Trip Coach: August 21, 2007

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AnneLise Sorensen, writer for 'Rough Guides: Belize,' answered your questions on Belize.

AnneLise Sorensen: Hello—this is AnneLise Sorensen, and thanks for joining me. And now on to balmy Belize. This Central American eco-pioneer may be petite, but it can claim plenty of superlatives: snorkel the longest Barrier Reef in the western hemisphere, dive the inky depths of the Blue Hole, and embark on thigh-aching treks up soaring Maya pyramids. All this, and you don't have to pantomime in rusty Spanish to order a beer—the official language is English. As for the lush interior: Sure, Belize has changed since "The Mosquito Coast" was filmed in its tangled jungles—but, thankfully, not by much. Head to Mountain Pine Ridge in the southwest, where feathery pines give way to moist rainforests, punctuated by some of the oldest rocks in the region. Here, you can roam hushed limestone caves, and then go tubing on the Macal River, spinning past iguanas warming on the sun-washed banks.

While geographically Belize is Central American, at heart it's Caribbean: You'll hear a lilting Creole—"Weh di go aan?", or "Hi, what's up?"—spoken throughout the country; you can feast on Caribbean comfort food, like "fry jacks" and coconut-rich seafood stews, washed down with sweet cashew nut wine; and yes, the steel drums and tropical cocktails sprouting paper umbrellas are on enthusiastic display, particularly when the cruise ships are due to pull in.

I look forward to chatting with you about Belize, so bring on the questions and let's get started!

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Phoenix, Ariz.: We are planning several months next winter on Ambergris Key. What is the best long term rental on the island? Mike

AnneLise Sorensen: Mike, ahhh, winter on sunny Ambergris Caye—an excellent decision. This is, after all, "La Isla Bonita" that Madonna sang about. And when she crooned, "Last night I dreamt of San Pedro," she was paying homage to the caye's lovely resort village—which is a prime spot to pick up information on long-term rentals. Ambergris Caye has more condos, timeshares, and long-term rentals and apartments than anywhere in Belize, so you're spoiled for choice. However, prices do spike in the high winter season, so make sure to do some sniffing around before making a decision. Pay a visit to Caye Management (tel. 501/226-3077, cayemanagement.com), or try ambergriscaye.com, and click on the Lodging link, which will take you to long-term rentals. Best of luck on La Isla Bonita!

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Gulfport, Miss.: I am taking a cruise in March. One stop is Belize City. What is there to do? I want to have as wild a time as possible.

AnneLise Sorensen: Hi Gulfport, is karaoke wild enough for you? Belizeans have a surprising fondness for karaoke, and you'll find quite a number of city nightspots offering the chance to belt out tunes in between rounds of beer. Bodega Lounge, on top of Nerie's Restaurant 2 (Queen St at Daly St), sometimes hosts weekday karaoke nights, and also features live music. That said, Belize City nightlife is rather tame compared to other Caribbean capitals. Most of the sleek bars and clubs are in upscale hotels, while at the other end of the spectrum are dank dives populated by hard-drinking locals. One of the more buzzing strips in the city is the relatively safe stretch of Barracks Road facing BTL park, which fills with young revelers traipsing from one terrace bar to the next. Looming over this stretch is the Princess Hotel; while it has a rather dismal reputation for its sub-par rooms and laissez-faire service, its nightlife options, including Club Next, are generally top-of-the-heap by Belizean standards.

One of the newer nightspots where you can quaff cocktails is the Riverside Tavern (2 Mapp St, tel. 501/223-5640). A gleaming, four-sided bar, with bottles lining back-lit shelves, presides over the centre of this upscale tavern on the banks of Haulover Creek. Come nightfall, the tavern swells with a lively crowd of Belizeans and travelers, who settle in at the ample wooden tables or on the outdoor deck to sample such fruity concoctions as the Rainwater, watermelon and cranberry juice spiked with vodka.

You can also try Iguana Rana in the Tourism Village. By day, the large, breezy restaurant-bar perched on the pier is crammed with the in-port-for-one-day cruise crowd, who sip tropical tipples while enjoying the rays and listening to live steel drum music. On Friday nights (from 5pm) however, the festive Iguana Rana becomes largely the territory of locals. A cheery mood pervades, as groups of friends and couples enjoy cocktails under the night sky, surrounded by the lapping Caribbean Sea.

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Winston-Salem, N.C.: Where should we retire in Belize? We love being in town as well as being in the country by ourselves. On the average how many hurricanes do they have a season?

AnneLise Sorensen: The question might be: Where not to retire in Belize? The weather is uniformly balmy across the country, and towns and villages are liberally sprinkled from north to south, so even if you choose to be "away from it all," gelling in a hammock and communing with the toucans, you're rarely more than a couple of hours from a village with all the necessities—accommodation, banks and Internet, a chilled Belikin beer.

To give you further perspective: As of July 2007, Belize's population was just shy of 300,000. That's low—think of it this way: The entire country has the population of a mid-sized Central American town—and it feels like one. In Belize, six degrees of separation is more like three degrees—families have been intermingling for generations, which has given rise to a powerful sense of community. Add to this the stable Belize dollar, and relatively low land and housing prices, and it's easy to see why Belize is increasingly on the radar for retirees. One option for folks in their twilight years is the casual Corozal, in the north. The breezy, agreeable town sits near the mouth of the New River, surrounded by sugarcane fields, and hums with a lively mix of Caribbean-meets-Mexican culture, as it's just twenty minutes from the Mexican border. (Note, however, that Corozal recently received quite a beating from Hurricane Dean—see my further answer below.) You might also look into Punta Gorda, in the south, and San Ignacio, in the west. For more on retiring in Belize, check out the helpful belizeretirement.org, compiled by the Belize Tourism Board.

Your question about hurricanes is a timely one, as it's hurricane season right now, and the entire Belizean coast is currently under alert due to Hurricane Dean. We're keeping our fingers crossed. One thing to keep in mind is that each season (which lasts from late June through November) is a wholly different story. In the past, thankfully, most severe storms have followed a track well to the north of Belize. That said, if a hurricane does hit, Belize has excellent warning systems in place and a network of shelters. Note that if you're on the cayes or the coast, and a hurricane is developing anywhere in the Caribbean, you should be prepared to leave. It's also a good idea to keep track of developing storms—try belizenet.com/weatherix.shtml.

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Fullerton, Calif.: What is/are the best, safest and most economical ways to travel from the airport at Belize City to Ambergris Caye?

AnneLise Sorensen: The easiest way to travel from the International Airport to Ambergris Caye is by flying; Maya Island Air (501/226-2435) and Tropic Air (501/226-2012) operate frequent flights, at least hourly, from 7:30am to 5pm. The cost is generally around $60, and flight time is about half an hour. Note that flights also operate from the Municipal Airport, just north of the city center, for about $10 less. Water taxis, which depart from the Marine Terminal to Ambergris Caye, are cheaper than flights, but if you figure in the cost of getting from the International Airport to the Marine Terminal, then flying is your best bet, both time- and money-wise.

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New York, N.Y.: Hi. My friend and I (we're both in our late thirties) are going to Belize for two weeks. We're spending two nights in Belize City, at the beginning and the end of our trip. We'd like to try out the local cuisine at a good restaurant. Where do you recommend?

AnneLise Sorensen: Belize City is brimming with restaurants, from local haunts with the daily specials scrawled on a blackboard to genteel, candle-lit spots featuring French fare. When in Belize, though, you're right to eat Belizean, which is a distinctive cross between Caribbean and Latin American—white rice heaped with red beans, fresh seafood enveloped in creamy coconut milk. New on the city's cuisine scene is Faiyah Haat (Creole for "fire hearth"), at 164 Newtown Barracks (tel. 223-2865). Here, local chef and entrepreneur Mark Usher aims to serve up "the best in Belizean food—and in Belizean arts and entertainment." He's successful on both counts. As they say in Creole—and on the cheeky menu—"So com een, siddown and loose dat deh pants button." Enjoy the daily happy hour (5-8pm) on the outdoor deck strung with colored lights and then dig in to superb specialties, including guava jelly pork chops and blackened fish fillet with cajun spices. Afterwards, stay on for the entertainment, which ranges from poetry nights, karaoke, and, on Saturday, "Laaf til yo cry wid backyaad theata."

When Belize's steamy climate calls for al fresco dining, head to the Smoky Mermaid (13 Cork St, tel. 501/223-4759) where you can sit amid the gnarled roots and heavy branches of native trees—breadfruit, soursap, mango—and a gurgling mermaid fountain, with the all-white, colonial Great House hotel looming in the background. Try the grilled fish and seafood dishes, including the catch of the day crusted with shredded Yuca, and "Naked Lobster," lightly steamed lobster tail served with a garlic or butter sauce. The Smoky Mermaid is also a pleasant spot for an evening cocktail, either at the bar (with tree stumps for stools) or in the upstairs Budda Bar, where you can recline on low couches to the sounds of the wind rustling through the fan palms.

And for adventurous eaters: Sink your teeth into the local delicacy of gibnut, a rodent that tastes like succulent pork. (You'll often hear it called "royal rat," because it was served to Queen Elizabeth when she visited the former colony—to the great consternation of her UK brethren across the pond.) A number of restaurants serve gibnut (usually just one day of the week, so call ahead) including the perennially popular Macy's (18 Bishop St, tel. 501/207-3419), a low-frills, friendly eatery with plaid tablecloths. Also try Bird's Isle Restaurant, which sits on Bird's Isle, at the south end of Regent St (tel. 207-6500). Here you can relax under a thatched roof by the sea, and enjoy nicely priced Belizean fare, like grilled conch, stewed chicken, plantains and, on Saturdays, a boil-up, a one-pot stew of root vegetables and chicken or beef (and a pig tail for flavor). The friendly Bird's Isle is a community-oriented place—you'll spy wooden signs sporting buck-up aphorisms ("If you think education is expensive, check out ignorance") and the neighbourhood kids are encouraged to stop in and use the adjoining basketball court. See if you can catch one of the spirited evening games between local teams.

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Crystal River, Fla.: What is there of historical value to check out in Belize?

AnneLise Sorensen: Two words: Maya sites. From 1500 BC to 1000 AD, the Maya dominated Central America, and they left behind magnificent relics. Belize boasts a wealth of these spectacular Maya ruins and temples, including Lamanai in the north and Caracol in the southwest, many of which rise grandly from the jungle.

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Milledgeville, Ga.: My husband and I stopped in Belize City while on a cruise. We want to return and see more. Are the roads safe to travel? Can you rent motorcycle and ride around? If not, what is the best way to see more of Belize?

AnneLise Sorensen: That's wonderful to hear that Belize City piqued your interest to see more of the country. Often, you see, the opposite occurs: With its dilapidated air and congested streets, Belize City doesn't offer the warmest welcome upon arrival. Scratch the surface, however, and you'll discover a thriving, culturally rich city. The same can be said for the rest of this pint-sized country. As for embarking on your explorations: The good news is that the roads are generally quite safe. The bad news is that drivers are less so. Belize has a rather poor driving record, so take all the proper precautions when behind the wheel: avoid driving at night, and during strong rainstorms or other adverse conditions. You can certainly rent a motorcycle, but buzzing along on two wheels would be better for shorter journeys, like a morning cruise along the coast. For longer rambles, go for a sturdy car or pick-up truck.

I traversed Belize in a four-wheel-drive pick-up along the Western Highway, en route to the Maya site of Tikal, in Guatemala. It was a fairly smooth ride, barring the occasional crater-like pothole and, rather sadly, lots of skeletal dogs skulking along the roadside. It wasn't, however, until I crossed into northern Guatemala's bumpy, uneven border roads that I realized just how decently maintained Belize's roads are. While Belize has only four paved highways (including the Hummingbird Highway that snakes down to the southwest), they're well kept-up, and fan out into the far reaches of the country. A word of caution: Beware speedbumps, particularly at bus stops or upon entering a town or village. They're easy to miss, and driving over them at full speed can lead to a very sore head (and tush).

Where to rent? The largest and best-run rental car agency is the long-time, local Crystal Car (Mile 4 3/45, Northern Highway, toll-free in Belize 800/777-7777, crystal-belize.com). Crystal has the largest rental fleet in the country, and is the only outfit that allows you to take vehicles over the Guatemalan border. Owner Jay Crofton, based in his antique-filled courtyard on the Northern Highway, always gives a good deal on rentals and prides himself on service.

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Winter Park, Fla.: Having travelled all over for business, I find that I also prefer travelling alone for pleasure. Is Belize a good place for a woman to travel alone? How about renting a car and travelling from the airport south? I just turned 60 (the first of the boomers who think retire is another word for "yahoo!"), am physically active, and like doing new things.

AnneLise Sorensen: Hello—and I'll second that by saying Yahoo! to you for solo traveling. Yes, Belize can be a wonderful place to travel alone, as there's a strong sense of community, and most locals are amiable and welcoming. Just keep in mind that Belizean men can occasionally exhibit a machismo attitude and be boldly persistent, particularly in Belize City and tourist areas. But, replying with a curt answer and swiftly moving on will usually convey your lack of interest without being insulting. As for getting around, renting a car is a good idea, especially if you'd like to travel at your own pace. Enjoy your adventure!

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Dallas, Tex.: For next year, I'd like to plan a trip to Belize for about 5 days and combine it with a 2 or 3 day visit to Tikal in Guatemala. Is it best to fly from Belize City to Tikal? Or would it be better to travel overland; if so, suggestions on how to best plan an itinerary to include both destinations. Also, any suggestions for tour operators that could assist with the trip. Thanks.

AnneLise Sorensen: If you're pressed for time, then fly to Tikal; regular flights depart from Belize City to the airport in nearby Flores. However, if you have more flexibility in your schedule, then opt for the overland trip, which takes you along the Western Highway from Belize City into Northern Guatemala. It's fairly smooth (except at the bumpy border roads) and offers the chance to see more of both countries along the way. You've made a good decision to stay in Tikal for at least two to three days. I'd suggest that you base yourself in lovely little Flores, with its cobblestoned streets, twin-domed church, and wide range of accommodation. Minibuses, including those run by San Juan Travel (tel. 7926-0042, 2a Calle, in Flores), depart throughout the day to Tikal; the trip generally takes a little over an hour. Additionally, all hotels and travel agents can arrange this trip for you.

Are you up for getting up early—and I mean really early? If so, go for a sunrise trip to Tikal (departure is around 3:30am), when you can observe the mist-shrouded temples coming into focus against the tangled jungle as the sun rises in the sky.

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Washington, D.C.: My daughter is considering celebrating her 30th birthday, which is in September, in Belize. Due to her lack of vacation time, we are considering the Christmas holiday time in 2008. Would that be a good time? Is there safe New Year's Eve celebrations? Are the prices reasonable at that time of year. What activities can you recommend for young professional women on the island?

AnneLise Sorensen: Hello—and happy 30th to your daughter! Late-December is an excellent time to visit Belize, as the country is just emerging from the rainy season, so it's lush and green, but the skies are clear and sunny. Note, however, that this is high season, so it's the priciest time to visit. As for New Year's Eve—Belize celebrates it with enthusiasm, fireworks, and free-flowing cocktails, particularly in San Pedro, on Ambergris Caye. If you'd like fewer crowds, try casual Caye Caulker. That's what I did last year, and it was a refreshing way to ring in the New Year: A group of traveler friends and I headed to the breezy split, at the north end of the caye. We knew that elsewhere in the world, the midnight countdown was being chanted by thousands, but here our only companions were the bright moon, the rhythmic whoosh of the waves, and a couple of chilled Belikin beers. As for activities for your daughter: Belize is a boon for outdoor sports, from snorkeling and diving to trekking and tubing. And, she should definitely fit in a climb up a Maya temple; I recommend Lamanai in northern Belize. Have a wonderful trip.

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San Juan, P.R.: Hello. We are visiting Belize on a cruise later this year, provided that it survives Hurricane Dean. What is the most interesting thing for our family to see if we only have half a day there? We have a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old that are both gifted and very curious to learn so more stimulating or exotic activities are probably more appropriate. Thanks and regards, Ron.

AnneLise Sorensen: Ron, Belize is still under hurricane watch because of Hurricane Dean—but we're all hoping for the best. As for maximizing your half-day visit: You'd likely need longer than that to explore the cayes or nearby Maya sites, so I'd suggest a visit to the Belize Zoo (daily 8.30am-5pm; Bz$16 adult, Bz$8 for children; tel. 501/220-8004, belizezoo.org), about 28 miles from Belize City, which should suitably captivate your gifted young ones.

Considered to be the finest zoo in the Americas south of the US, it's organized around the theme of "a walk through Belize," with a trail that takes you into the pine ridge, the rainforest, lagoons, and river forest. The most famous resident is April, a now venerable Baird's tapir (known locally as a "mountain cow") well known to the schoolchildren of Belize, who visit in their hundreds on her birthday (in April) to feed her a huge vegetable birthday cake. Plus, all the Belizean cats are represented, including jaguars and the rarer melanistic (black) jaguar. You'll also spy colorful scarlet macaws, and other birds including toucans and jabiru storks. The feathered star of the show, however, is Panamá, a magnificent male harpy eagle (originally from Panamá). When you're on the viewing platform outside his spacious enclosure he'll look at you with his steely eyes—and you can be grateful you're out of reach of his enormous talons. All in all, the Belize Zoo is both entertaining and educational for the younger set—enjoy your visit!

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: My boyfriend and I are going to Belize in December. We're planning on visiting several Maya sites and also doing lots of outdoor activities. I'd also like to spend a few days at a spa/resort. Do you know of any?

AnneLise Sorensen: You're in luck: Belize abounds with spa resorts, many of which embrace the ecological spirit of Belize—so, not only will you emerge with your pores clean and glowing, but your conscience too. If you're visiting the Maya sites of the north, then you might want to "indulge in the jungle" at the Maruba Resort and Jungle Spa (tel. 501/225-5555, maruba-spa.com), which lies near Maskall at Mile 40, Old Northern Highway. At Maruba, it's all in the mud. Plumbed from the earth and brimming with minerals, it's the kind of rich goop that you'll happily smear on your body parts, then submit to its rejuvenating tingle while reclining in a breezy cabana, eyes closed against the warm sun. The resort sits amid dewy tropical foliage, so as you lie in your palm-shaded hideaway for a "mood mud" body scrub, you might hear the rustling of wild critters foraging in the undergrowth. This is pampering with a primal edge, and let's face it—there's something especially hedonistic about a pedicure in the jungle.

The Maya site of Altun Ha lies near Maruba, so you can trek up giant stone temples in the early light of day, then wind down with a scalp massage and an African Honey Bee scrub, and as night falls, sip rum punch from a hairy coconut with the top lopped off. As you might expect, the primitive-meets-posh Maruba is all very decadent—think gleaming mahogany ceilings, billowing silks, feather beds, wafting incense and hibiscus-strewn, mosaic bathrooms—but it's done with a wink. Quirky, jungle-chic details abound: a carved penis as a toilet paper holder in the lobby bathroom; palm fronds as placemats; rough-hewn walls studded with recycled glass bottles of Belikin beer and Fanta. In the best eco tradition, little goes to waste at the largely self-sustaining resort, where the natural surroundings are respectfully incorporated at every turn.

Another splendid resort is The Lodge at Chaa Creek (tel. 501/824-2037, chaacreek.com), in the west, on the banks of the Macal River, at the end of the Chial Road. Whitewashed, wood-and-stucco cabañas sit on leafy grounds sloping down to the rushing river. The hilltop spa fetures an impressive pamper menu, including seaweed body wraps and hydrating facials. For a true escape, enjoy a full-body massage at the private outdoor palapa, with nothing but softly chirping birds all around you.

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Bronx, N.Y.: I was thinking of planning a trip to Belize for my boyfriend and myself. We will be departing NYC Sept. 7-14. I have been hearing that the beaches are not that nice in some parts. What would be the best area to stay? Preferably with a beautiful beach and access to shop and night life within walking distance?

AnneLise Sorensen: Go south: Some of Belize's finest beaches are around the Placencia peninsula—with soft sand, swaying palms, and warm breezes. And, while the town of Placencia is rather small and laid-back, you will find plenty of fine restaurants and a smattering of bars where you can enjoy rum-based cocktails while watching the sun dip into the Caribbean Sea.

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New York, N.Y.: We are going on a cruise in November which stops in Belize City. We have a five-year-old and a 18-month-old ACTIVE boy. I have checked the (Royal Caribbean) onboard excursions and have not found one that fits our needs. We would prefer to go to a clean, safe beach where there are bathroom/ changing facilities and food available, and would really to have the option for mom and dad to snorkel while the other parent watches the kids. Most of the snorkeling trips seem to have minimum ages or require long boat rides that we would prefer not to do with our toddler since he has a hard time sitting still (and not sure if they would have a small life jacket). We will also be tendered there so we know we will have to deal with at least one boat ride each way. The only other alternative would be a Mayan ruins excursion, but they may require too much walking for the kids. We could carry my toddler in a backpack but I worry about asking my 5-year old to possibly walk and climb over difficult terrain, in likely very hot, humid weather. Any suggestions (sorry for the length!)? Thank you!

AnneLise Sorensen: Hello, it sounds like you'll have your hands full! Firstly, it depends on how long you'll be in port, but I'll assume that it's just for a day. Most cruise ships have scheduled day-trips to the cayes and nearby Maya ruins, but you're right—this can involve a fair amount of either boat or bus travel, which might tire out the little ones. With all that in mind, here's a potential option: The recently opened Old Belize Cultural and Historical Center (daily 10am-4.30pm; Bz$10; tel. 501/222-4129, oldbelize.com), on Mile 5 of the Western Highway. The informative, well-run center was created as an "appetizer to Belize"—a colorful, interactive overview of the country all under one roof, targeted specifically towards time-pressed cruise ship visitors like yourselves with, say, just a day to spare. It continues to draw the cruise crowd, but thanks to its adjoining open-air restaurant and man-made beach, it's also a hit with the locals. You enter the experiential museum through a mahogany tree, wander past ongoing videos on the country's varied ethnic groups and natural riches, and then explore a series of rooms, each of which highlights different eras in the country's timeline. Start off in the humid rainforest room, complete with 700 species of trees, a waterfall, and a cage of fluttering Blue Morpho butterflies. Next is the dimly lit Mayan Village, with life-size stone carvings and a replica wood-and-thatch home of Mayan farmers. You'll also see a Garifuna dwelling—and hear the piped-in beats of traditional Garifuna drumming—and walk along a recreated Belize City street lined with wooden homes from the early 1900s.

The adjoining Cucumber Beach (daily 10am-6pm; included in museum entrance, or Bz$5 for a beach pass), fashioned out of reclaimed land, is fairly small but well-groomed, with a couple of activities popular with youngsters, like water tubes and a "tarzan swing" diving board. For a bite, try the Sibun Bite Bar and Grill (daily 11am-9pm), with high ceilings made of native hardwoods, where you can tuck into nicely priced Belizean specialties on the outdoor terrace overlooking the beach. During the week (Tues-Thurs) you might catch Belizean dancing and singing, usually during the late morning and lunch.

Looking for gifts to take the folks back home? Old Belize is also a great place for one-stop souvenir shopping, with reasonably priced wooden products, including cutting boards and coasters, local hot sauces and books on Belize.

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Cordova, Alaska: Hello, my name is Solomon and in December I'm traveling to Belize to photograph ancient Mayan ruins in Tikal and Lamanai. What should I expect to encounter? Is there one temple you suggest? I'm in fairly good health for a man of my age—'ahem' 40.

AnneLise Sorensen: Hi, Solomon. From Alaska to Belize in December—what a great way to thaw out! Well, as a photographer, you're in for a treat—the Maya sites are superbly photogenic.

As for what you'll encounter? I'll start out with Lamanai, in Belize, which makes for a memorable adventure—as much for the riverboat journey along the river, as for the site itself. I traveled along the New River to Lamanai earlier this year, on a paint-flecked boat with a local capitán at the helm. Though the river waters were eerily placid, the steamy jungle along its banks was not: howler moneys scampered overhead, emitting guttural howls, while great blue herons extended their long necks, and flapped regally into the sky. As we floated near a strange black cluster quivering on a tree branch, the swarm disbanded, and hundreds of bats flew off every which way. Further down the river, an old barge, heavy in the water with its load of molasses, slowly drifted past us. On the deck sat three sun-browned beefy locals in sunglasses who raised their hands in unison. And, around a bend, in the distance, lay the Mennonite settlement of Shipyard—the men in wide-brim hats and women in ankle-length dresses an arresting image, particularly against the tropical backdrop Belize.

As our boat pulled up to the wooden dock at the Lamanai entrance, it began to rain—fat, heavy drops as we clomped single-file, stumbling over muddy roots. We were sweating in our windbreakers, mosquitoes were biting, and it all seemed like a lot of effort—and then the first majestic temple loomed into view. Once the sun came out, we started on the thigh-aching slog up the 35-metre "High Temple," which was the largest structure in the Maya world when it was first constructed in 100 BC. We pulled on a slippery rope, heaving up one massive step, then another. At the top, panting, we gazed out at the jungle canopy, a magnificent 360-degree panorama of dewy, tangled green stretching into the horizon. From up here, anything seemed possible. Until we looked at the climb down...

Several companies offer trips to Lamanai from Orange Walk down the New River, including Jungle River Tours, 20 Lover's Lane, Orange Walk (tel. 501/302-2293, lamanaimayatour@btl.net).

Get ready for even more climbing at the magnificent site of Tikal, in northern Guatemala, which showcases steep temples looming in the jungle. Best of luck with your trip—and your photography.

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Mountain Home, Idaho: We will be traveling to Belize Jan 24 & staying 2 nights on Caye Caulker & 7 nights on Ambergris Caye. We are active 50+ & enjoy diving, snorkeling, ruins, jungles, etc. What would you suggest for 3 great adventures to do while there? Would you suggest flying to places like Tikal? Also I do not see supermarkets listed to buy food at on Ambergris Caye. Is there a place to stock up on some groceries?

AnneLise Sorensen: In addition to snorkeling and diving on the cayes, the splendid Maya sites of Northern Belize will also make for the "great adventures" that you're looking for. If you're limited on time, then your best bet is to explore ancient Altun Ha, which features two lovely Classic-period plazas. Many tour operators offer reasonably priced day-trips from Ambergris Caye.

However, if you do have more flexibility in your schedule, I recommend visiting the site of Lamanai, particularly if you can access it via riverboat along the New River from Orange Walk. (See my answer to Cordova, Alaska for more on the Lamanai trip and site).

Finally, is it worth seeing Tikal? Absolutely yes—in fact, if you can only fit in one Maya site on your trip, and you have the time, then make it Tikal—and at dawn. (For more, see my earlier posting on Tikal.)

As for groceries in Ambergris Caye: Buying your own food can be pricey, as there's no local market and the supermarkets are stocked primarily with canned imports. However, you will find a few decent spots, including Island Supermarket, on Coconut Drive at the southern end of San Pedro. Also, pop by La Popular bakery, on Buccaneer Street, for warm buns, including Mexican-style pan dulces.

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Camas, Wash.: Will the weather be hot and humid and will there be alot of bugs the first week of Sept. '07? Anything special I need to know or pack before leaving?

AnneLise Sorensen: September is still the rainy season, so the weather can be quite humid, though not quite as hot as in the dry season. If you plan on doing any outdoor trekking and exploring of Maya sites, make sure to pack sturdy shoes (think mud—and lots of it!) and insect repellent.

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San Diego, Calif.: We are going to Belize Oct 20-27, possible an extra day or two. Most likely we will stay the week in Ambergris Caye. Would you recommend staying on another island either at the front or end of our trip? We have seen Belize City and have no desire to stay there.

AnneLise Sorensen: For a change of pace from Ambergris Caye, pay a visit to the petite, palm-clad Caye Caulker, which has long been a stop on the backpacker trail. "Go slow" is the motto on the island, which is pretty much the only speed your golf cart will travel. Here, chilling out is a way of life, reggae the music, and ten or so languorous paces the distance from your beach shack to the sea. Decisions are similarly weighty: snorkel or sunbathe? Hairbraiding or henna tattoo? It's this sun-warmed simplicity that shapes one's days here—spend the morning floating on your back, then munching on tart shrimp kebabs from a beach grill, followed by a siesta under the rustling leaves of a fan palm. One could get very used to this. Enjoy your trip.

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Durango, Colo.: My family and I visited Ambergris Cay in March '06. We absolutely love the island, the snorkeling, the culture, the food, the town of San Pedro...but we hated the beach. There was virtually no sandy area and sea grass as far as we could see. We spent our days chartering a boat and driver to take us out to snorkel sites and swimming. Is there any area in Belize where you can enjoy all the amazing things it has to offer and also have a nice "walk in" beach? Also, have you ever been to the all-inclusive resorts that lie way off the coast and cater to divers and snorkelers? Thanks!

AnneLise Sorensen: Glad to hear you enjoyed Ambergris Caye, but for the beaches. This time around, why don't you try heading south? I mentioned this in an earlier posting, but it bears repeating: The Placencia peninsula features the country's most beautiful beaches—with bright-blue water lapping soft, sun-warmed strips of sand. Placencia is also a prime jumping-off point for further exploration around the sea and reef, where you can sail, snorkel, and even try wall diving. Bon voyage!

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AnneLise Sorensen: Thanks for joining me today, and best of luck on your visit to Belize. I regularly write (and wine-taste) my way across the globe, from Central America to Spain. If you'd like more information or links to my articles and guidebooks, email me at alsoren@yahoo.com. Goodbye!

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