Reef to Rainforest in Belize

If you’ve never been to Belize, you’re in for a real treat, as it’s one of the most serenely beautiful countries on the planet. Situated on the eastern coast of Central America, with stunning turquoise Caribbean shorelines to the east and dense jungle to the west, the visual delights alone are enough to keep your cell phone camera snapping 24/7. 

If that’s not enough, the immense Belize Barrier Reef is peppered with a plethora of low-lying, wondrous islands or cayes with abundantly rich wildlife. 

Before I begin highlighting this adventure, I must talk about safety because there are many preconceptions regarding Belize. These days, when people plan a trip, they ask their search engine, “Is it safe to travel to Belize?” 

Based on the danger in Belize City, the answer most likely is, “No, it is not safe.” But that answer is based solely on Belize City, where gang-on-gang violence and drug trafficking occur. 

I can honestly tell you that every other part of the country is perfectly safe, and 95% of Belizean tourist attractions are nowhere near Belize City. 

In addition, the locals and expats are always friendly and extremely accommodating. However, like many cities in the States, it’s never a good idea to walk alone at night, wherever you may be. 

The Belize Collection of Hotels and Resorts

The Belize Collection is an assemblage of hotels and resorts spread across the country featuring world-class amenities, attentive service and authentic, culinary fine dining restaurants. In addition, they offer a multitude of exciting excursions both on land and by sea. 

The Lodge at Jaguar Reef 

Rooms at the Lodge at Jaguar Reef
Image Credit: Richard Atkins

We started our sojourn at The Lodge at Jaguar Reef in the lively village of Hopkins. Situated mere steps from the Caribbean, the beach is pristine, and the waters are warm and welcoming.

Our room was copious in size, featuring a large canopy bed, a well-appointed tiled bath and shower, and a convenient soaking pool right off the bedroom. Decorated in a dynamic, tropical chic vibe with bright yellow hues and muted blues, it was our zen palace by the sea for two glorious days.  

The Paddle House restaurant at Jaguar Reef is quite large, with expansive views of the sea, and is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The cuisine never disappoints and caters to an endless array of tastes, from chicken and waffles for breakfast to lobster empanadas for lunch to cream of yuca shrimp pasta for dinner. 

For additional dining venues, every resort in the Belize Collection has its own resident, Don Tonito’s wood-fired pizza establishment, for a superb al fresco experience. Utilizing organic arugula from the Belize Collection’s Sleeping Giant 600-acre garden and locally sourced cheese from a nearby Mennonite community, these pizzas taste exceptional and are rooted in Belizean culture. 

Rounding out Jaguar Reef’s culinary offerings is the always-hopping Big Dock Ceviche Bar. The two-story structure with a straw roof is situated at the end of a long dock. With prime views of the Caribbean and exotic drink offerings, it’s a great place to hang out and relax at the end of a long day.  

Rhythm Reef Caye

Private Island - Rhythm Reef Caye
Image Credit: Richard Atkins

On the second day of our stay, we signed up for a trip to a private, secluded island called Rhythm Reef Caye. Subsequently, my wife and I met at the dock at 9 a.m. and were introduced to the crew, including Chef Paul, Captain Michael, Javier, our bartender once on the island, and Kenrick, who was in charge of assisting with snorkeling and kayaking. 

Looking around, we noticed no other participants on the boat, as I thought I had signed up for a group tour. However, I mistakenly signed up for the exclusive outing consisting of just my wife and I. 

Though management is working on offering group packages to the island, a day on a beautiful island all to ourselves with a crew and private chef was a fantasy come true! 

man smiling
Image Credit: Richard Atkins

The boat trip to the island took about 40 minutes, and once there, we were able to relax and explore the whole property while Chef Paul prepared the best ceviche and three-course lunch we had ever tasted. We also met Edison, the island caretaker who lives there 24/7.

He gave us the grand tour and told us the island used to be owned by famed Beatle Ringo Starr back in the day as he walked us through Starr’s home, which had fallen into disrepair yet was ridiculously cool to check out. 

The structure where Edison resides had Ringo’s old sofa, chairs, and an old trunk with VHS cassettes and assorted bric-a-brac inside. The rest of the day, we enjoyed kayaking and snorkeling and getting to know the phenomenal crew responsible for our once-in-a-lifetime adventure. 

Umaya Resort and Adventures 

resort pool in belize
Image Credit: Richard Atkins
Beach at the Lodge at Jaguar Reef
Image Credit: Richard Atkins
resort in belize
Image Credit: Richard Atkins

Next up on our three-resort, week-long tour of the Belize Collection was Umaya on the magnificent peninsula of Placencia. The beautifully laid out, expansive complex of buildings that make up the resort features accommodations on the Caribbean and across the street on the lagoon side.

We enjoyed swimming in the Olympic-sized pool with an accommodating swim-up bar overlooking the calm surf. In contrast to the pool, which is a bit chilly, we then took a swim in the warm Caribbean for a therapeutic high.  

restaurant in belize
Image Credit: Richard Atkins

Don Tonito’s Pizza overlooks the pool complex on the seaside and features outdoor dining for lunch and dinner. Restaurante Laguna is a fine-dining, open-air restaurant with a commanding view of the lagoon and mountains. It offers fresh, delectable snapper, BBQ pork belly, and pasta pomodoro. Oh, and don’t forget the fish fritter appetizer. It’s killer!

Our excursion while in Umaya was a visit to a village nearby to meet a master Mayan chocolate maker who would explain in depth how chocolate comes from the cacao (or cocoa) bean, which technically is not beans but rather seeds of the fruit of the Theobroma cacao tree. 

The fruit where the cacao seed is housed is pod-shaped, with each pod producing 35-50 seeds surrounded by a sweet pulp that he let us taste as it was nectarous and appealing. 

The second part of the tour examined the processing of dark chocolate making, where we were allowed to make and eat our own chocolate. After the tour, we were able to purchase the local dark chocolate bars and other products made from cacao seed.  

oversized chair on beach in belize
Image Credit: Richard Atkins

For our second day at Umaya, we took a short 25-minute shuttle ride from the resort into the spirited town of Placencia. Full of seaside cafes, restaurants, artisan shops, and superb beaches, you can enjoy a good half-day there and still have plenty to do.  

The Rainforest Lodge at Sleeping Giant 

bedroom at resort in belize
Image Credit: Richard Atkins
pool at resort in belize
Image Credit: Richard Atkins

Residing deep within the inner reaches of the Belizean jungle stands the Rainforest Lodge at Sleeping Giant. Approaching the resort is a dream-like experience: You turn off the main road, drive a few seconds through a meandering path, and finally come upon a small gatehouse that identifies you and lets you pass, so there is plenty of security. 

Driving deeper into the property, you notice the lush and colorful botanicals that surround you until you come to a thatched-roof structure that happens to be the property’s office.   

To arrive at our Mountain View Suite, we had to walk up eighty steps. However, the view from our balcony, high atop the jungle canopy, was mind-boggling and well worth the trek! 

We enjoyed the rich, dark wood furnishings in our room, handcrafted in Belize, the glass vessel bathroom sink and open-air shower, a king-size bed on our exterior terrace, and an outdoor plunge pool overlooking the Sleeping Giant formation in the Maya mountain range. All casitas are comfortably air-conditioned with no television to promote inner peace.  

view of valley and mountains in belize
Image Credit: Richard Atkins

The grounds at Sleeping Giant are otherworldly, with fascinating flora and fauna, the likes of which we had never seen before. Taking a stroll through the flourishing complex, you literally get lost, not in direction but in your thoughts. There are frog ponds, streams filled with tilapia, and glimmering water fountains amongst the swaying palms coalescing with the fragrance of fresh, tropical air.  

For recreation, the resort has an inviting pool, plenty of hiking trail opportunities and horseback riding on the premises. 

In the evening, we enjoyed a wonderfully spicy jalapeño margarita at the Grove House restaurant bar, gazing over the balcony and watching guests reveling in Don Tonito’s pizza on the ground floor. 

After drinks, we went up another flight to the open-air, fine-dining area with high thatched roof ceilings accompanied by a romantic, dimly lit ambiance. 

outdoor restaurant in belize
Image Credit: Richard Atkins

We loved their sweet potato and crostini soup. For entrees, their pollo de cobánero chile (chicken in a spicy red sauce) was perfectly prepared, along with their tamarind molasses pork chops. For dessert, you have to try the Mayan chocolate cake. It’s unbelievable!

We participated in two very different excursions at Sleeping Giant. The first was the Jungle Safari after Dark with Rudi, our local guide. We walked through the jungle, outfitted with miner-type forehead lights, searching for nocturnal animals. 

We were lucky to hear a howler monkey but not so lucky to run into a coral snake, one of the most venomous snakes in the world. It was far enough away that we didn’t have to run. I would say this excursion is NOT for the faint at heart.  

The second excursion was a half-day visit to the archaeological site Xunantunich, the second-highest structure in Belize, consisting of many Mayan plazas and temples. 

But first, our 90 minute ride to the site gives you a firsthand look at Belizean culture, driving from town to town, enjoying the many, vibrant colors of homes and restaurants, painted a bright turquoise, orange and green along the way. 

Once at the site, you can climb to the top of Xunantunich to get a bird’s eye view of the country. After the tour, we all had a delicious lunch at Benny’s Kitchen, a local eatery. This was a fantastic outing, but be aware it’s pretty strenuous.  

Other Excursions Offered at The Belize Collection

Unlike many resorts, the Belize Collection has a myriad number of quality excursions in a variety of venues for even the most discriminating tastes.

In addition to what I’ve already described, they offer extreme ziplining, horseback riding, cave-dwelling, reef snorkeling, kayaking, tubing, river cruising, a scarlet macaw tour, Mayan cooking classes, a visit to a jaguar preserve, barrier reef sport fishing, reef diving, sunset cruises and much more!

In Conclusion

From reef to beach to rainforest, Belize is a magical country offering not just a little but a lot of something for everyone. It’s immensely scenic, rich in culture and history, easy to travel to, and thoroughly exciting to partake in all it has to offer.  

Warning

Like any tropical country, you should protect yourself from mosquitoes and other insects that bite. Picaridin is the most effective repellent. Next in line would be DEET. 

However, picaridin is odorless and non-greasy. You’ll also need a passport to travel to Belize. Do check with your doctor or pharmacist about vaccinations, as some are recommended for Belize, but none are required or mandatory.

If You Go

Reservations: 888.822.2448 or info@thebelizecollection.com

Visit The Belize Collection for more info on packages and activities.

A variety of packages are offered for families, just the two of usvacation with friends, or solo packages. Whichever choice you make, the Belize Collection will work with you to create the most rewarding itinerary. 

View the slideshow on YouTube!

Richard Atkins is a travel writer, award-winning photographer, screenwriter, playwright, actor, and pianist and can be reached at: rcratkins@att.net


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Richard Atkins is a travel photo-journalist, playwright, screenwriter, actor and pianist. He can be reached at: rcratkins@att.net.