Ancient Ruins To Modern Luxury

Article and Photos by Neil J Tandy

A bucket list destination for many, I was delighted to recently visit the Central American jewel that is Belize, a country with unmistakable Caribbean influence and a cultural melting pot.

From the dense jungle to the Caribbean shoreline, to the massive Belize Barrier Reef, dotted with hundreds of islands or Cayes, Belize is a country that offers so much for visitors, especially now that Jet Blue provides nonstop flights from JFK to Belize City three times a week. I was on the inaugural flight, following celebrations at Terminal 5 and the 4.5-hour journey makes it easier to get to than LA!

Upon arrival in Belize City, what was to follow was five days of luxury accommodation, incredible food, fascinating visits and activities designed for all to enjoy.  

Alaia Belize was first on the list of host resorts, a short 20-minute flight from Belize City. Located in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Alaia offers suites and villas, all with stunning views of the Caribbean Sea and a gorgeous sunrise every morning, from expansive balconies in the suites—sunset is always best viewed from the Vista Rooftop Sushi Bar. The welcome from everyone was incredibly warm, from general manager Scott to every staff member.  

Next up was Hidden Valley Wilderness Lodge, a 7200-acre private resort in Belize’s Mountain Pine Ridge area, around a 2-hour drive from Belize City. The Inn is nestled amongst the rolling hills, lush tropical forests and beautiful waterfalls of the region, many of which can be visited on the resort’s 90 miles of private trails.

I stayed in a Valley View Villa, with a built-in fireplace, a screened terrace, infinity pool and outdoor shower, as well as full kitchen and living room area. The views out over the tropical forest and the hills of the region were magnificent and perfect to enjoy coffee in the morning.  

The third and last location was Naia Resort and Spa, a very comfortable 3.5-hour drive from Hidden Valley, on a private 200-acre private reserve on the Placencia Peninsula in the South of Belize, again, overlooking the gorgeous Caribbean Sea. Accommodation this time was a self-contained beach cottage featuring a beautiful bed, views of the ocean, an incredible outdoor shower and three steps from the bedroom doors to the beach.  

Food in Belize is a delightful amalgamation of cultures and ethnicities of the country, from Mexican/Central American to Jamaican/Anglo-Caribbean cuisines and we were fortunate enough to sample much of that at various restaurants and smaller food establishments. The national dish is rice and beans, often paired with a protein, usually stew chicken, pork or beef and is incredibly tasty. The stew chicken is colored a beautiful red orange, by the addition of Recado rojo, a blend of spices that also adds a wonderful flavor.

Among other local delights were Fry Jacks—a very popular breakfast staple, made of fried dough, cut into triangles and often served with a savory of some kind, garnaches (fried tortillas with beans, cheese, and sauce), various chicken-based soups, mild curries with plenty of coconut and incredible seafood for those lovers of marine cuisine.

The culinary highlights were many, but a couple worth noting, were a walking food tour of San Pedro (well, we were driven around in golf carts), visiting local mom-and-pop establishments to sample various tasty foods and beverages, culminating in a chocolate-making class and sampling at the Belize Chocolate Company and an incredible special dinner presentation by Chef Sean Kuylen at Hidden Valley Inn, with sampler plates of local fare made in Chef Sean’s own style, accompanied by a Mayan blessing ceremony!

Luxury accommodation, wonderful hospitality, and palate-pleasing culinary experiences aside, the itinerary for our trip was packed with amazing activities and visits, which I could easily write a book about!

As mentioned, there was a great walking food tour of San Pedro, but among the top highlights was a tour of the ancient Mayan ruins at Caracol in the Chiquibil Forest Reserve. The ruins, located in the foothills of the Maya Mountains, discovered in 1937, are truly impressive and one cannot help but feel the history, the mystery and the significance of the site and that felt amplified on the day we visited due to being in the rain forest, shrouded in mist and a steady drizzle of rain. This site is a must-see for any visitor to Belize—it can only be reached by vehicles with specialist tires and 4WD capabilities, but paved roads are being constructed, which will allow easier access.

The following morning, guide Marvin took us to one of the many Hidden Valley trails and then led us on a 30-minute hike through the lush rainforest to Butterfly Falls, with a swim in the pool’s refreshing waters, the perfect way to cool off.

A big highlight at Alaia Belize, was a fascinating molecular mixology class given by highly accomplished mixologist Subhash, including techniques such as infusion and spherification and making old fashioneds with cigar smoke. All ingredients were local, including the various liquors, fruits and aromatic seeds.  

All internal flights were courtesy of Tropic Air and a very special one was a flyover of Great Blue Hole—a giant marine sinkhole 1,000 feet across and 400 feet deep. Made famous by renowned French diver and explorer Jacques Cousteau, the site is a must-visit for recreational scuba divers, drawn by the chance of diving in sometimes crystal-clear water and encountering several species of fish, sharks, and other marine life.  

Island hopping by boat is another popular activity and on the last full day, it was a 6.5 hour round trip to Silk Island for snorkeling and marine life watching in the clear, turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea, with our guide Brian making sure everyone was safe and having fun.

After an hour of snorkeling and fun, it was back on the boat and a quick trip to Ray Caye, a private island resort, for lunch and a tour of the gorgeous suites and houses available for romantic getaways or disconnecting from modern-day life for a few days.

Leaving Ray Caye, back onto the boat, we headed to our final island, Moho Caye, an idyllic 12-acre, palm-fringed private island, where once anchored, Brian took everyone out snorkeling again. I stayed behind to watch the many pelicans hunting for their own lunch and to take photos of those amazingly fascinating birds.

Our last night in Paradise was very special too, a bonfire on the beach at Naia Resort, with local Garifuna drummers, music and dancing—I confess to probably having the worst dancing rhythm of anyone in our small party, especially dancing on the beach and our teacher’s best efforts were likely wasted on me, but it was a ton of fun. Hard-to-Find.  

All too soon, Monday morning arrived and it was time to reluctantly leave this piece of Central American heaven. This country has left me wanting to return to explore and discover much more and to immerse myself in local customs and culture.

I will be back, You Better Belize It! 


Whether you want to dive the Blue Hole, explore Mayan ruins and incredible islands, your trip planning is made easier with our quick guide to featured hotels, restaurants, and tour operators. See you in Belize!

Jet Blue Airline:
Belize Tourism Board:
Alaia Belize:
Hidden Valley:
Naia Resort and Spa Placencia:
Hidden Treasure Restaurant San Pedro:
Tropic Air:
Belize Food Tours:
Palmilla Restaurant San Pedro:
D Family Café San Pedro:
Mayawalk Tours Ignacio:
Go Sea Tours Placencia:
Maya Beach Hotel Bistro Placencia:
La Dolce Vita Placencia:

Advertisement - Woodloch-Spa -