Before You Go
Best time to go: December - April
We went: Early to mid April
When we booked our trip, many months before travelling, we booked with the intention of seeing the elusive whale shark. Whale sharks migrate and feed in the Caribbean Sea close to Placencia in Belize. This usually occurs 2 days before the full moon and 10 days after. Ask at your chosen hotel/resort for more information, they will know in advance when the full moon falls. If you are keen to snorkel/dive with whale sharks, this is crucial for pre planning your trip.
If the whole family are planning to go scuba diving on this trip and especially if for the first time, I can not recommend highly enough the benefits of organising a sample dive in the UK before you go, if you enjoy your experience you can then decide to do your full PADI certificate on your holiday, in the UK before you go or a combination of both, which is what we did. Doing the paperwork and exam here in the UK means that you can complete your certificate with the diving in a beautiful, warmer climate. We had superb help through a London based dive centre called: www.scuba-zone.co.uk - ask for Toby as he is very very helpful and great with children too.
Unfortunately there is currently no airline operating a direct flight from London to Belize. Equipped with this information we decided to stop over in Miami to sample the delights of South Beach, adjust to a new time zone and sleep off the jet lag. We stayed at Soho Beach House which, as part of the Soho House Group, was guaranteed to be a great place to spend a few days.
The beach, as expected was amazing and Soho Beach House surpassed our expectations with added touches, such as, ice boxes filled with iced mineral water and fresh fruit at the foot of each beach bed. We all loved the shaded seating platforms which run either side of the long pool. You can sit here all day, be served food and drink whilst jumping into the water to cool down.
Behind all of the hotels that line South Beach runs a wooden walkway which follows the coast line along 57 blocks. Walk along here to Collins Avenue; this is the main shopping area. Collins Avenue starts one block off the beach from 6th Street to Lincoln Road, with stores galore ranging from Apple to Mac. Choose a cool time of day to walk; from Soho Beach House to the shopping end of town takes approximately 45 minutes, with no shade to be seen anywhere!
Today is dedicated to relaxing by the amazing hotel pool. It is also a day with no travelling requirements so people watching and sampling the Soho Beach House vast cocktail, (and mocktail), menu is a must.
Up early and off to the airport. Not before a delicious breakfast consisting of fresh waffles, eggs benedict and delicious coffees and smoothies, all served in Cecconi's, (which doubles up as a breakfast room in Soho Beach House for the mornings). It is only a 1 hour 45 minute flight to Belize from Miami. Belize is two hours behind Miami but having adjusted from UK time this is an easy transition.
Turtle Inn, Placencia:
Following our short flight from Miami to Belize international airport, we walk through to the domestic airport and await out first small plane to take us to Placencia, where Turtle Inn is situated.
Once off of the small plane, we are greeted by a very friendly Turtle Inn guide who drives us five minutes past the airstrip to an amazing resort of traditional thatched cabanas. As we walk over the bridge into Turtle Inn we glance down to see six turtles swimming in the water under us. Over the bridge and into the thatched opening we are greeted at reception with cool towels and welcome cocktails.
Turtle Inn is owned by Francis Ford Coppola and his wife Eleanor who having acquired the resort in 2001, had to rebuild it following the terrible effects of Hurricane Iris. It was a real labour of love and the results are stunning.
After checking in, we are off to explore. Our sea front villa is amazing with two bedrooms and two outdoor/indoor bathrooms, set on a beautiful sandy beach. The windows are covered with mosquito nets and aside from this, it is open to the elements. You have the choice of relaxing in the hammock, sitting in the open lounge area or swimming out to the floating platform, all prepared with beds and towels and surrounded by the turquoise Caribbean Sea; stunning.
The hotel pools are also amazing and situated within perfect distance for a cooling drink. Our favourite was the non alcoholic coconut mojito, picked from the tree, sliced down and prepared in front of you, amazing!
In the evening we decide to walk two minutes barefoot along the white sandy beach to the one of the hotel's restaurants, The Gauguin Grill. This became our favourite place to eat whilst here, the tables are set just a few feet from the sea and as you dig your feet into the sand you can enjoy the fantastic views of the offshore cayes or the clear starry night sky. No menu is presented here as you are treated to a meal, charcoal-grilled and created from the fish caught that day, delicious!
Book The Gauguin Grill when you arrive at the hotel as there are only a few tables and it is a popular choice amongst hotel guests.
Also ask Turtle Inn when you book to stay with them to help you with booking the internal flights, they were so helpful with organising our flights and every flight was on time and therefore really enjoyable.
Breakfast is amazing at Turtle Inn. The kids ordered hot chocolate and once it was confirmed that they had no peanut allergy, our lovely waiter arrived back at our table with hot chocolate, the Belizean way. This was hot chocolate whipped together with milk and peanut butter, delicious. Both adults and children were drinking it the next morning!Top Tips
If you are a light sleeper, book a poolside or sea view cottage/villa as the waves crashing against the beach by the sea front villas can keep you up. The views from all rooms are amazing, when we go back I will definitely book further back from the sea as it really was quite loud.
The Turtle Inn website has a sound feature which plays the sounds of the sea when you visit it. Turn it up loud to sample whether you can sleep through it or not!
Today we are diving and snorkelling. We are booked to go to Laughing Bird Caye National Park, 11 miles off the coast from Placencia village. The Caye gets its name from the laughing gull which can be seen, (and heard), on the tiny island. Keep your eyes peeled and you may see it. The huge pelicans in Belize are much easier to spot.
Sea life in Belize is amazing, I can not put into words what you will see, if you love snorkelling or diving, you must visit Belize.
We ate out in Placencia village tonight. We chose Rumfish y Vino, which was great. Fresh fish and mojitos in every conceivable flavour, I had a green apple mojito, which was a first! Sat on the terrace overlooking the local football stadium it was a great evening out. Downstairs from Rumfish y Vino is Tuttifrutti Ice Cream Parlour which serves the most amazing ice creams. The Freckles voted peanut butter flavour as their favourite.Top Tips
Book your diving on arrival at Turtle Inn. The dive shop is situated on the lagoon, a two minute walk from where the turtles swim and next door to Auntie Luba's Kitchen, which serves authentic Belizean food. If the hotel dive team can not fit you on a dive boat they will organise for you to team up with local trusted dive masters to get you on the right trip for you and your family.
There really is so much to do in Belize, today we decide to go river tubing and also to visit the local Mayan Ruins. Belize has so many Mayan ruins to explore so we left choosing the right one for us up to our fantastic guide.
We went to Nim Li Punit, (Big Hat), Mayan Site which is a classic Maya period site in the Toledo District. Flourishing from the 5th century AD through to the 8th century AD, it boasts some of the largest stela sculptures. Our guide knew everything there was to know about this site in particular, including the Mayans, blood letting and how to read the stela inscriptions to learn more about what actually happened at the site, it was fascinating.
As we walked around our guide was fantastic at pointing out all of the local trees and how they help to heal and cure various diseases, we also saw lots of frogs, cicadas and something we will all remember, a tarantula!
After our Mayan tour and a picnic lunch, we were taken 20 minutes drive away to the Rio Grande river for some river tubing with Big Falls Extreme Adventure. Here we were each given a huge rubber tube and taken to the start of the river with a guide. We glided down the river spotting huge iguanas and beautiful birds whilst keeping our eyes open for the poisonous hognose viper snake which apparently swim across the river... we did not see one, although the kids were thrilled at the possibility, (I was not)!
If river tubing, smother yourselves in sun cream. Our tour lasted 2 hours and with the sun beating down on you, it is impossible to stay out of the sun.
If you are not partial to spiders, like us, choose river tubing over cave tubing. Cave tubing is the same principle as river tubing except that you are in a pitch black cave, tubing through freezing water with a head torch and hard hat. Apparently the cave walls are smothered in spiders and when your head torch shines on the walls, all you can see are thousands of spider eyes looking back at you!!
After breakfast we are soon on our first plane of the day heading for Cayo Espanto. In Belize it seems that the plane replaces the bus. We take off and land at various places to drop off and collect people en route to San Pedro. Eight take off and landings later, not only am I cured of my flying fear but we have arrived at San Pedro and have been met by Eddie, our very own houseman, who is going to look after us for the next four days.
As soon as we are on the boat and making our way seven minutes through mangroves to Cayo Espanto, we are asked for our choice of cocktail to enjoy on our arrival, I take Eddie's advice and have the Espanto Wave, good choice!
As we walk from the boat over the white sand to our villa, we all know that we are going to have an amazing four days. Ester and Eddie welcome us perfectly and we are shown around and asked what time we would like dinner.
We are then left with our walkie talkie, should we need anything, and settle down to explore and unpack.
Dinner deserves a mention as it is outstanding. Four courses designed individually for us, (using information gained from the pre stay questionnaire). Everything except the wine is included so cocktails for the adults, and fruit smoothies galore!
Book to stay at Casa Aurora at Cayo Espanto, it is the closest thing to heaven on earth!
Today is our first morning waking up in Casa Aurora; with the open doors throughout our villa, the deck overlooking our own private plunge pool and beach, surrounded by the crystal clear waters, I am already worrying that time is going too fast.
Breakfast is amazing, really, the food and drinks here are second to none. The staff are so friendly and waking up to Eddie smiling with a tray of fresh coffee and fruit smoothies is something I could really get accustomed to.
After breakfast we take our own boat off, with Felix as a guide, to explore the sea life around the reef.
Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest reef in the world, (second to the Great Barrier Reef), with the abundance of soft and hard coral species, invertebrates and stunning, giant size fish that you will see, you will be awestruck. Sting rays, turtles, nurse and reef sharks, barracuda and much much more. We snorkel for an hour and see more than we have ever seen on previous holiday scuba dives. The sea is warm and although busy with other snorkellers and divers, the Belizean people are so protective of the reef that everyone is respectful of the corals and fish and the experience is really pleasurable.
After the snorkelling we are back on the boat and heading out to Shark Ray Alley. Here Felix throws in some chum and suddenly we are surrounded by nurse sharks. Those brave enough jump in, I am happy to take the pictures from the boat!
After the sharks have left us, the skies open and the rain sends us on our way back to Cayo Espanto. Once there we sit back and enjoy a hot chocolate and a movie from the vast DVD menu on offer in each villa, everything has been thought about here.
There are a number of trips that can be arranged at Cayo Espanto. San Pedro is supposed to be a lovely village to visit. I must admit, we found the Cayo Espanto and our villa so amazing, we did not want to leave it for too long.
However, on our last day we did book the 'Day out Fishing' trip. This is a must. Picked up early in the morning, you head out on your boat with Felix, equipped with fishing equipment ready to catch your lunch. We all have fun trying various fishing methods. Spear fishing, fly fishing and diving to find things hidden in the sand. We manage to catch some red snapper, seven lobster and collect lots of conch from the sea bed.
Once we have enough food for us all, we head to Blackadore Caye, a gorgeous 104 acre, long thin island, owned by Leonardo DiCaprio. It is currently deserted, aside from the caretaker who looks after it whilst plans for an eco resort are being discussed. As we sail toward the island we see a small gazebo with table and chairs which has been set up in preparation for our arrival. It really is amazing how much thought is given to making each experience so perfect. We are told to relax whilst lunch is prepared.
We all float in the bath like waters as Felix prepares a conch cerviche and barbecues the lobster and snapper for us. Thank you Felix, it was delicious.
This trip was the perfect ending to a perfect holiday. We have travelled a lot as a family and we all agreed that this was the best place that we have all ever visited.
Reef shoes are good idea at Cayo Espanto, the sea is very shallow and walking out is great fun. There are also lots of kayaks and standing paddle boards to enjoy here too.
Top Trip Tips
Top tip really is just to book a stay here, you will not regret it.