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Trip Report Belize Trip Report and Recs: Ambergris Caye and Cayo Region

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I haven’t yet posted a whole trip report, though I’ve occasionally responded to specific questions. However, this recent trip to Belize held such fantastic people and places and food that I really wanted to share.

First, I’m mid-thirties and have aging parents, one with knee issues and the other with hearing problems. And we met up with my brother, sister-in-law, and their 2 year old. So, I was planning around a lot of needs…

I spent a couple of days in the jungle interior with my parents first, as there was some concern about taking the baby into the jungle. While we all took Malaria medication, we’ve since been told it’s really not necessary unless there are existing health concerns.

We stayed at Pook’s Hill Lodge, which is about 2 hours from Belize City by car. They will happily arrange round-trip transport for a fee, and it was best to do that, as they know the roads and left us without a worry upon arriving. It’s about an hour and a half on the main, well-paved highway headed West, but then you turn off onto a rough, pot-holed road for about ½ an hour, and it would be tricky to find your way unless you could find a good map (difficult to come by). If you do go, the turn off is around Teakettle village, so keep a lookout.
Pook’s Hill Lodge
Contact: Ray and Vicki Snaddon / Cat and David
Pook's Hill Ltd.
P.O. Box 14
Belize, Central America
Tel : +501-820-2017
Fax : +501-820-2017
E-mail : [email protected]

The website doesn’t do the place justice. It’s rustic but so welcoming and well-appointed. We arrived at dusk, which is typical for people coming in off international flights. And we came out of some thick jungle on the road to a beautiful clearing to find candles lit in the open lodge, drinks waiting for us, hammocks, and dinner. Meals are served family style, but there’s no pressure to mingle excessively unless you want to get to know the other folks there - Vicki, the owner, is a fount of knowledge about Belize and especially the comings and goings in and around the Cayo. Dinner is done buffet style, so no menu choices per se, but that was fine, since it was all delicious, and there were meat and vegetarian options.

We stayed in a Bird Walk cabana, which was down some steep stairs, just as a word of warning, though there is railing and it’s all well-maintained. Then, you cross a bridge over the river and follow an elevated path into the middle of a jungle clearing. Absolutely magical. The sky is brilliant at night, and the experience is a rare one indeed. Pook’s Hill can arrange night walks, and one of the best features of the place is that it sits on 300 acres of trails and a branch of river, as well as having a rare residential Mayan ruin right next to the lodge. It has been partially excavated, and it’s obvious as you walk around the grounds that there are other ruins buried in the jungle mounds and hills.

Cat and David, the managers, are incredibly helpful and very responsive on email or phone. They arranged a special tour for us, which suited our needs, and we had terrific guides wherever we went. I highly recommend the Barton Creek Caves, through which you canoe with a powerful flashlight provided by the park rangers. It’s a gently paddle and the ceiling remains high enough that even those with mild claustrophobic leanings should be fine. And to get to Barton Creek, you pass through one of the old Mennonite communities, which is worth witnessing. If there's any reason you don't feel comfortable with the ATM caving, this is a great alternative.

Additionally, we went to Xunantunich, which is a beautiful set of ruins (we've been to Tikal before, so we chose these as the next best option since Caracol is a LONG 3 hours each way over bumpy roads and we'd heard it was only about 10% excavated). Indeed, El Castillio, the highest of the temples, is worth climbing. Because of the midday heat, I’d recommend doing this first thing in the morning.

Next we flew to Ambergris Caye, the most populous of the cayes…that said, it’s worth noting that nothing on the web really indicates how old school this place still is. There is one paved street in the middle, and the only cars allowed are the taxis and some locals, otherwise it’s all golf carts. The 3-story building limit means that it never feels particularly crowded, and everyone is extremely friendly and relaxed. We opted to stay in the Phoenix, which is the newest and most posh condotel on the island – for a family, it was a perfect option. With a full kitchen, laundry, and separate bedrooms and bathrooms, we had all of the benefits of home with a beachside location and the amenities of a great hotel. The pools are beautifully designed, a perfect shallow one for kids, a lap pool, and a terrific lounging pool. The grounds face the ocean and run along a promenade, which always has a gentle flow of people coming and going.

The staff of the Phoenix are some of the best I’ve ever met – gracious, helpful, anticipating needs, and always going above and beyond. Smiles were genuine, and we felt immediately part of the family. Their front desk will make trip arrangements and give informed and honest recommendations. We did a glass bottom boat snorkelling trip to Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley, which was everything it was promised to be. The wind kicked up a bit, but we still swam with sharks, rays and turtles, in addition to seeing the coral and fish. The aquatic life is plentiful, though, and we saw rays just under some of the fishing docks close to the hotel. Note that the beaches are mostly grassy here, though we did see some sandy areas if you walked further from the center of town.

The Phoenix
Manager: Mark Maggiotto / Stacey
San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize
[email protected]
Dial toll-free: 1-877-822-5512
Dial direct: 011-501-226-2083 or 2021

One other note – and I think I saw someone on here recommend this in another post (and they were right! Thanks!), if you plan to stay somewhere with a kitchen, save yourself the immense hassle of trying to shop. There are tons of tiny bodegas, all with different products, different prices, and it’s very hard to find something if you’re looking for it specifically. Also, you really would need a golf cart to get any significant shopping back to where you’re staying. So, use the Lagniappe provisioning service:

Their form is extremely easy to fill out, and it was such a pleasure to have the staples in place and then just grab things here and there as we saw them.

Other restaurants I’d recommend on Ambergris:

Blue Water Grill - At the Sunbreeze Hotel, on the waterfront (coconut shrimp)
Sunset Grill – On the west side of the caye, for watching sunset, and they let you feed the tarpon
Wild Mangos - On the beach, just north of the Sunbreeze Hotel (fire and ice ceviche), this was our best meal
Red Ginger – At the Phoenix, the best new establishment, amazing desserts
Hidden Treasure – South of San Pedro in Escalante, indeed hidden, but a lovely old-time bungalow feel and great food, rated 2009 best restaurant on the caye

i'm happy to answer questions if anyone is planning in those areas. Happy New Year!