Belize has such an incredible mix of lush rainforests, a honeycomb of underground caves, and Mayan ruins that make this Central American country a stunning place for adventure. For diving and seeing reef sharks, the island of Ambergris Caye is an easy choice. But if you want to experience more of the Mayan culture, hike to ancient ruins, and explore the pristine rainforest, check out the former fishing village of Placencia. Located on a peninsula that’s nestled between the Caribbean Ocean and a mangrove-fringed lagoon with the Mayan Mountains to the west, it offers the best of land and sea activities. The village itself is a hodgepodge of tourist shops, beach bars, and fruit stands. Placencia boasts the ‘world’s narrowest main street where people wander along the concrete sidewalk that weaves through the center of town with seemingly no agenda.
I opted to be a guest about three miles outside the village at The Inn at Robert’s Grove because here you can choose your own adventure. Everything you could ever want is right on site: a PADI dive and snorkel center, fishing center, windsurfing boards, Hobie Kats, gym, beachside restaurant, spa, tennis courts roof-top Jacuzzi, bikes to cycle into town. I went through a company called Adventure Life, which customizes tours throughout Central and South America using local guides. Tourist dollars go back to the local community, and a portion of proceeds also goes to local causes. Adventure Life offers many different tours in Belize, such as diving, for which they are world famous, and treks down river tubes to spot jaguars and other wildlife in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary (75 percent of Belize is a rainforest and it’s also home to five different types of wild cats).
During my stay, I paddled through the lagoon in one of the complimentary kayaks in search of manatees and snorkeled on the ocean in front of the resort. I felt like Indian Jones when I signed up to go inland to the Mayan ruins of Lubaantun, or ‘The Place of Fallen Stones.’ Lubaantun is so unique because the stones that were cut for the temples and terraces were laid and fitted without any mortar. It’s also rumored to be the place where the famous Crystal Skull was found in 1926.
Much of Belize is made from porous karst limestone, and so it’s crisscrossed with underground caves and rivers perfect for cave swimming. After getting a guided tour of the ruins, I explored stalactites and stalagmites while swimming through the Blue Creek inside the 8-mile long passages of the Hokeb Ha and Tiger Caves with a headlamp on. Explorers found ceremonial alters in many of the cave’s chambers, so it was probably used by the Mayans hundreds of years earlier.
After going on so many adventures, I decided to check out Placencia’s spa scene. Besides having kayaks, windsurfing boards, and a dive center, The Inn at Robert’s Grove has the Sea Spa to help counteract all that adrenaline. Treatments range from natural fruit facials to seaweed body wraps to a ‘sunburn treatment’ that uses plants native to Belize to soothe tender skin.
I’d heard from another guest that there was a basic-but-therapeutic spa in the village, I wandered into Placencia in search of the Secret Garden Day Spa, which I found located behind Wallen’s Market and across from the soccer field. The relaxation area is simply a round table set in a tiny garden, and the treatment room is rustic: an open-air room with two massage tables placed in the middle, and veiled only with gauzy curtains. Without the luxurious spa setting, I didn’t expect the massage itself to be so blissfully relaxing. My trained therapist used a combination of long strokes and deep kneading to release knots in my muscles and left my body buzzing. Massages here are an amazing deal: Just US $50 for an hour.
If you’re more into luxury and ambiance, check out the Sunset Spa at Francis Ford Coppola’s Turtle Inn. You can get a Thai massage in the open-air Balinese rice house overlooking the lagoon. Both of their trained therapists came from Thailand. Treatments are pricier, of course, and start at US $100. Despite having to swat away a few mosquitoes during my rubdown (the lagoon also attracts plenty of insects), I found myself dozing off, dreaming of green rainforests growing up from ancient ruins.
By Holly C. Corbett
Photo Credit: Mike Bristol
Author bio: Holly C. Corbett is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in publications such as Women’s Health, SELF, Newsday, MensFitness.com, Budget Travel, and Fitness. Her adventures have taken her to all seven continents, where she’s swam past icebergs in the Antarctic Ocean, slalom water-skied next to alligators in Florida, and hiked the Leaping Tiger Gorge in China. She co-authored the travel memoir The Lost Girls: Three Friends. Four Continents. One Unconventional Detour Around the World (HarperCollins; May 2010).