Robert Benchley, a humorist who everyone still should be reading, once noted: “In America, there are classes of travel — first class and with children.”
In Belize, on the other hand, it’s pretty easy to have a first-class vacation even when you bring the kids along.
The first rule of traveling with children, of course, is to keep them busy. Elementary-aged children such as our daughter and son aren’t big on sitting around, and they’re also not all that crazy about doing the same thing day after day.
Belize manages to meet the conflicting needs of many families: A first-class, peaceful destination for adults, plenty of fun-filled variety for kids.
We decided a few years ago that memorable experiences are far more important than any more of that stuff that comes in gift-wrapped holiday boxes, and we set off for the tiny nation along the eastern coast of Central America a few days after Christmas.
We were drawn to Belize by the great combination of natural wonders to be explored — rivers for kayaking and rafting, wildlife reserves, hundreds of offshore islands, and Mayan ruins, both in Belize and next-door Guatemala. We figured we always could find something to keep the kids interested while we soaked up adventure and an eco-tourism experience.
Among the most important of those natural wonders is the Belize Barrier Reef, a whole series of coral reefs that extends for nearly 200 miles along the country’s coast. The reef, home to at least 500 species of fish, is understandably popular for scuba diving and snorkeling.
It also breaks the waves from the Atlantic andcreates peaceful beaches where parents can relax their watchful eyes — at least a little — while children play in placid waters.
Fleets of catamarans, meanwhile, are available for charter through the offshore islands. It’s not inexpensive — quotes of $1,000 per person for a week-long charter are common — but our kids still bubble with stories about their island-hopping adventures.
They’re still bubbling, too, about their jungle experiences at Sleeping Giant Rainforest Lodge, a resort surrounded by a tropical landscape. Whether it was splashing in a nearby stream at night or learning the skills of cave-tubing, our kids weren’t bored. And their parents deeply appreciated the peace of being at one with nature.
The 13 villas of El Secreto, a resort about 11 miles north of the town of San Pedro, provide a quiet, romantic getaway. But even while my husband and I savored amenities that include outdoor private jacuzzis and shower patios, activities such as zip-lining and tours of Mayan ruins kept our kids entranced.
Nearby San Pedro itself, the center of visitor activities on popular Ambergris Caye, offers relaxed shopping and dining to guests who travel by golf cart or bicycle — when, that is, they’re not kicking off their sandals for a barefoot stroll.
While Belize certainly has been discovered by visitors, it’s still less developed — and often more affordable — than most of its Central America neighbors.
But levels of development and relative affordability are issues for grownups to worry about. For my kids, and for us as members of a family who treasure one another, Belize brings memories and tales of times spent together that will be told for decades to come.