By Nick Kontis July 25, 2012
When the Belize Tourist Board suggested that I take a trip to explore the ”Central American Nirvana” once known as British Honduras, I quickly jumped at the opportunity. A trip was arranged by the tourist board to visit to the Belize Zoo, and a stay at Cave’s Branch Resort for a “bungle in the jungle.” After three days in the jungle rappelling and spelunking (cave diving), I was off to my next adventure and the reason most travelers come to Belize. A trip to Belize’s barrier reef. A trip to see Belize’s Caribbean underwater wonderland. As much as I was intoxicated by sights and sounds of the jungles of Belize and my tree house room at the Cave’s Branch Resort, it was time to head to the beach for some scuba diving. A stay at the famous Portofino Resort on Ambergris Caye.
Welcome to Paradise Undiscovered – Portofino Resort After a short flight on Tropic Air from Belize City to San Pedro, the airport and main city on Ambergris Caye. I was met by Jan Van Noord, owner of the Portofino Resort. As I have a love for the Dutch, the moment I met Jan, all 6 foot 7 of him, I knew right away that we would become good friends. Such was the case with Jan and his wife Sandra. The Dutch-Belgian couple left Europe with their two small children for a life in the tropics. I asked, “why Belize? and why Ambergris Caye?” Jan assured me that I would soon understand.
Belize is home to the world’s second largest barrier reef. Only the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Australia is bigger. Close to 190 miles of unobstructed reef run the length of the entire nation. Of the 200 plus islands of Belize, the largest and closest to the barrier reef is Ambergris Caye, a water sports mecca. Discovered by Jacques Cousteau in the 70s, the underwater aquarium of Belize attracts divers from throughout the world who come to dive in the azure waters, and mingle with its lively array of sea life. Scuba divers come to Ambergris Caye from all over the world to plunge to depths of over 100 feet deep into the world famous ‘Blue Hole’ and to dive with the array of rays, sharks, turtles, and colorful fish at the likes of Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley. Belize and Ambergris Caye is also home to one of the best kept secret fishing destinations in the Caribbean. With plenty of saltwater flats, reef, river & deep sea fishing. Fly fishing for Tarpon, Permit, Bone Fish is among the best in the world.
San Pedro town boasts a vibrant nightlife filled with restaurants, bars, shops on three main streets. A hassle free town. What I soon discovered was a laid back, friendly Belizean vibe. The Mayan and Caribbean mixture works well. Sprinkle in a few Americans, Canadians and European, and you have the perfect mixture for a trouble free country. All of its citizens seems to get along. I was amazed, living part of the year in Mexico, and being well traveled, I’m quite use to people trying to sell me a time share, tour, or a meal. In Belize there were no pushy sales people at all.After a couple of Belikin Beers, the local beer of Belize at Fido’s Restaurant and Bar. It was off to the Portofino Resort. Although road travel is possible on Ambergris Caye. The main form of transportation is by speed boat, or water taxi .The Portofino Resort is north of San Pedro town. The six mile ride to the Portofino by fast boat takes around 20 minutes. The Portofino also owns its own boat to transport its staff and the guests to and from the Portofino and San Pedro.
Upon arrival I was greeted by the very professional hotel manager Lorraine, who had many activities planned for me. She showed me to my room in the Lower Mansion Suite. I soon found out that staying at the Portofino, being a small resort, is like staying with family. The service and hospitality was among the best I’ve had at any hotel I’ve stayed at. They say that exceptional service and the employees attention to detail of every guest are the key components to a most enjoyable hotel stay and vacation, making you want to return again and again. The staff went overboard in caring for all of my needs. The Portofino restaurant, Le Bistro, served up breakfast, lunch and five star gourmet dinners on the second level of the resort with picturesque views of the reef and crystal blue Caribbean water. The menu is a European-Caribbean fusion and is prepared to perfection by the Portofino European trained head chef. The lobster melts in your mouth. As they say, “hats 0ff to the chef.”
The reason you come to Ambergris Caye is to enjoy the surrounding waters. Lorraine and her assistant, Sandra planed my stay by arranging day trips from the Portofino to the local sights to snorkel, dive, fish, sail and more. The Portofino staff takes care of every detail, and guides you to the best trips to make your Belizean adventure an unforgettable experience. The Portofino only uses the most trusted operators for your excursions. Having my base at Portofino Resort made the trip a breeze. Normally on travels I have to do all the ground work to plan my trip. But staying at Portofino, the goal was to relax and dive. My goal was to go on as many dives as possible, and my new friends took care of everything.
The beauty of being a diver in Belize and staying at the Portofino on Ambergris Caye is, with the exception of the Blue Hole dive, which is a four hour boat ride in each direction, the distances to any dive spot can be no more than an hour. The barrier reef almost touches Ambergris Caye. One spot, ‘Mexico Rocks’ is accessible by taking a 15 minute kayak ride, right off the Portofino Resort beach. The beauty of these turquoise blue waters is that a snorkeler can almost view as much sea life as a diver, and have as much fun.
At night, you can hang out by the Portofino bar and have your meal at one of the best restaurant on the island, Portofino’s Le Bistro restaurant overlooking the Caribbean or take the Portofino boat or a water taxi into San Pedro for a bit of local flavor.After five nights at the Portofino sadly it was time to say good bye to the Portofino and say good bid farewell to Belize.As I told Sandra and Jan as I left, and to quote Arnold Schwerznegger, “I’ll be back.”
American Airlines, Delta, Taca and United are the major airlines flying to Belize City.
Feeling adventurous? San Pedro Ferries offers a daily two hour speed boat from Chetumal, the southernmost Mexican city in the state of Quintana Roo to San Pedro Town on Ambergris Caye. Tropic Air and Maya Island Air fly within Belize.
Where to Stay:
The Portofino Resort is the perfect place to call home on Ambergris Caye.
Where to Eat:
Le Bistro restaurant at the Portofino Resort if you wish to stay at home.
For a night in town try Elvi’s Grill for their Mayan Buffet, Caramba for Mexican specialties, Blue Water Grill for sushi nights and grilled fish, Fido’s Restaurant and Bar for pub grub in a friendly atmosphere including live music. Jambel Jerk Pit for spicy and flavorful, but not too hot Jamaican Jerk, Mangoes for Caribbean and Cajun fare.
Tour Operators: Professional and Trustworthy
Amigos Del Mar – Diving
About the Author:
Nick Kontis – Travel Expert and Founder of the World Travel ListNick Kontis started out as a world traveler at an early age traveling back and forth between California and Greece every summer. But it was a backpacking trip around the world at age 24 that proved to be a life changing experience. After traveling by car, train, plane, bike and, boat around the world, it would be this trip of a lifetime that would lead to a life as a travel entrepreneur and world traveler. Nick has been on both radio and television. Featured on Arthur Frommer’s television show, and referred by Lonely Planet writers. Frequently mentioned as the “father of around the world airfares.” Arthur Frommer once said, “If Jules Verne were alive today he would use Nick to go around the world in 80 days.” Nick and his various travel companies have sent over 10,000 people taking their dream trip through airfare discounts of as much as 50% off the airlines published fares. Now Nick promotes travel through his World Travel List and ‘Trip Rambler’ by World Travel List. Having traveled to over 80 countries Nick hopes to inspire others to travel the world. Follow Nick’s “passion for travel” on the World Travel List.