Last weekend SabreWing Travel went out into the field on a Familiarity Trip – FAM – to Hopkins Village and Beach on the Belize Central Coast to scout out the area resorts and see what had changed since our last visit. (These FAM trips are how we stay current on Belize destinations and hotels and we make sure to visit each area on a FAM at least once a year). We had a busy schedule in Hopkins: we visited nearly a dozen resorts and B&Bs, explored the village, walked on the beach, sampled the eats at various restaurants, and went for a dawn swim in the Caribbean. (I know, being a Belize Travel Expert is a tough job, but somebody has to do it! Otherwise, who would help you to plan your Belize Vacation? But I digress…). This post shares the highlights of our trip.
We found Hopkins to be in excellent form and noticed many changes since our last visit. The most notable improvement was that they have paved the road to the village from the Southern Highway. The trip across the wetlands to the beach now takes only a few minutes. (The road through the village and beyond towards the resort zone to the south remains un-paved.) In the village, we spotted a couple new shops and signs for guest houses, but Hopkins itself retains the funky Caribbean fishing village atmosphere that defines it. Smoke wafted from Garifuna cooking hearths scenting the air with coconut while children and puppies dashed through the streets playing games, and fishing skiffs bobbed in the sea a few hundred yards from the shore.
As we approached the resort zone about a mile south of the town we noticed several new guest houses, bars, and restaurants, more real-estate outposts, and a new Hopkins Humane Society building buzzing with dogs and their humans. A rather favourable addition was the cheerful Caribbean Village Apartments and Shops – a new development with 5 long term rental apartments, Suds n' Duds Laundromat, U lick Ice Cream Shop, a well-stocked Village Grocery store and Delicatessen, an upscale woman's clothing shop with a great selection of bathing suites (Mirror-Mirror Boutique), and The Sand Bar, a gourmet burger bar and restaurant providing tasty food and cold drinks at a fraction of the resort rates. The owners of this development, Cindy and Joe, were kind enough to show us around the shops as well as their lovely Caribbean Shores B&B, which has 6 well-appointed rooms, a pool, fully furnished dining and living room facilities and a roof-top terrace. The rooms are a great value and we will certainly be recommending them.
We spent the morning and afternoon visiting several resorts and B&Bs. Some were truly fantastic offering everything you would want for a beach vacation, others were underwhelming and we are glad to know which places not to recommend to travellers.
The Spanish colonial inspired Villa Verano housing 10 rooms on three floors was overall the most luxurious of resorts that we visited. Property Manager Elizabeth met us when we arrived and was kind enough to tour us around before hosting us for a delicious lunch prepared by their guest chef – roast chicken and vegetable pesto wrap with sweet potato fries and watermelon – delicious! Each unit at Villa Verano is beautifully decorated and well furnished with artistic touches to round out every detail and ensure a truly pampered experience. Top that off with a picturesque setting right on the sea, infinity pool, gym, study, entertainment room, and rooftop hot-tub, and you have the ultimate beach vacation rental. This place is perfect for an intimate wedding or family reunion.
Later that afternoon we arrived at Jaguar Reef, which was to be our overnight destination. What we love most about this charming beach resort is the authentically Belizean atmosphere. The rooms are airy, high ceilinged thatch cabanas outfitted with hard-wood furnishings, colourful local art and brightly tiled bathrooms and each has a veranda with a hammock just steps from the turquoise Caribbean. What more could you want from a room on the beach? For those that do want a little something more, you can get it right next door at Jaguar Reef’s sister resort, Almond Beach. Here, the lovely rooms have received a contemporary upgrading with glimmering granite bathrooms and sleek modern furnishings offering an added touch of luxury to the classic beach-front room. We were impressed by the range of room types available from cozy garden rooms, to multi bedroom suites with sweeping sea views, to private ocean front cabanas with outdoor showers, to the fully outfitted luxury villa apartments at the nearby Villa Margarita. It was clear to us that the rooms and facilities at Jaguar Reef and Almond Beach are all excellently well maintained and that these resorts are thriving. Guests were everywhere, relaxing in the pool, at the bar, on their verandas, at the beach, and in the restaurant, all cheerfully attended by an abundance of well-trained staff.
By the time we were finished touring the Jaguar Reef complex it felt like it was time for a beer, but I reminded David, our operations and manager and chief photographer, that we had one more resort to visit first. Abated by the promise of cold beer soon to come, we walked up the beach towards Hamanasi as the light faded to orange and the sun made its way towards the Maya Mountains on western horizon. Hamanais has long been one of Hopkins top resorts, and in our opinion, it also one of the most unique beach resorts in Belize. At Hamanasi, the coastal forest was preserved rather than cleared and their tree-house rooms are set within this beach forest, right up in the canopy so that you feel like you are at a jungle lodge. The resort does have an ample beach area with hammocks and loungers, however, along with a lovely ocean side pool, a restaurant with sea-views, and dock over the sea, so guests get the best of both worlds at one resort – jungle and sea!
After our tour of Hamanasi it really was time for a beer so we chose a table with a sea-breeze at the Jaguar Reef restaurant and ordered a couple cold Belikins and shrimp ceviche (which was very unique and quite tasty). Thus revived, we freshened up and made out way back to the Sand Bar at the Caribbean Village Shops. Cindy and Joe were having a big tasting of all their dishes that night before opening the restaurant for the season and they had invited us to join them when we met them earlier that day. We arrived to find a lively scene as the assemblage of Hopkins and ex-pat locals that had gathered for the tasting party had alreadybegun enjoying the $5 Belikin pints (what a deal!). Among this group of new faces we also found some friends visiting from Belmopan for the night – it’s a small country! And so, with old friends and new, we had a great night of chatting, playing pool, and of course sampling all of Cindy’s delicious creations (the cheeseburger pizza was a huge hit!). Sinking in to the cushy king bed back in our quiet cabana at Jaguar Reef was the perfect finish to the night.
Dawn greeted us with slate and yellow light the following morning and we immediately jumped into sea just footsteps from our room. The air was still and the sea looked like liquid platinum, reflecting steel blue clouds masking the pale yellow sun. Only the early morning sand rakers were out already, rhythmically sweeping the beach free of the night’s seaweed accumulation and combing the sand into pretty patterns. These guys meant business – one had even rigged up a 4 tiered rake system! – and they made quick work of beautifying the shore.
After a quick shower and tasty breakfast (again, at Jaguar Reef) we checked out and visited Belizean Dreams Resort, which is right in between Jaguar Reef and Hamanasi. The resort was looking lush and lovely as its two story villas are scattered among brilliant flower gardens and verdant lawns that lead to a sea-side restaurant, beach bar, pool, and swimming beach on the sea shore. The bright and comfortable 2 bedroom villas would be ideal for families while the 2nd floor suites are perfect for a romantic getaway. We love the lively feel of this resort and their fun bar is easily our favourite place for beer and nachos on the beach.
As we made our way back north through the village we stopped here and there to take in the scene. Many people were out and about on this Sunday morning, visiting neighbours, tending to their yards, or simply relaxing outside under the shade of the ancient mango trees that are found all over the village. They greeted us as we passed. We drove slowly with the windows down, and at one point a little boy who was probably no more than two years old whizzed past us an a bicycle, his gaze fixed firmly forward and his concentration on the ideal (a local popsicle) that he held tightly in one hand.
We turned west out of the village and back towards the southern highway on the new paved road but could not bring ourselves to roll up the windows or speed up just yet – the wetlands that surround the road on both for sides for miles to the north and south were in full bloom with a type of white iris and were teeming with flocks of Great White Egrets and Rosette Spoonbills. This scene, with the Maya Mountains of the Cockscomb Basin towering in the background was too lovely to rush through, so we took our time and let the moment linger just a little longer before calling it a day on our wonderful Hopkins FAM.