Adventure Vacation Guide 2012: Belize

Belize is the only country in Central America with English as the official language. The small country, measuring 180 miles long and 68 miles wide, is a popular vacation destination for tourists whose native language is English. But Belize is good for much more than just lounging in white sand while watching the shimmering teal waves roll in and out while drinks, ordered in English, are replenished. Behind the luxurious resorts and relaxing vacation packages, Belize is an adventure destination.

With the lowest population density in Central America and, simultaneously, the highest growth rate in the region, 2012 is the year to visit Belize–it’s still spacious and remote in most places, but it doesn’t appear as though this quality will serve Belize permanently. People everywhere are beginning to now catch onto what natives have always known–Belize is not only gorgeous, rich in history, and filled with Mayan cultural treasures, but the small country packs in a big punch with adventure and thrill-seekers. Inexpensive and lush, the untainted waters and landscapes await you.Explore Belizean caves littered with Mayan ruins. The ATM Cave, near the city of San Ignacio, boasts still-in-tact skeletons and pieces of once-blood-holding pottery from Mayan sacrifices; these were offerings to the gods during times of desperate drought. But there’s a catch to seeing something as rare as these remnants–you have to get to them first. Getting through ATM cave is no easy feat. You must first hike through thick rainforest terrain for an hour before facing the cave’s entrance, which is a waterway. The only way in, and out, is to swim through the chilly water in the pitch-black, damp cave with your headlamp serving as your only guiding light. After you’ve made it in and out of the water portions of the cave, relatively challenging climbs and tight squeezes await you as you journey through this spooky cavern.

Zip-line through the forests surrounding this cave and many others while you’re inland. Stop to observe wild jaguars if you can while in the Jaguar Paw area. While at Jaguar Paw, take the opportunity to go for a tubing trip through a cave. Hike through thick and challenging terrain and cool off via waterfall rappelling. Scuba dive down into the famous-for-a-reason Great Blue Hole, a submarine sinkhole that measures 984 feet across and 407 feet deep. Widely regarded as one of the best diving spots in the world, the aerial shots of this gaping Caribbean hole will make your heart skip a beat (just Google it). If diving is too much of a commitment for you, spend your time a bit more leisurely and follow a shining school of fish while snorkeling. Weave around the shoreline and throughout the inland rivers by kayak or go kayak sailing into the rising sun. Spend your time doing daily yoga at one of the country’s yoga retreats or yoga-friendly resorts, fully immersed in a tranquil environment, or test your boundaries with a sky diving, parasailing, base-jumping, or bungee jumping excursion.

Whether your on a shoestring budget or looking to spend your hard-earned money on all of the finest adventures Belize has to offer, you’ll find a sweat-inducing, adrenaline-spiking experience in Belize that suits your wallet and lifestyle. With a landscape like the Belize landscape, adventure waits outside your door with free admission to the mountains and beaches. And with organized companies like the ones you can find in Belize with minimal research, sky’s the limit for your guided adventure in this small, but incredibly rich, Caribbean country.

[flickr image via jayhem]

Frommer’s reveals top destinations for 2012

What destination are you dreaming of for 2012? The staff at Frommer’s have just unveiled their list of top travel destinations for the coming year. Included in the list is a little something for everyone: large metropolises, secluded beach towns, colorful riverside villas, and more.

But Frommer’s didn’t just rely on their expert editors and author’s for this years list–they also polled readers to find out where they wanted to visit in 2012. Click through the gallery below to see Frommer’s (and their reader’s) picks–including one surprising midwestern city that is the only spot in the United States to make the cut.

Other Winners:
Top Family Destination: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Top Cruise Destination: Tromso, Norway
Top Beach Destination: Hanalei Beach, Kauai, Hawaii
Top Adventure Destination: Moab, Utah
Top Food & Drink Destination: Lima, Peru
Top City Break Destination: Chicago, Illinois
Top Endangered Destination: Aysen Region, Chile
Top Value Destination: Albanian Riviera
Top Destination to Get Lost: Whitsunday Islands, Australia

The Joy of the Unexpected: Embracing the Mislaid Travel Plan

Lying atop the powdery sands of a brochure-worthy beach soaking up the restorative Caribbean sun; or lying inside the claustrophobic tube of an MRI scanner while being plunged into darkness when the provincial Indian hospital loses power. One is the stereotypical dream vacation, the other just a bad dream. But guess which is the experience you are never going to forget?

I once spent a perfectly delightful fortnight in Belize with my wife. We went snorkeling off the world’s second largest reef, explored jungles and ruins, ate delicious freshly prepared meals, and, of course, lied out by the warm, gently lapping surf of the Caribbean Sea. It was essentially the kind of getaway one would hope for: relaxing, recharging, and a true escape. However, when we returned home, it was not like friends and family were lining up to view slideshows of sunsets and toucans or hear stories about sunbathing.

And then there was my trip to India, where I slipped on mud (at least I told myself it was mud) and smashed my knee on the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi, landing myself in that aforementioned, electricity-averse hospital. And where a cheap space heater short-circuited and partially burned down the wall of my equally cheap hotel room. Or where the taxi I was riding in sideswiped a bus and the cabbie jumped out to argue with the bus driver, abandoning me in the car that happened to be stopped across railway tracks, which I only discovered when a crowd of onlookers pushed the car out of the way of a rapidly approaching train. Or when, on the night of Tibetan New Year in Dharamsla, I stumbled into a drunken street fight and a shower of broken glass as someone was pushed through a store window.
Clearly, these are not events you choose to include when planning your travel itinerary. Nor could my trip to India be in any way described as relaxing. But I guarantee that friends did not fake interest when I would relate my stories. And not only will I not forget my time in India anytime soon, I eagerly await my return trip to the country.

I am certainly capable of enjoying a lazy beach vacation as readily as anybody. But as someone whose time spent traveling is a scandalously low percentage of my life, I more often than not seek out the “difficult” destinations. When travel is challenging and unpredictable I am far more likely to collect the experiences and encounters that will fuel a lifetime of fond recollection and travel nostalgia. Being shaken out of the pedestrian routine of everyday life is what makes foreign travel so rewarding.

So, the next time you find yourself caught out in a thunderstorm, or lost in a foreign county, or forced to navigate a city during a transit strike, remember that it still beats being stuck back home in a cubicle and will provide stories and memories that will far outlast the length of your trip.

Cruise lines wage boycott on Belize

The cruise port of Belize, known for some of the best scuba diving, an eclectic array of foods and wine, snorkeling or just knowing you have seen the Western hemisphere’s longest barrier reef, is in trouble. Not because of environmental issues, severe tropical weather or other problems common to Caribbean ports of call. Belize is suffering from a lack of cruise passengers, a wound-like boycott some say is self-inflicted.

Recently, some major cruise lines have canceled calls to Belize because of a dispute with tender operators over price. It seems Belize tender operators, the people that run the little boats back and forth between the big cruise ships that are too large to dock shore-side, want more than the cruise lines are willing to pay.

“According to reports, the parties are working toward a resolution” said cruise expert Stewart Chiron CEO of adding “but Belize was changed for two Carnival ships last week which were rerouted to Grand Cayman and Costa Maya and three ships will be diverted this week.”

Tender operators want between $6.54 and $8.54 per passenger to take them from the cruise ships to shore and back. Cruise lines, including Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, want to pay about $5.00 per passenger. But the dispute is not only about price.

“Carnival wants larger capacity tender boats, 150 passenger minimum, to accommodate their larger ships. Smaller tender boats are creating large back logs and delays getting passengers to/ from the ships” added Chiron, noting “Belize has many beautiful coral reefs that are being protected and require cruise ships to anchor farther out.”

Eventually, the Belize government may have to choose between making it possible for cruise ships to dock shoreside or lose them altogether.

Flickr photo by anoldent

Travel + Leisure names the world’s best hotels

You deserve the very best. You’ve worked hard, probably played a little hard, and you’re ready to reward yourself by splurging on a much-needed gateway. So, where do the best of the best go when they want to escape?

With the help of their readers, Travel + Leisure editors released the 2010 World’s Best awards. The lists include everything from airlines to islands, and hotels to cruise ships. Here’s a look at the number one hotel rated in each region. For the entire list, click here.

Resort: San Ysidro Ranch, A Rosewood Resort, Santa Barbara, California
Large city hotel: Trump International Hotel & Tower, Chicago (pictured right)
Small city hotel: Hotel Bel-Air (reopening in 2011), Los Angeles
Inns: Triple Creek Ranch, Darby, Montana

Resort: Nisbet Plantation Beach Club, Nevis

Resort: Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, Hawaii Europe
Resort: Palazzo Sasso
Large city hotel: Olissippo Lapa Palance, Lisbon
Small city hotel: The Lanesborough, London
Inns & Small Country hotel: Domaine des Hauts de Loire, Onzain, France

Resort: Oberoi Vanyavilas, Rajasthan, India
City hotel: The Peninsula, Bangkok

Africa/Middle East
Lodges/Resort: Fairmont Mara Safari Club, Masai Mara, Kenya (pictured below)
City hotel: Four Seasons Hotel, Cairo at the First Residence

Resort: Esperanza, an Auberge Resort, Los Cabos
City hotel: Four Seasons Hotel, México D.F., Mexico City

Latin America
Resort: Blancaneaux Lodge, San Ignacio, Belize
City hotels: Alvear Palace Hotel, Buenos Aires

Australia/New Zealand/South Pacific
Lodges/resort: Huka Lodge, Taupo, New Zealand City: The Langham, Melbourne