The Health-Giving World of Our Tropical Birds

One of the greatest pleasures of visiting a new place, wherever it happens to be in the world, comes from experiencing how different it is. That sounds like an obvious statement, but the fact is, humans thrive on multi-sensory stimulation. Visiting new places, meeting new people, trying new food – these activities energize the brain and body. That’s why vacations are so therapeutic. It’s not just where you go, it’s simply the fact that you go somewhere that makes the difference. When you arrive at a new place, every one of your senses gets a chance to experience something new. Dealing with changes in this way helps rebuild neural connections, keeping your brain young and healthy, while giving your body a chance to de-stress.

When you step off a plane in Belize, for example, you immediately feel and smell the humid salt air of the Caribbean. You can taste the lush greenery of the forests, and of course, your eyes delight in the rich colors and sights of the island, its beaches, waters, and skies. This is especially powerful when you come in the months of Fall and Winter, where the lack of color and light tends to contribute to conditions like seasonal affective disorder, which in turn have a profound impact on your immune system.

The Black Headed Trogon – one of the many colorful birds of Belize. This photo is by Lorenzo Gonzalez. Check out his amazing photos and blog at: https://www.belizeadventure.ca/birds/

In addition to the sights and smells, there are the sounds. As your ears acclimatize to your tropical surroundings, you will start to hear the birds. We have an abundance of birds in Belize, including here on Ambergris Caye, and the odds are you will hear them before you see them.

In a way, our birds act like ambassadors for the entire country. Some are native to the area, some are migratory and just passing through, but they add that additional sensory component – a tapestry of sound, and a reminder that in addition to the fun of exploring the beaches, tidepools and restaurants, you will always find something interesting in the trees. The sounds are pleasant, but they also remind you of the presence of life, just like the oceans do and the lush greenery of our forests and jungles. It’s amazing just how much our bodies pick up on these sensations of the vibrancy of life all around us.

A heron visiting our pool.

Being a subtropical country, Belize enjoys a diverse bird population in which many of the species are brilliantly colored and fascinating to observe. I am always delighted when our guests see a parrot in the wild for the first time.

Most people from North America only ever see them in pet shops or in peoples’ homes, but here, they fly free and are easy to spot. We were in the pool on the weekend and a flock went over our heads chattering away to themselves! It’s quite surreal when that happens for the first time. We see herons and pelicans quite frequently, walking or flying around the tidal flats looking for fish and small crustaceans, but I have to say my favorite bird is the Collared Aracari. It is a member of the toucan family and has a vibrant plumage on the chest – yellow with black and red stripes and a large beak typical of Toucans everywhere. Toucans, by the way are the national bird of Belize.

The Collared Aracari – part of the Toucan family. This photo is by Lorenzo Gonzalez. Check out his amazing photos and blog at: https://www.belizeadventure.ca/birds/

The People Perch

To really get a sense of the diversity of our avian population, you can check out the “People Perch” located within an actual bird sanctuary on Ambergris Caye, south of San Pedro. According to those who have visited, you will be able to see and hear dozens of exotic species and types of birds and the best part is, you’re up there in the trees with them. If you have a camera with a zoom or telephoto lens, this would be an excellent place to try it out.

I have had the pleasure of living on Ambergris Caye for a number of years now, as owner of Coastal Breezes, but I will never forget the novelty of my first trip as a tourist, waking up to the sound of so many different birds calling each other and getting on with their day. It’s just another reminder of how a great vacation is truly a full, multi-sensory, life-enhancing event. We can’t wait for the time when we can welcome you here so you can experience it for yourself.

Your Permit to Relax

It’s hard to write about a beautiful tourist destination when people are not actually able to visit it, but the COVID-19 epidemic will not be permanent, at least to this degree of severity. Many countries around the world are identifying effective ways to “flatten the curve,” and it is my belief that common sense will prevail. People will learn how to live with some enhanced social distancing techniques and a new normality will emerge.

That’s why I feel it’s healthy to keep talking about our own little corner of paradise here at Ambergris Caye. Even before the craziness of 2020, it was common for people to take months or even a couple of years to decide to take a trip somewhere, after all, there’s a lot of planning to do. So, it’s my intention to keep talking about some of the many great reasons to come and visit us when you are ready to do so.

You’ve Heard of a Fishing Permit, but How About a Permit Fish?

If you like fishing, especially fly-fishing, we have plenty of new opportunities for you. Bonefish, tarpon, and permits are all catch-and-release ocean fish that people like to experience while they are here. Belize is very much focused on sustainability and harmony with nature, which is why catch-and-release and ecotourism are so important to us. In fact, you will need to obtain a license to go fishing for them. It’s the same on land, too. We are very careful with our jungles and the fauna that live there. In fact, Ambergris Caye hosts the world’s only Jaguar preserve, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary & Jaguar Preserve. A wonderful summary is available here.

This is what the fish called a permit looks like. Photo credit: FishingBooker.com

But back to the fish. A permit is a large fish, with a slender body and long fins. Along with bonefish and tarpon, they are all types of large game fish that look beautiful when posed for a photo, but of course, look their best when swimming around in the water, especially in the flats around Ambergris Caye. A great resource to learn more about fly-fishing for bonefish and permit is available at the Tres Pescados Fly Shop here. You can also charter a fishing expedition along with their knowledgeable guides.

Here is a picture of me with my “big” bonefish.

Night Fishing

Of course, not all fish are protected by catch-and-release. There are many types of sustainable fish varieties  that are available to catch and eat, with a number of excursion companies offering the cleaning and cooking services as part of their packages. There is nothing quite like going out on the water at night. It’s usually quite peaceful and breathtaking when the moon is full, and the ocean has a huge presence in the darkness, with many species of sea life coming close to the surface. It’s an experience not to be missed.

Moonlight…feels right – My photo of moonlight over the water at Ambergris Caye.

Another way of enjoying the ocean at night is to simply observe it from the shoreline. Many people find enormous peace and tranquility from simply walking along the beach, with just the moon and stars to light the way. Our waters are seldom turbulent, but at night they become very still, and this contributes to a truly transcendent experience. It’s amazing just how powerful your night vision and senses become when you let nature be your chaperone. As our canine assistant property manager, Mr. Bean knows very well, a few citizens of the waters might do the same thing, choosing to come up on the beach to see what’s going on.

Mr. Bean checking out a visitor.

Relaxation is Very Healthy

Whether you seek the excitement of catch-and-release fishing on the open water, or the serenity of moonlit walks – or both – it is important to remember just how healthy and restorative these types of activities are. People often think of a Caribbean vacation as being filled with busy sightseeing schedules, and there can be great fun in that, but similarly, the body and soul crave tranquility and balance. And as you have probably heard, human beings are 70% water, which partially explains why so many of us feel drawn to the ocean and gain peace from it.

You deserve a break from the trauma, sadness and change that we have all experienced, and even though it’s not over yet, the mere anticipation of a vacation can be a powerful sustainer of mental and physical health.

We would love to host you here at Coastal Breezes of course, but what’s more important is that you set your sights on a vacation somewhere, especially somewhere that has water and life all around it.

Stay safe!

Celebrating World Oceans Day

This blog post is being released on June 8, 2020, which happens to be World Oceans Day.

When you live this close to the ocean, you really become part of its enormous presence. The tides are a regular reminder of its ceaseless motion and it’s just beautiful, wherever you look. Once in a while, though, we see the effects of hurricane season. Last week, Hurricane Cristobal brushed the Yucatan peninsula and tracked on across the Gulf of Mexico. Here’s a very brief piece of video I shot. Belize has felt the effects of hurricanes before, but as this summary by Victoria Day-Wilson, from her book, Hurricanes in Belize and Historic Storms shows, most of the time we only experience the after effects or side effects, such as heavy rains or agricultural damage. Hurricanes are a fact of life in any equatorial, ocean facing area, but Belize as a country is well prepared in terms of emergency measures. But being World Oceans Day, I thought I would bring you a couple of examples of how we, as humans, get to interact with the amazing diversity of ocean life.

Snorkeling with nurse sharks at Hol Chan. This photo is from the holchanbelize.org website.

The Hol Chan Marine Reserve

This small but very important reserve is found just off the southern tip of Ambergris Caye. Hol Chan is Mayan for “little channel.” The reserve is based around a cut in the reef, and was founded to push back against aggressive, uncontrolled fishing. The life that thrives here includes conch, lobster, nurse sharks, rays, coral reef, seagrass, mangrove, seahorse, sponges, and hundreds of varieties of fish.

It is divided into four zones, specifically Zone A: Coral Reef, Zone B: Grass Beds, Zone C: Mangrove, and Zone D:  Shark Ray Alley (see below). More descriptions of each of these zones is available on the Dive page of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve Website, however I encourage you to read the entire website. It’s not that huge, but it covers everything you need to know. The reserve is also available on Instagram at holchanmarinereserve.

Shark Ray Alley

Shark Ray Alley is in Zone D of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. It is only 15 minutes south of San Pedro by boat, and has a maximum depth of 30 feet, with great visibility from its clear waters. Here’s the best descriptive line from the Marine Reserve’s own website:

As soon as your boat arrives in the area, you will notice a number of dark shadows in the shallow (eight foot deep) waters. These are the sharks and rays that hear the boat approach and come in search of a few scraps of fish.

These sharks and rays are gentle creatures and show a great tolerance for having humans in their presence. Although it is always recommended to keep your distance and not touch them, this is more out of respect for their independence and safety.

Snorkeling here is enormous fun. I have done it myself, and everyone I have dived with or who I have spoken to says only positive things about it. With so much life in the waters, you will always see something amazing and beautiful. You swim with the rays and the nurse sharks and snorkel all around the reef. I actually did this with our 15 yea- old granddaughter, Mackenzie, and she loved it too.

Our neighbor, Sam, owns Scuba Daze, and he is the one who is best suited to give you some training on snorkeling and then take you out there. That’s one of the great things about life on Ambergris Caye. Your neighbors are such great people. Make sure you check Sam’s company out on Instagram at scuba_daze_belize.

Looking Forward to Hosting You Here

It’s still too soon, of course, to be making firm travel plans to visit us here at Coastal Breezes. Did you know that Belize is one of only 12 countries in the world that are COVID-19 free?  The country is starting to open up again, slowly and carefully, but the borders are not yet open.

But even though you can’t make any firm plans to come here right now, I am hopeful that our blogs, and our photos that we post on Instagram will show you what a delightful place Ambergris Caye is. We all deserve a break from the mounting troubles of the world, and a few days or a couple of weeks by the sea, in the warm Caribbean winds can do wonders.

So, if you’re reading this post on World Oceans Day, then happy #worldoceansday. Maybe send out a message on social media reminding people of the beauty of all of our oceans, and their need to be protected. But whatever day you read this blog, thank you for reading. Stay safe and think about coming out to see us. 

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

Lockdown in Paradise

Everyone is looking forward to a future where we can travel again, where we can see people again, and where we can be together again. It’s the same for us here on Ambergris Caye. It’s a beautiful place to be marooned – no question, but people here still must find ways to survive. That’s a big challenge when so much of the economy is based on tourism.

The COVID-19 epidemic has only “brushed” the country of Belize. We have had 18 cases, with two deaths and 16 recovered.  So as of today we are COVID-19 free which is a huge benefit to anyone looking to travel in the future. The Belizean government acted quickly to impose quarantines on the country, including Ambergris Caye, with extensive restrictions on the movement of people and cargo. Masks and social distancing are strictly enforced. Of course, all of this does not make for great travel-related blogging, but it’s pretty much the same the world over. Bret and I have been making the best of it. The ocean, the sky, the beaches and the wildlife are all still here. Big wildlife, too! April and May are traditionally the best months to observe whale sharks, which, if you haven’t seen them, are mind bogglingly big and beautiful.

Images of whale sharks – courtesy of the Seahorse Dive Shop, Belize (see link below)

Their name might be a little confusing. But whale sharks are sharks, not whales. But they are as big as whales. Some can grow up to 40 feet long. They swim slowly through the water and eat plankton, krill and small fish. At this time of year, they tend to appear in sync with the full moon. These photos, borrowed from the Seahorse Dive Shop, show you just how large these beautiful creatures are. The Seahorse Dive Shop offers courses and tours and are worth checking out here.

We are staying optimistic that life around the world will slowly and carefully return to normal, or an altered form of normal. It will be a while before any proven vaccine is universally available, of course, but when you listen to the sound medical minds, there seems to be an opportunity for us to get our lives back by modifying our habits. This will include additional spaces between people at restaurants and on buses, more frequent use of masks and smaller gatherings. But it should be possible.

As such, I can look at the beauty of spring and summer in Ambergris Caye and describe it to you once again – not as an impossible destination, but one that is now very possible and as always very beautiful.

People often talk about “bucket lists.” I have never really liked that term because it has a certain darkness to it, and we have all seen way too much of that. But I do like to think about “life goals.” There are two things people have learned from the pandemic lockdown. One is that we tend to take much of life for granted – even the boring parts; and the other is that work, for many of us, might be more flexible than we have been led to believe. Now is a good time for us to revisit those life goals.

We are hoping that this inspires people to take some more time off for themselves. To travel, to see things and to enjoy the beauty that surrounds us everywhere. Even before the pandemic, it was still a fact: life is precious.

So hopefully, you and your family will choose to take some time to travel somewhere, and see something that you have always wanted to see. That’s one reason why Bret and I came to Belize in the first place, and of course we would love to welcome you to our particular corner of paradise. But regardless where you identify your dream destination, hopefully you can start to anticipate the opportunity of doing so. We just need to hang on a little while longer, maintain that social distance, and focus on collective healing. The world is out there for you to enjoy, and the time to do so is coming ever closer.

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

Bringing Ambergris Caye To You

Since you can’t come to us right now, I want to deliver some Ambergris Caye beauty over to you, and with it, a message of hope.

First, a message of hope

This pandemic is unlike anything we have seen in living memory. Never has the entire planet ground to a halt so quickly and uniformly. This concept called social distancing is unnatural for humans, who crave togetherness and communication, and for the first time are noticing just how strange it is to not make physical contact with others by shaking hands, hugging, or just simply sitting next to each other.

Many of us, in years past, have complained about our jobs, about money, about our political leaders, and we balance that out by looking forward to events that make our lives special. This might be the start of baseball season, or attending a wedding, or planning a vacation. Usually these special events happen during our time off, and we work hard to be able to enjoy them.

At the moment, of course, people are stuck in a kind of Twilight Zone. We don’t know when it will end, and we don’t know what life will look like once it’s over. But I want to remind you of the fact that it will end, and life will return to normal. Think back to what you were doing this time last year – April 2019. If you flip backwards in your calendar to the appointments and events of that month, they probably feel like they happened just last week, not a year ago. Memory is strange that way.

When looking forward into the future, a year seems like a long time. When looking back into the past, it is just a blip. Science is capable of developing a vaccine for this virus. It is an understandable thing. It takes time to develop, test and deploy, but it will come, and given the number of scientists working on it, and the capacity to share their knowledge, it will likely be in operation within a year.

In writing these words I do not intend to ignore the tragedy of lives that have been lost. But in times like these, it is vital that we focus on everything we can do to not only stay physically healthy, but mentally and emotionally healthy as well. So, even though my posts are usually about convincing you to come and join us here on Ambergris Caye, we know that is probably not very possible right now. So we want to come to you. Here’s how.

Our Live Webcam

This is a snapshot from our live webcam.

Do you want to see a Caribbean sunrise? Do you want to see if the tide is in, or whether the lazy palm trees are swaying in the breeze today? Do you want to feel part of the Coastal Breezes family, even if you haven’t visited us yet? Then check out our live webcam. It updates every thirty seconds and looks out over our beachfront yard and the sea beyond. Maybe you’ll even see Charlie, our canine ambassador, wandering by.

Our Instagram Photos

Just one of my many photos posted in Instagram.

I am passionate about taking photos in and around Ambergris Caye. And why not? The whole area is so photogenic. My photos aren’t just about palm trees and beaches, but also the restaurants, the people, the signs, everything that you would see if you came down here. Check them  out on Instagram here, or next time you’re on Instagram, search for CoastalBreezes_Belize.

Our YouTube Channel

A screengrab from one of our short YouTube videos. This is Charlie about to leap into action.

We have a YouTube channel. This is where I post some informal videos, of driving along in our golf cart, walking around the beach houses, even flying to and from Ambergris Caye. They’re real. They’re what you would see if you were here, or more correctly, what you will see when you get here. Visit our YouTube channel here and subscribe!

Zoom Backgrounds

An example of a Zoom background in action. Courtesy Nicole Archer via https://www.cnet.com/news/what-your-zoom-background-says-about-you/

If you are one of the thousands of people who are discovering the world of video meetings while working or studying from home, you might have discovered that brands like Zoom and Cisco Webex allow you to add your own virtual backgrounds so your colleagues have something else to look at other than your living room. To add a virtual background, you need a greenscreen, which is surprisingly inexpensive. Amazon, for example, sells a 6’ x 9’ sheet for $26.20. You simply attach the green sheet to the wall, or order a stand to hold it up, and then tweak the settings on Zoom or Webex to tell it you’re using a greenscreen. At that point you can select any image you want as your backdrop.

What could be better than a beautiful photo of the beaches of Ambergris Caye? We have a bunch of photos available on the website and Instagram that you can download for your personal use. All we would ask is that when someone on the conference says, “What a beautiful backdrop! Where is that?” you tell them it’s from Coastal Breezes in Belize.

So hopefully these four options will allow you to enjoy the beauty of Ambergris Caye even during this period of social distancing and isolation. Hopefully, too, it will inspire you to book a trip as soon as it is physically possible to do so, so that you can breathe in the warm salt air of the Caribbean and pour life back into your body and soul. We, of course, will be here to welcome you when you arrive. Until then, please be safe, stay home, and take care of each other.

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

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.

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

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.

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

Forget “Someday!” Not Taking a Vacation Costs More

I know how the thought pattern goes: you look at the ads for a Caribbean paradise and you think, “Maybe someday. I just don’t have the time or the cash right now.” Well, I would like to suggest that not only is it less expensive than you might think to take a Caribbean vacation, neither is it a sunk cost. It is not money out the window. A vacation makes its money back in hidden, but very real ways.

The Money You Have to Spend

The immediate concern is the cost of the travel. And yes, if you’re coming here from Canada, the U.S., or Europe you will need to book a return flight. But the great thing about Belize in terms of travel is it is not really that far away. From Toronto, for example, it’s a three-and-a-half-hour flight. I know lots of people who spend that much time in their cars or on a train, commuting every single day.

Air travel costs money, but airlines routinely have sales. Advance bookings and travel apps can help lock in really good pricing opportunities, even for two people return. And so many of these flights are direct to Belize City, so it’s convenient and comfortable to even fly economy.

Our beach house rates, too, are very competitive, and if you follow this blog or our Instagram, you can see what you’re getting: clean, safe, private and comfortable, with a friendly staff who are more like family. We even pick you up from the San Pedro airport and drive you back there. Even as we’re talking money here, you can be assured you’re getting value for every dollar you spend.

The Time it Takes to “Take a Vacation”

Lots of folks shy away from vacations for reasons other than money. Many feel they can’t take the time off from work. They are too overloaded with deadlines. Or worse, they fear they will miss out on something, or even worse, they feel they may lose their value as an employee by disappearing for a week. Not to mention the stress of trying to get everything done before you leave, and then facing a pile of tasks when you return.

Well, firstly, we do have internet down here, so if relaxation for you means staying connected to the office by email – if you really can’t leave your work behind, there’s lots to be said for returning those emails from a hammock on the beach, like I do. Oh, and Richard Branson does too. (Just saying.)

But a week away from the office can be easily project managed to ensure there is no rush period before departure and no stress inducing backlog when you come back. Time management and productivity expert Steve Prentice has a collection of tips and tricks to make this work. They are available on his blog here or on his podcast here. As he says, “it all comes down to two words: planning and communication.” If you think of your vacation as having three parts: the lead-up, the vacation itself, and the follow-up, you will have something that starts reducing stress from the very moment you decide to book it – long before you even set foot on our beautiful beach.

After a short commute to the deck, I log back on to the rat race. Somehow, it’s not so bad…

The Lifetime Benefit of the Three-Part Vacation

This brings is to the most important word of all: stress. Stress kills. In the short-term it leads to digestive and sleep disorders, headaches and all types of physical, mental and emotional pain. It also takes a great toll on your immune system, which leads to additional short- and long-term problems in terms of fending off sickness and disease. 

One of Steve’s key points regarding the three-part vacation is the significant reduction in stress that essentially lasts a lifetime. Here’s how it works:

1. Choosing to go, and then booking the vacation. There is a thrill of anticipation and adventure that comes from choosing to take a vacation, and this quickly transforms into anticipation. These positive emotions release endorphins and other health-boosting hormones through nothing more than the anticipation of the vacation to come. Even if you are facing a really busy time at work right now, this becomes the light at the end of the tunnel. The best way to get through a stressful situation is to keep your eyes on the prize. Focus on that break or reward that will come after it. So, this means, the health-boosting effects of your vacation start right away. Even if the vacation is six months away, that’s six months of looking forward to a well-deserved break. This is Aspirin for the soul.

2. Taking the vacation itself. This is the next and most obvious part. Enjoying the vacation without problems or disappointments. This is your time to relax, recharge, and be taken care of. That’s why we feel it is so important that you know about the place you’re going even if you have never gone there before. And that’s why we take such care to show off our beach houses along with the sights of Ambergris Caye on this blog, our website and on Instagram. That’s why we also work really hard to take care of you. We know how valuable this time is for you.

3. The memory. Once a vacation is done and you’re back at work, the benefits are not over. In fact. they have only just begun. The memories of your vacation will last a lifetime. They will always be with you and you will also re-live them when you share stories and photos with your friends and family. A carefully project planned return to the workplace can successfully offset the shock of hitting the rat race at full speed. For example, Steve Prentice suggests you never book meetings for your first day back. That’s the day for easing back into the momentum.

Increasingly, companies are becoming more proactive in ensuring employees actually take their vacation days. As opposed to seeing vacations as “non-productive” time, many managers are recognizing that healthy, engaged employees do actually contribute more to a company’s success than tired, stressed-out people do. It’s part of the philosophy of work-life balance, or work-life integration, that is taking greater precedence in corporate management strategy. The long and the short of it is that a vacation is truly an investment, for you as well as your company (even if you’re self-employed). Your energy level, your capacity to focus, your ability to fight off illness like colds and flu, your sense of balance – all of these things contribute to your excellence as a professional. And that’s the hidden dividend: you will be more valuable and more successful by actually investing some of your time in rest and recreation. So, I ask you to seriously commit to taking a vacation at least once a year. By doing so, you will immediately start to dissolve that mountain of stress that you carry around with you and replace it with a vitality and energy that has its own tangible payback.

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

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.