AMBERGRIS CAYE, Belize's most popular island destination, is thirty-five miles from Belize City. San Pedro, on the southern tip of the island, is the twenty-five-mile-long island's largest town is only six blocks long and four blocks wide. The Belize Barrier Reef touches the northern tip of the island, offering world-class diving. Inland, the CAYO DISTRICT is a favorite destination of eco-tourists because of the unspoiled natural beauty. Rivers, jungles, cave systems, waterfalls, diverse biology and Mayan ruins make this area an excellent vacation spot. Both inland and coastal regions are typically reached by flying to Belize City and then taking a charter flight. Flights are arranged through the hotel or can be booked, More intrepid travelers may also rent cars.
WHERE TO PLAY
CAYE CHAPEL GOLF COURSE
T&L GOLF Rating: ****
Dramatic location. A fun and challenging layout, and course conditions are pristine. Also, you'll probably have the course to yourself. Par/Yardage: 72/6,995. Green Fee: $200. Architect: Larry Addington. Phone: 011-501-228-250.
WHERE TO STAY
SECLUDED ISLAND GETAWAYS
Caye Chapel Golf Resort & Marina 011-501-228-250, email@example.com
The eight two- to three-bedroom villas rent for $1,000 a night, and each features modern architecture, a kitchen, a dining room and a private rooftop deck. Facilities include tennis courts, an Olympic-size pool and a nearby airstrip. The restaurant has the largest commercial kitchen in Belize.
With a maximum of twelve guests on the island, this five-star resort is located three miles from San Pedro. There is a spa on site ($55 to $135 for treatment). Each of four guest cabanas offers a private pool and an al-fresco shower. The chef customizes the menu for each guest. One-bedroom cabanas start at $1,395 in the high season; two-bedrooms run $1,795. All rates include a private butler and three meals a day. Ferries to the Caye Chapel Golf Course.
San Pedro is only two miles to the north. Excellent restaurant, and fishing and diving guides/instructors. Standard rooms in the main building start at $115, thatch-roof casitas are $140 and the three-bedroom villa runs $695 in the high season.
Ramon's Village Resort
This sixty-one-cabana resort is a five-minute walk to San Pedro. Good restaurant, gift shop, boat rentals and Belize's largest diving operation are on-site. One-room cabanas start at $150, and two-bedroom, family-friendly suites are $340.
Chaa Creek Cottages and Inland Expeditions
Located on the banks of the Macal River, a short drive from San Ignacio. Each palm-thatched cottage has Mexican-tiled floors and large mahogany beds. Excellent restaurant, and activities include hiking, swimming, canoeing, horseback riding and birdwatching. Family-friendly; full-service spa on the premises. Rooms start at $140 in the high season, while the luxury garden suite runs $365.
Chan Chich Lodge
Set within a 225,000-acre private reserve in northwestern Belize. Twelve thatched-roof cabanas, each with two queen-size beds and a veranda with hammocks. On site are screened-in pools, a bar, a restaurant and a library. Mayan ruins are close by, and hiking, canoeing, horseback riding and guided trips are available. Double-occupancy rooms are $145 in the high season; suites are $175.
Located eighteen miles southwest of San Ignacio on the Privassion River. Francis Ford Coppola's resort mixes Italian food with Latin American accommodations. Trips to Mayan ruins, caving, canoeing and horseback riding are offered. Room rates set by occupancy: Double-occupancy cabanas start at $150, while two-bedroom, two-bathroom villas are $350.
WHERE TO EAT
Pescador Drive, San Pedro, 011-501-262-176, www.ambergriscaye.com/elvis/index.html Crab claws, lobster, calamari, scallops, mussels, freshwater lobster, shrimp, conch, fish and other entrées are priced in the $15 range. A local favorite.
Capricorn Resort, three miles north of San Pedro, 011-501-262-809, www.ambergriscaye.com/capricorn/index.html
Overlooks the ocean and the owners make food to order. Expect to spend $45 per person.
Mata Chica Resort, San Pedro, 011-501-213-010, www.matachica.com/mambo.html
This intimate restaurant serves up good Caribbean cocktails, fresh-baked bread and pasta. Daily dinner specials run about $25. Try the Italian dishes and chocolate mousse.
THINGS TO DO (BOOK THROUGH HOTELS)
FISHING: Tarpon, snook, snapper, bonefish, permit, barracuda, grouper, jack, sailfish, marlin, bonito and pompano. Spin-cast, fly-fish or troll. Fish are caught all year long.
DIVING AND SNORKELING:. See the three-square-mile Hol Chan Marine Reserve, which features a variety of fish, including the apty named Shark-Ray Alley, and Mexico Rocks, which provide habitat for a variety of marine life. Note: Look out for the irritating, rash-inducing larvae of the thimble jellyfish, which spawns in May.
LAMANI: Ruins in a wonderful setting on the New River Lagoon. Black howler monkeys live close by.
CARACOL: A one-hour drive from Blancaneaux Lodge. Ancient Mayan ruins of a city that, in 650 A.D., had an estimated population of 150,000 people.
BELIZE ZOO: Thirty-one miles west of Belize City, www.belizezoo.org. Exhibits of more than 125 native animals.
Javier's Flying Service, 011-501-235-360. A three-seat plane starts at $170 per hour for local flights; a five-seat plane is $240.
Avis, 011-501-234-619, Budget, 011-501-232-435, and Safari/Hertz, 011-501-235-395, all have offices in Belize City.
Belize has a mean temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Dry season, November through May.