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goldenticket

Belize

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I've just returned from a (too-short) week a mile south of the village of Hopkins, Belize, and can now make the distinction between "rice and beans" and "beans and rice" - and yes, there is a difference.

Rice and beans = kidney beans that are soaked, cooked with coconut milk, salt, pepper, and some other spices, and then have rice thrown in to cook with the beans - delish and the national staple!

Beans and rice = stewed kidney beans served with but separate from white rice

We enjoyed several wonderful meals with fresh seafood at unbelievably cheap prices. Fresh grilled snapper, shrimp, or lobster for about $5-$7 per person. These meals were all enjoyed in the very simple local restaurants of Hopkins village. The food at the resort where we stayed (aside from breakfast) was crap, and expensive crap at that, so we ate only one evening meal there.

Highlights included:

- buying a fresh pineapple daily at the little local fruit stand named Elvira's

- curried shrimp with rice and beans - this curry was nothing like what I was expecting. After quizzing the chef, I found that it was made with lime juice, a dash of 'Jamaican spice' curry and a little bit of onion. The shrimp were PERFECTLY cooked and the flavor was so light and fresh - I hope I can recreate it in my kitchen. (Pleasure Cove Lodge)

- stewed chicken and rice and beans - tender and spicy (Innie's)

- Traditional Garifuna dish called Hudut - an amazing coconut milk soup, made from freshly grated coconut, which is combined with water and squeezed through a cloth to get the milk out, this was topped with a huge piece of fresh snapper, also boiled in the soup - so fresh and so tasty. The soup is accompanied by what I can only describe as a plaintain dumpling. Plaintains are boiled and then mashed and mashed and mashed until they form a doughy ball. You tear off part of the plaintain and dip it in the soup and grab a piece of the fish with it. I couldn't get the "spices" further defined by Iris but it was good, if heavy - the locals mostly eat it as a noon time meal. (Iris's - the original restaurant in Hopkins)

- Gibnut or "Royal Rat" - yeah, it's basically a 35-pound rodent, but it was really good! It was stewed with the usual spices (recado, onions, garlic, etc) and I found it to be a bit like pork - there was white and dark meat and it was tender and not at all gamey. (also at Iris's)

- other treats- johnycake, fryjack, garnaches, and panades...

oh - and the local Bellikin beer :lol:

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We leave in 4 days for San Pedro (Ambergris Caye) in Belize. It'll be our third time there and I have to agree with most people who've posted their thoughts on Belize/Yucatan penninsulla. The food in most restaurants is pretty blah (at best). The best food is to be found at lunchtime in roadside diners or carts. I guess it's just not part of the Mayan tradition to eat out at night. The only people I see in restaurants are obviously tourists. Waitman's experience in Mexico seems to mirror what we've had in San Pedro. Then again, after your 15th Belikin, the idea of greasy pizza just somehow seems "right". Go figure. :mellow:

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We used to stay in Belize City, and the best food by far was the coconut and key lime pie that two little boys hawked for their mother. They came to the hotels with boxes and great big smiles. Mmmmmmm. Coconut pie still warm from the oven.

My parents went one time and a friend sent them to the airport with a loaf of creole bread. It's probably been twenty years and Mom still talks about that bread. I think it is made with coconut milk. I should try to find out more about it.

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We leave in 4 days for San Pedro (Ambergris Caye) in Belize. It'll be our third time there and I have to agree with most people who've posted their thoughts on Belize/Yucatan penninsulla. The food in most restaurants is pretty blah (at best). The best food is to be found at lunchtime in roadside diners or carts. I guess it's just not part of the Mayan tradition to eat out at night. The only people I see in restaurants are obviously tourists. Waitman's experience in Mexico seems to mirror what we've had in San Pedro. Then again, after your 15th Belikin, the idea of greasy pizza just somehow seems "right". Go figure. :mellow:

Definitely try Casa Picasa. Great tapas. Superior hosts. I think you will be pleasantly suprised. Or, if you haven't been, take a boat trip up to Rojo at the far north end of the island. The food isn't off the charts, but if you add in the atmosphere and the decor, you will enjoy. Capricorn (also north of the cut) is pricy but decent. Or when all else fails, do what we do and I am sure you may have done, eat roadside then score the plastic table outside at Cholo's and waste away the afternoon drinking the belikins and lighthouses. I am extremely jealous. We have been there 3 times also and will be back for good if I win megamillions tomorrow.

p.s. go diving with Alonzo at Unda Da Sea (based out of El Pescador). Never met a comparable divemaster.

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Anyone been to Belize recently?  If yes, any recommended your operators or activities or restaurants.  We're going for 10 days in early to mid December, split between a Caye and St Ignacio.  In particular, any experience with car rental and independently traveling to Tikal would be much appreciated.

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We did this trip for spring break with the kids in 2016. We spent 4 nights in San Ignacio (Chaa Creek Lodge https://www.chaacreek.com/) and 4 nights in Ambergris Caye (The Phoenix https://thephoenixbelize.com/). We flew into Belize airport and took a private van to the Chaa Creek Lodge with a stop at the Belize Zoo.

San Ignacio was our adventure part of the tour and we did tours to the ATM cave (highly recommended) and and all day tour to Tikal (long day). We used this tour company for both and they were great. http://www.belizeculturetours.com/. The guides were very knowledgeable and they also arranged all transportation to Tikal which can be a bit of a hassle.

The Chaa Creek Lodge was perfect for us as they have a ton of activities on site and they are located right on the Macal River. They have horseback riding, canoeing, mountain biking, birding tours, creature of the night, butterfly exhibit, etc. Really a great place. They are also located 5 minutes from air strip which used to get to San Pedro.

No dining recommendation for San Ignacio as we ate most of our meals at the resort since it was away from the main part of town. We did have lunch at the San Ignacio hotel before taking their iguana tour (also recommended), which was very good. There is also a chocolate "factory" in town where they teach you to make chocolate.

In Ambergris Caye we had several really good meals at Blue Water Grill (https://bluewatergrillbelize.com/), Estel's by the Sea (Breakfast)(https://ambergriscaye.com/estels/), Caliente (https://mybeautifulbelize.com/caribbean-mexican-cuisine-iscaliente/), and Elvi's http://www.elviskitchen.com/). Also, a great dive bar called the Palapa Bar on pier on the water (great scenery but skip the food). We did a couple snorkel tours including one where they take you to swim nurse sharks.

Let me know if you have any other questions. Have a good trip.

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(What lucky children you have!)

Thanks for recommendations and feedback on your trip! 

Our current, still evolving, plan is to fly into Belize City, spend the first 5 days on a caye doing snorkeling cruises and maybe beginner scuba if there's a suitable option.  Then pick up a rental car at the airport and drive to San Ignacio for the remaining 5 days, seeing ATM, cave tubing, Tikal, and hopefully drive to 3-5 other major Mayan sites in Belize.  Then return the car at the airport and fly out.

For lodging, we're currently looking mostly at Airbnb options since they're cheaper and may be more suitable for a party of 4 adults.  But we are also willing to consider lodges and hotels if they add value to the stay.  Are there safety / environmental / convenience factors that made staying at a lodge / hotel a better option?  Or is it mostly a matter of amenities and personal preference? 

We were trying to decide between San Pedro (Ambergris Caye) and Caye Caulker. Currently leaning towards Caye Caulker because it's somewhat cheaper, walkable, and appears to have better beach access.  However, I've read that Caye Caulker doesn't have as many snorkel/dive excursion operators, so maybe staying on Ambergris would be a better choice.  Was there any factors that made you decide on Ambergris Caye?  The Phoenix is posting rates that are kinda on the extreme high end of our budget (currently mostly looking at well rated 2 bedrooms in the $100-200 per night range, the Phoenix has a 2-bedroom for $400 per night and appear to be really well reviewed), so I'm...intrigued.

We're thinking about renting a car and driving to all the Mayan sites in Belize, and hire guides on site.  The thinking goes that it's likely to be cheaper for 4 people, let's us set our own pace, and hopefully help to avoid large tour groups.  Based on what you observed, do you think its reasonable to do independent traveling in Belize?  For example, are the roads in pretty good condition and well signed?  Do people drive like Italians or the Mainland Chinese?  I think that we would do a San Ignacio based guided tour for Tikal for logistics and safety reasons, but what I read so far makes car based tourism in Belize sound straight forward.

Again, thanks so much for your detailed feedback on Belize.  Definitely will look into Belize Culture Tours and hopefully will be able to write my own trip report in about a month! 

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Though I just realized that I can solve my 2 caye related dilemmas with 1 solution.  Stay on Caye Caulker in an Airbnb, then stay at the Phoenix for 2 nights, and rest of the time in San Ignacio. It looks like there are regular water taxis between Caulker and Ambergris, so I should visit both!

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