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Thursday, 01 September 2016

Heavenly Hamanasi in Belize

Written by Jill Weinlein
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Charles Darwin described the country Belize in his 1842 book, Coral Reefs of the World, as “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies.”


Snorkel and diving enthusiasts appreciate the 1,000 different live species, with 500 types of fish and 100 different varieties of coral. Belize has the South Water Caye Marine Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world. Stepping into the pleasant 83 degree water, the visibility is at least 100 feet.


Belize borders Guatemala, Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. This Northern Hemisphere diving area has atolls and hundreds of mangroves and coral sand islands. It’s home to one of the world’s largest populations of threatened West Indian manatees, endangered sharks and marine turtles.


When two American divers and nature enthusiasts traveled to Belize in 2000, they fell in love with the beauty of the beach town, Hopkins. They enjoyed meeting the people in this English-speaking nation. Belize is a melting pot of Creoles, Mayas, Mestizos, East Indians, Chinese, Mennonites, North Americans, Europeans and Central Americans.


The couple from Virginia bought some land in Hopkins and built a luxury 23-room resort. Later they added some tree houses, raised 12 feet off the ground in the jungle. They hired a talented group of staff members and opened their resort to guide guests on adventures throughout Belize that include hiking, exploring caves, swimming in waterfalls, learning about the Mayan culture, snorkeling and diving in the unique Blue Hole.


Staying at the Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort, I learned that this eco-friendly resort is committed to making a change to protect Belize by implementing a daily reduce, reuse and recycle program. When guests enter their beach front room or tree-house suite, they receive stainless steel water bottles as welcome gifts. Guests are encouraged to re-fill their bottles with purified water from the room and take the bottles on daily adventure tours. Snorkel and dive boats have an igloo filled with purified cold water, as do the travel vans taking guests to hiking destinations, exploring caves and learning about Mayan history. There are no empty plastic water bottles littering the ground.

Each room is air conditioned and has ceiling fans above king- and queen-size comfortable Savvy Rest organic mattresses made with natural latex foam. This is the first resort outside of the United States to use these mattresses. The beautifully tiled bathrooms offer luxury beauty products in wooden containers that are refilled daily. Rooms have views of the Caribbean Sea or of a jungle filled with a variety of colorful birds. Some rooms are spacious, with a kitchenette and outdoor hammock and whirlpool spa tubs on the deck.


This is a resort for relaxing with no televisions or Wi-Fi in the rooms. There is a single television in the library room and one computer with Wi-Fi. After meals in the main lodge, guests congregate in the library to check their smart phone messages.


In 2014, the resort added the Singanga restaurant on the second floor of the main lodge. It offers indoor and alfresco dining overlooking the pool and beach. The menu features sustainable cuisine from the resort’s large and thriving garden.


The Activity Center offers daily excursions on the dive and snorkel boats to take guests to over 15 different sites. There are also all day excursions that include a picnic lunch prepared by the Hamanasi staff. The trips vary in levels of difficulty, and the staff emphasis safety to ensure that the guests are safe in the water, hiking, swimming in a waterfall stream or exploring caves by foot or inner tube.


We went on two snorkel trips on a Hamanasi boat with three staff members. Jacques Cousteau declared this as one of the top 10 diving sites in the world. On our first snorkel trip we saw colorful hard and soft coral formations teeming with small and large marine life. Highlights of our snorkel adventures include swimming above a nurse shark with a hitchhiker on her back, a variety of rays including a yellow spotted ray, a salt water manatee, large Moray eels, barracudas and green sea turtles grazing on the sea grass. The sea floor is dotted with sea cucumbers and Queen conch shells.


We also signed up for a few land excursions. The first was to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve. This preserve has the world's highest density of jaguar as well as puma, ocelot, margay and jaguarundi. We didn’t see any live jaguars, yet we learned about them at the small Education Center. Our Hamanasi guides, Axel and Kirk, took us on a trail filled with birds, flora and fauna. After exploring the area, we walked to a beautiful waterfall for a cooling swim in the jungle before lunch. All day excursions include a picnic lunch prepared by the Hamanasi staff.


On another adventure, we learned that within the last few decades, scientists have discovered some great archaeological finds throughout Belize. Monumental structures rise above the floor of the jungle. Excavators have discovered Mayan tombs, ceramics, and skeletons to learn more about the culture. Only a small percentage of these historical sites have been unearthed.


The all day trip took us to San Ignacio to explore the Xunantunich structures bordering Guatemala. Next we climbed to the top of Cahal Pech built in 1200 BC. It’s known as one of the oldest Maya sites in Western Belize.

Another day, we explored caves and heard stories bout the Mayan underworld and Shamans. Climbing around pitch dark caverns with head lamps, we were in awe of the multi-level chambers that hold 2,000 year old Maya ceremonial items. We saw fire pits, charcoal and ash, broken pottery, alters, glyph writings and actual skeletons of sacrificial victims found in the ceremonial cave.


Before leaving Belize we hopped on bicycles at the Adventure Center and explored the town and harbor of Hopkins. Afterwards we ran and jumped off the pier into the sea to cool down. Many guests gather by the heated pool for a swim before dinner. There are also hammocks on the beach for naps. Nearby are kayaks and standup paddle boards for guests to use.


Each week the staff organizes a cultural presentation to educate guests about Belize. There are unique food items, music and information about the Hamanasi Education fund; Hopkins Belize Humane Society and the World Pediatric Project.


The owners and staff of this resort are very philanthropic. They want to preserve the beauty of the country and its people. The information is for guests who chose to offer a donation at the end of their trip. The owners of Hamanasi happily match each guest’s contribution.


Belize is a country worth visiting to rest and relax or be active throughout the day. The Hamanasi resort provides everything to make your vacation an adventure you will never forget.


©Jill Weinlein



Last modified on Thursday, 01 September 2016