The travel experiences Belize has to offer must be one of the most diverse for a compact county that is only 180 miles long and 68 miles wide. Within our 8,860 square miles of land lives a population of only 333,200 inhabitants, making us the least populated country in Central America. What we lack in population we make up for in radiant Kriol, Maya, Garifuna, Mestizo and Spanish personalities that are laced throughout the country. Add this to our unique geography as the highest country in Central America, Caribbean shorelines and cayes that adorn the second longest barrier reef in the world, an abundance of diverse landscapes inhabited by unique terrestrial and marine species and one can expect an adventure second to none while exploring Belize. One such adventure is the journey to the Stann Creek District to stay at Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort located just south of the quaint, beachside town of Hopkins.
We begin our excursion by flying from San Pedro and renting a car in Belize City from our good friends at Crystal Auto Rental. Although you can travel to Hopkins via plane to nearby Dangriga or via bus the whole way, we opt to rent a car and drive the 115 miles so that we can stop and explore along the way. From Belize City to Belmopan the Western Highway travels through picturesque savannahs but it is the Hummingbird Highway, which is as beautiful as its name, that I am in love with. Stretching southeast from Belmopan the highway ribbons through the Maya Mountains for 49 miles before intersecting with the Southern Highway at the Dangriga turnoff. Along the way a panorama of jungle-choked mountains ringed with low hanging, misty clouds hug both sides of the road. Colorful homes with grazing horses, chickens and lines of laundry intermittently appear and speed-bumps slow your pace when passing through sleepy villages where children play soccer in the school yard and merchants sell fresh produce at makeshift stands. Narrow single-lane bridges that look as old as the hills cross high over streams where locals gather below at the riverside to hand wash clothes using their favorite stones to urge out the dirt. Cargo trucks laden with oranges and brightly colored buses negotiate the road as we travel to our anticipated destination, but along the way our first stop has to be at the St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park in the Cayo District.
St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park covers 500 acres of lush jungle and contains two cave systems, St. Herman’s and Crystal. Although exploring the caves, hiking the various nature trails and bird-watching opportunities are well-liked features of the park, the Blue Hole cenote is the most popular swimming hole in the area. Just a short walk through the jungle from the parking area, this natural sinkhole came to be when limestone bedrock collapsed, exposing the cool ground water below. Nothing is more refreshing that a dip into the deep blue waters of this well and it is no wonder many believe there are healing powers within this water. The invigorating and refreshed feeling you have after a super soak in this cenote can put a new spring in your step! After a rejuvenating swim we continue our travels to Hopkins, passing orange orchards popping with ripe fruit and banana plantations where the trees proudly stand in sentinel rows.
After we make our turn onto the Southern Highway it is not long before we reach the turnoff to the ten mile road leading to Hopkins Village. The unpaved way is a slow departure from the easy to travel highway but soon we reach the village and head south to Hamanasi, and once we arrive a whole new adventure begins.
There are two things that are synonymous with Belize…the jungle and the beach. Over my years of exploring this gem of a country I have stayed at many jungle lodges buried deep inside the lush and tangled growth of our tropical forests, and hailing from San Pedro I know her beaches and resorts by heart. Both jungle and beach hold a tight grip on my adventurous soul and their magic seduction courses through my veins…so to discover a piece of paradise like Hamanasi that has embraced the natural environment of both worlds is a dream come true.
Unlike the majority of Belizean beach resorts that clear the jungle growth that creeps to the shoreline in order to enhance their beachside ambiance, Hamanasi has not only allowed this verdant growth to flourish but they have embraced the natural environment completely. This natural synergy melds both worlds, with gorgeous beachside accommodations along the expanse of their Caribbean shoreline to cozy, luxurious jungle cabañas tucked within the pathways of the compound. Here you are truly immersed into the natural environment that is Belize.
Upon arriving at Hamanasi we are greeted by guest services manager Karina and the smiling reception staff. They are quick to learn our names and prove to remember them throughout our stay. The open and inviting main building hosts the reception area, bar and restaurant and is framed with a spacious porch trimmed with flowering bougainvillea. The east side of the porch expands into an outdoor dining area with a breathtaking view of the pool and beach which is thick with coconut trees garlanded with hammocks and intimate sitting areas just inches from the tranquil sea. A relaxing vibe warms the scene with an infectious mood that insists you slow down and smell every hibiscus along the way.
Front desk employee Rina introduces us to the compound and leads us along a short path to our jungle cabaña. The wooden home is high above the ground and nestled in the treetops of the jungle. Beautifully decorated and appointed with every convenience, we ohhh and awww as Rina shows us the kitchen area, master bedroom complete with a personalized welcome message written on a seagrape leaf placed on our pillow, a second bed arranged in the living area and expansive bathroom with a gorgeous gecko tiled onto the shower floor. Of course we are delighted when we discover the outdoor Jacuzzi on the tree-canopied porch, a perfect setting in the jungle yet so very close to the beach. It just doesn’t get any better than this!
During our two-night stay we indulge in delightful meals prepared with the best in local ingredients. Breakfast in an open buffet offering a variety of fresh fruits, eggs, bacon or sausage, cereals, breads, juices and coffee or tea. For lunch we enjoy delicious salads, chicken wraps, tasty wings and burritos. Dinner is an unforgettable treat where we devoured amazing seafood chowder with a hint of coconut, veggie stuffed grouper fillets with caramelized plantains and a dessert of decadent chocolate cake with coconut ice cream. Of course their exceptional bar served up refreshing tropical cocktails and their wine selection offered the perfect complements to whatever meal you might choose to have. With the village of Hopkins nearby, one night we dine out at “Love on the Rocks”, a hip hot-rock grill restaurant where renowned Chef Rob Pronk has guests cooking their own meals on smoking hot lava rocks. The food was fun and delicious and we enjoyed our diner while entertained by Garifuna drummers.
Hamanasi is as an adventure and dive resort offering a wide variety of guest activities. As a snorkeling addict I couldn’t wait to see what the waters have to offer so we sign up for a half-day trip with Captain John and first mate Terrill. Departing at 8AM we head out to the reef some 35 minutes away. John points out Coco Plum Caye which is oddly thick with pine trees. John explains that after a devastating hurricane the mangrove trees were wiped out and residents replanted pine trees, a bad idea in the long run as they are not suited to the environment and do not prevent erosion like the mangroves do, it is a strange sight to see a forest of pine trees towering on a tropical island! Along the way we also boat close to Bird Island, where hundreds of frigate and brown boobies roost. Fluffy white baby birds poke out of cluttered nests while the sky is full of soaring frigates, a super fun sight to see. Our first stop we snorkel in deep waters teeming with large tarpon and permit fish, it was a new experience for me and a tad unnerving swimming with fish that are almost as big as me! The waters grow shallower as we drift the area and the coral formations are busy with colorful tropical fish. Next stop is Tobacco Caye where we disembark for a snack of watermelon, cookies and juice while exploring the quintessential Caribbean island…it is now on my MUST STAY list for future travels! Rejuvenated from our tasty treats its’ back into the crystal clear water where we drift-snorkel the channel at Tobacco Caye. John is quick to spot several lobster along the way, and although it’s not lobster season he still takes the opportunity to give us a closer look at this tasty crustacean. Wishing we could devour the creature, we settle for imaging how delicious he would taste on the grill smothered in butter and garlic! After a good hour in the water it is time to head back to Hamanasi where we are eager to have lunch.
After a satisfying lunch, next on our agenda is kayaking the Sittee River. Our guide Emiliano meets us at the reception area and we load into a van where we travel a short distance to our departure point. With plenty of help getting into our wobbly kayak, Emiliano leads us into a jungle scene straight from Jurassic Park, sans the dinosaurs of course. The quite waterway leads us through thick jungle where our guide points out medicinal plants while spotting birds and iguanas basking in the sunny treetops. The primal sights and sounds are mesmerizing, transporting me back to a time where man was simply a part of the wild environment. After a couple hours of traversing the river we end our tour at Curve Marina where our van awaits to transport us back to the resort. Properly pooped out after a busy day of exploring we take full advantage of the Jacuzzi as soon as we return, soaking our tired but happy bones while sipping on cold Belikin beers….ahhh this is the life!
It is no wonder that Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort has earned so many travel accolades over the years. Named the 2009 Belize Hotel of the Year by the Belize Tourism Board and a yearly winner of the Trip Advisor Traveler’s Choice category, the resort is also eco-friendly and has earned a Green Globe Certification. If you are traveling in Belize, and want to experience the ultimate in jungle and water adventure, there is no other place better than Hamanasi. For more information about this exceptional resort please visit their website at www.hamanasi.com