Photo: Pelican Beach Resort – South Water Caye, Belize, Central America
After receiving the unusual once-in-a-lifetime gift of airline tickets to (almost) anywhere in the world, my wife and I began dreaming of escaping the Colorado winter with our family next year and making our way to the tropics. One of the places we’ve never been to that’s always been on our list is Belize. My dream is to spend two weeks there with my wife and children (who will be age 5 and age 8 by then). To get the inside scoop on Belize, I caught up with my friend and fellow dad adventurer Josh Berman (online at http://joshuaberman.net), author of four editions of Moon Belize Travel Guides, and asked him a few questions.
Jason: Is Belize safe to travel with young children? Have you visited since having kids?
Josh: Well, as we all know, nowhere in the world is totally “safe,” not even home, but Belize is a very standard family destination that is generally considered one of the easier, safer countries in Central America. The crime rate in downtown Belize City can be bad at times, but that is not an area where tourists spend time. I’ve taken my family to Belize before and will absolutely do so again. For me, it is a relaxed country full of friends and unbelievable beauty.
Jason: If you had to choose between going in February or April, which would you choose and why?
Josh: Those are both fine times to travel to Belize, both during the dry season (about December through May or June), when it is usually sunny, hot, and gorgeous. They are also outside of the peak season in December, so you still may find some deals.
Jason: We have this vision of finding a place that is right on the sand, where the children can run out in the morning and play on the beach, swim in the (calm!) waters, and snorkel — but isn’t a big resort or in the middle of nowhere. Does that exist in Belize?
Josh: There are very few “big” resorts in Belize. Most properties are small, family-run, and as varied as the interesting people who run them. People do not go to Belize for vast beaches, as most properties are on islands (or “cayes”, pronounced “keys”) where “beaches” are very narrow and the water is often filled with seaweed. In these areas, the kids can still run and play on the sand, but you’ll probably have to take a boat out to the reef to snorkel. There are exceptions though! There are a few places where the beach meets the reef and walk-in snorkeling is amazing. South Water Caye is one of these (see Pelican Beach Resort) , so are the properties on the very north tip of Ambergris Caye. Hopkins and Sittee River a Garifuna-centered coastal area south of Dangriga with nicer, wider beaches and a wide range of accommodations.
Jason: What’s the best snorkel spots for kids?
Josh: Well, most snorkel spots in Belize are along the main barrier reef which usually requires getting in a boat to access. As I mentioned above, there are a few sites where walk-in beach snorkeling is possible, including out in some of the less accessible cayes and atolls.
Jason: We’re nervous that spending all our time on the beach might get (gasp) tiresome. Any other favorite places to visit or things to do in Belize? (Keep in mind we’re not huge fans of spending too much time driving in cars, and by “we” I mean the kids :)! ).
Josh: Most visitors to Belize do a surf ‘n turf (or “reefs ‘n ridges”) trip that splits their time evenly between coastal/ocean adventures and an inland jungle excursions. There are many jungle lodges to choose from across the country.
Jason: Oooh – I love that, “reefs ‘n ridges”! Any favorites?
Josh: My favorite area is the upper Macal River, outside San Ignacio, where you can stay near the river and get up before sunrise for a canoe trip with toucans and iguanas. Chaa Creek Lodge is where the Queen stays when she comes to Belize – it’s pretty amazing. Up and down the river from there are a dozen other options, including Black Rock Lodge and duPlooy’s.
Jason: Any particular guides you recommend for families who might be able to offer a more customized and perhaps private experience?
Josh: First of all, she’s not a guide per se, but I recommend booking your trip to Belize through Katie Valk of Belize Trips — she’ll help you find the perfect place/plan for your needs, then can facilitate booking. Once you’re there, there are a number of great local guides with all sorts of trips. Kind of depends what you’re looking for: diving, Maya ruins, caving, birding experts…
Jason: If you were taking your family, anything unusual we should think about packing with us?
Josh: You can get most of what you forget at home there. There are some modern supermarkets in Belize City like Brodie’s, which has a section for baby and toddler products. Otherwise, just mad sunscreen and wide-brim hats.
About Joshua Berman
Joshua Berman is a freelance writer, K-12 Spanish teacher, television production fixer, travel expert, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, trip leader, husband, and father. Joshua writes a monthly column in The Denver Post and is the author of six books, including Moon Travel Guides for Belize, Nicaragua, and Colorado. His travel articles have appeared in The New York Times, Yoga Journal, Delta SKY, Sunset, and National Geographic Traveler, among other publications.