Every year I let each of my kids, starting at the age of four, choose any destination in the world for a one-on-one trip with me. How does a four-year-old choose a destination, you might be wondering?
Last year my youngest daughter turned four. When I asked her where she wanted to go, she said “Alabama.” I asked her why. She said that she liked the name of the state, and she wanted to see who lived there, and what they ate, and what kind of animals there are. Fair enough.
But when we sat down to plan the trip, she decided that the beaches (in January) didn’t look very inviting. And when I explained why Alabama is significant and what it has to offer (e.g. the Space Center, civil rights), she decided she would put Alabama on hold for another time and choose another place. She said that she wanted to go somewhere with warm beaches and fun animals. How about a Belize vacation, I offered? A quick internet image search convinced her that it would be a good choice.
We flew into Belize City the second week of January and were met by a driver from Francis Ford Coppola’s Blancaneax Lodge – a place that I had heard about for years and had wanted to visit. It was roughly a two-hour drive to the lodge, and luckily my daughter slept the entire way. We checked in just after night fell and were led to our cabana with flashlights. After an excellent dinner in the lodge, we fell asleep to the sound of rushing water.
We awoke excited to the first day of our Belize vacation to see our surroundings and discover the source of the water. Wow! No wonder the director chose Blancaneax Lodge as his family retreat – later opening it up to the public. We were essentially in a tree house, with a 50-drop down to the river and a waterfall. There were flowers everywhere – I think my daughter documented every one on her iPad! There were hiking trails. And there was an amazing garden – the source of the fruits and vegetables used at the lodge. We had a great time wandering around Blancaneax Lodge and along the river for a day. We also swam in the pool and kept our eyes out for the ever-elusive local Jaguar.
The next day we went to the Green Hills Butterfly Farm, only a short drive from Blancaneax Lodge. A perfect place for a four-year-old! We spent a good hour there, surrounded by hundreds of butterflies, before continuing on to the Barton Creek Cave. With our driver, we hopped into a boat and started into the caves. Hmm, maybe not the best choice with a young child on a Belize vacation. She did NOT like it – something about being in a small boat in a series of dark caves brought out her sense of fear more than her sense of adventure. I don’t think she’s scarred for life, but I wouldn’t recommend the caves for kids under six or seven if you’re traveling to Belize with kids. Just to be safe.
After another night at the Blancaneaux Lodge, and more wonderful food, we headed off with a lodge driver to Blancaneaux’s sister resort on the beach, the Turtle Inn, in Placencia. My daughter loved it! When we checked in we were led to our villa – the exact same one that was on the cover of National Geographic Traveler the previous summer. Amazing room! But it was a little close to the road and we didn’t sleep very well, so the inn moved us to a different villa for the rest of our Belize vacation – closer to the main pool and beach.
Our days at the Turtle Inn primarily consisted of playing at the beach (hammocks and bocce), kayaking, swimming in the pools and in the ocean (there are floating decks a little way from the beach) and enjoying the bottomless jar of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies in the room. It rained often, but only for short stretches at a time, so it was great to have a perfect villa to retreat to when we needed it.
Another highlight was Silent Movie Night. My daughter loved it! As you would expect, Francis Ford Coppola and Sofia Coppola have put together a great film library to enjoy on your Belize vacation, and it’s fun that they share it with their guests.
We did a couple of excursions from the Turtle Inn. One day we waited out the rain and headed out on a boat to Monkey River with two other people. This was a highlight of our Belize vacation. Between the boat ride and a walk through the forest, we saw howler monkeys, iguanas, crocodiles, very large snakes, turtles and a lot of colorful birds. My daughter got the animal experience she was seeking! The tour also included a great local lunch.
Another day we took the Turtle Inn shuttle a very short distance into Placencia. We had a great time wandering around in the rain, looking at souvenirs and getting gelato from world-famous Tutti Frutti. One negative – the beach was absolutely covered in trash. It apparently washes in from neighboring countries and makes the beaches in the area less than inviting. The Turtle Inn did its best to keep its beach clean at least.
Belize with Kids – Successful?
I love finding destinations that aren’t ostensibly designed for kids and trying to make them kid-friendly. I partially succeeded with our Belize vacation. My daughter loved the trip. Her highlights were the Monkey River boat trip, exploring the Blancaneaux property, the butterfly farm, and the beach at the Turtle Inn. She talks constantly of wanting to go back.
From my perspective though, Belize is really about Maya ruins and diving, and my daughter was too young for either. We made it work since she’s happy pretty much anywhere that there are flowers, a beach, crazy animals, and where her older brother and sister aren’t around to annoy her. But I wouldn’t take a four-year-old again. I’m not sure that I would go to Belize with kids under ten actually – at least to the places we went. And if you’re traveling without kids, I would highly recommend both the Blancaneaux Lodge and Turtle Inn on your Belize vacation. Both are good places to relax, with Blancaneaux providing access to Maya ruins and Turtle Inn providing the beach/ocean element.
Kid Friendly: Moderate
Level of Difficulty: Easy
Airline/Routing: United LA-Houston-Belize City. Coming back we took a charter flight from Placencia to Belize City and then caught our United flight to Houston and on to LA. United upgraded us both directions due to my frequent flier status and the fact that this is a vacation destination without a lot of other frequent fliers on the planes.
Total Trip Length: Seven Days
Days of School Missed: Three (partially Christmas break)
Ways To Bring the Cost Down: Travel during off-peak times (June to October) and check the Coppola Resorts’ websites for specials. We chose an all-inclusive package with meals, transfers and a charter flight back to Belize City. I’m not sure if that was a better deal than if we had paid for everything piecemeal? If you’re looking at the Coppola Resorts at the Blancaneaux Lodge or Turtle Inn, be sure to get pricing both with and without the meals. The food was excellent, but we rarely ate all three courses that we had paid for.