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Belize locations - help please


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#1 bversteegh

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Posted 20 March 2011 - 04:03 PM

Hi -

The wife and I are considering a family vacation to Belize this summer. Early June to try and catch the whale sharks after the May full moon. I am taking the entire family (4 teenagers and my adult daughter and her husband, plus wife and I) - currently only the 4 adults dive. So we are looking for a location with decent access to mainland activities (cave/river tubing, zip lining, jungle tours/hiking) etc plus a nice beach/snorkeling for the non-divers while the divers dive. And would be nice if we don't have to endure long boat rides to reefs (understand the whale shark area may be a long trek).

Since a big group, looking for a nice 4 BR condo we can home base out of. I just need help narrowing down which area to concentrate my search in - so far we have looked at Hopkins, San Pedro, and Caye Caulker. Since a big group - I don't really have a clue on expenses/time to travel back and forth to mainland if we stay on an island - and will get expensive to take puddle jumper flights back and forth. Would rather stay in one place rather than move in the middle - but that is an option if "commuting" between diving and mainland activities is prohibitive. Thanks in advance for any recommendations.

Bruce
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#2 rtrski

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 11:25 AM

Bruce:

It's not a condo, but maybe check out Hamanasi Adventure Resort. They're on the mainland, Stann Creek area just south of Hopkins. Dive op will go out for 2-tank barrier reef or longer 3 tank atoll trips. They also have their own tour guides and vans and can get you to the "ATM" (Actun Tulum Matal or something like that) wet cave / burial site (well worth it! 1.5 hrs each way of ankle to chest-deep caving with actual Mayan relics and heavily rock-encrusted skeletons at the end), Jaguar preserve hikes, ziplining/river tubing, the Xuantunich (sp?) and Cayal Peche Mayan ruins near the Guatemala border, etc. There's also more local options like just toodling around kayaking along the more local river mouth or birding in the morning. They've also got their own beach and pool (but 'ware the sand flies), no real snorkeling, although they will take snorkelers out to the barrier reef as well. Basically you buy a package that gives you X nights, meals, and Y excusions, and they have signup sheets and do them all on a rotating schedule. With a few exceptions (whale shark trip, further atoll dives) they go out without any minimums. Only a few of the excursions are added cost (ATM being one).

Food and service at the resort are spectacular; I cannot say too many nice things about them in that regard. Rooms are very comfortable. If you wanted to go and just dive-dive-dive not sure I'd recommend them, as they don't do as much diving (schedule doesn't really allow for 4 dives a day, in general). But as you said only half the group dives, it might be a good compromise. (That's why we picked them - wife wanted a more mixed vacation and I surrendered vs. staying on one of the kays directly.) Local town is pretty safe if the teens are reasonably steady and not looking for trouble, if they wanted to wander around Hopkins. (Resort also has bikes.)

Barrier reef dives were say 30-40 min boat rides there and back, but it goes pretty quick. Atolls were more like 1 1/4 to 2 hrs each way. We only got to do one due to weather (we arrived right after that TS passed right over Belize City last year so the chop was contrary to normal and the water was kind of silted up - in fact, we were on the flight that tried to land during the height of the TS, but the captain bailed on final approach and put us down in Cancun instead...only to have to fly us back to Dallas that night, costing us the first day of our trip.) You're not going to get much shorter than those though unless you stay on one of them, and then you're dealing with the mainland trips for everything else. Much more pleasant to sit on a boat before/after a dive vs. before/after a 4-5 hr hike, IMO.

If you stay ANYWHERE on the mainland, one suggestion: find that 100% DEET stuff that comes in the tiny tubes, and buy two. Per person. The typical 15-20% "Cutter" or whatnot stuff just doesn't cut it, at all. (Another reason that ATM cave hike was so great - once you hit the cave mouth and are in cool dark water, it's amazingly soothing on all the bites. :( )

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#3 bversteegh

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 06:54 PM

thanks - great info. Did you rent a car to go to the different activities - or were those all tours arranged by the resort? I read the road down to Hopkins is kind of an adventure - but would be nice to have some transportation - hopefully can rent a van in Belize City.
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#4 rtrski

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 05:38 AM

Bruce:

That's the nice thing about the Hamanasi. They arrange the airport pickup (for that matter, they arrange your connector flight from Belize City to Dangriga regional airport; just tell them when your flight is hitting BZE), and they have all the vans that get you to the tours. They're all aircon-ed too, and the drivers were even willing to make a stop on the way back from trips for beer runs if the majority of the vanload was interested. :( So we did not have any car rental. For the longer excursion trips like that the restaurant packs lunches for you that the guide sets up as well.

The only tour I think that they don't personally guide you on is the ATM tour - there are gov't licensed guides that get groups into the wet cave, so for that one the Hamanasi gets you to the trailhead and then the van waits for you to return. Might be something similar for the longer Jaguar resort caving/tubing/zipline option.

Most of the drive to Hopkins was okay, there is a last stretch thats kind of rough dirt/gravel mix, and most of the "highways" that get you from Dangriga to Hopkins are what we'd think of 2-lane country roads here in TX. Paved, but a bit washboardy and potholed in places. So if you were to rent something, it wouldn't be completely horrible. But personally I liked not having to deal with it. The resort is nice enough and you can take a bike ride from it to Hopkins to wander around, plus with all the tours we didn't feel isolated at all not having our own personal means of transport. To be honest, aside from tours we didn't even try to wander over to Hopkins - we were too tuckered out after diving and/or hiking and far too much good eatin'.

P.S. - the guest services manager at Hamanasi - I think her name was Jan? - tall, slender (and rather pretty) blonde lady, is a fellow Texan. DFW area even, I think. And I don't think she ever takes a day off or sleeps...she was just constantly there anytime we went to the office, always cheerful, competent, etc. Runs a tight and very friendly ship, she does.

Edited by rtrski, 22 March 2011 - 05:46 AM.

Current rig: Sony SLT-alpha55 in Ikelite housing, Sigma 105mm f2.8 DC Macro w/ Ike 5505.58 flat port or Sigma 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 DC HSM behind UWCamStuff custom 5" mini-dome. Dual INON z240 Type IVs triggered with DS51 for TTL mimicry, or DS51 alone with home-made ringflash assy for macro.

 

Topside, unhoused: Sony SLT-alpha99, Sigma 150-500mm + 1.4TC (Saving for Sony 70-400 G2), Sigma 15mm diagonal fish, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 CZ, Tamron 180mm f2.8 Macro...all the gear and nary a clue...