The Deal Detective is SmarterTravel.com’s resident bargain hunter, Kate Hamman. She’s always on the lookout for new travel deals and invites you, dear reader, to submit your own questions.
Sara writes, “My boyfriend and I would like to take a trip in November to celebrate three things: I will have just finished chemotherapy and radiation treatments; our three-year anniversary together; and my 40th birthday! We don’t have a lot of money to spend, but thought we could save and splurge a bit for the first time together, and it will be the first vacation of any kind for either of us in almost a decade. We would like to be pampered a bit, and we also like adventures. We are not interested in lying on the beach the whole time, although maybe a little. I love animals and wildlife, and he loves history and ruins. I don’t want to schedule all the fun out of the trip, so maybe a few scheduled activities. We live in Huntsville, Alabama, but could travel from Birmingham or Nashville as well. Any suggestions? I have no idea and could use some help. Thanks in advance.”
Any one of those three events is worth celebrating all by itself, Sara, but you definitely need someplace pretty special to commemorate all three together! That’s why—after giving serious consideration of the Caribbean, Costa Rica, and Hawaii—I think Belize is the perfect destination for you and your sweetheart.
Though a relatively small country, Belize’s geography is incredibly varied. Whether you’re looking for a tropical rainforest, sandy beaches, Mayan ruins, majestic mountains, or a mangrove caye inhabited by a variety of wildlife, Belize has it all. It also boasts the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. Its cayes (“keys”), a group of small islands which lie by the reef, are an ideal and popular place to relax. Ambergris Caye is a hot-spot for tourists, so I’d point you toward a more relaxed place such as Caye Caulker which might be more your speed. Plus, I priced rooms on the island starting as low as $28 per night, and cabanas from $50 per night.
There are several ways to plan and book a trip to Belize. You can research the many different areas, and then build your trip around what you find most appealing. (Familiarizing yourself with your destination is key to a successful trip no matter where you’re going, even if you book through a tour company).
I found round-trip airfare from Nashville (a bit cheaper than flying out of Huntsville) to Belize City starting at $687 (taxes and fees included) per person in November. This will more than likely be the most expensive part of your trip, depending on your choice in lodging and activities. When you arrive in Belize City, buses are available to take you pretty much all over the country and cost under $30 for the longer treks. However, you can opt to rent a car if you don’t want to be tied down to bus routes and schedules. You can pick up a vehicle from any of the major companies such as Hertz, Avis, or Thrifty.
Toucan Trail is an incredible resource for the saving on hotels. It’s a cooperative of more than 100 small hotels guaranteeing room rates under $60 per night. The Belize Tourism Board holds all participating properties to a high standard, and each hotel is required to sign a good business practice pledge. The website is also a great guide for further information on the variety of destinations.
If you want to take some of the legwork out of planning, you can rely on a company like Yute Expeditions to take the reins on hotel, transportation, and activities. They offer several tour packages tailored to different interests, such as a six-day archaeological tour starting at $1,050 per person or a seven-day land and sea tour starting at $1,350 per person.
Another option for a stress-free, albeit a bit more expensive, vacation is at the Chaa Creek Resort, which sits on a 365-acre nature reserve in the foothills of the Maya Mountains. Rooms start at $135 per night in November, but you can also opt to stay in a casita for $55 per night (with breakfast and dinner) at the river camp. Rates include entry to the rainforest reserve, tours of the butterfly farm and natural history center, canoeing, and guided early morning bird walks. Plus, the resort offers a range of different activities and tours that cost extra, but will make your stay all the more exciting. And if you still want to skip the planning, you can book a vacation package, which include seven-night’s lodging, activities, tours, all meals, and round-trip airport transfers starting at $2,297 (including taxes and gratuity) per person until December 15.
There really are so many options for you to choose from, but I believe that this will give you a good starting point as you decide how to celebrate your well-deserved vacation.
To all other readers who have been to Belize, please don’t be shy. Share your experiences below to help make Sara’s trip all the more memorable. Also, speak up if you have any alternative suggestions for Sara and her boyfriend.
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