"THE NUMBER 1 MAGAZINE ON TRAVEL, LIFE, AND RETIREMENT ON THE CARIBBEAN COAST"
VOLUME III, NO. 1
ON-LINE TEXT EDITION
COPYRIGHT 1995 BY LAN SLUDER. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Traditional magazine edition with maps and photos also available. Contact Belize First for details.
BELIZE FIRST is your guide to travel and life in Belize and the rest of the Caribbean Coast of Central America and Mexico. We publish the leading travel writers and reporters covering the region.
Belize First presents candid, independent views, always putting the READER first.
Regular features include:
Latest news from Belize and the Caribbean Coast
Candid critiques of hotels and lodges from readers and friends (who get a free pound of fresh-roasted Central American coffee when their reviews are printed)
Living, working and retiring in Belize and other English-speaking areas of the Caribbean Coast
Buying land or a house in Belize
Eco-traveling in the rain forests and bush of Belize
Diving and snorkeling around Belize's atolls and barrier reef
Visiting Mayan sites in Belize, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico
And more ... in 100+ fact-filled pages in every issue
IN THIS ISSUE
Undiscovered. Cheap. Wild. Beautiful.
Sunrise in Placencia by Phil Lanier ¥ Toledo & PG by Harry Pariser ¥ A Night in San Miguel by Peggy Bond Arbanas ¥ Kayaking the Southern Cayes by Randy Stafford and Deirdre Crommie ¥ Real Estate in Southern Belize
How to visit Belize on the Internet and on-line networks by Lan Sluder
In the Days of British Honduras
Two recollections: By Neil L. Fraser and Jane B. Hanrahan
Three Top Lodges: Chan Chich, Blancaneaux, Chaa Creek -- Compared and Rated by Lan Sluder
Road Watch: 1995 Update on the Roads of Belize by Lan Sluder
Letters to the Editor
Opinion: The Roads South
News of Belize: In Case You Missed It
Of Interest: Coffee in Belize
Quik Guide to Investment in Belize
Real Estate Available in Belize
Hotel Update: Readers Report Candidly on Hotels
Recommended Hotels in Belize
BELIZE FIRST: Your Guide to Travel and Life on the Caribbean Coast
Editor and Publisher
BELIZE FIRST is published quarterly in Asheville, North Carolina, by Equator Travel Publications, Inc., 280 Beaverdam Road, Candler, NC 28715 USA. E-mail: Internet BZEFIRST@aol.com America On-Line, LSluder374.
Mail subscription rates US$29 or BZ$58 a year in North America and Belize, US$45 a year in other countries. The mail edition is complete with maps, photos, art and other information not contained in the on-line text editions. (Paper edition printed on recycled paper.)
Electronic editions of BELIZE FIRST are available on CompuServe, America On-Line, the Internet and some private electronic bulletin boards.
© Copyright 1995. All rights reserved under international and Pan-American copyright conven
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM BELIZE FIRST
As a reader of BELIZE FIRST, you have a right to know what we stand for:
1. To put you, the reader, first. Not advertisers, not the subjects of our stories. But YOU.
2. To cover the entire spectrum of travel and life in Belize and the Caribbean Coast, that hard-to-define but unique region of Central America and Mexico, and beyond, stretching along the tropical edges of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.
3. To promote the region as a desirable place to live.
4. To publish the best writing about Belize and the Caribbean Coast.
5. To work for the economic betterment of Belize and the other areas of the Caribbean Coast.
6. To promote sustainable, responsible, ecologically sensitive tourism in this wonderful and still little- known region.
7. To work to make the region safer for both citizens and travelers alike.
8. To provide candid, independent reporting without any hidden agenda & we have no connection with any political party or ideology, or to any business or other group.
9. To avoid any interference with the internal affairs of Belize or any other country in the region.
10. To work to provide more opportunity for Belizeans, and the citizens of other countries in the region, to manage their own affairs and to benefit from the investment of their own time and money.
THE ROADS SOUTH
By LAN SLUDER
If you haven't been on the Hummingbird Highway recently, you're in for a treat. Other than the first 19-mile section from Belmopan, unreconstructed still, and a couple of other brief bone-jarring blips, the old road to Dangriga is wonderful. Technically, I suppose, from Middlesex village south it's the Stann Creek Basin Highway. But whatever the name, and from a marketing view "The Hummingbird" is a stroke of genius, the equal of "Going to the Sun" in Glacier National Park or "Sunshine Skyway" in Florida, it's wonderful. The highway is a pleasure to drive. It offers some of the most-beautiful scenery in all of Belize.
More than that, it is another step in opening Belize's South to the rest of Belize. And to the world.
Southern Belize -- let's call it part of Cayo, part of Belize and all of Stann Creek and Toledo districts -- is in many ways the future of the country. It has some of Belize's most-scenic geography, richest farm lands, best coastal beaches, most-important Maya sites, hardest-working people, and least-expensive real estate. There's the opportunity for a deep-water port, and plenty of land for an international airport.
From the perspective of tourists to Belize, the South rates 110 on the Paradise Potenti-O-Meter. Visitors say it has eye-appeal. It seems pretty safe. It has turquoise water and great diving and snorkeling. It has the Maya Mountains. It has wild fauna and lush flora. You can dance to it. All it needs now is the tourism infrastructure of hotels and restaurants. And an easy way to get there.
Already you can see a lot of new development in Seine Bight and elsewhere on the Placencia peninsula. The coast around Hopkins and Sittee Point is poised for explosive tourism and residential growth. Investors are coming south and they're bringing their wallets.
Even -- dare I say it? -- to Punta Gorda. For so long one could not even remark about poor PG what is said of neighboring Guatemala, that it is so far from God and so close to the United States, for PG was close to nowhere. But, if and when the Southern Highway is finally surfaced, PG may at last see a boom not only in tourism but also in agricultural and industrial development.
The keys are the completion of the Hummingbird resurfacing project, the upgrading of the Manatee/New Coastal Highway and, most important of all, the paving of the Southern Highway.
The Southern Highway remains the broken leg of Belize. It's long. It's dusty. If it's not dusty, it's muddy. It's rough. It's lonely. Turning this gravel butt-buster into a first-class highway will totally reshape the usable geography of Belize.
Once those long-awaited projects are fully funded and finished, the South will be completely connected. Then, watch it become a major player in Belize's economy and a new destination for the world.
Lan Sluder is editor and publisher of BELIZE FIRST.
LETTERS, FAXES, E-MAIL TO THE EDITOR
BELIZE FIRST welcomes letters to the editor. Send them to BELIZE FIRST, 280 Beaverdam Road, Candler, NC 28715 USA, or e-mail them via the Internet to BZEFIRST@aol.com. Letters are subject to editing for brevity or clarity. Please include your address and telephone number.
To the Editor:
I am writing in response to a recent edition (Vol. II, No. 3) of Belize First, in which you featured an assessment of the Seaside Guest House in Belize City. I was not only surprised by your negative review, but bewildered about your reasons for featuring a place which you do not appear to want to recommend rather than somewhere that you think is good.
I obviously do not know whether your reviewers think reasonable budget accommodations should include shag pile carpets, spa baths and room service, but my experiences as a regular guest at the Seaside have always been pleasant. Of course, it's simple. I only pay US$8 a night, but it is clean, cosy and friendly, and the renovated two-story house with verandahs, hammocks and orchids has a lot of character. If this is what your reviewers consider to be barely passable, I would love to take them on a tour of some of the other budget hotels I have stayed at.
If the accommodation cannot be recommended, why feature it at all? It would be much more useful to read about somewhere that is considered to be a good place to stay. As a journalist, I'm fully aware that it is much easier to write a negative review than a positive one, but the reputation of your publication would be enhanced if you ensured your reviewers' assessments were fair and reasonable. In the case of the Seaside, it clearly was not, and now I will always have doubts about the rest of the information you provide.
San Ignacio, Cayo District
To the Editor:
Recently a guest brought to my attention the issue which has a reader comment in the Hotel Update section on the Seaside Guest House. Everybody who has visited Belize recently knows that the Seaside is the "best all around" guesthouse in the budget category.
The report by Chuck and Jeanne Thistlewaite relative to the Seaside has many errors:
(1) Prices US$8 (not $10) for a bed in the seven-bed dormitory, not bunkhouse. We don't have a bunkhouse. The cost of the triple is US$25, not $30 as stated.
(2) Permits Ñ they state that we 'have obtained permits to serve meals and sell beer for on-site consumption but none of this was available when we visited.' At that time (October 1994, just 90 days after our purchase of the Seaside), we had applied for permits, not obtained them as they stated. Anyone familiar with Belize knows that applying for a permit and obtaining one is a quite different matter. For that reason, food and drink was not available at the time of their visit. Of course, by now we have indeed obtained the necessary permits and sell beer, soft drinks, juices and serve breakfast.
They go on to mention that the walls are plywood partitions. In fact, there is not one sheet of plywood in the entire building. I don't know where they got that notion.
We have continued to upgrade the building and will continue to do so. It is owned by Friends Services International, a Quaker service organization and is operated on a non-profit basis. The management is here on a voluntary unpaid basis. Only Belizean staff are paid.
My real concern, though, is with your publication. Despite your stated objectives in the front of your magazine, I feel that to publish un-verified information full of errors raises serious questions about the integrity of the publication and the reliability of any of the information contained therein. The more than 2,000 satisfied guests which have come through in the past year continue to send us other guests from around the world and many have returned for second and third visits themselves.
Chief Executive Director
Friends Services International, Inc.
Director, FSI Project Belize
From the Editor: The Update section is a collection of first-person reports from readers, based on their recent personal experiences. What pleases one traveler may not please another. Opinions expressed in this section, as in the Letters to the Editor section, are those of the reviewers and do not necessarily reflect those of BELIZE FIRST. For example, in past issues we have included Seaside in our listing of recommended hotels in Belize City. BELIZE FIRST does verify statements of fact. However, in the case of hotel tariffs we take the figures provided by the reviewer at face value, since actual rates paid vary tremendously based on time of year, length of stay, the hotel's occupancy level, and the bargaining ability of the guest. We invite additional comments on the Seaside Guest House and all other hotels in Belize from readers who have stayed there recently. As always, BELIZE FIRST will continue to report as candidly as we can on all aspects of life and travel in Belize, for the benefit of our readers.
To the Editor:
For more than a decade I have been specializing in travel to Belize and Costa Rica. And as you can imagine, I receive pounds of mail about Belize in magazines, newspapers, newsletters and brochures from hotels, etc. NEVER in 10 years have I come across a publication as good as yours!
Imagine Travel Alternatives
To the Editor:
As the travel season approaches for visits to Belize, a gentle reminder to kind travelers: Do no harm as you pass through this beautiful place. Resist the temptation to purchase items made from endangered species, flora and fauna. Particularly disturbing is the availability of jaguar's teeth. Don't fool yourself by thinking that since it's already dead, no harm is done. If you purchase the tooth, another jaguar will be killed to replace your purchase. Black coral and tortoise shell are also from endangered species. There are many other ways to support the local economy.
Belize is a small country. Take as little trash as possible, and consider bringing your trash home with you (yes, even cigarette butts). With consideration and thought we can protect Belize for future generations, hers and ours.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: NEWS FROM BELIZE
INTERNET COMES TO BELIZE
Belize Telecommunications, Ltd., the Belize phone company in which the large U.S. telecommunications company MCI now holds a 25% stake, has announced it is building an Internet access network in Belize. This system will allow local access to the Internet and points beyond from Belize City, Cayo, Corozal, San Pedro, Belmopan and many other population centers in Belize. The network is expected to be operational in September. BTL also introduced voice mail, available to BTL subscribers beginning in September. Stay tuned for details.
NEW VAT TAX FOR BELIZE
A new Value Added Tax of up to 15% is scheduled to go into effect April 1, 1996. The VAT, terms and even the amount of which have not been finalized, is designed to offset a planned reduction in import taxes. Import duties are supposed to be reduced over the next three years to a maximum of 20%. Also, the Gross Revenues Tax and the Stamp Tax are to be eliminated. VAT is a tax on consumers imposed in stages as goods are produced or change hands. Belize does not presently have a sales tax, except on hotel stays. Hotels likely would be included in the VAT, adding to the burden of the hotel tax and service charges already paid by visitors. Only two countries in Central and North America currently do not have a VAT: Belize and the United States.
HOTEL TAX GOES TO 7%
In September countrywide, from 6%. The extra 1% is to be used to fund tourism police in Belize City.
NOW SAME-DAY AIR SERVICE FROM ENGLAND
Thanks to changes in schedules, travelers from Britain can now get to Belize City from London, and vice-versa, in one day, without the expense and hassle of an overnight in Miami. Travel between the two locations -- via British Air on the leg to/from either Heathrow or Gatwick to/from Miami, and TACA to/from Belize City -- should take less than 15 hours. British Air also has upgraded it first class and business class lounge at Miami International.
FLOODING IN CAYO WORST IN TWO DECADES
Heavy rains in late August in the Maya Mountains turned the usually peaceful Macal and Mopan rivers into raging torrents of water. The Macal River reached a peak of 60 feet, only a few feet below the base of the Hawkesworth Bridge in San Ignacio. The new hydro electric plant on the Vaca Plateau was briefly shut down, and several million in property and crop damages were reported. No loss of life has been reported due to the storms and flooding.
COURTS, BRODIES OPEN NEW STORES
Courts Furniture, a U.K. chain with stores in other parts of the Caribbean, has opened on North Front Street in Belize City. Courts features furniture made in Belize and other household items. Brodies' new "suburban" store is at Mile 2 1/2 of the Northern Highway.
BUGS IN U.S. EMBASSY
The American Embassy in Belize City has been fumigated for termites -- reportedly the first "tenting" treatment in Belize history. The expensive gassing process was carried out by the international division of a U.S. exterminating company.
ATMs NOW AVAILABLE IN BELIZE
Both Belize-based banks, Atlantic Bank and Belize Bank, have introduced Automatic Teller Machines, as have Barclays Bank and the Bank of Nova Scotia. At present, ATM machines are operating only in Belize City.
OFFICIAL UNEMPLOYMENT IN BELIZE OVER 12%
The Central Statistical Office of Belize, in its twice-a-year survey, announced that unemployment nationwide in Belize was 12.1% in April, up from 10.9% in 1994. The highest unemployment rate is in Toledo District, at 20.5%, and lowest in Orange Walk District, at 5.1%. Some observers believe the actual unemployment rate in Belize may be higher than the official rate.
MBE TO MAYA HEALER
Don Elijio Panti is scheduled to receive the title Member of the British Empire in an upcoming Royal ceremony. The world-famous traditional healer celebrated his 104th birthday July 15.
REEF ROAMER II REEF WRECK NETS BAD PR FOR BELIZE
The June capsizing of the 50' live-aboard dive boat Reef Roamer II off a cut near Caye Caulker has resulted in considerable bad publicity for Belize. One of the nine passengers on board the former shrimp boat happened to be Paul B. Carroll, Mexico City bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal. In a column in the August 2 issue of the Journal, which reaches more than two million high-income readers in North America, Carroll alleged that the wreck resulted from errors by the captain, who he said missed an obvious channel through the barrier reef and then turned sharply, exposing the boat to waves which, due to a problem with weight distribution, knocked it over. Carroll charged that the captain had earlier in the trip rammed the reef and also got the Roamer II stuck on it. Carroll said that the accident put nine divers and four crew in serious danger. In the column, Carroll also wrote that the Reef Roamer II had gone down twice before. A photo found later in the dive shop showing the Roamer II underwater had a caption which read "Dive the boat that dives with you," according to Carroll. Once rescued, Carroll said he found available medical care on Ambergris "awful " and that the dive operator was "slow" at covering losses on dive equipment. He also alleged bags returned to the divers were "looted" by local Belizeans. The Roamer II has since been towed back to San Pedro, missing its superstructure.
Jellyfish larvae which cause skin rashes and itching have been a problem for divers and some swimmers and snorkelers all along the Belize reef. Sea lice have plagued much of the Caribbean Coast of the Yucatan and Central America this year.
STAR SYSTEM FOR HOTELS
The Belize government wants to begin rating hotels on a star system. Hotel operators are going along with the idea, thinking that it's better to do it themselves than to let the government do it. A sticking point is how to rate jungle lodges and other inns which do not have traditional hotel amenities.
LOBSTER CATCH UP
Opening day of the lobster season June 16 saw a record catch of 6,370 pounds around Ambergris Caye by the local co-op, and indications are that the harvest in the cayes will be better than in recent years.
The surge of new hotel development continues in Belize. Among new properties under construction or recently opened are: French Quarter Belize and Blue Parrot in Seine Bight, with another unnamed inn also under construction; Jaguar Reef Lodge near Sittee Point; Casablanca in Consejo Shores (Don Quixote and Adventure Inn have closed, however); Five Sisters Lodge in the Mountain Pine Ridge near Blancaneaux; numerous small inns and hotels in San Ignacio; and the Villas at Banyan Bay, Chateau Caribe and other condo/resort projects on Ambergris. Site preparation is under way at Barry Bowen's Gallon Jug on a more-deluxe sister property to Chan Chich. Chaa Creek is also attempting to segment the visitor market with a tent camp-style facility one-half mile down river from Chaa Creek Cottages to be called Macal River Adventure Centre.