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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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Just back from Belize after 3 nights in Caye Caulker, 2 nights in San Pedro, and 5 nights in San Ignacio (do not stay overnight in Belize City - think really rough parts of Detroit or Baltimore).  Overall we had a really good trip.  Did the Blue Hole flyover, full day and half day snorkeling on Caye Caulker, snorkeling around Mexico Rocks in San Pedro, Mayan sites (Caracol/Tikal/Cahal Pech/Xunantunich), ATM cave, cave tubing, and finished off with a pontoon ride to see 3 cool waterfalls. 

We were in the middle of conch and lobster season, so I ordered conch cevich at every opportunity.  Fresh conch is delicious and totally different from the rubbery conch you might get in a Korean/Chinese supermarket.  It's sweet with a slight chew and really addicting, maybe like the meaty part of a goeduck clam but sweeter.  The lobsters are good grilled.  Make sure to ask that the conch and lobster were caught the same day - there's a huge drop-off in flavor/texture if it's not fresh.

In Caye Caulker we ate at:

Chef Kareem's UnBelizeable Lunch - good atmospheric location and good inexpensive food, you will be waiting a long time for the food but that's just a chance to soak up the charms of this roadstand location.

The Little Kitchen - it's in a slightly iffy portion of CC, so probably not for everyone.  But we felt pretty safe in CC and it was fine.  The food was very good but took a long time to get out of the kitchen.

Cake Lady - I didn't notice her Tripadvisor reputation until after I took a chance and bought a rum cake and a coconut pie from her.  They were good, not amazing as proclaimed by Tripadvisor, but really hits the spot when you want something sweet.

La Cubana - My parents went there and got a big grilled lobster and raved about it.  But you can get good grilled lobster anywhere in CC, just make sure it's freshly caught.

Fantasy Dining Wine N'Dine - we ended up eating there twice because they were open during the awkward break between lunch and dinner and were close to the diving/snorkeling shops.  I thought the food was quite good and they made a particularly good version of conch ceviche (we didn't have time to try the 2 purportedly best cevich places on CC).

In San Pedro we ate at:

Waruguma - blew the other out of the water for quality and value.  The food was good and not explicitly catered to direct from North America tastes.  We probably would have eaten all our meals here, if we realized how much better it was compared to everything else we tried on San Pedro.

Red Ginger - overall pretty good and not too pricy, but a little generic.  We ate here for lunch since it was the onsite restaurant for our hotel (The Phoenix, which was REALLY NICE).

Elvi's Kitchen - very much catering to direct from North America tastes.  Not bad per se and the fried chicken was very very good.  It's okay, but Waruguma is just much better.

Caramba! Restaurant - it was okay and close to our hotel.  But it was expensive for what we got (about 2X the price of waruguma for seafood), our lobster was off (definitely wasn't caught that day and the meat was starting to get chaulky) and their conch ceviche was weird tasting (fresh but very poorly seasoned).

In San Ignacio we ate at:

Hode's - I liked the fried chicken here and soursop drink, my parents were less thrilled with their fried seafood.  It's a bit of a mixed bag.  It's relatively cheap

Guava Limb - definite miss, go here if you want mediocre and way overpriced tourist food.  Their conch cevich was the only one that used less than fresh conch.  Their fried food had a hard greasy shell.  Should have trusted our instincts and stayed away. 

Erva's - pretty good and authenic, I think the kitchen isn't as good as some of the others in terms of technique but the food tasted good and fresh.

Random Chinese restaurant next to the Western HWY near Cahal Pech - we got chicken and fries takeouts and it was pretty good and cheap (6 BZD each).

For tours - I liked French Angel in Caye Caulker a lot for snorkeling, their guides are very experienced.  We took snorkeling tours with Stressless and Chuck & Robbie's as well, they were fine but French Angel's guides were much better. 

For ATM and Caracol, we went with Luis of KaWiil Tours (he usually just does ATM tours but luckily guided us for Caracol) and highly highly recommend him.  He's very knowledgable, engaging, and thorough, and you'll spend a lot of time onsite with him.  For both tours, we probably spent 1+ hours more time on site than the other groups.  He didn't just point out items of interest, but told you the archeology and history behind the items, their symbolism, etc.  Our guides for Xunantunich (Blue Morpho) and Tikal (Inland Xplorer) were okay, but seeing Caracol with Luis was a much more enjoyable experience.  ATM is really cool and worthwhile - you have to be physically fit enough to walk in wet clothing for 5 hours, do short swims in cool (but not cold) water and climb unprotected sections, but it's worth it.

We flew the Blue Hole with Javier's Flying Service and had a great experience - you need clear sunny weather to make the flying worthwhile.  We got that and it's just beautiful.

Jungle Splash pontoon ride was nice, especially if you could book for just your group.  Robert takes you really close to 3 beautiful waterfalls and see the jungle and wildlife.

Final note - don't rent a car - some of the roads are pretty rough and for most of the sites, you will want a good guide. 

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