In 1842, Charles Darwin described Belize as “The most remarkable reef in the West Indies,” in his book, Coral Reefs of the World. Flying into Belize City and looking out the window, I noticed the turquoise blue water and atolls just a boat ride away from shore.
On a map inside the American Airlines airplane magazine, Hemispheres, I learned Belize borders Mexico, Guatemala and the Caribbean Sea. It’s about a five-hour direct flight from LAX to the second largest Great Barrier Reef with over 1,000 different live species. There 500 types of fish and 100 different varieties of corals.
We took another airplane from Belize City airport to Dangriga airport for a twenty-minute flight. Upon arrival a friendly Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort staff member, Axel greeted us and took our bags. Thirty minutes later in an air-conditioned van, we arrived at the 5 star eco-friendly resort right on the beach in Hopkins.
As we were welcomed by the hospitable staff, we received a welcome drink and orientation out on the veranda. Feeling the sea breeze and looking out to the infinity pool and beyond the baby blue color water, we were led to our treehouse in the jungle.
Walking up the stairs, we were delighted to see a hammock, whirlpool tub and two lounge chairs on our wooden deck 12 feet up in the air among a canopy of trees. Inside the luxury cottage we felt the air conditioning cooling the room to a pleasing temperature, as did the ceiling fans in each room. The king and queen size comfortable Savvy Rest organic mattresses are made with natural latex foam. This is the first resort outside of the United States to use these mattresses.
The beautifully tiled bathrooms offer luxury beauty products in wooden containers that are refilled daily. All rooms have views of the Caribbean Sea or of a jungle filled with a variety of colorful birds, and sometimes a harmless snake, box turtle or iguana.
This is a resort for relaxing with no televisions or Wi-Fi in the rooms. There is a single television in the library room and one computer with Wi-Fi in the main lodge.
The all-inclusive vacation offers three meals a day in the upstairs restaurant offering sustainable fare from the resort’s large, thriving garden and nearby farms.
After meals guests congregate in the library to check their smart phone messages or climb up the stairway to the widows walk for stargazing and nightcap.
Belize is a melting pot of Creoles, Mayas, Mestizos, East Indians, Chinese, Mennonites, North Americans, Europeans and Central Americans. Guests see and meet the locals when they take a Hamanasi half and whole day excursion. The trips vary in levels of difficulty, and the staff emphasis safety to ensure that the guests are safe in the water, hiking, swimming in a waterfall stream or exploring caves by foot or inner tube.
We went on two snorkel trips on a Hamanasi boat with three staff members. Belize is a diver and snorkel paradise with 100 feet of visibility and 83 degree water. Daily excursions on the dive and snorkel boats take guests to at least two sites a day with a snack on a private island. With 15 different sites, one could visit a different site each day. They even take guests to the unique 407-feet deep Blue Hole National Park. Jacques Cousteau declared this as one of the top 10 diving sites in the world.
On our first snorkel trip we saw colorful hard and soft coral formations teeming with small and large marine life. Highlights of our snorkel adventures include swimming above a nurse shark with a hitchhiker on her back, a variety of rays including a yellow spotted ray, a salt water manatee, large Moray eels, barracudas and green sea turtles grazing on the sea grass. The sea floor is dotted with sea cucumbers and Queen conch shells.
The next day we drove to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve. We didn’t see any live jaguars, yet learned about them at the small Education Center. Our Hamanasi guides, Axel and Kirk, took us on a trail filled with birds, flora and fauna. This preserve has the world’s highest density of jaguar as well as puma, ocelot, margay and jaguarundi. After exploring the area, we walked to a beautiful waterfall for a cooling swim in the jungle before lunch. All day excursions include a picnic lunch prepared by the Hamanasi staff.
On another adventure, we learned that within the last few decades, scientists have discovered some great archaeological finds throughout Belize. Monumental structures rise above the floor of the jungle. Excavators have discovered tombs, ceramics, and skeletons to learn more about the Mayan culture. Only a small percentage of these historical sites have been unearthed. The all day trip with Kirk and four other guests took us to San Ignacio to explore the Xunantunich structures bordering Guatemala. Next we climbed to the top of Cahal Pech built in 1200 BC. It’s known as one of the oldest Maya sites in Western Belize.
We explored caves on another trip and learned about the Mayan underworld and Shamans. Climbing around pitch dark caverns with head lamps we were in awe with the multi-level chambers that hold 2,000 year old Maya ceremonial items. We saw fire pits, charcoal and ash, broken pottery, alters, glyph writings and actual skeletons of sacrificial victims found in the ceremonial cave.
Before leaving Belize we hopped on bicycles at the Adventure Center and explored the town and harbor of Hopkins. Afterwards we jumped off the pier into the sea to cool down and later floated in pool before dinner. There are hammocks on the beach for naps near kayaks and standup paddle boards for guests to use.
Each week the staff organizes a cultural presentation to educate guests about Belize. There is information about the Hamanasi Education fund; Hopkins Belize Humane Society and the World Pediatric Project. The owners and staff of this resort are very philanthropic. For guests who chose to offer a donation at the end of their trip, the owners of Hamanasi will match the contribution.
To learn more about Hamanasi Adventure and Dine Resort, go to http://www.hamanasi.com.
This article was featured in the September 2016 issue of Not Born Yesterday.