Belize: Love at First Bite

When planning a honeymoon, a lot is at stake. Choosing the right destination requires plenty of research. Our dream was three weeks in Argentina with a weekend in Ecuador. Given our busy schedules, our three week trip was quickly trimmed down to 12 days. We needed a Plan B, and ultimately chose to honeymoon in Belize. Building the itinerary can be complicated from thousands of miles away, and getting around once you're there can be a challenge. You may belize that you're prepared for everything, but I promise you there will be a few surprises along the way. Just wait until you hear what happened to me.

12 Days in Belize

I wasn't kidding when I mentioned my aggressive itineraries. Our honeymoon travel itinerary would have given Usain Bolt a run for his money.

3 days in Hopkins

We arrived in Hopkins in the early evening after a pit stop at the other Blue Hole, the one that's inland along the Hummingbird Highway (not the world-class scuba diving destination). The crystal clear freshwater pool is part of St. Herman's Cave System; a beautiful site surrounded by rainforest. It wasn't long after that we arrived at our home for the next few days: Hopkins. Located on the eastern coast of the Stan Creek District of Belize, Hopkins was a quiet fishing village, and the perfect for some R&R to kick off our honeymoon. Our accommodations were just right - a casita at Hopkins Inn, along a private, pristine stretch of beach.

We couldn't believe how beautiful it was here, but we were exhausted. So we slept. And slept. And didn't wake up until very early the next morning. A continental breakfast of small pastries and tropical fruits were delivered to our casita but our stomachs were growling. We walked the 20 feet or so to the ocean and felt the warmest salt water either of us had ever remembered feeling. The water was amazingly clear and inviting, we just needed breakfast and told ourselves we'd spend the rest of the day in this exact spot. The village was small enough that we could walk down the main drag in either direction and find a few places to eat. We wandered into a gift shop where a sweet man named Marlon loaded us up with Garifuna treasures before pointing us to a great place to eat breakfast.

Quick snap before we headed out for breakfast. Little did I know what the next 30 minutes would hold.

Quick snap before we headed out for breakfast. Little did I know what the next 30 minutes would hold.

"Walk four blocks and then turn down the alley toward the beach," he said, "you can't miss it". And this is where it gets really interesting. We walked down the street, passing some villagers, children, stray dogs - what you might expect. The blocks weren't super defined but we thought we'd found the alley. As we made our way down the sandy alleyway, we came to an opening and caught sight of the ocean. We weren't sure this was where we were suppose to go, but maybe the restaurant was just a little farther. We continued through a group of sleeping stray dogs who instantly became riled by our presence. Snarling, barking, and jumping to their feet, they startled us. We turned to head back in the other direction just as one of the dogs clenched his teeth around my shin.

What we thought we'd find on the beach...

What we thought we'd find on the beach...

"Ahhh!" I screamed and kicked. Steven turned to see the dog's teeth release from my leg. "He bit me," I cried out in pain. Our trip flashed before my eyes and I wondered if it was over. I'd been bit by a stray dog in a tiny finishing village in a foreign country. How screwed was I? We walked back up to the main road, back to the gift shop where Marlon worked.

"Hey man, did you find it?" 

"No, and Amy just got bit by dog," he motioned toward my bleeding leg.

"What?" Marlon was extremely quick to act and said he needed to get me to the clinic. Thankfully, the village was so small that the clinic was only a few doors down. We walked in to a tiny cement building split into a few tinier rooms. The waiting room was filled with women in mumus, watching me wide eyed. It seemed the women were there for regular check ups. While I waited, I watched each of them get weighed all the while wondering if our honeymoon was over. 

The doctor was extremely kind, gave me a shot for the pain (yes, getting a shot in a tiny village clinic was almost as scary as getting bit by that dog, but what choice did I have?). She then provided me with an antibiotic to take for the next several days. She also assured me there are no rabid dogs in Hopkins, they are all accounted for, and I shouldn't have rabies. Somehow, it was enough for me to believe it. The clinic was donation based and so I procured a $20, and walked out with a gauze around my leg and pocket full of antibiotics.

Marlon was waiting outside with Steven, and ever the taskmaster, he said we needed to report the incident to the police. He also wanted to know what the dog looked like: tan, skinny, angry was all i could come up with...I didn't catch his name before his teeth latched onto my leg. Thankfully, the police station was once again only a few doors down, in another cement building. This one was completely barren save a desk in the center of the room. The police officer took down a bunch of notes and wanted to know if I felt okay. He also let us know the tourism police would be by Hopkins Inn later that evening to file an official report.

We stepped out onto main street to walk the last blocks back to our casita. A strange feeling came over me. Looking around at the shopkeepers, they were all staring, some pointing, and whispering at us. The sarong lady who tried to sell us a sarong on our way out earlier that morning, approached me again.

"Oh honey, are you the girl that got bit by the dog?"

They say word travels fast, and in that small fishing village for the next two days, I was the white girl that got bit by the dog. We spent the rest of the day as we'd planned, lying out on the beach and swimming in the beautiful salt water.  

The rest of our time in Hopkins was far less eventful. Steven shot hoops with some local boys who were half his size, we ate delicious lobster at Chef Rob's Gourmet Cafe, toured Hamanasi Resort with a Mayan gardener who had worked there for over a decade, including their gorgeous tropical landscaping, fruit groves, and vegetable gardens, and kept our distance from stray dogs.

It had been two days since the bite and I wasn't foaming at the mouth, so maybe I'd come out of this okay. The people of Hopkins Village, and their unspoiled coastline, made for a truly unforgettable stay. Out of all of the beautiful beaches we'd visit, Hopkins was our favorite because it was entirely ours. 


3 days in Placencia

We continued south along the Belizean coast for another hour to Placencia. We checked in at Robert's Grove Beach Resort for three nights. The Caribbean-style accommodations were bright and welcoming, with rattan furniture, colorful blankets, and a beautiful tiled shower. Our suite looked out onto the courtyard. The resort featured three restaurants, three pools, a pier with a gazebo, and watersport toys that were included in our stay. We were north of Placencia on a strip that included a few other resorts, about six miles south from the main part of town, which included beachfront restaurants, bars, and souvenir shops. We stumbled upon Rumfish & Vino by chance, an American-style gastropub with a Belizean twist, and it felt like home. In fact we got to talking with the owners who were expats from New York (small world) who went from the daily grind to living well and loving life in Belize, focusing their menu on fresh seafood and local produce from nearby farms. We noshed on small plates including conch ceviche, smoked mackerel, and red curry snapper, and made reservations for Thanksgiving (two nights later). 


The next day we were ready to adventure! We found a local snorkeling outfitter and made our way out to Laughing Bird Caye on the rockiest boat ride since the Titanic, but not nearly as glamorous. The pay off was worth it though: sparkling, clear waters, abundant coral reefs, and an incredible array of fish and colors to behold just below the surface. We spotted all sorts of fish and a big old lobster. 


We spent our last day in Placencia enjoying the coastline, sampling the local cuisine (Johnny cakes, fish and chips, and conch fritters), and sipping tropical drinks at Turtle Inn, one of Francis Ford Coppola's renowned resorts featuring villas and cottages right on the beach, along with a Thai spa, and a fantastic restaurant where bartenders mix seasonal cocktails. If we had more time (and a lot more money) we might have stayed there.  

2 days in San Ignacio

Our honeymoon adventure continued in the jungle. We set out on a three hour drive inland. When we arrived, we were a little taken aback by the city of San Ignacio. Described online as the cultural hub of the Cayo District with an authentic, rustic downtown, it was relatively untouched by the tourist industry that was rapidly overtaking Belize's coastline. But instead of a bustling metropolis, we found a small city which, like the nation's capitol, had a lot of poverty. Our accommodations were a 20-minute drive from the downtown area, up a very rough, partially paved road. Thank goodness for four-wheel drive. As we climbed, any signs of city life dissipated and we quickly found ourselves in the jungle. When we arrived at the entrance to Table Rock Jungle Lodge, our mouths dropped open.  

It was spectacular. Palm trees lined the private driveway, and gave way to massive orange groves, grazing donkeys, and flowering hibiscus. A trip to Belize would not be complete without a stay in a jungle lodge, as the next two days would prove. This intimate eco-retreat was set in the rainforest along the Macal River, and was comprised of a 100-acre reserve. Combining guest services and adventure planning, three meals a day incorporating local ingredients from the farm and beyond, and private cabanas complete with rainwater showers and organic bath products, this was glamping like we'd never experienced it before. 

Now that we were firmly in the jungle, there was so much to see and do. There were Mayan Ruins and cave tubing adventures, there was zip lining, iguana sanctuaries, and only two days to fit it all in. We found a local guide who took us through Ian Anderson's Cave Branch - covering almost all of our bases.

We saved a few bucks by finding the guide in town rather than through our Resort, but in hindsight, we should have stuck with the outfitter our Resort had recommended. Our tour ended up leaving an hour after it was scheduled to depart, our minivan broke down and got a flat tire along the way, our bagged lunch left a lot to be desired, and our half-day adventure ended up gobbling up a full day. But our guide was very knowledgeable and interactive, making for a great adventure despite bumps along the way.

The next day we stayed closer to home, exploring downtown San Ignacio, one of the area's oldest ruins, Cahal Pech, and the nearby iguana sanctuary. This was our first time touring Mayan ruins and the history and workmanship were truly remarkable. We were also the only ones at Cahal Pech at the time, so it became our own private fortress. A short walk from the Ruins, we arrived at the Green Iguana Conservation Project, which educates visitors and the public through a series of interactive exhibits. Green Iguana is considered a delicacy in much of Central America, and is also an endangered species. We had a chance to interact with, and hold, iguanas of various sizes and personalities. We learned about their life in the sanctuary and their transition into the wild.

4 days on Caye Caulker

We were on the move again, finishing off our trip on Caye Caulker, an island of four miles, only one of which was populated. Caye Caulker was dotted with colorful apartments, vacation rentals, and there were no cars, or paved roads for that matter. The Island's motto "go slow" sounded like a great way to end our honeymoon vacation. We stayed in a small hotel which offered a central location and all of the basics, but was nothing to write home about. The first day we were eager to sample freshly-caught lobster, and went out in search of Wish Willy. Unfortunately it wasn't open at the time, so we wandered a little further to The Split, an area popular among European and Australian tourists which was basically a beach bar and a long wrap around deck right on the edge of the Island. We decided to join in, ordering a few rum drinks and laying our towels down among the others. Enter sand fleas, it was almost as if the sand was biting us. Granted this is a tropical destination so we were prepared for bugs (with the cleanest, organic bug spray money could buy) - but the standing water around Caye Caulker wasn't helping. By the time we left the Island four days later, we'd accumulated probably 100 bug bites between the two of us, spreading anti-itch cream all over our bodies like it was moisturizer. Ouch! But of course, we didn't let bites of any kind ruin our trip. We realized quickly that submerging oneself in water, and getting away from the coastline, were two great ways to avoid these pests. 

Putting my fears aside, we signed up for a snorkeling tour of Shark Ray Alley, along the Hol Chan marine reserve. The outfitter provided us with snorkels, goggles, flippers, bottled water and fresh fruit. I could have used something a little stiffer.

The tour began along the back side of the Island, glimpsing gorgeous coral and a school of barracudas. As if I wasn't already scared enough, right? Then we sailed away from the coastline into the middle of the ocean. We'd arrived at Shark Ray Alley. Our guide unloaded a tub of fish parts into the ocean and an amazing number of small sharks and huge sting rays appeared out of nowhere. As they feasted, our guide told us we could hop in the water and observe. I took a deep breath and jumped in. For the roughly ten minutes I was in the water, I was truly amazed by what I saw. Nurse sharks, which our guide assured wouldn't bite, were like tiny Great Whites, make no mistake, but they were non-confrontational and beautiful. The sting rays were honestly huge and moved much faster than I expected. Some were three to four feet in diameter, and the way their bodies wriggled was incredible. They were friendly you could say, but I wasn't sure I wanted to be friends. They whizzed over, under, and around us. Steven was fascinated and unafraid, and stayed in the water much longer than I did. We had two more stops before the tour was over, and no more sharks I hoped.

The next stop was a chance to explore a coral reef and all of the beautiful fish and creatures therein. We came upon a Moray eel which I was excited to see, but again the way it moved kind of threw me. It was an incredible experience, and there were tons of beautiful, colorful fish that did not scare me at all, but let's just say I was thankful to be back on solid ground at the end of the tour. 

Despite it's claims of freshly-caught lobster, the food on Caye Caulker left a lot to be desired. Most menus dedicated an entire page to Western favorites (think hot dogs, burgers, fries, pizza), and even our Fodor's Guide led us astray. One of our more expensive meals was at Habanero's, and it was hugely disappointing. Sugary sweet tropical salsa on luke warm fish and overcooked lobster. The conch fritters were the best part of the meal, which doesn't say much considering they were fried. Service was also extremely slow, which made us wonder if this was how the Island got its motto. The next day, desperate for a better meal than the ones before, we wandered the opposite length of the Island and that's when we discovered a little known treasure: Pasta Per Caso.


Aptly named for how its owners moved from Italy by chance (the translation is 'pasta by chance'), Armando and Anna have run the shop since 2013. The daily menu consists of two fresh pasta dishes, one vegetarian and one meat based. Our meal included coffee and dessert, and we opted to add wine and bread. Peeking into the tiny kitchen, we saw pasta-making equipment and prep straight out of Italy. When we returned for our meal a few hours later, we were truly blown away. The sun was setting and we took two stools along the narrow bar. There weren't more than a dozen seats total. What a paradox it was - looking out on the dirt path, the sand and beach beyond, sitting on a Belizean Island enjoying authentic Italian. Maybe it was because we'd been so unimpressed by the other dining options on Caye Caulker, maybe it was because it was our last night in paradise, but this was one of the best meals we'd had in Belize.

We left the next morning covered in bites, but all the better for it. Our Belizean honeymoon had taken us clear across the country, exploring the jungle, the beaches, the crystal clear and the darker waters; we'd met iguanas, sharks, and sting rays, explored ancient Mayan civilization and natural caves, and we had endless memories to take home. 

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