Belize is a melting pot of cultures, religions, languages, and ethnicities. Those who make up the majority of the population include Creoles of mixed African and European heritage, Mestizos of mixed Indian and European heritage, Maya, Garifuna of African and Caribbean Indian heritage, East Indians, Chinese, Mennonites, Lebanese, North and Latin Americans, and Europeans. The result is a friendly, accommodating people who live mostly in harmony. Belize’s unique blend of people and cultures is related to its history; many people ended up here by accident or through persecution elsewhere.
It is one of the many charms of Belize that such a diverse group can live together in relative peace while still practicing their own religions, engaging with their own traditional cultures, and speaking different languages.
Belize’s food culture draws on the country’s diverse heritage. Mainstream cuisine utilizes American, British, Mexican, and Caribbean flavors. Staples in various forms include rice and beans; Mexican food like tamales, tacos, burritos, enchiladas, empanadas, garnaches, or frittatas; and Belize’s famous chili sauces, placed on every table.
Gibnut (a type of deer), iguana (also known as bamboo chicken), armadillo, and turtle are considered delicacies but are illegal to hunt. Slices of fruit in small bags are sold on every street corner. Smoke rises with tantalizing aromas from BBQ pork and chicken on the streets, usually served in a Styrofoam box with some coleslaw and a tortilla. Conch, lobster, crab, shrimp, and fish are also popular, along with a variety of soups; ceviche appears on most menus. A lot of food is fried in fat or oil. Delicious little meat or vegetable pies are served everywhere, along with small lobster or conch fritters. More Western foods such as burgers and slices of pizza are also available.
There are several good Belizean beers, including Belikin ale and stout, and Lighthouse. Cheap local rum is popular, as are sodas and various fruit drinks. To satisfy the Belizeans’ sweet tooth, an assortment of cakes are sold and bread can be rather sweet.
Prevalent ingredients and vegetables used in cooking are coconuts, lime, honey, chilies, garlic, tomatoes, onions, black beans, plantain, yams, sweet potatoes, kidney beans, cabbage, carrots, chocho (a type of squash), calaloo (a type of spinach), sour sop, cabbage, cassava, string beans, and avocadoes. Bananas, papaya, mangoes, watermelon, citrus fruits, star fruit, and pitaya (a delicious succulent purple fruit with small black seeds) are common fruit you will see in most markets.
Belizeans love drama, song, and dance, and they celebrate their public holidays—many derived from their history—with great spirit and enthusiasm. They also love to party and celebrations can last until dawn. Celebrations are worth attending and are great fun.
Visual Art and Crafts
There are many wood carvers in Belize, who mainly produce animals and bowls. Ceramics, engravings on slate, and basket and cloth weaving are also common. Bright threads are stitched in a variety of patterns and designs onto a black background and used as tablecloths or turned into bags and pouches. These are mainly sold to tourists.
There is a flourishing art scene in Belize. The artists often draw inspiration from their surroundings, depicting locals or local scenes in bright colorful strokes. Some well-known artists include Lola Delgado, Pen Cayetano, Carolyn Carr, Eluterio Carillo, Benjamin Nicholas, Terryl Godoy, The Garcia Sisters, George Gabb, Eduardo Alamilla, Walter Castillo, Nelson Young, Orlando Garrida, and Mike Gvarra.
Belizeans love music and they like to play it loudly. There is a long history of music in Belize with contributing influences from multiple ethnic groups. You will hear a wide variety of music from reggae, Spanish ballads, hip hop, Western pop, marimba, calypso, soca, punta, brukdown, and steel drumming. Brukdown was originally developed by Creoles working in logging camps during the 18th and 19th centuries. Its main instruments include an accordion, banjo, harmonica, and a percussion instrument (whatever comes to hand, for example, using a stick to rattle the teeth in the jawbone of an animal). Wilfred Peters Boom and Chime Band are best known for brukdown music.
Punta rock originated in Dangriga in the 1970s; it draws on Garifuna music, combining Creole rhythms and heavy African percussion, and is sung in Creole or Garifuna. Andy Palacio and the Punta Rebels are probably the most well known punta rock group. A satire on the tourist business, Bikini Panti was a big hit of Palacio’s in 1988. Punta rock has since been expanded on and mixed with other styles such as R&B, jazz, and pop to create punta pop. If you like reggae or calypso music, you’ll probably like punta rock, but be prepared for vigorous hip shaking and gyrating!
Mestizo music draws on both traditional Maya music that uses log drums, rattles, and shells, and Spanish classical music. Marimba music is also popular in Mestizo communities in Belize.
Sports and Recreation
While Belizean sports aren’t highly recognized at the international level, Belizeans are passionate about sports and have struggled with a lack of finance and facilities. Soccer has the biggest following in Belize, followed by basketball. It’s worth going to a Belizean soccer match just to experience the atmosphere, the highs and lows, the euphoria, the praise shouted at players when the home team does well, and the abuse (which could make you blush!) heaped on them when they make a mistake. It’s not personal; the fans just get caught up in the heat of the moment.
Cycling is popular and, if you are up early driving, you will often see teams of cyclists racing along in training for the many national races held on national holidays. Canoeing is a part of life and also an annual challenge in the form of La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge, a four-day canoe race across 80 miles of river on Baron Bliss Day in March. Along the coast, water sports are popular and cater to Belizeans as well as to the tourist market for economic necessity.
There are three golf courses in Belize; as the number reflects, it’s not a major sport here. You will see quite a few horses around. Traditionally there was not really a horse event circuit in Belize, although there is horse racing in Burrell Boom on national holidays. A few expat establishments, primarily in Cayo, are changing the horse-racing scene; for instance, there’s a major race in Cayo called the Triple Crown Endurance Race, run by Light Rein Farm and Belize Equestrian Academy.
There are 16 different religions in Belize. Roman Catholicism is the largest by far, though its following is decreasing slightly. Other popular denominations are Seventh Day Adventists, Baptists, Anglicans, and Pentecostals. Interestingly, the largest group after the Catholics in the 2010 census is the people who said they didn’t belong to any religion. That number had doubled since the last census.
Religion is a force to be reckoned with in Belize and has a large following. Christian churches of various denominations work in partnership with the government to run the state schools. Church groups often do a lot of good community work. Unfortunately there are some church groups that prey on the poor and vulnerable by providing a community service and then requiring a mandatory contribution to the church. It is reputed to be a common fraud. The Garifuna have their own religion, as do some of the Maya. The Mennonites—although Christian—follow their own church. There are pockets of other religions in Belize, such as Hinduism, Islam, and the Baha’i faith.
A vacation rental is like a home away from home. They offer the comfort of separate bedrooms with linens, full kitchens complete with cookware and dinnerware, laundry, and an element of uniqueness to your holiday. On O‘ahu, they can be found in the form of high-rise condominiums in Waikiki and Makaha, golf course condominiums of Turtle Bay, neighborhood houses in Kailua and Lanikai, and oceanfront homes all along the coast.
When researching vacation rentals, start with a locale in mind and then search the properties in that area. In addition to the rate, most rentals will have a cleaning fee and possibly other booking fees. Also take into consideration whether tax is included in the rate. You’ll want to note the minimum night requirement of the rental as well.
A huge selection of O‘ahu vacation rentals can be had at vrbo.com, organized by region and by town to help narrow down your selections. Another major website with a substantial amount of listings is vacationrentals.com. Vacation rentals, luxury rentals, and condos are listed on hawaiianbeachrentals.com, and hawaii-beachhomes.com specializes in vacation rental homes on the beach.
For Waikiki vacation rental listings, check out aliibeachrentals.com and waikikioceanfrontrentals.com. The local Inga’s Realty specializes in Makaha vacation rentals, check out the site at skrrentals.com. If you’re looking for timeshare and vacation rentals in Ko Olina, its best to use a major vacation rental site like Vrbo.
On the windward shore, you’ll find all sorts of studios, bed-and-breakfasts, vacation rentals, and oceanfront homes. Possible sources are lanikaibb.com, having a handful of vacation rentals; kailuabeachhomes.com with luxurious beachfront homes in Kailua, Lanikai, and Waimanalo for extended stays, and lanikailuabeachrentals.com, specializing in Kailua and Lanikai studios, bed-and-breakfasts, cottages, and homes at very reasonable rates.
The North Shore has vacation rental condos at Turtle Bay and studios and homes in the North Shore neighborhoods. Shark’s Cove Rentals, a local operation with an office right across from Sharks Cove, specializes in vacation homes. For condo rentals at Turtle Bay, with accommodations on one of the championship golf courses in The Estates at Turtle Bay development, or check for condo rentals at the Kuilima Estates development.
Once you’ve found your match, the only thing left to do is stock the fridge for the week.
The day has come! At long last, S., conceived by J.J Abrams and written by Doug Dorst, is in bookstores across the country and we can finally start spreading the word about just what Abrams and Dorst have unleashed on the world.
News about Abrams’ and Dorst’s novel has spread far and wide. CBS News has some highlights from this morning’s interview with J.J. and Doug right here, as well as bonus content that didn’t air on CBS This Morning. Publishers Weekly gives S. a starred review, proclaiming the novel “multilayered and complex,” and going on to write: “the Talmudic commentary fascinate[s]…a must-read.”
Barely an hour southeast of downtown Santiago, the Río Maipo has cut a deep canyon through more than 70 kilometers of the Andean foothills before it meanders onto the plains near the town of Pirque. Once the border of the Kollasuyu, the Inka empire’s southernmost limits, the Cajón del Maipo (Canyon of the Maipo) is one of urban Santiago’s great escapes, barely an hour from the Plaza de Armas.
Starting with fine wineries at Pirque and Santa Rita, the canyon just gets better as it climbs toward the Andean crest. While parts of the main road are cluttered with cabañas, campgrounds, and restaurants, it still provides access to plenty of high and wild country, not to mention the river itself. Paved as far as Romeral, it and a parallel road from Pirque are good enough for road bikes, but other routes are suitable for mountain bikers, and hikers and horseback riders can explore the trails of Monumento Natural El Morado and the private nature reserve Cascada de las Ánimas.
The Class III–IV Río Maipo provides plenty of thrills for rafters and kayakers, even though diversions for irrigation works and even more from sand and gravel quarrying have taken their toll. At day’s end, rustic hot springs are suitable for a soak. While the area gets crowded in summer and on weekends and holidays, especially from December to March, the rest of the year it’s pretty sedate.
Transportation to the Cajón del Maipo is good and getting better—though perhaps not so interesting as when, half a century ago, a military train carried passengers from Puente Alto to El Volcán. From the Puente Alto Metro station, Buses Cajón del Maipo (tel. 02/8611518) ascend as far as San José de Maipo every eight minutes, to San Alfonso (US$2) every half hour, and to San Gabriel (US$3) hourly. From the Bellavista de La Florida station, it also goes to Baños Morales (US$12 round-trip) Saturday and Sunday at 8:30 a.m. all year; in summer, departures are daily. Taxi colectivos also shuttle up and down the canyon from the Puente Alto Metro.
Viña Santa Rita
Bernardo O’Higgins and 120 of his troops hid from the Spaniards in the catacombs at Hacienda Santa Rita (Camino Padre Hurtado 0695, Alto Jahuel, tel. 02/3622594, email@example.com, tours 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tues.–Fri., US$19 pp), a distinguished winery that named its main line of wines—120—after the event. Today, its main house is a hotel, the former colonial house (a national monument) is a restaurant, and the grounds and cellars (also a national monument) are open for tours (includes a tasting). Tours are free with lunch at La Casa de Doña Paula (tel. 02/3622520, 12:15–3:30 p.m. daily, US$25), but do not include sampling the produce.
Open by reservation only Santa Rita’s 16- room Hotel Casa Real (tel. 02/8219966, firstname.lastname@example.org, US$390–430 s or d) normally takes groups occupying at least five rooms. On a space-available basis, though, they will accept individuals or couples. Though it’s not quite in the Cajón del Maipo proper, Viña Santa Rita is part of the Maipo drainage, east of Buin and southwest of Pirque; buses from Pirque to Buin pass the front gates. For obligatory reservations, contact them at least a few days in advance.
Recently, Santa Rita has added a Museo Andino (Andean Museum, 10:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Sat., free). Oddly, given the name, it includes an Easter Island exhibition.
Viña Concha y Toro and Vicinity
On the Maipo’s south bank, 30 kilometers from Santiago, Pirque is a tranquil community that’s resisted the cookie-cutter suburbanization that mars much of southeastern Santiago. Its key attraction is Viña Concha y Toro (Victoria Subercaseaux 210, tel. 02/4765269, tours 10 a.m.–5:10 p.m. daily, US$17 pp), one of Chile’s largest and oldest wineries, but it also boasts a weekend crafts fair and is the starting point for a scenic but narrow paved road that climbs the canyon before rejoining the main road via a bridge at El Toyo.
Viña Concha y Toro offers guided tours (includes a tasting) of its vineyards, estate grounds, cellars, and museum. Spanish-language tours take place 10:30 a.m., 11 a.m., noon, and 4 p.m. daily; some are specifically for English speakers, but bilingual guides can often do both languages simultaneously. While reservations are desirable, it’s possible to join an existing group that might include—who knows?—figures such as Mick Jagger, Bono, Helmut Kohl, Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal, and others who have toured the grounds and sampled the results. Concha y Toro now has its own wine bar that serves tapas, cheeses, and a few more elaborate Chilean dishes.
Reserva Nacional Río Clarillo
In the precordillera southeast of Pirque, Reserva Nacional Río Clarillo (US$6 pp) is a 10,185-hectare unit of glossy-leaved Mediterranean scrub woodland, plus denser gallery forest along the course of its namesake river, a Maipo tributary. While Conaf does not allow camping here, it does permit picnicking and hiking.
Two short nature trails have interpretive panels: the 1.2-kilometer Sendero Interpretativo Quebrada Jorquera and the 1.7-kilometer Sendero Interpretativo Aliven Mahuida, a more biologically diverse path.
Reserva Nacional Río Clarillo is 45 kilometers southeast of Santiago and 18 kilometers from Pirque.
At the western approach to the main road up the north side of the Cajón del Maipo, just beyond the Carabineros police post at Las Vizcachas, note the informal shrine for the folk saint Difunta Correa, strongly identified with Argentina’s San Juan province but with a distinctly binational twist here. According to legend, the young mother Deolinda Correa died of thirst in the desert in the 19th century, but her baby survived at her breast; her need for water explains the bottles left by her devotees.
On the south side of the highway, a bit farther on, Vinícola Cavas del Maipo (tel. 02/8711508, 9 a.m.–4 p.m. daily, tours US$10) offers guided winery tours by reservation only, preferably made a day ahead of time. The generous tasting includes half a dozen samples of their wines, accompanied by cheese and crackers.
A short distance east of Las Vizcachas, 790 meters above sea level, La Obra was a stop on the military railroad that once climbed from Puente Alto to El Volcán; its Estación La Obra is a national monument.
Just east of La Obra, the rise known as Cuesta las Chilcas was the site of the Frente Patriótico Manuel Rodríguez’s 1986 assassination attempt on General Pinochet as he returned to Santiago from his El Melocotón country house. Five bodyguards died in a hail of bullets and a rocket launcher attack, but his chauffeur’s skilled driving saved the dictator’s life. Pinochet’s admirers have commemorated the event with a monument honoring the bodyguards.
At a bend in the river, a few kilometers north of San José de Maipo, Casa Bosque (Camino El Volcán 16829, tel. 02/8711570, entrées US$12–20) has the most extravagant decor of any Cajón del Maipo restaurant: The twisted trunks of polished cypress that hold it up seem like something from an early Disney misadventure. The simple menu based on beef, plus a few chicken and pork dishes, doesn’t match the imaginative architecture. Still, Casa Bosque is worth seeing for the spectacle; it has recently added an 18-room hotel whose interior is less preposterous than the restaurant.
San José de Maipo
The canyon’s largest town, 967 meters above sea level, San José is about 25 km up the canyon from Puente Alto. It has a leafy Plaza de Armas focused on its Iglesia y Casa Parroquial, a national monument dating from late colonial times. Its former Estación de Ferrocarril, also a national monument, was a stop on the military railroad from Puente Alto to El Volcán.
About five kilometers south of San José de Maipo, El Melocotón is most famous—or notorious— as the site of General Pinochet’s riverfront home (the first recreational kayakers to descend the Maipo, in the 1970s, faced automatic rifles pointed at them from the shore). It briefly made the news again in 2001 when it was discovered that a former FPMR guerrilla had rented a house just a few hundred meters from the general’s residence.
San Alfonso, about six kilometers southeast of El Melocotón and 1,106 meters above sea level, made news in 1997 when local residents successfully forced relocation of a natural gas pipeline from Argentina by establishing a private nature reserve at Cascada de las Ánimas. A short distance up a tree-lined dirt road before the entrance to Cascada de las Ánimas, look for the scale miniature railway circling the house and gardens of José Sagall (“Pepe Tren”), as well as his assortment of full-scale antique railcars. About 100 meters farther south, the former Estación San Alfonso is a national monument as part of the military short line that also hauled Santiaguinos to their weekend getaways from the capital.
Hotel Altiplánico (Camino al Volcán 29955, tel. 02/8612078, US$230 s, US$320 d) is the latest effort of the boutique hotel chain that now has properties in Puerto Natales, San Pedro Atacama, and Easter Island.
Santuario de la Naturaleza Cascada de las Ánimas
In the midst of a multiyear struggle to divert a natural gas pipeline from Argentina, the Andean precordillera of the Astorga family’s former fundo (large rural estate) Cascada de la Ánimas became one of Chile’s first private nature reserves (Camino al Volcán 31087, San Alfonso, tel. 02/8611303) in 1995. Two years later the owners managed to definitively defeat the pipeline.
In practice, the official designation hasn’t made much difference, but it allows them to continue, without disruption, the activities- oriented recreation that has made the 3,600-hectare property a prime destination for hikers, riders, and especially white-water rafters and kayakers. Descending the Maipo (US$40 pp) is a Class III–IV experience that’s normally suitable for novices, but the river can get wild enough for more experienced whitewater lovers, especially during the spring runoff. Elevations range from about 1,100 meters along the river to 3,050 meters on the highest summit.
Many Santiaguino families come here for picnicking and swimming at Cascada’s large outdoor pool on the river’s more developed north side. In the summer high season, fees are US$16 pp for adults, US$10 for kids; the rest of the year, prices are half.
Most other activities take place on the south side, where the Sendero Cascada de las Ánimas is a short guided hike to its namesake waterfall. More foreigners than Chileans undertake the 2–3-hour guided climb to the summit of Cerro Pangal. While horseback riders will enjoy this scenic terrain, much of it is very steep and novice riders should be particularly cautious. Cascada also offers longer 2–3-day rides into the backcountry.
The campground charges US$20 per person for camping for adults, US$16 for children; after the first night, though, the price drops by 20–25 percent. Cabaña accommodations cost US$100 double, US$150 for up to four people; larger cabañas are also available. These prices include pool access and a guided hike to the waterfall.
In addition, Cascada’s restaurant La Tribu offers a diverse menu ranging from Chilean standards such as cabrito (kid goat) and pastel de choclo, as well as Thai and other international dishes. The new terrace has unobstructed river views.
There is something for everyone in Belize, whether you want a rural or urban location, jungle or beach, serenity or hustle and bustle. You can island hop or live on the mainland. Despite its small size, Belize is a beautiful and diverse country. Because of its small size, you can get around fairly easily and quickly. People inland sometimes take a weekend break at the cayes or on the coast, and vice versa. Some people move to Belize, settle in one part and then move to another. Quite a few have started off in Corozal and ended up in Cayo or elsewhere. Others have spent time on the cayes and then come inland to Cayo. Which part of Belize suits you depends on your geographical predilection, how much of a social life you want, what your interests and hobbies are, and how much you rely on modern luxuries and utilities. That’s the beauty of Belize—everyone is different and most find something to their taste.
On the whole, people don’t move to Belize for the urban experience because there really isn’t one and most are looking to get away from the frantic bustle of city life, preferring a secluded spot in the jungle or by the sea. The urban centers that are in Belize aren’t like those in North America. The few that come anywhere near the description are a lot smaller and have less to offer than you would experience in a big city in Europe or North America. San Ignacio is quite busy and a few expats live there or on the outskirts. Belmopan is tiny, but will gather momentum as it grows. With the establishment of a few diplomatic missions the social life in Belmopan is picking up. Belize City is not so popular due to its reputation of bad security, but it has a bit more variety. Most expats don’t live there but do visit occasionally.
Regarding bugs and reptiles, it doesn’t matter where you live in Belize; you will encounter vast quantities of them, and they are often worse during the rainy season. They can be a mild irritation, but the variety of flora and fauna makes up for it. How active your social life is also up to you. It’s easier to wander into bars and restaurants on the cayes and in Placencia. Of course, the more involved you are within the community, the more people you will get to know. If you have children and want to place them in private schools, that will narrow your living choices down to San Pedro and the Belmopan area.
Prime Living Locations in Belize by District
Corozal is in northern Belize, close to the border of Mexico. Its proximity to Mexico is one of its attractions. Just over the border in Chetumal there is access to large shopping malls, cinemas, and good medical care. If you need to stock up on luxuries or have a taste of so-called civilization, Chetumal is a short drive or boat trip away. Most of Corozal is flat with some beautiful lagoons and well-known nature reserves, and has some ancient Maya ruins such as Cerros and Santa Rita. Its main attraction is the long coastal stretch, which dips into the crystal clear turquoise waters of the Caribbean. There are a few small beaches with firm, hard white sand, but mainly there are piers stretching out to sea. Although part of Belize District, Ambergris Caye is close by. A few people are scattered around, but on the whole people live in developments around villages like Consejo. There is a large concentration of expats and quite a few clubs and activities which contribute to a decent social life. There are also some good restaurants in Corozal. The area has the least rainfall in Belize and, allegedly, the fewest bugs!
Cayo has a combination of wild, rugged, emerald green jungles covering hills and valleys, reaching down to the Mopan and Macal Rivers. If you have a pioneering spirit, and really want to get away from it all, Cayo is a good place to be. You can buy several acres, live off the grid if you like, and build your own house. The upside to Cayo is that a social life (if you want it), one or two up-market hotels, several beautiful jungle resorts, and a few decent bars and places to eat are not far away. Belmopan is still slowly coming to life, but the twin towns of San Ignacio and Santa Elena are growing and vibrant, and are good places to get most of your shopping done and catch up with people. The Guatemalan border crossing is not far at Benque Viejo and the Guatemalan town of Melchor offers a bit more variety and markets. It’s beneficial to be so close to Belmopan for all official requirements. But the real draw is living life on the wild side, away from the hustle and bustle of towns, and in the beautiful, tranquil jungle. It feels like you’re away from everything, although your closest neighbors may be five minutes down the road. There are several ancient Mayan ruins: Caracol, Xunantunich, Cahal Pech, and El Pilar. There are some fantastic places to go riding and plenty of spots to go canoeing. Up in the Mountain Pine Ridge are there are waterfalls and caves that will take your breath away. Cayo offers an adventure-filled, outdoorsy way of life.
There are over 400 islands off the coast of Belize, some are close to the shore, others are far out towards the barrier reef. Quite a few have accommodations. Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker are the largest (but still quite small) cayes and embody the Caribbean dream lifestyle. The pace is slow and laid-back. In parts there are white sandy beaches, plenty of piers, and stunningly beautiful, crystal-clear, turquoise waters. The social scene is good, as most people live in San Pedro or the built-up area on Caye Caulker. Tourism is the mainstay economy for both islands, so there is a large variety of restaurants and bars to cover all budgets and tastes. Belize is also known for amazing diving and snorkeling, and all other water sports are on offer, including sailing and fishing. Access to and from the cayes is quite easy with regular boats and flights to and from Belize City and Chetumal.
Of all the districts, Stann Creek has something for everyone. It has a stretch of coast that is the closest in Belize to the barrier reef. It has the Sittee River area, which is known for its amazing birdlife and fishing. The river is deep enough for large boats to sail up and down, and the Caribbean is just around the bend. Not far to the west, the craggy, jungle-clad peaks of the Cockscombe Range stretch into the district, including Belize’s second highest point after Doyle’s Delight, Victoria Peak (3,675 ft). Beaches are nice in Stann Creek and all manner of water sports are available. Hopkins Village is a social spot with a few restaurants and cafés. Further south lie several high-end resorts. Traveling down the Placencia Peninsula leads to Placencia Village, a wonderful, warm place, popular with tourists. Most of the village is made up of brightly colored, wooden clapboard houses and it has a wonderful beach. To the west of the peninsula lies a lagoon. If you enjoy a social life, this is a good place to be.
If you really want to get away from everything, you can’t get more remote than Toledo in southern Belize. It has the only true rainforest in Belize, which offers marvelous opportunities to trek and explore caves and rivers. There are several Maya villages where you can stay and get a genuine cultural experience. Toledo has a long coastline stretching to the border with Guatemala and beautiful cayes, which are less visited by tourists and allow you to explore and enjoy the marine life in peace. It receives the highest level of rainfall in Belize and has rich and varied plants and wildlife. Traditionally Toledo has been the least developed part of Belize and few people have bothered to make the trip down south—their loss! Since the Southern Highway was paved, people are becoming more interested in Toledo and visitor numbers are increasing. There is a sizeable expat community living here who wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else. Although it is similar to Cayo, there are Cayo residents who go down to Toledo for a break.
More than one observer has noted the similarities between Asian and Latin American cultures: Both emphasize social harmony and saving face. To North Americans, who often value honesty above harmony, the Costa Rican method of preserving accord and personal honor can sometimes look a lot like lying. Ticos don’t much like our version of honesty, however, thinking it clumsy and rude.
What you see here is not what you get. Ticos are known as “icebergs” because often only a fraction of their true selves is visible; it’s easy to crash into the 95 percent hidden beneath the surface. The smiling exterior of a Tico acquaintance might conceal many things. Attempts to set things straight—to speak perhaps uncomfortable truths for the good of the relationship—don’t find much favor in this culture.
Things do get communicated, but to the uninitiated, the language might as well be code. In the rare instances I manage—with the help of locals—to gain insight into problematic situations, from giving the wrong gift at a child’s birthday party to the proper way to issue dinner invitations, I hear comments like, “I thought you knew,” or “But wasn’t it obvious?”
No, it wasn’t obvious. When you’re new to a culture, what’s obvious to natives is not obvious to you. One consolation is that you’re expanding your awareness of your own assumptions as well as opening your eyes to the fact that there are dozens of ways in this world to solve the same problem. Keen observation, good will, and a boundless sense of the absurd will serve you well as you adapt to your new environment. The process brings unexpected gifts of self-knowledge as you discover what parts of yourself you’re willing and able to change, and which are more bedrock aspects of your character. If all else fails, remember the old saying: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
You’re on a crowded bus, and you’ve been lucky enough to get a seat. In the press of bodies, the señorita in the aisle has her ample behind smashed up against your shoulder, the kid in the seat behind you is playing with your hair, and a man leans over, a few inches from your face, to open the window. No one says “perdón”; no one even glances your way to acknowledge that they are—by North American standards, at least—making serious incursions into your personal space.
Whether you think this normal, charmingly different, or downright rude will depend on your culture and upbringing. It’s one of my pet peeves, in part because my response to it is so very physical. I can explain away other cultural differences, but this one makes me feel like a dog with her hackles up. A local told me to think of it as a sort of compliment—a collective hug, welcoming me to the extended family.
This reduced margin can also be seen in the way Ticos drive. Costa Ricans pull out into traffic that would give North Americans pause, pass even if a truck is bearing down from the other direction, and cut off cars so closely you’re amazed that there aren’t even more accidents.
Early (and Noisy) Risers
Most Ticos are up before six in the morning, and they aren’t tiptoeing around, trying not to wake the gringos who sleep till eight. Señoras bang pots, kids squeal, and the buses that pick up schoolchildren honk at every door. Construction crews hammer away, leaf blowers are turned on high, and even the birds get up early to contribute to the racket.
If you can’t fight them (and you can’t), you may as well join them. You will be much, much happier if you adjust to Tico hours, which means getting up with the sun and going to bed as early as 9pm. Out in the country there’s little to do at night, and even in cities things are usually quiet by midnight. After the adjustment period you may even find that you really like being up for the sunrise.
Cusco is awash with tourist accommodations, and there is huge variation, from bare-bones dorms to some of the best hotels in Peru. There is a sufficient range of hotels and hostels in the tourist center, so there is no need to stay outside this zone. Your biggest decision is between staying close to Plaza de Armas, which is busy and noisier, or heading up the hills north, south, or west of the main plazas to seek out quieter lodgings, many of which have great views. The most pleasant of these is the bohemian neighborhood of San Blas, which has a relaxing, artsy vibe. Its narrow streets keep out the traffic and smog of central Cusco.
Traffic has made parts of Cusco unpleasant. These areas include the extension of Plateros and Avenida El Sol, where even the back rooms of hotels hum with the noise of taxis and amplified advertisements. Outside of San Blas, Cusco’s nicest lodging is along out-of-the-way streets like Suecia, Choquechaca, or Siete Cuartones/Nueva Alta, where classy bed-and-breakfasts line charming cobblestone streets. Try to make a reservation ahead of time in Cusco, and ask for the kind of room you want (e.g., with a view or with a double bed). Quality is variable, so try to check the room before paying. Despite a steady increase in Cusco hotels, the best ones are increasingly booked solid May-November. If you arrive and don’t like your room, you can usually wriggle out of your reservation after your first night and head elsewhere—there are lots of good options, especially among the newer, lesser-known hostels.
Central Cusco Accommodations Under US$10
For budget accommodations, backpacker hostels are a good option, and there are now quite a few in Cusco. Bear in mind that these places tend to be noisier with regular parties, which may or may not suit you. The most popular are The Point (Meson de la Estrella 172, tel. 084/25-2266, US$8-13 dorms) and LOKI Inkahouse (Cuesta Santa Ana 601, tel. 084/24-3705, US$9-13 dorm, US$33 d private bath). Both have locations in Lima and Máncora, dorm rooms (and a few private rooms) that open onto TV rooms, Internet stations, shared kitchens, and bars. They have a reputation for their parties, and you are bound to meet other travelers.
Youth Hostal Albergue Municipal (Quiscapata 240, San Cristóbal, tel. 084/25-2506, email@example.com, US$6 dorm, US$8 d), part of Hostelling International, has great views from the balcony, clean bunk rooms, and a shared kitchen. A discount is given to youth hostel members.
Central Cusco Accommodations for US$10-50
The name of Hostal Resbalosa (Resbalosa 494, tel. 084/22-4839, US$16 d shared bath, US$22 d private bath) translates as “slippery hostel,” which might not seem immediately inviting. But it is appropriate for the steep walk up here. The hostel itself is one of the best budget options in town. Service is friendly, rooms are well-equipped with orthopedic mattresses, hot water, and cable TV, but the highlight is the sweeping view over Cusco from the terrace. The rooms at the top are better.
Pirwa Backpackers (Portal de Panes 151, tel. 084/24-4315, US$12 dorm, US$35 d) has four central locations: the Plaza de Armas, Suecia, San Blas, and San Francisco. They all have a variety of dorms and private rooms, most with shared kitchen, common rooms, and a travel desk. A great backpacker option is Ecopackers (Santa Teresa 375, tel. 084/231-800, US$10-14 dorms, US$35-45 d), set in a beautiful former colonial home. It offers a courtyard with games, a travel agency, WiFi, and a decent, well-priced restaurant. Dorms and showers are well-equipped. The private rooms are overpriced, but for backpacker groups, the dorms are a very good deal.
For a location one block from the Plaza de Armas, look no further than Hostal Rojas (Tigre 129, tel. 084/22-8184, US$14 d shared bath, US$24 d with private bath), with clean, carpeted rooms around a sunny courtyard inhabited by an entertaining parrot.
Mama Simona (Ceniza 364, tel. 084/260-408, US$10-15 pp) has a selection of dorms and private rooms, plus a colorful sitting room. Another good hostel is El Cuy Hostal (US$12 pp), which has private rooms with cable TV, private baths, and WiFi, although the showers tend to be warm rather than hot. Che Lagarto (US$12 dorms, US$45 d) is another hostel. The dorms are good value but private rooms are overpriced.
The charming Sihuar (Tandapata 351, tel. 084/22-7435, US$25 d) is a two-level building that looks out over a patio and garden. The good-value rooms are pleasant and tastefully decorated, with wooden floors, woven rugs, and hot water.
Central Cusco Accommodations for US$25-50
A very good value hotel is Conde Meloc (Meloq 420, tel. 084/221-117, US$22 s, US$33 d), which has elegant rooms and a cozy atmosphere.
Niños Hotel (Meloq 442, tel. 084/23-1424, US$50 s or d) is a remarkable place with a cause. Its Dutch owner uses hotel revenue to feed, clothe, and provide medical assistance to street children. Just four blocks from the Plaza de Armas, this restored colonial home is a very attractive setting. With large, stylish rooms, hardwood floors, and a pleasant courtyard for taking breakfast, it’s easy to make yourself at home. There is a second location at Fierro 476 (tel. 084/254-611) and a Niños Hotel Hacienda in Huasao.
In this range, the option with the best location is Cusco Royal Suite (Suecia, tel. 084/231-080, US$30 s, US$40 d), which has comfortable rooms just up from the plaza. The hostel is run by a friendly family.
Central Cusco Accommodations for US$50-100
A lovely place in Tandapata is Casona les Pleiades (Tandapata 116, tel. 084/50-6430, US$65 d). Whether it be Melanie or Philip who opens the door for you, the welcome is bound to be warm and friendly. This young French couple has made their seven-room home into a guesthouse, and their aim is to make you feel right at home. There are down comforters on the beds and eggs made to order for breakfast.
The good-value European/Peruvian hotel Madre Tierra (Atocsaycuchi 647-A, tel. 084/24-8452, US$49 s, US$58 d) has seven comfortable carpeted rooms. Cozy and inviting communal areas have white sofas, exposed beams, and open fireplaces.
Hostal El Balcon (Tambo de Montero 222, tel. 084/23-6738, US$45-60 s, US$55-75 d) is a restored colonial house with rustic charm and a pretty, flower-filled garden. This 16-room hostel is quaint and homely, and rooms are decorated simply with weavings on the beds.
The unpretentious Hostal Corihuasi (Suecia 561, tel. 084/23-2233, US$38-44 s, US$50-55 d) is a quick, steep walk up from the Plaza de Armas and has old-world charm that befits Cusco. The rooms of this rambling, eclectic colonial house are connected by verandas and walkways. Some of the rooms are nicer with views over the city; others are dark, with porthole windows, so make sure you check your room before paying.
MamaSara Hotel (Saphy 875, tel. 084/24-5409, US$65 s, US$90 d), a short walk from the plaza up Saphy, is very pleasant and comfortable. The rooms are heated and spacious, and they come with flat-screen TVs, good showers, and oxygen on request. Another good option right off the plaza is Del Prado Inn (Suecia 310, 084/224-442, US$65 s, US$95 d), with stylish warm rooms and an ideal location.
An impressive, original Inca doorway, once the entrance to a sacred place, is now the way into the hotel Rumi Punku (Choquechaca 339, tel. 084/22-1102, US$80 s, US$100 d). Light-filled terraces, a garden with an original Inca wall, and a gym and spa make this a pleasant place to stay.
Another midrange hotel with an excellent location is Cusco Plaza (Plazoleta Nazarenas 181, tel. 084/246-161, US$55 s, US$65 d). The rooms are relatively simple, but the views are great and it’s perfect to be on the quiet square.
Central Cusco Accommodations for US$100-150
The well-known national hotel chain Casa Andina has four of its Classic Collection hotels at ideal locations in the center of Cusco. Two are within one block of the Plaza de Armas (Santa Catalina Angosta 149, tel. 084/23-3661, and Portal Espinar 142, tel. 084/23-1733), one is near Coricancha (San Agustín 371, tel. 084/25-2633), and the fourth in San Blas (Chihuampata 278, tel. 084/26-3694). These well-designed, comfortable hotels provide excellent service, and all have the same prices (US$140 s/d). The aim of the hotels is to reflect the local character of a place and give a genuine experience using local ideology and local products where possible, without sacrificing comfort and convenience. All rooms have down comforters, heating, and cable TV, and a generous breakfast buffet is included. A good option in this range is Tierra Viva (Saphi 766, tel. 084/241-414, and Suecia 345, tel. 084/245-848, US$129 s, US$141 d), which has two hotels near the center with impeccable rooms and a buffet breakfast.
The Hotel Arqueologo (Pumacurco 408, tel. 084/23-2569, US$120 d standard, US$140 d superior) occupies an old colonial building. Rooms with high ceilings wrap around a rustic stone courtyard or overlook a grassy garden. The hotel tries to maintain an eco-friendly philosophy by having its own bio-veggie garden, recycling rubbish, providing a fountain with drinking water to refill bottles, and only providing TVs in rooms upon request. The first-floor café, Song Thé, has comfortable sofas, a fireplace, and French pastries.
Central Cusco Accommodations for US$150-250
The Novotel (San Agustín 239, tel. 084/58-1030, US$240 d modern room, US$320 d colonial room) is in a restored colonial manor that has a patio lined with stone arches, lamps, and wicker furniture for evening drinks. Undoubtedly the best rooms are those on the second floor around the stone courtyard, with wood floors, high ceilings, king-size beds, sitting areas, and all creature comforts (security box, minibar, cable TV, heating). The other 82 rooms are comfortable but bland, small, and sterile in an unfortunate five-story modern addition.
Equal in elegance and similar in layout, but cheaper and better value is Picoaga Hotel (Santa Teresa 344, tel. 084/22-7691, US$160 d modern room, US$180 d colonial, US$200 junior suite), which is ideally located one block from Plaza Regocijo and a two-minute walk from the Plaza de Armas. This 17th-century colonial mansion, which once belonged to the Spanish noble Marquis de Picoaga, has been well restored with stone archways and columns wrapping around a classic colonial patio. The colonial rooms are worth the extra US$20, as they are more comfortable and attractive than the rooms in the characterless modern part.
Central Cusco Accommodations for Over US$250
The five-star Hotel Libertador Palacio del Inka (Plazoleta Santo Domingo 259, tel. 084/23-1961, US$305 d) has a great location next to Coricancha, the Inca sun temple. It occupies the Casa de los Cuatro Bustos, Francisco Pizarro’s last home. It is built on the foundation of the acllahuasi, “the house of the chosen ones,” where virgins picked by the Inca lived in seclusion from society. The entrance to the Hotel Libertador is spectacular. A stone portal leads into a glass-roofed lobby, lined on one side by Spanish stone arches and on the other by exposed portions of stone Inca walls. There is an excellent buffet breakfast served alongside another large square, ringed with two stories of stone arcades. Throughout the hotel are examples of original colonial furniture, artifacts, and paintings. Ask for rooms in the colonial section, with views of the sun temple. The suites are larger with sitting areas and marble bathrooms, and are probably worth paying the extra for.
Casa Andina Private Collection (Plazoleta Limacpampa Chico 473, tel. 084/232-610, US$320 s/d) is the best of Casa Andina’s hotels in town. This beautifully renovated 18th-century manor house is just three blocks from Cusco’s Plaza de Armas, and it offers the intimacy of a boutique hotel but the comforts and services of a much larger property. The hotel has three interior patios with wooden balconies and a stone fountain. In the hotel’s cozy lounge and reading room is a massive stone fireplace that’s always crackling, while the gourmet restaurant offers candlelit dinners in one of four connected salons richly decorated with 18th-century Cusco School paintings. Several rooms in the original structure of the hotel feature surviving colonial frescoes unearthed during renovation.
One of the more memorable places to stay in Cusco is Hotel Monasterio (Palacio 136, Plazoleta Nazarenas, tel. 084/60-4000, US$634 basic d or US$806-2,232 suites), a 415-year-old monastery that has been converted into an elegant five-star hotel. The stone lobby leads to a dramatic stone courtyard, graced with an ancient cedar tree and lined with two stories of stone archways. Colonial paintings line long hallways, which wrap around two other stone patios. The rooms are decked out in old-world Spanish decor, including carved wooden headboards and colonial paintings, and include all the plush five-star comforts. They can even be pumped with oxygen, simulating an altitude 900 meters lower that allows guests to sleep more soundly.
The hotel occupies the former Seminario San Antonio Abad, which was built in 1595 on top of the Inca Amaru Qhala Palace but was badly damaged in the 1650 earthquake. During the restoration, a colonial baroque chapel was added, which remains open to guests and has one of the most ornate altars in Cusco. After yet another damaging earthquake in 1950, the building was condemned and auctioned by the Peruvian government in 1995. It eventually landed in the hands of Orient-Express Hotels, which carefully restored the stonework, planted fabulous gardens, and converted the former cells into 126 plush rooms. These days, guests take lunch in the main square, which is shaded by a giant cedar, scented by a rose garden, and filled with the gurgling of a 17th-century stone fountain. The hotel hosts one of Cusco’s three gourmet restaurants, and also includes a small massage room. It’s a few minutes’ walk from the Plaza de Armas.
Diagonally opposite the Monasterio on Plaza de las Nazarenas is Inkaterra La Casona (Plaza de las Nazarenas 113, tel. 084/23-4010, US$720 patio suite, US$924 balcony suite, US$1,128 plaza suite). Literally named “the big house,” it offers a homely but luxurious atmosphere. This beautiful colonial mansion was first built in 1585. Following the Spanish conquest it was possessed by Francisco Barrientos, lieutenant to Diego de Almagro. It has now been officially named a historical monument by the Instituto Nacional de Cultura, and has been exquisitely restored into 11 luxurious suites with original caoba doors. The doors to La Casona are closed to the outside world, ensuring the utmost privacy. The philosophy of the hotel is to provide a personalized service; you’ll struggle to find the front door, and there is no reception, just a butler and concierge who prioritize individuals’ needs. Rooms are decorated with faded frescoes, colonial tapestries, Persian rugs, and antiques, ensuring the original feel of the home without sacrificing modern comfort and luxury. Every suite has thermostat-controlled heated floors, flat-screen TV, DVD player, iPod speakers, WiFi, and minibar. There is also a private spa and massage room. La Casona also prides itself on being one of Peru’s first carbon-neutral hotels.
In Memphis, there are only two reasons to go to a juke joint full of blues: because you feel good or because you feel bad. Beale Street is a reliable source seven nights a week, and your visit to Memphis wouldn’t be complete without checking out its scene. But if you want to sneak away from the tourist crowd and catch some homegrown talent, check out a real Memphis juke joint. Live music is typical on Friday and Saturday nights and sometimes Sunday, but it gets scarce during the week. Generally music starts late (11 p.m.) and finishes early (3 a.m.). Don’t be surprised if the person you’ve engaged in conversation sitting next to you gets called to the stage sometime during the evening and delivers a beautiful song.
Remember that it’s in the nature of things for these clubs to come and go. The following listings were current as of this writing, but they are always subject to change.
Wild Bill’s (1580 Vollentine St., 901/726-5473): A legendary club in Memphis. The Patriarch himself passed away in the summer of 2007, but what he established will still carry on. The quintessential juke joint. Small, intimate, an open kitchen serving chicken wings, and ice-cold beer served in 40-ounce bottles. Home to Ms. Nikki and the Memphis Soul Survivors.
CC’s Blues Club (1427 Thomas St., 901/526-5566): More upscale. More mirrors. But a great dance floor, and don’t you dare come underdressed. Security guards patrol the parking lot.
Mr. Handy’s Blues Hall (182 Beale St., 901/528-0150): New Orleans has Preservation Hall. Memphis has Handy’s Blues Hall. Everyone bad-raps Beale Street and its jangly tourism scene, but if you catch it on a good night when Dr. Feelgood warms up his harmonica and you look around the room at the memorabilia on the walls, you could be in a joint at the end of a country road in Mississippi.
The Blue Worm (1405 Airways Dr., 901/327-7947): When a legendary juke joint band gets old and disintegrates, this is where it ends up. The Fieldstones have been the band in Memphis since the early ’60s. Now it’s down to Wilroy Sanders, the Last Living Bluesman. The house band can get behind anybody and make them a superstar, for one glorious song.
Big S Bar and Grill (1179 Dunnavant Ave., 901/775-9127): They say blues is a feeling. The Big S doesn’t have live music, but if you want to sink into the atmosphere of a bar that’s dark with mystery and history plus the warmest vibe in town, come on home. Blues DJ on Sunday nights, and the jukebox is a veritable encyclopedia of blues.
The Boss (912 Jackson Ave., 901/522-8883): Thursday nights only. Ever heard the overused phrase “best-kept secret in town”? Jesse Dotson on piano. Leroy Hodges on bass. Roy Cunningham on drums. An array of singers like Preacher Man, O. T. Sykes. Now you don’t have to wait for the weekend.
For many visitors, winter is the best time to see Vermont. Twinkling Christmas lights on the pine trees at quaint country inns call to mind a Norman Rockwell version of the season. But enough of that—the real reason you come to the Green Mountain State in the winter is to strap on some sticks or a board and get up on that fresh powder. Here’s a primer on finding slopes for every desire.
Big and Bad
For many skiers in the East, the sport starts and ends with Killington, the biggest, baddest mountain in these parts. Or make that mountains—with six peaks to choose from, Killington literally has something for everyone, including careening double diamonds, twisting glades, and family-friendly cruisers.
For a slightly less crowded experience, many skiers head north to Sugarbush, which is second only to Killington in number and variety of trails; it boasts a large amount of natural snowfall thanks to the storms that come in from Lake Champlain.
“Uncrowded” doesn’t describe Mount Snow, the rowdy party mountain in the southern part of the state, but it does have the most accessible big mountain skiing around, making it a favorite of day-trippers from New York and southern New England.
You know the type—those who eschew the latest moisture-wicking jackets and snowboards for a beat-up old parka and the same skis they’ve had since high school. In Vermont, purists like this flock to Mad River Glen, an unapologetically ugly and demanding pile of rock in Waitsfield, where half the trails are double diamond and the motto is “Ski It If You Can.”
Somewhat more forgiving is nearby Stowe Mountain Resort, which hugs the slopes of Vermont’s highest peak, Mount Mansf ield, and has resisted the runaway development of some mountains we won’t name to work with the surrounding community and keep alive the true alpine village.
Those really wanting to get away from it all go all the way to the Canadian border to Jay Peak, which boasts the most snowfall of any mountain in Vermont and gives skiers plenty of elbow room with which to enjoy all that powder.
Winning the prize for best all-around resort is Stratton Mountain, which offers a good balance of big mountain skiing and accessibility. It’s particularly popular with snowboarders—after all, the sport was invented here, and Stratton claims no fewer than five terrain parks for the sport.
Nearby, Okemo wins accolades for its skier-friendly atmosphere and a good balance of difficult trails and programs for kids and families.
Parents can’t do much better than Smugglers’ Notch, which offers a money-back guarantee if any member of the family doesn’t have a good time. Small chance of that, as three mountains, kids’ and teens’ programs, and an indoor activity center provide plenty to put a smile on the face of even the most recalcitrant youngster.
In southern Vermont, Bromley Mountain markets itself as a resort for the whole family, with nearly 50 trails for all abilities and a ski school for kids featuring mascot Clyde Catamount.
Next door to Killington, pint-sized Pico Mountain offers inviting terrain for beginners and intermediate skiers, along with lift privileges at its big brother for the experts in the family.
Off the Groomed Trail
The best deal in Vermont skiing is undoubtedly the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, the official course for Middlebury College’s alpine team. Free from crowds and affordable at $30 for adults, it nevertheless offers plenty of challenging terrain.
Similarly off the beaten track is Burke Mountain, a much larger mountain with 50 trails hidden in the Northeast Kingdom. It’s usually buried under snow, which it gets some 250 inches of annually. Yet despite that, and despite some truly challenging upper-mountain slopes that could hold their own with any mountain in the East, it is a virtual ghost town during the week.