Volume III, No. 2



Traditional magazine edition with maps and photos also available. Contact Belize First for details.


This issue features reports on Cayo District, Placencia, Ambergris Caye, Real Estate in Belize, Cruising the Casual Coast, Best Guides and Other Belize Books, Hotel Updates, Recommended Hotels, and More

Traditional paper magazine edition with maps and photos also available. Contact Belize First for details.

You can visit us at our new Web site which when completed will be the most- comprehensive, non-commercial interactive site on Belize anywhere on-line:

E-mail us at:

Copyright 1996 by Lan Sluder

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


What to Expect from Belize First Magazine

Editorial Opinion: Ouch! New Taxes and Fees Hurt Belizeans and Belize Travelers, by Lan Sluder

Letters to the Editor: Stings and Flowers

In Case You Missed It: News Round-Up from Belize

SPECIAL REPORT: Cayo District, Wild & Free
By Richard Mahler and Steele Wotkyns

Update on Caracol -- New Access Procedures


* New & Recommended Hotels, by Peter Eltringham

* A New Way to Retire, by Peggy Bond Arbanas

* Belize Food, by Vic Moffett

An Ordinary Day on Ambergris Caye, by Judy Waytiuk

Cruising the Casual Coast, a Trip on the Temptress Voyager by Marshall Krantz

Best Books on Belize, Reviews of 26 Books and Maps, by Lan Sluder (Some earn the "Recommended by Belize First Stamp of Approval)

Real Estate For Sale

Updates on Hotels in Belize City, Hopkins, Orange Walk District, Cayo, Ambergris Caye, and elsewhere

Hotels Recommended by 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.

BELIZE FIRST is published quarterly in Asheville, North Carolina, by Equator Travel Publications, Inc., 280 Beaverdam Road, Candler, NC 28715 USA. E-mail:

Mail subscriptions for the "collector's" full magazine edition in Reader's Digest-style format with photos, maps, and other elements not included in our text on-line or Web editions are US$29 or BZ$58 a year in North America and Belize, US$45 a year in other countries. Electronic text-only editions of BELIZE FIRST are available on CompuServe, America On-Line, and the Internet. Also visit our new Internet Web site at

Copyright 1996. All rights reserved under international and Pan-American copyright conventions.

Belize First/Equator Travel Publications is a member of the Belize Tourism Industry Association and the Belize Eco-Tourism Association. The paper edition of Belize First is printed on recycled paper stock.


"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 -- magazines, newspapers, newsletters and brochures from hotels, etc. NEVER in 10 years have I come across a publication as good as yours!" -- Dyanne Kruger, Director, Imagine Travel Alternatives

"The best magazine about Belize by far." -- Peter Eltringham, co-author The Rough Guide to Guatemala & Belize

"Belize First is a must for anyone even thinking about this fascinating country." --Paul Glassman, author of Belize Guide

"Before you go, to get a real feel for Belize, get the most recent issue of Lan Sluder's Belize First." --Tom Brosnahan, author of Guatemala, Belize & Yucatan: La Ruta Maya and co-author of Central America (both from Lonely Planet)

"It's an absolutely first-rate publication, and I only wish I'd known about it in time to include ... it in my book." --Alex Bradbury, author of Guide to Belize (Bradt/Globe Pequot)

"I'm impressed with the research and no-holds-barred attitude in Belize First ..." -- Richard Mahler, co-author of Belize, A Natural Destination (John Muir)

"If you have more than a passing interest in this unique Central American country, read Belize First." -- Carl Franz, author of The People's Guide to Mexico (John Muir)



Tourism Industry and Tourists Hit Hard by New Taxes and Fees

Editor and Publisher

On your next trip to Belize, better bring a fatter wallet.

Nearly everything is going to cost you more.

The new 15 percent Value Added Tax, in effect April 1, isn't charged on hotel rooms. But it will reach out and touch you just about everywhere else. It applies to food and beverage sales in restaurants, tours, diving trips, boat charters, and other common expenses of visitors. If you don't think that will have an impact, just talk to Canadians who well know what the introduction a few years ago of the VAT did to the hospitality industry there.

Fees to visit archeological sites such as Lamanai and Caracol were set to jump as much as 1,000 percent -- with entrance fees of up to US$10 per day per person -- although now the plan is to phase them in more slowly, with the increase for non-Belizeans being only 500 percent as of April 1.

New beer and alcohol drink taxes have increased the cost of imbibing by about 20 percent. The airport departure tax is expected to go up to US$15 per person and the room tax may increase to as much as 12 percent, from the present 7 percent, observers say.

Belize, like many countries in the world, is trying to balance its budget in part on the backs of tourists. Tourists, it is thought, don't vote.

But of course they vote: With their feet.

Tourists follow value. If they don't get value in one place, they'll find it in another. The values available today in Mexico, in comparison with the prices in Belize, are one reason why I hear from so many lodge and hotel operators in Belize that occupancy is down now. That's during a period when the hurricane damage to several islands in the Caribbean should have boosted visitation to Belize.

No, I don't believe Belize needs to discount. Belize offers a quality vacation experience, and it's fair to charge for that value. My wife and I recently paid US$400 for one night at an inn on Cumberland Island on the coast of Georgia, and we considered it a good value. Not one that we could afford very often, but good value for a delightful time on an island of great natural beauty. Many places in Belize offer excellent value, in all price ranges. Chan Chich offers it at one level, for example, and Dave and Debbie's Last Resort in Placencia at another. Likewise, US$10 a head for entry to Caracol may be worth it, if the money goes to keeping the sites safe, well-maintained, and free from poachers. But a ten-fold increase seems steep by any measure.

Belize must offer real value to travelers. If a tourist pays US$20 for a meal and gets canned peas, that's not value. If he pays US$150 a night for a hotel room and has to sleep on a $99 mattress, that's not value. If she pays US$100 a day for a beat-up rental car, gets hustled for spare change in Belize City, and then is tapped US$15 for a short taxi ride to the airport and another $15 for a departure fee, that doesn't leave a good taste, nor a recollection of good value.

Tourism is now the leading source of foreign exchange for Belize. It's the No. 1 industry in Belize. It's going to do nothing but get bigger and bigger. If the tourists aren't taxed to death and driven off by high prices.

//Lan Sluder is editor and publisher of BELIZE FIRST. He recently authored Frommer's Best Beach Vacations: Carolinas and Georgia, published by Macmillan, and has contributed to many magazines and newspapers around the world.


BELIZE FIRST welcomes letters to the editor. Send them to BELIZE FIRST, 280 Beaverdam Road, Candler, NC 28715 USA, for e-mail at Letters, which are subject to editing for brevity or clarity, must be signed. Please include your address and telephone number.

To the Editor:

The following are some corrections to information presented in a piece on San Antonio, Toledo, in Vol. III, No. 1 of BELIZE FIRST. I have also included some additional, more-detailed information, as I thought it might be helpful to those planning a visit to Toledo District.

- I have to say I am perplexed by Harry Pariser's reference to "women, members of an obscure Christian sect, wearing head shawls" in San Antonio. Some women, as they walk about the village, cover their heads with light-weight white terrycloth towels or shawls simply to protect themselves from the sun's heat. The majority of the villagers are Catholic, so some of the older women are in the habit of covering their heads when they enter the church, much as my grandmothers continued to do even after Vatican II. Women belonging to the two Mennonite groups in the village are obligated to cover their heads with a small kerchief.

- The San Antonio village phone is currently in the home of Ben Bol who lives in a cement house on top of a hill near the Catholic church and the hotel. There is a Belize Telecommunications, Ltd. (BTL) sign on the door.

- The Feast of San Antonio is held on June 13. There are no costumed dancers on this occasion, although there is a movement in the village to eventually revive costumed dancing on special days during the year such as this. For the past few years there has been a mass in the church and marimba music, food, and social dancing in the village's multi-purpose building to celebrate this occasion.

- Costumed dancers perform the Deer Dance for the Feast of San Luis which is held on August 25 (not September 25), although the festivities begin on the evening of August 15. The dancers perform during the day at various houses from August 16 through 23. Anyone is welcome to come to the houses and watch the dancers. In addition to dancing, on the 23rd, the tak'in che' or "money tree" is brought into the village and placed near the church. On the 25th, the tree is greased and a prize consisting of money and rum is attached to the top. Throughout the day, villagers attempt to climb it and the costumed dancers perform. In 1995, it became official policy that those wishing to take photographs or video footage of the Deer Dance must make a monetary contribution to the fiesta.

- Getting there: There are a few different bus lines which run between Punta Gorda and San Antonio. Buses never leave PG for the villages as late as 4 p.m. On Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays Chun's bus leaves San Antonio at 5:30 a.m. for PG. It returns to the village at 12 noon on Mondays and Fridays or 12:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

On Wednesdays and Saturdays (market days in PG), a second bus (also owned by the Chuns) runs from Pueblo Viejo to PG. This bus leaves San Antonio on Tuesday and Friday evenings about 5 p.m. and travels westward to Pueblo Viejo. The next morning it passes through San Antonio at about 5 a.m. on its way to town. Its leaves PG at 12 noon for Pueblo Viejo, passing through San Antonio at about 1 p.m. After dropping its passengers off in Pueblo Viejo on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, the bus returns to San Antonio.

I include this information on Pueblo Viejo because tourists often find it convenient to base themselves in San Antonio and make excursions from there. You may, for example, take Chun's Pueblo bus to the nearby archaeological site of Uxbenka and waterfalls which it passes on its way back to Pueblo Viejo on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, then catch the bus again on its way back to San Antonio a few hours later.

Finally, Prim's bus has service between San Antonio and PG on Wednesdays and Saturdays, leaving San Antonio at 5 a.m. and PG at noon.

Missy Garber
Clarence, NY

Editor's reply: Thank you for the corrections. We appreciate your expert comments based on your experience while working and studying in Toledo District.

From another correspondent in Toledo, Alfredo Villoria, we add this information about the Deer Dance: "Tourists that visited Toledo during December (1995) were treated to two activities seldom seen by outsiders. During the early part of December, in Punta Gorda town, the traditional Maya Deer Dance was performed at the Central Plaza by 14 costumed Mayas from various villages. Just before Christmas a group of 28 Kekch∆ dancers performed the Cortez dance. The first time any of the Maya/Kekch∆ dances were performed for the public was about ten years ago.

To the Editor:

I just returned after being there for two weeks. My first week was spent out on Turneffe Islands' Caye Bokel (Turneffe Island Lodge) which was totally great. My second week I stayed at the Colton House for two nights, and went horseback riding (M.E.T.-- what a fabulous location!!), climbing the ruins, swimming in the Riý On (and other) pools. I could certainly write a righteous travelogue about Belize and the wonderful, friendly, kind Belizean people I met, who took me into their homes and fed me, gave me gifts. It was one of my best trips ever, and a dream come true for me. I only wish I could have stayed longer. The Belize "Fan Club" now has a new member: ME!

Joanie Fuhry
Santa Cruz, California


News Round-Up from Belize

The new VAT tax went into effect April 1 in Belize. Under the new Act, the tax is charged whenever goods change hands or services are performed. The rate of the new VAT is 15 percent of the value of the goods or services. However, some goods and services are zero- rated. In addition, certain services are exempt. These include medical, dental, hospital, and optical services (other than cosmetic surgery), domestic travel and freight services within Belize, training and education, supply of electricity, public postal services, and leases of residential property. To offset the VAT, import duties are supposed to be reduced, and the stamp duties tax is to be eliminated. The government has dropped the 14 percent stamp duty on many grocery items including include processed cheese, spices, maize (corn), flour, vegetable oil, chicken, bacon, luncheon meat, mackerel, breakfast cereals, and some 30 other items. When Canada introduced its VAT in the early 1990s, the country went into an economic down spiral from which it has only recently begun to recover. The main opposition party, the People's United Party, has said it will scrap the VAT if it beats the United Democratic Party in the next national elections in 1998. Further information about the new Act may be had from the VAT Unit at the government's Custom Department, Belize City, telephone 501-2-77092.

Elijio Panti, the Mayan traditional healer who had attracted worldwide attention to the herbs and methods used in Mesoamerica, died Feb. 4 in the village of San Antonio in Cayo District at age 103, following a stroke. Born in Guatemala, Panti had lived in Cayo for eight decades. Rosita Arvigo helped spread Panti's fame in her 1994 book on Mayan healing, Sastun. According to Panti's great-grandson, Ladis Tzib, who was trained in the Mayan healing arts by Panti, Don Elijio's last words were: "Thank you. I am satisfied. I am ready to sleep now."

The Belize Tourist Board estimates that 133,000 tourists arrived in Belize through the international airport in 1995, up about 11 percent from 120,000 arrivals in 1994. The figures do not include visitors arriving by land from Mexico, Guatemala, or Honduras. The total arrivals by air, sea, and land, including day-trippers from Mexico and other adjoining countries, was 345,000 in 1994, up about 9 percent from the previous year. 1994 is the latest year for which World Tourism Organization figures are available. In 1994, cruise passenger arrivals in Belize totaled 13,000, double the number of the year before. Here are total tourist arrivals by Central American country for 1994, counting day visitors, according to the WTO: 1) Costa Rica, 761,000 2) Belize, 345,000 3) Nicaragua, 236,000 4) Honduras, 227,000 5) Guatemala, 138,000 6) El Salvador, 58,200 7) Panama, 33,400.

In late February, a Costa Rican construction firm began work on upgrading about 18 miles of gravel road between Big Falls and Cattle Landing near Punta Gorda. The next step in this US$10 million project is paving this section. Eventually, the entire Southern Highway will be paved, opening up all of Southern Belize to increased development and tourism.

Sales of Belikin beer and soft drinks bottled by Bowen and Bowen have declined by as much as 30 percent in recent months, in part in response to higher taxes put in place on these items in November. Reportedly there has been an increase in the smuggling in of Mexican beer, which is cheaper than Belize beer. New taxes have raised the price of Belizean beer by one-fifth.

One of the pioneers of quality journalism and travel information in Central America, Richard (Dick) Dyer, publisher of the weekly Costa Rica newspaper, The Tico Times, died of heart failure at age 84 Jan. 28 at his home in Escazu near San Jose, Costa Rica. With, Betty, his wife, Dyer in 1956 helped establish The Tico Times, winner of many honors for excellence in reporting, including the Inter-American Press Association Grand Prize for Press Freedom in 1995. The newspaper, which has a circulation of 16,000 in 40 countries, is directed primarily to an audience of expatriate North Americans in Costa Rica and to those outside the country with an interest in traveling or living in Costa Rica.

Dyer fought against press control and censorship and was a leader in the battle against state controls on journalists, a battle that was won in May 1995 when the Costa Rica Supreme Court handed down a decision that ended obligatory licensing of journalists working in Costa Rica, a practice considered an affront to the otherwise democratic traditions of Costa Rica. The Tico Times will "continue to publish as always," according to editors at the newspaper. Dyer's daughter Dery Dyer has edited the newspaper for many years.

According to Harry Pariser, author of the Adventure Guide to Belize, a popular travel guide to the country, and also author of other travel guides to the region, the Belize government is attempting to levy a nearly 60 percent custom duty on his guidebooks. Officials are "unfairly judging them to be advertising" due to the fact that rates are included in listings of hotels, Pariser says. This makes it "impossible, owing to the 59% or so duty, to be profitable to sell them in the country," says Pariser. He calls the customs duty "ridiculous" and says his books have been shipped back to the U.S.

The new address of BELIZE FIRST Magazine's Internet World Wide Web site is The site is being expanded to include, among other things, the text of back issues of BELIZE FIRST. "Our goal is to have the biggest and most informative Belize site anywhere on-line," says Lan Sluder, editor and publisher. "We want to give travelers to Belize from around the world candid and comprehensive information about travel, life, and retirement in Belize."

BELIZE CITY ELECTIONS On March 18th, 1996, residents of Belize went to the polls to elect a new Belize City Council. For the first time in Belize's history there were four political parties contesting the election: the United Democratic Party (UDP); the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); the Peoples United Party (PUP); and the National Alliance for Belizean Rights (NABR). Incumbent PUP won a ringing endorsement from voters, with almost 56 percent of the 120,089 votes cast. Although many expected PUP to win in its Belize City strong- hold, the margin of victory exceeded expectations. Top vote getters were all on the PUP ticket: Olga Gordon, 8,151; José Coye, 8,776; Merilyn Young, 8,270; Adrian Madrid, 8,209; Darrell Carter, 8,259; David Fonseca, 8,488; Marshall Nuqez, 8,281; Steve Latchman, 8,257; Erick Kirkwood, 8,153. Total: 66,691 for PUP. The UDP, which is the ruling party nationally now, got 44,670. The NABR received 4,713 votes, and the PDP, 4,015.

Maya leaders in Toledo District and the government have agreed that the Mayas would monitor the activities of a Malaysian company's one-year concession to log the Columbia River Forest Reserve, according to reports from our correspondent, Alfredo Villoria, in Punta Gorda. The Mayan community will monitor the activities of Atlantic Industries Co. for strict adherence to the forestry management plan as developed by the U.K.-based Overseas Development Agency. Contrary to some other reports, the controversial concession, opposed by a coalition of environmental groups, has not been cancelled or revoked. The Mayas submitted to the government a list of concerns, and most of these were agreed to by the Prime Minister.

Fees for admission to Maya sites were increased by as much as ten-fold in early 1996, but then the increase was at least temporarily eased to a maximum of only five-fold. Under the plan originally introduced by the government, non-Belizeans would pay up to US$10 per person for entry to Lamanai and to Caracol, which previously had been US$1. Rates for Belizeans were set generally at one-half that for non-Belizeans, with Belizeans under 12 and over 65 free. However, as of April 1, the fees for non- Belizeans were set as follows: Caracol and Lamanai, US$5 per person per day; Cerros, Nim Li Punit, Xunantunich, Cahal Pech, and Altun Ha, US$2.50. It is apparently the view of the government and of some in the tourism industry that US$10 is not too high an entrance fee, but that the increase was too steep.

To continue

Belize First Home Page