheap and easy to catch a bus from Flores to Belize City or you could fly, I think. For what it's worth the Hopkins area is notorious for sand flies also, though you never know if you're going to hit a lucky, breezy spell and not see any. Keep us posted!

Hoyas Jan 20th, 2009 05:21 AM

It is really nice to enjoy the water also on a 9 day trip and although The Hopkins resort area is nice, your options on things to do are limited. Ambergeris offers more. Check out a hotel in Ambergris, I think it is called the Palms, we stopped there but they had no availibility. Location was good. In Hopkins you can save money by considering the Beaches and Dreams hotel. One of their friends runs fishermen out, perhaps snorkelers too. But again I think the snorkeling on Ambergeris is better.

JeanH Jan 20th, 2009 06:07 AM

On Ambergris, what do you consider near town? Are you looking for hotel rooms or condo type places? Need a pool? Budget?

I 'live' a mile south of town when I'm on the island, and consider that near town. Others might not.

StanKase Jan 20th, 2009 10:01 AM

I must admit we did not encounter a problem with sand flies at Hamanasi in Hopkins in March '08. The mosquito problem all over Belize and Honduras was manageable there as well with DEET twice a day unlike Roatan where it was a bigger problem. The resort offers a packing that includes a day outings to a ruin, just o.k., cave kayak trip, bird/jungle -like trip, an exciting adventure climb to a waterfall and 1 or 2 others. You get a certain number based on days you stay. We stayed a week and had the opportunity to take 5 outings if we wanted but then yioou missed the 2 dive outings that day or the snorkel trip or relaxing by the pool/beach.

crosscheck Jan 21st, 2009 08:16 AM

Thanks, everyone. I think we will be sending in our reservation to Caves Branch, but waiting to decide about the beach destination.

Ambergris seems touristy -timeshares and paragliding. Is the main advantage over Hopkins the better snorkeling?

We are snorkelers, not divers. Do you still recommend Hamanasi over Almond Beach? (We will be doing the inland adventure tours from Caves Branch, so just interested in snorkeling and relaxing.)

Patty Jan 21st, 2009 09:31 AM

The farther south you travel, the farther away you are from the reef so it requires a longer boat ride. It's been many years since our first trip to Belize but we found the snorkeling/diving in the south to be more pristine near Ambergris. It's hard to imagine that this has changed since the majority of tourists still head to the Ambergris/Caulker area.

If you're just interested in snorkeling and relaxing, have you thought about staying caye on or near the reef or one of the atolls instead? You'd need a boat transfer to get out there but once you're there, you'd be a shorter boat ride to snorkeling or possibly have walk-in snorkeling opportunities depending on the caye you choose. Look at Southwater, Tobacco, and Thatch cayes and Glovers and Turneffe atolls.

Patty Jan 21st, 2009 09:32 AM

Sorry, that should say &quot;we found the snorkeling/diving in the south to be more pristine <b>than</b> near Ambergris&quot;

StanKase Jan 21st, 2009 06:02 PM

Hamanasi takes you to the reef but the power boat does take 25-30 minutes. The quality I experienced is as good as further north and they go every day. But Turneffe which we are going to is closer to the reef and has some pretty good off-the-beach snorkeling plus the daily trips. But, the accommodations are not quite as nice so I am told and friends tell me I should expect fairly good food at Turneffe Reef Resort but not as good as Hamanasi. It also is true Hamanasi is a bit more expensive but it is only a 15 minute puddle-jumper flight from Belize City and if you go for 4-5 days I believe they include it in the rate.It was in our 7 day stay. At Turneffe Island you have a 80-90 minute launch trip, though they say quite pleasant, to Turneffe Reef included in the rate also for stays of 4 or 5 days or more.

StanKase Jan 21st, 2009 06:04 PM

I forgot to mention, we visited Almond Beach but did NOT stay there. Hamanasi Resort looked better, or should I say a little more up-scale.

HLester3 Jan 21st, 2009 06:49 PM

Hi. We are also planning a trip to Belize this year and I have been looking at Thatch Caye. It is off of Dangriga, I think someone else mentioned above as well. There is not much info on this site about it, but lots of pictures on TA. It is on its own little island and the video on TA of the Coatis sold me.

I have also been researching and Tropic Air just started once a day flights again from Belize City to Flores, which I think take about an hour.

We have not been to belize before, but I am taking a days in Ambergris caye just to get the very touristy pictures of the kids snorkling with the nurse sharks in Shark alley.

Just one more plug, for something adventerous that may fit in with a quick trip to over to Guatemala. I am flying up to Guatemala city from Flores so we can climb Pacaya. Not sure if you have been before, but there is something appealing about climing up a volcano and roasting marshmallows over the lava.

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 11:16 AM.