According to Virtuoso, “Skip-gen travel is on the rise, with grandparents eager to educate, explore and leave a legacy with their grandchildren, while working parents stay behind back home.” Since I missed being a Baby Boomer—by a long shot—it’s great to fit into this new gen-classification, and even better to be just back from vacationing with my grandson Ethan Hunt, a Gen-Z, who Virtuoso pegs as “worldlier at an earlier age than previous generations, born with a passport in hand and determined to explore.”
Our pick for our first outing together was Belize, for, according to Virtuoso, “Gen-Zs primarily [and not surprisingly] seek active or adventure trips [that promise] more off-the-beaten-path, unique adventures.” This English-speaking nation has always struck me as teen-friendly perfect with its worlds of wildlife, underwater wonders, Maya ruins, action activities and a fun melting-pot culture mix of Mayan, Creole and Mestizo, British, Lebanese, Chinese and Mennonite. Here are many adventures, large and small, from our 10-day vacation.
Cave tubing explorations are signature attractions at Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Jungle Lodge, a highlands resort near Belmopan with a full menu of guided experiences. Irresistible is the signature adventure River of Caves, which features jungle hiking and then tubing over seven miles underground, in and out of a series of long limestone caves; everyone dons head-lamps that illuminate forests of stalactites, stalagmites and the occasional Maya ceremonial sites. (Water-level dependent, this is not available during the dry season Feb.-June.) Needless to say, this grandma did not join favorite grandson in the more high-octane cave rappelling Black Hole Drop adventure into the Actun Loch Tunich sink hole—the “Mother of all Caves.” However, together we had an informative and tasty tour of the lodge’s Cheese House, met birds and butterflies in the 15-acre botanical garden—home to the largest collection of bromeliads and orchids in Belize—and dipped in and out of its landscaped pool. Accommodations range from river-view and canopy tree houses to luxury, split-level jungle suites, all newly fitted with air conditioning.
Into the Rainforest
Driving the Hummingbird Highway south towards the coast, we stayed at Bocawina Rainforest Resort, tucked into the forest in the heart of Mayflower Bocawina National Park, right up against the famous Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Reserve. It’s fun to explore new country corners from different lodgings, especially one with very comfortable cabins and within easy walking distance of really delicious a la carte dining in the Monkey Restaurant. For Ethan, riding through the forest canopy on the longest zipline in Belize turned out to be the just-right Instagram post for my traveling teen, as well as hiking trails leading to a swim below rushing waterfalls with me.
Sun & Fun
Traveling with a teen guided my choice of beach destination to Ambergris Caye, with accommodations at SunBreeze Suites, facing the sea at the quiet end of the San Pedro town beach, within easy walking distance along the waterfront of shops, restaurants, galleries and the (quiet) action of San Pedro Town. Among 43 spacious, air-conditioned rooms on two levels—a few super-large rooms available for families, as well as a few adjoining rooms with connecting doors—our partial sea-view deluxe room, nicely furnished with two double beds and all amenities, worked well; we soaked up the sun by the freshwater pool. The location meant some fun dining and local socializing just down the beach at Estel’s or Wild Mangos, stopping to shop for jewelry, carvings, and other creations by artisans stationed along the way.
The onsite Aqua Dives Belize shop provided our package-included action. Wet and wild is snorkeling in Hol Chan Marine and Shark-Ray Alley, part of the 185-mile barrier reef. Our star sightings were rays, turtles, schools of brilliant fish and sharks. Another day was reserved for exploring Lamanai, one of Belize’s finest Mayan marvels. It’s a long day, cruising first up the Northern River, then hopping on a private bus on the Pan American Highway, to then catch a boat up the New River, whose shores are home to brilliant birds, trees strung with orchids, and sunbathing crocs. At Lamanai, a really well-guided walking tour permits time to climb the High Temple and photograph the faces on the Mask Temple; lunch by the riverside ruins was picnic-perfect.
With New Luxury Resorts, Belize Moves Upmarket
Belize is experiencing an influx of major hospitality brands that are rolling in on a high tide of new luxury along the Caribbean coast, with most of the action on Ambergris Caye, around coastal Placencia on the mainland, and on offshore islands and atolls that are part of the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere.
It all seems to have started on the southeastern tip of Ambergris Caye with the debut of Mahogany Bay Resort & Beach Club, a member of the Curio Collection by Hilton. Sited on 70 acres on the southeastern tip of the cay, its main house is a great colonial-style Great House, welcoming guests to the Verandah Restaurant, and pool with poolside spa treatments. Accommodations are in 207 villa-style rooms and clapboard cottages standing along a series of picturesque canals. A short boat ride away is the resort’s private, white-sand Beach Club and exploration center catering to such activities such as fly-fishing and scuba diving.
Coming in 2020 to Ambergris Caye is Marriott’s Autograph Collection boutique resort, Alaia Belize, stretching along 1,000 ft. of white-sand beach and located within walking distance of San Pedro Town. Plans call for 35 guestrooms, 56 one- and two-bedroom condominiums, and eight luxury 2- and 3-bedroom oceanfront villas, fitted with private pools. Traveler planners will be able to rent the villas through Marriott International. Alaia amenities will include a guests-only beach club, suspended rooftop pool and pool restaurants, wine club, full-service spa, fitness center, kids’ club, dive shop, and a gallery of local handicrafts just off the lobby.
It was Cayo Espanto that set the standard for secluded, over-the-top luxurious private islands when the property opened three miles offshore from Ambergris Caye. It comes with seven seafront 1- and 2-bedroom villas, right on the beach with private docks and private pools; one villa sits overwater and all have private butlers, in-villa spa services and basically private chefs for customized dining.
In Belize’s Caribbean waters off the northeast coast, Caye Chapel is transforming into a luxury destination for leisure travelers and residence owners. It will be the new home to the Four Seasons Caye Chapel, scheduled to open in 2021. Plans call for 50 oceanfront estate lots and 35 private residences, plus a 100-room hotel complete with a collection of overwater bungalows. Accessed by a 30-minute boat ride from Belize City, or a 10-minute flight to the private air strip, resort amenities will include an 18-hole golf course designed by Greg Norman, the Fabien Cousteau Nature and Conservation Institute, a marina with 20 slips, and a watersports center that includes a dive shop serving guests heading out to one of the world’s bucket-list dive sites, the Great
Also slated for offshore development is Blackador Caye, a recent purchase by Oscar-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who plans to make turn his own private island into a wellness-focused, luxury eco-resort.
Alaia Belize: alaiabelize.com
Bocawina Rainforest Resort: bocawina.com
Caves Branch Jungle Lodge: cavesbranch.com
Cayo Espanto: aprivateisland.com
Four Seasons Caye Chapel: fourseasons.com
Mahogany Bay Resort & Beach Club: curiocollection3.hilton.com
SunBreeze Suites: sunbreezesuites.com