Belize travel tips from a pro
Few travel writers know Belize like Joshua Berman, who's most recently written for us about its specialty chocolate tours. Berman's just out with an updated edition of a travel guide to Belize from the travel publishing house with the best reputation for Latin America coverage: Moon.
We recently spoke with Berman about all things Belize.
Q: What has surprised you most in your research on Belize?
A: Two things that have never ceased to amaze me: (1) how much sheer geographical, biological, and ecological diversity there is in an area smaller than the state of Massachusetts, and (2) how so many distinct cultures—more than eight languages spoken!—exist in a population of only 300,000. It's truly hard to fathom this until you see a group of typical Belizeans chatting on a street corner. You'll see Creoles, mestizos, Rastas, Chinese, Mennonites—or all of the above—chatting in one easy circle.
Q: So, where's the best place to hang in a hammock?
A: Out of range of falling coconuts. Seriously, it's a documented cause of death. Otherwise, I like to hang my hammock on Glover's Reef Atoll or anywhere along the Macal River in Cayo.
Q: What's a great nature appreciation experience to have in Belize?
A: I think the Lamanai archaeological site packs the most natural bang for your buck. Not only are there vines, orchids, and fig trees carpeting 1,000-year-old Maya pyramids and more recent colonial sugar mills, the journey to and from the site includes a phenomenal birding trip up and down the New River.
My advice: Always take the night hike, no matter how tired you are from the day's adventures—I've seen more wildlife during guided nighttime nature walks and boat rides than on day trips.
Q: What's the best way to get off the beaten path in Belize?
A: Easy—buy a bus or plane ticket from Belize City to Punta Gorda (PG). Tourists rarely include southern Belize in their itineraries, even though there are fantastic accommodations there, from homestays to luxe. There are upland villages, ruins, and caves in Toledo—plenty to do to make it worth the trip.
Q: Tell us about the 8th edition of the Belize guide book for Moon.
A: There is a new list of voluntourism and other less-than-traditional ways to visit Belize. These are alternative travel opportunities which include field research and volunteer programs, and trips specifically for teachers and veterinarians. Travelers can work directly with botanists, archeologists, and marine biologists, or help out with community projects like housing construction and trail building.
MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL
Readers' best rainbow photos
We asked, and you responded with stunning images of rainbows—and double rainbows—from travels through Hawaii, Europe, Brazil, the Caribbean, even the Serengeti. Check out the 15 best shots in our slide show. RECENT READER SLIDE SHOWS Sunsets | Hawaii | England and Scotland IN SEARCH OF... We're now collecting your nighttime photos and photos of Australia. Upload them through myBudgetTravel, tag them, and check back in the coming weeks for slide shows of the best submissions.
Food & Travel: New Orleans gets its bite back
This probably isn't something I should admit to my boss (and by posting it on the BT website, I'm doing just that), but I just spent a full hour of my workday reading a cookbook. Not just any cookbook, mind you. It's the gorgeous My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by award-winning chef and restaurateur John Besh—produced and edited by Dorothy Kalins, the founding editor of Saveur and the consulting editor of Budget Travel. I know, I know. Who needs another New Orleans cookbook? A quick search on Amazon turns up a whopping 743 titles in the category. Clearly, the world isn't wanting for another gumbo recipe. But My New Orleans is different. Yes, there's gumbo—an entire chapter devoted to it, in fact—but there's so much more. Besh was born and raised just outside of New Orleans, so he understands that the city and its food are inextricably entwined. To write a proper cookbook without also digging into the city's fascinating history and culture would be impossible. This is a cookbook with 200 recipes, yes, but it's also part memoir, part history lesson, part love letter to his hometown. Besh has woven into his book beautifully written stories: his first shrimping trip on Lake Pontchatrain, drinking Big Shot soda and eating red beans and rice at Mardi Gras, and preparing meals for the rescue workers after Hurricane Katrina. You learn as much about New Orleans as you do about the food. In fact, I was so engrossed in the stories that I'm pretty sure I would've read every word even if Besh hadn't included a single recipe. But do not skip the food—you'd be doing yourself a huge disservice. Besh has launched six restaurants, but, as he explains in the intro, the dishes in this book are not restaurant recipes; there are no impossible-to-find ingredients and no pretentiously fussy preparations (my favorite Besh quote in the book: "Deconstruct a gumbo? That's not cooking. That's not love. I'm not about to trivialize a recipe that has been here longer than most cities in our country.") Instead, the book delivers real food that real people can prepare, plus sidebars that are chock full of information about key ingredients like blue crab, Chanterelles, and Ponchatoula strawberries. Too many cookbooks intimidate would-be chefs; this one inspires them. I already have a growing list of the dishes I want to try, starting with Momma Rochelle's Stuffed Quail Gumbo, a recipe that began with Besh's mentor's Cajun mother-in-law and has evolved over the years. From there I might move on to the Trout Amandine or the Louisiana Shrimp and Andouille over Grits. And our associate photo editor, who grew up in New Orleans, tells me I have to try the Crab Boil (his exact words, after reading through the recipe: "This is a good cookbook.") Those other 743 titles? I'm sure they're just fine, but Amazon can have them. I'm sticking with My New Orleans. EARLIER More from writer Beth Collins ELSEWHERE Here's an essay that would have been published in the next Gourmet (had it not closed down) about Why We Cook
Mexico to debut the largest underwater museum in the world
Imagine doing this: Don snorkel gear and swim down to discover mysterious sculptures sunk into the ocean floor. Among colorful tropical fish, gaze at Jason de Caires Taylor's spooky grouping of concrete figures. See a circle of stone children, for instance, hidden beneath the waves. This dream is about to become a reality. In November, Mexico debuts off the shores of Cancun the first stage of largest underwater museum in the world. The Subaquatic Sculpture Museum will be submerged at the West Coast National Park/Parque Nacional Costa Occidental, near Mujeres Island, Punta Cancun, and Punta Nizuc. The concrete figures will encourage the growth of algae and invertebrates, becoming eerier over time. The first four sculptures will be submerged next month. Eventually there will be 400 figures in human shapes by artist Jason de Caires Taylor.
An old-school weekend in Maine
At Budget Travel, we're obsessed with being on the cutting edge of what's happening in the world of travel. Whether it's a cool new boutique hotel in London or a new dessert-truck trend in the U.S., we want to be the first to know so we can tell you all about it. Sometimes, though, something is cool precisely because it's not new. I was reminded of that a couple of weekends ago when I went to a friend's wedding on Chebeague Island, in Maine. Everything about Chebeague is old-school, from the boat that takes you across Casco Bay to get there—a navy, white, and red passenger ferry that looks like it's right out of a children's book about New England—to the tiny Doughty's general store, the only place to stock up on basic provisions (I bought an absurd number of whoopie pies, the celebrated Maine dessert made of two rounds of Devil's Food cake with a sweet cream filling). The wedding festivities were spread between two places, and I can't decide which one I like best. For the rehearsal dinner, we all gathered for a lobster bake at Chebeague Orchard Inn, one of the coolest B&Bs; I've seen in a long time. The white-clapboard house is adorable, and the apple-tree-dotted grounds are beautiful, but it's the young owners, J Holt and Jenny Goff, that give the place its character. My favorite detail: a little corner room that they've transformed into a kind of mini-vintage shop. The closet and chests are full of sweaters, dresses, and costume jewelry, and the shelves are stocked with fabrics. I didn't see a single item marked over $5. The wedding itself—and our homebase for the weekend—was the 1920s golden-yellow Chebeague Island Inn. When we weren't playing board games by the huge stone fireplace in the great room, we were sipping cocktails on the porch, which runs along the entire front of the inn and looks out onto the lobster boats bobbing in the water. The morning of the wedding, we took out the inn's free L.L. Bean bikes and tooled around the island, exploring a few beaches along the way and stopping at Calder's Clam Shack http://www.caldersclamshack.com/ for lunch. Is Chebeague Island new and exciting? Not even close. And that's exactly what makes it so cool. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL America's 10 Coolest Small Towns 2009 In New England, it's a peak year for foliage Planning to visit Maine? Read these tips from a top guidebook author