Save your Seat for LobsterFest this Summer

The wonderful thing about Belize, and our little corner of it here on Ambergris Caye is that there’s always something to look forward to. And right now, I’m thinking about the LobsterFest happening in the summer. As I write this, it’s early February, it’s 82°F/28°C and sunny out here, because, yes, it almost always is. It’s a perfect place to spend what is seen by most people in the northern latitudes as the bleakest month of the year. We have blue skies, blue oceans, golden sand, lush green foliage and of course the beautiful smiles and friendly disposition of its citizens.   

The cool thing is, though, these colors and smiles are the norm for us – the baseline. And things get even better from there. As therapeutic and wonderful as a February stay is for sun-starved Canadians and Americans, there’s always something else special going on. Belize is home to people who love to celebrate, eat, dance, sing, and enjoy life the way it was supposed to be enjoyed.

One of the many celebrations that should never be missed is Lobsterfest. It runs through July and August, and the whole country gets involved, with beach parties, restaurant parties, bar parties and fiestas everywhere, including San Pedro and Ambergris Caye, of course.

If you like lobster, you will love Belizean lobsters. Our waters are pristine and full of life, and lobsters are abundant in the summer months. They are a delicacy and a special event, mainly because of how delicious they are but also because they’re not something you generally want to prepare at home. And our lobsters aren’t flown in from halfway around the world like most North American restaurants have to do. They’re big, fresh and delicious, especially when eaten outside under the warm Belizean sky.

If you don’t like lobster, of course that’s not a problem. There is always a great selection of wonderful food and drink to satisfy all dietary choices. It’s a festival, after all, and even though lobster may be the main attraction, there’s something to please everyone.

If you have never tried lobster before, or if you’re unsure how to eat one, it’s a great experience to learn from the master chefs and servers, who are only too happy to see people enjoy this amazing dining experience for the first time.

Summer festivals in Belize are great because they capture the marvels of a Caribbean summer – the heat, the energy and the long sunlit days that ever so slowly give over to warm starlit nights.

It’s also off-peak season, which means you get more of the country to yourself. Most visitors schedule their vacations for the winter months, and this means the amenities and the pricing are even more advantageous during the summer. What’s not to love about that? So, I really hope you will join us in kicking off the summer in a delicious and memorable way by taking part in the world-famous Belizean tradition called Lobsterfest. It’s the kind of event you’ll treasure forever, no matter how many times you attend.

The Sky and the Ocean at Night

When people research Belize and our beautiful Ambergris Caye, the pictures they look at are taken in broad daylight, which makes sense, of course. Even in the winter months, these photos show off the vibrant colors of the beaches, the jungle, the sunsets, the blue skies and even bluer water. It’s a visual paradise, and one that our guests simply can’t get enough of. These are the colors of life!

But there’s another fascinating face to Belize for those who love to look up at night, and that’s the amazing starfield that stretches from horizon to horizon once the sun has completely vanished. Being so far away from the light pollution of large cities, the night sky in Belize is positively breathtaking. You don’t need an expensive telescope to take it in.  

The air is clear and still, which makes the starfield absolutely transcendent. One of my most cherished memories – which I get to re-live nightly – is that some stars have color to them. They are not uniform points of white light. The absolute blackness of the sky allows your eyes to perceive differences in tone, with a little bit of yellow, blue or even red faintly tinting their shine. The stars mesmerize us when are sitting out on the front porch after dark. 

The planets are easy to spot because they appear brighter than the stars, and they don’t twinkle (unless they’re close to the horizon). Bonus Trivia Fact No. 1:  Stars twinkle, and planets don’t. Why? Because of the refraction of light in the earth’s atmosphere. It has nothing to do with the stars themselves. Planets are close enough to the earth to usually not be affected by this.

An added bonus to planet watching is, the longer you stay here in Belize, the easier it is to watch them move across the sky. Every night, they will be in a slightly different place as they pursue their own orbits around the sun. Bonus Trivia Fact No. 2: The word planet comes from the Greek word for wanderer, since planets seem to wander across the fixed backdrop of the stars. 

One of the most wonderful things to see in the Belizean night sky is the Southern Cross. It’s easily recognizable, like Orion or the Big Dipper, but the best part about it is, this is a constellation that can only be seen in or near the southern hemisphere. Your friends back in North America can’t see it. It’s one of the benefits of travel! There are dozens of apps available for phones and iPads that will help you find planets and constellations and the whole experience of laying back in a beach chair and staring up at the sky while being caressed by warm breezes is not to be missed.

A full moon, as seen from our porch at Coastal Breezes, at night.

The Mayans Studied the Stars, Too

If starwatching is something you’re interested in, be aware you’re not the first. The Mayans, whose history stretches back thousands of years, and whose temples are treasured monuments that you can visit during your stay, studied the stars very closely. Inscriptions and writings show their careful attention to labeling and tracking planets and stars, which helped them predict seasons for agriculture, and also helped them navigate. It is great to be reminded that we people of the 20th and 21st centuries are not the only ones with science and math at our disposal. The Maya and many other peoples of centuries past were just as intelligent and creative as us, and they used the tools they had to do remarkable things.

The Ocean at Night

When you want to take a break from stargazing, there is something else that is extremely beautiful about night on Ambergris Caye, and that’s the ocean. During the day, its crystal blue waters speak about its vibrancy and the life inside. The night ocean does the same thing but in a different way. The black ocean of the night is huge. It looks huge and it feels huge. Yet the constant lapping of the waves reminds you that it is alive, a presence. You can feel its enormity and you can sense the creatures within – large and small, as they continue with their lives. The ocean at night is far from desolate, even though it is just one color: black. Perhaps it’s because physically, humans are 75% water. So many people feel compelled to get close to the water as often as they can. There’s something immensely soothing about its mass.

Every once in a while we see the cruise ships float by on the other side of the reef.  At night they are lit up like Christmas trees, and the way they seem to appear and then fade away is another special ocean experience. So together, the night sky and the night ocean deliver yet another amazing and transformational experience to visitors who come to Ambergris Caye, something that touches our busy souls and says, “take a moment and breathe in, with all of your senses, the timeless presence of sea and sky at night.” It’s truly a gift, and one that will remain one of my greatest memories. Hopefully yours, too.

For more information about our beach house properties, please visit us at coastalbreezes.bz, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Christmas and New Years in Belize (Join us!)

All around the world, the December holiday season is now in full swing. There are lots of ways people celebrate this time of year, including spiritual events, family get-togethers, or maybe just taking some time away from work and from the day-to-day. But you don’t have to have snow on the ground to enjoy everything that the Festive Season can bring.  Sand and sea can also bring out the best in peoples’ spirits and as you might expect, the rich history and wonderful food of Belize make a December or January holiday an extra special event.

Of course, there are the festivals that most North Americans are already familiar with. In Belize, Christmas comes with the kids dreaming of a visit from Santa Claus, and many people attend Mass. And the food at this time of year? It’s as hearty and satisfying as you would expect. There’s turkey and stuffing to be had, of course, but the locals also love to serve up rice and beans, tortillas, and chicken tamales, which are a traditional meal of the Mayan culture.

Belize is rich in history, and its citizens have roots that spread in all directions. Many are part of the Mayan culture that has existed here for thousands of years. Others trace their families back to Africa, or even further around the world. As a consequence the December season sees events and parades filling the streets that pay homage to peoples’ histories through caroling, live music and vibrant costume. Two events that should not be missed are the Maya Deer Dance, and the Garifuna Jankunu Dance.

The Holiday Season on Ambergris Caye

As I have mentioned in earlier blogs, there are always great restaurants and beachside pubs to visit right here on Ambergris Caye where you can enjoy a seasonal meal or just simply dig in to the great seafood and fare that’s available all year ‘round.

Some of the guests who stay with us over the Christmas/Holiday season are regulars – they come by once a year or every couple of years to soak in the sun and benefit from the restorative atmosphere of Ambergris Caye. Even in December, the sun is strong and hot. But it’s also great fun to welcome people who have never experienced Quanzaa or Christmas on the beach. It’s a wonderfully strange thing for them to – for the first time – walk along the water’s edge and sing carols while looking at tide pools and palm trees instead of snow. In fact, the snowbound Christmas of home seems like another world when surrounded by the rich blues and greens of the tropics.

And instead of battling the crowds at a Boxing Week sale in a shopping mall, there are oceans, park, jungles and historical places to explore.

New Year’s Eve

Of course, the tail end of the festive season is New Year’s Eve. People often remember where they were on New Year’s more than they do on Christmas Day. And this is definitely the case when the fireworks and singing happen in the warm air of a Caribbean midnight.

There are plenty of locations to ring in the new year in style on the Caye as well as in San Pedro or on the mainland. Maybe you will even be invited to partake in the Spanish tradition of “the twelve grapes,” in which you eat one grape for each chime of the New Year’s clock to bring luck for the new year.

It’s not too late to come down here for a Christmas or New Year’s getaway. Even if January or February fits your schedule better, we will always make sure your time is memorable and wonderful.

As for me, I will be hanging a stocking for Charlie, our canine property manager. I will attach it carefully to one of the palms leading down to the beach, since that’s his favorite place to be, and I think Santa knows that.

So hopefully we’ll see you here. We would love to celebrate the holidays with you. But if it has to be next December, that’s great too. You and your family will have a year of looking forward to a well-deserved break, and we will be right here, helping you do just that.

Happy Holidays – whatever form they take – from me, Bret, Charlie, Francisco and the whole Coastal Breezes team!

Deb and Charlie with a special Christmas message in the sand.

Planning for a Healthy Vacation in Belize

No one wants to think about illness when they plan for their dream vacation or their winter getaway. But having the knowledge in advance means you can relax and enjoy your time here even more. Although Ambergris Caye prides itself on its laid back, tropical vibe, it still has great medical care available.

If you need a doctor during your visit, there’s a good number of medical practitioners, many of whom were trained in the U.S., the U.K. or Mexico. Many of these will make house calls. On Ambergris Caye there is a PolyClinic that is open 24/7. This clinic can handle the types of injuries or illnesses that a visitor or citizen might encounter, including fractures and breaks. More serious cases get flown to one of the dozen or so major hospitals in Belize, most often to the emergency facilities in Belize City. And because Ambergris Caye is a paradise for divers and snorkelers, it also has a full hyperbaric chamber available for treatment of decompression illness (the bends).

There are plenty of great medical clinics and hospitals in Belize.

Prepare before you travel

As with any destination beyond your home borders, it is very important to ensure you receive the right inoculations and treatments before leaving, and in good time. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends getting up-to-date on your routine vaccines (measles, mumps, rubella) and to also take advance medication for Hepatitis A and Typhoid. Note that some types of medications are in short supply – even in the U.S., or may require treatment time of many weeks or even months.

It is advisable to talk to your physician about your travel plans as soon as possible. It is also best to bring all the medications that you take as part of daily life along with you, since sometimes the pharmacies in any country that you visit may not have any in stock or may have medications that are different in strength or quality.

Note also that you should always check that the medications you carry are legal to keep in your possession while on vacation. A case in point is CBD oil. Laws are changing constantly. Many Caribbean countries have zero tolerance policies towards any form of “drug.” Also, your flight might get diverted to another country, even the U.S., where such substances are still illegal, either federally or locally.

Charlie, our canine head of security, asks, “Can I drink this?” Yes, It’s coconut milk. Great for everyone. But for travelers, being prepared before trying new things and new experiences in a new country is a smart idea.

At Coastal Breezes, We’re Watching Out for You Too

While we don’t have ambulance service on the island, there is a response service that can transport people as needed. We will provide guests with all the required information should it be needed.  We at Coastal Breezes are also trained in CPR and first aid and have a AED on site along with an Epipen – both which are a big deal on the island, since not a lot of people offer these items.

Be Careful!

Belize is a great and overall safe place to visit. But when people take vacations – anywhere in the world – they often willingly let go of those concerns for personal safety that they carry around with them at home. Maybe that’s part of the “vacation” mindset.

But it’s important to keep some sense of caution around you. Drinking water from a tap in many countries is not advisable, and this applies also to water that comes from washed salads or even ice cubes

Then there are the activities themselves. Scuba diving and snorkeling are wonderful experiences, but care must be taken to ensure clothing or equipment does not get snagged on coral – it’s also really bad for the coral. Insect repellent is a great idea for avoiding bug bites while hiking and exploring, and of course proper clothing and head coverings will keep sunburn at bay.

Belize is a beautiful place to visit, and offers great opportunities for sightseeing, outdoor activities or just relaxing. Being prepared health-wise is the type of planning that helps contribute to a vacation free of stress and unexpected health challenges. As nice as the Polyclinic is, we would rather you get to see scenes like this sunrise, taken from our front porch.

Sunrise at Coastal Breezes.

For more information about our beach house properties, please visit us at coastalbreezes.bz, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The Not-So-Secret Beach

One of the most well-known attractions on Ambergris Caye is Secret Beach. And it’s far and away the island’s worst-kept secret. When Bret and I first arrived here in 2015 there was nothing at Secret Beach except for a single pier and a house. Located on the leeward side of the island this beach has pristine, clear blue waters, and in the last three years it has become a fast paced, and very popular destination for tourists and locals alike.

This is the bumpy road across the island to Secret Beach

It’s a bit of a hike from our main town of San Pedro – eight miles by golf cart over rough road – but it’s only three and a half miles from our beach house compound. Every day now, there’s a constant stream of golf carts heading to and from Secret Beach.  There’s lots of people and lots of alcohol!  Frankly, that’s what a lot of holidaymakers from North America and definitely Canada, want while they’re on vacation: no rules and a big party atmosphere. A great place to blow off all the tensions built up over a year.

Here’s the secret sign pointing the way to Secret Beach. Yes, it’s at an angle. It’s not the condition of the photographer.

Secret Beach basically closes down as soon as it gets dark, because there’s no electricity, only generators. But the tables are out in the water! It’s very shallow and calm, so you walk out quite far, or you can sit in the gentle lapping waves at your table and the wait staff will wade out to you with trays of drinks and food. You can also drink on the beach if you prefer to stay dry. It’s always busy so you’ll need to go early in order to get a table. In addition to the calm waters, its Western exposure means you’re almost guaranteed a spectacular sunset.

Table service at Secret Beach. Photo credit: SanPedroScoop.

The Secret Beach has all the touristy trappings: you can rent lounge chairs, jet skis, and motorized surf boards. You can get your hair braided, buy snow cones, and coconut water, you name it. It’s a big party, and yes, Bret and I have had fun just sitting back and watching people enjoy themselves.

Our location is definitely favorable to the Secret Beach because we are so much closer than a lot of other resorts. Many of our guests of all ages have asked for directions to the Secret Beach as soon as they arrive.   

You can read more about its history and present (and maybe future) over at SanPedroScoop. For the moment, I can’t say that it has built up to extraordinarily tacky proportions. The bars and restaurants still have the island feel – lots of wood and sand, not concrete or glass.

So it’s definitely worth checking out as an island hotspot. But my slant on it is that when you live here you just don’t go to the Secret Beach. There are many more secret and not-so-secret places to fall in love with.

For more information about our beach house properties, please visit us at coastalbreezes.bz, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

How We Built Your/Our Private Paradise

There are few things more pleasurable in life than a private paradise. Especially given the cold spring that we Canadians suffered through this year (2019) and the never-ending troubles that seem to be the norm, both locally and internationally. It’s something that we all hope to find. In the back of our minds, we picture that place – somewhere we can retreat to in order to regroup, refresh, and confirm that there is still beauty in life and it is indeed attainable.

That’s what Bret and I set out to establish when we created Coastal Breezes on Ambergris Caye, an island just off the coast of Belize – the one Madonna sang about in “La Isla Bonita.”

For years now, we have been the owners and proprietors of a small collection of executive rental suites just outside of Toronto. These are fully furnished homes for business travelers or others who seek a tidy and convenient place to stay for periods usually longer than a month without the over-the top cost of hotels. We recognized early on that a large negative part of travel is the unknown. After spending hours in an airport and a car, the first thing you need is a place to rest, and the last thing you want is disappointment.

So over the years, we accumulated a few properties and made sure they were the type of place that we ourselves would feel happy staying in, from the very first moment of arrival all the way through a multi-week residence.

Approaching the island – photo taken by one of our guests

But we are also snowbirds. We craved the blue skies, the swaying palms and impossibly blue oceans of the Caribbean, and we started venturing south. We wanted to go a little further south than most of our compatriots, for whom the coast of Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, or the easily accessible islands of the Bahamas were convenient destinations.

We decided to visit Belize, a country that we had known growing up as British Honduras. Once we got there, we knew we had to come back, and so we did. And after a few return visits, we realized we had to do more than just stay on the beach as tourists. This was a place, we realized, that could become an extension of our executive homes business – a place where people could come fully confident of a pleasant stay with well-kept amenities and a personal, Canadian touch.

It’s a beautiful and historic place. Not just the island, but the whole country. The waters are a haven for snorkeling and diving, with the world-famous Barrier Reef just minutes away, and the intriguing Great Blue Hole – a marine sinkhole located inside an atoll. On land, there are Mayan ruins and enormous biodiversity, making everyday an adventure no matter which direction you head off in.

Being a small island, only accessible by plane, the pace of life is a little more relaxed as well. In fact the preferred method of transport is by golf cart which suits us fine.

Rush hour on Ambergris Caye

This blog series will seek to show off some of the most intriguing and compelling reasons why a vacation in Belize makes so much sense for Canadians, not least of which is just how easy it is to get here. From late October through to April, WestJet and Air Canada both fly direct to Belize City, and from there, it’s just a quick hop across to the island.

So I hope you will keep in touch. Follow us on social media (Twitter and Instagram), and join our quarterly mailing list here. Maybe it’s time for your great adventure to a personal paradise. Let us help you find your place in the warm tropical sun, welcomed by our friendly and attentive staff. We really are much closer than you might think.

For more information about our beach house properties, please visit us at coastalbreezes.bz, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.