An outstanding week in Belize

By Michael Brandt
This item appears on page 13 of the August 2020 issue.
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Our villa at Chabil Mar Villas, Placencia Village, Belize. Photo by Michael Brandt

I was interested in running a half-marathon in Belize, my 157th, so my wife, Audrey, and I had our longtime friend and travel agent, Kathy Waldorf (Elk Grove, CA; 916/399-3104, www.katstravelfun.com), put together a travel package for us. It was an outstanding adventure and a must-go location.

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Our villa at Chabil Mar Villas, Placencia Village, Belize. Photo by Michael Brandt

I was interested in running a half-marathon in Belize, my 157th, so my wife, Audrey, and I had our longtime friend and travel agent, Kathy Waldorf (Elk Grove, CA; 916/399-3104, www.katstravelfun.com), put together a travel package for us. It was an outstanding adventure and a must-go location.

We paid $3,031 for the package, which included air and lodging. Additional costs were for travel insurance ($374), ground transportation from Belize City to Placencia and back ($140), a visit to a jaguar preserve ($315) and running in the half-marathon ($80).

The finish line for the marathon in Belize. Photo by Audrey Brandt

We flew from Sacramento, California, via Atlanta, Georgia, to Belize City, Belize, landing on Dec. 5, 2019. (We flew home on Dec. 11.) After making our way through the small airport, we met our driver, Miguel. Through Discovery Belize (discoverybelize.com), which we found on Viator.com, we had arranged for a private transfer to our hotel, a 3-hour drive away. En route, Miguel pointed out many citrus orchards, banana plantations, and corn and sugarcane fields.

We would spend five nights at the Chabil Mar Villas (2284 Placencia Peninsula Rd., Placencia; chabilmarvillas.com), a 4-star hotel on a quiet, relaxing, white-sand beach. From the hotel, it was a 15-minute walk to Placencia Village, and at night the hotel provided transportation because of the dark roads.

The peninsula is safe. It’s tourist-friendly yet maintains the casual Belizean lifestyle. English is the main language, and the water is safe to drink at most hotels and restaurants there as well as in Belize City. Businesses charge in Belizean dollars but accept US currency. While we were there, temperatures ranged from a high of 86°F to a low of 76°F, making it pleasant the entire stay.

Chabil Mar’s concierge arranged for our visit to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, a jaguar sanctuary. Shal Taxi Service provided the 4x4 and a Mayan driver, Vinny, who shared lots of information on the region’s Mayan culture and colonial history.

Footprints on a walking trail in Belize’s jaguar sanctuary. Photo by Audrey Brandt

Our excursion included an enjoyable tubing adventure on South Stann Creek. While we floated in a tranquil state of nirvana under a canopy of lush vegetation, the silence was golden, with plentiful bird-watching opportunities.

Exiting the river on a muddy trail, we found fresh jaguar footprints from the night before. Much to our chagrin, we never actually saw the jaguar (a nocturnal creature), but on our way back to the hotel, we did get to see a keel-billed toucan in flight before it quickly disappeared into the jungle.

The main purpose of this trip was my participating in the annual End of the World Marathon & Half Marathon on Dec. 8, 2019, in Placencia Village. (Should you be inclined to add a marathon in Central America to your runner’s bucket list, Chip Lovett, the race director, can be reached at chip@runbelize.org.)

It was a small but well-run event that started at 5:30 a.m. The course was level and had numerous water stations. The weather was hot and humid, but there were no time limits on either race.

Twenty-eight out of 33 finished the full marathon, and 210 out of 237 finished the half marathon. I’m happy to say that, at 78 years old, I was one of the half-marathon finishers! It was a true agony-of-the-feet and in-the-heat experience.

Chip provided the runners with a pasta dinner at The Family Coppola Turtle Inn (Placencia Village; 866/356-5881, thefamilycoppolahideaways.com/en/turtle-inn), an easy walk from Chabil Mar. The pasta and pizza were excellent, and my wife and I went back two days later for their prized brick-oven pizza, the best in town!

Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary harbors jaguars — Belize. Photo by Audrey Brandt

On the topic of food, cuisine in Belize can include Creole rice and beans with spicy chicken — a Caribbean classic. Other treats were chicken stew, tamales and cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork and vegetables) served on a soft tortilla. Yummy! Meals typically cost $5 each for lunch and up to $10 for dinner.

On an aromatic note, an organic Arabica coffee grows in Belize that I found to be a coffee lover’s choice, especially in the morning.

We spent our final night at the Radisson Fort George Hotel & Marina (2 Marine Parade Blvd., Belize City; www.radisson.com/belize-city-hotel-bz/belize), located near the historical Baron Bliss Lighthouse.

In the morning, we ate at Le Petit Café (2 Marine Parade), across the street, which I highly recommend for a pleasant breakfast. I had a Johnny cake made of cornmeal with hot ham and cheese, Audrey ate the vegan cake, and we both enjoyed a final cup of Belizean coffee.

There’s a certain mystique to Belize. With its beautiful beaches, friendly people, quiet sleepy towns and a thriving ecotourism industry, we found it to be an unspoiled gem, one reminiscent of Hawaii or Fiji in the 1950s.

MICHAEL BRANDT
El Dorado Hills, CA