This longstanding jewel of Ambergris Caye rarely fails to impress. You’ll find grand, colonial elegance on this well–manicured, lush piece of property about two miles south of San Pedro town. Victoria House’s accommodations include stucco and thatched casitas with tile floors, and luxurious “Plantation Suites” and multi–bedroom, mansion–like villas around sleek infinity pools.
Arriving by boat, the San Pedro waterfront was bustling with activities. There were dive shops, restaurants, gift shops, vendors selling crafts on the beach and people just enjoying the sun and the wonderful Caribbean ambiance.
Securing a golf cart, the main means of transportation on the island, we headed for Victoria House. The resort is just south of the island’s only town, San Pedro. Arriving at the resort and seeing the beautifully landscaped grounds and being greeted with typical island smiles and hospitality, I knew that this was going to be a getaway to remember.
The landscaping of the resort is immaculate, greenery and flowers abound. The long palm-lined stretch of white-sand beach is perfect for sunning or lounging in a hammock and has a complete dive shop at one end. Also, near the beach is the Admiral Nelson’s Bar which, in addition to a great selection of drinks, has a fine food menu for lingering outside. One of the resort’s spa options is having a massage on the beach.
Our accommodation was a luxury villa near the infinity pool, one of the several swimming pools on the resort. The villa is large with thatched roofs and very high ceilings. It is beautifully furnished, using furniture and details hand-crafted from local tropical hardwoods. The Caribbean influenced décor and art are very tasteful. With a full kitchen, large living room, and two bedrooms, the dwelling is luxuriously comfortable.
Of the 42 luxury guest rooms, some are of the tropical, thatched-roof design, such as our villa, and others are English colonial style—as Belize was an English Colony up to a few decades ago. Accommodations include the main lodge state room, ocean–facing casitas, grand plantation rooms, and several villas of varying bedroom numbers
Our meals were taken during the day at Admiral Nelson’s and in the evening, with candlelight and a cool tropical breeze, outside at the resort’s main eatery Palmilla Restaurant. All of the food was tastefully prepared, beautifully presented, and definitely gourmet.
We also took excursions in our golf cart for a short jaunt into San Pedro to shop at the fine crafts stores and to try the excellent restaurants available. A couple eateries of note were Kelly McDermott’s Caliente—try the delicious Mango Chicken—and, close by, Chef Amy Knox’s Wild Mango. Both are located on the beach with the special Caribbean ambiance.
According to the longtime (16 years) managers of Victoria House, Janet Woollan and Brent Kirkman, “It’s the staff that makes it special.” They have a staff of 85. Some have worked many years at the resort, including the dive shop which has had members of the same family employed since its opening. The staff and owners make this resort one of the finest on the island and have created a true ambiance of “barefoot” luxury. It is a perfect place for weddings and honeymoons (one year hosting 52 weddings) or for a romantic getaway. Returning to Ambergris Caye, we look forward to experiencing the same barefoot luxury again.
My father, the same guy that moved every two or three years, gave me five acres behind the house he built. When I got out of the army he had sold it, “well I’ll pay you for it, get you something else…..” I had already drawn up rough plans for my house, two story, or maybe just one with a loft — I don’t remember. Very Bohemian with a mattress on the floor, orange-crate furniture, candles in wine bottles — that sort of thing. Oh well.
My first “owner-built house” didn’t come until years later. It was in the back woods of Nova Scotia. The materials were brought in by ox cart, mostly, as was the cast iron wood cook stove. It was one room with a loft and an area partitioned off as a bedroom. The little house sat on the top of a knoll between a river and a branch of the river. No power tools were used, just a hammer and a handsaw. We hauled water up from the river and our lighting was kerosene lamps. We built it later in the year, winter was coming. It started to snow as I was putting on the roofing. It was a great place to live, surrounded by wilderness. After the first year we sold it to a neurosurgeon from Maine who wanted a place “to get away from it all.” I moved on, again, as my father had done all his life. It must be in the genes.
Still, years later, in my wandering I ended up in northern New Mexico
with the desire to build again. As before, I found a site on top of a knoll — this time surrounded by sagebrush. And, once again, got out my hammer and the same handsaw I used in Nova Scotia and commenced building. I started with one room, 8 x 16, finished that and immediately started building more rooms. Even so, the house remained small, under 800 square feet. As the years past and the house grew, I enlisted the help of others and started using power saws and the like. These were all powered by solar electrical system I had set up. Now, it’s for sale – maybe time to move on again.
Story and photos by John Lamkin
A long time ago I started travel writing thinking it would provide me with a little independence, I could live wherever there was a mailbox (a mailbox is an archaic receptacle for hard copies of email, I think) and I loved to travel. But, before I had published my second article a divorce, the crazy 60’s (I didn’t inhale!) and life interrupted that career. Now, much later, I have resumed travel writing and I have that little bit of independence (and social security, and Internet).
Ambergris Caye (pronounced key), an island off the coast of Belize, Central America, was a place I had thought about going to for a long time. It can be a very exiting place. But, I’m not going to tell you how I went sailing, diving in the Blue Hole, snorkeling at the barrier reef (second largest in the world), fishing, para sailing, nor kite boarding. My island odyssey was a laid back one—hanging out on the beach in the tropical sun sipping something with a tiny umbrella in the glass. Maybe then taking the little golf cart—the main mode of transportation on the island–into the lively Caribbean town of San Pedro with its reggae sounds and many fine shops and restaurants, and for real Belize and real people, visiting Maria’s Fruits & Vegetables. And, a stay in Ambergris wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Jo and Chris (the very passionate chocolate lovers) Beaumont’s small, artisan, Belize Chocolate Company where they make every batch by hand in a place where the Maya arguably created “chocolate”. In the evenings we had quiet dinners outside by the resort’s pool.
In the mornings my honey and I enjoyed eating a simple breakfast (including fresh squeezed orange juice and ginger bread from Maria’s) outside, on the palapa-roofed porch of the villa. It was our luck that it happened to be the only vacancy they had at this luxurious resort—normally it would be $750 USD a night. It was way more space than we needed, but, all the same, it was perfect for easy, laid back island living. English is the official language of Belize having formally been British Honduras, a colony of the Crown. Most of the resort’s staff also spoke Spanish and a few were Mayan speaking. A gardener walked by as I was enjoying my breakfast. “Hola, Buenos dias,” I said. “Buen Dia,” he replied with a smile. I didn’t try Mayan, but he would probably have understood…or English.
The ads I see now for travel writing classes and workshops read something like, “Travel the World for Free! Earn Six Figures!” The reality is the six figures probably includes the dollar sign, the USD and the two zeros after the decimal point. This gig will pay me about $50 USD. That will put me way short of the six figures.
But, it’s a beautiful, sunny day here on the island, a breeze is coming off the Caribbean, I had a cushy night’s sleep in an über luxe bed, the gourmet food was delicious. The Belezian people are very friendly. Life is good. Isn’t that worth six figures?
PS, I didn’t believe the ads anyway.
IF YOU GO
Both United and American Airways have flights from the U.S. to Belize, Central America.
By air one can travel from Belize City or Corozal (near the Mexican Border):
From Belize mainland or Chetumal, Mexico one may go by water taxi:
San Pedro Water Taxi
While on the island, a golf cart is the preferred means of transportation:
San Pedro Golf Cart Rental
Where to stay in luxury:
John Lamkin is an award-winning travel journalist and photographer based in Taos, New Mexico and in Mexico. He writes (and photographs) about travel, food, wine, luxury, budget, gear, tech. and more. He is Global Membership Chair of the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association. He travels the world in search of something new in culture, cuisine and drink.
NOTE: Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above were provided at no cost to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of John Lamkin and have not been influenced in any way.
story and photos by John Lamkin
Driving the short ten to fifteen minute distance from Cancun Airport to the resort I was amazed at how beautiful the scenery was. Instead of going through the town of Cancun and down the long, crowded hotel strip this was an eye-pleasing, leisurely drive on a tree-lined, landscaped road.
Entering Nizuc, the first thing I noticed was the lush tropical landscaping and the modern architectural details. Next was the courteous staff, from valet, to concierge, to butler and on to the rest of the staff — everyone I met was extra friendly.
The beautiful lobby is luxurious with a touch of the rustic with water vistas, ponds, and fountains everywhere. Looking out one end of the lobby you see the small bay that fronts the resort and beyond that the many colors of the Caribbean. The shape of the bay and peninsula give the resort its name, Mayan for dog’s nose. Nizuc has capitalized on the name, using the Mayan dog glyph everywhere.
Cancun is well known for its amazing white sand beaches and the awesome colors of the Caribbean. But Nizuc is one of the most fabulous locations along the entire coast from Cancun to the Riviera Maya. A tropical paradise.
We were shown by the concierge to our spacious suite overlooking the beach and the bay just in time to watch a couple of para-skiers gliding across the bay. The beauty of the room repeated the luxurious, openness of the lobby. Outside were table, chairs and chaise lounges for enjoying the spacious balcony. Every detail says luxury: the über comfortable king–size bed, fine furnishings, and in the bath suite, ultra-modern bathroom fixtures. The décor, the layout of the space, and the high–end amenities were the max in luxury and comfort. And, the view of the sunsets where spectacular.
The property was owned by the Mexican government, much before the development of Cancun. At one time one of the country’s presidents had his beachfront home here. The home still exists, it’s now a fine restaurant with premium views of the Caribbean, an infinity pool stretching its length, and a beach in front. The restaurant is surrounded by lush tropical growth and at one end a path leads past sleeping iguanas to a pier with a great view of the whole of Nizuc across the small bay and, turning around, of the ocean. It’s a great place to watch the area’s incredibly dramatic sunsets. The Mexican government sold it to a Japanese company a few years back. With construction almost done that company then sold it to a Mexican firm that brought in architects from Mexico City to finish and decorate the property. The result was a beautiful resort that stands apart. I call the style “Zen luxury.”
If you really want to go in luxurious style get the Nizuc Suite or the Presidential Suite. Counting the outdoor lounging space with their own pool, both are more than 5,000 square feet. For the same luxury and a great ocean view go for the Penthouse suite.
Nizuc is a great venue for weddings, honeymoons and couple’s retreats, but the family is not left out. There is a special building for children with all that’s necessary to keep them entertained. Baby sitting service is also provided. There are many places around the property that allow privacy and seclusion for adults and couples though.
If you are into tennis, Nizuc has tennis courts and tennis programs with a PBI Tennis Professional. Nearby is a Jack Nicklaus golf course. Also available are 24–hour concierge service and several special services such as the Chef’s table, private dinners, and wine pairing at the Santo Tomas wine cellar. The hotel does feature the very fine wines from Mexico’s Guadalupe Valley—some rivaling the wines of Napa Valley or France.
Nizuc claims the best beach (one of two on the resort) in the area, located on a tranquil bay separate from the glorious waters of the Caribbean beyond. There is an abundance of beach chairs, chaise lounges, and places to enjoy the beach. Overlooking the bay and beach is a large infinity pool—one of three on the property — with an inviting swim–up bar.
A stay at the resort should allow enough days to try all of its fine restaurants. I had excellent meals in four and look forward to coming back and trying the rest. Nizuc employs some of the area’s best chefs in their six gourmet dining spots. You try Cafe de la Playa on the beach; Ni restaurant for Peruvian cuisine; Ramona’s, especially notable are Chef Bladimir Garcia’s gourmet interpretations of Mexican cuisine; La Punta Grill & Lounge, casual outdoor atmosphere; Indochine for Asian fusion and finally Terra Nostra for Mediterranean style. There are three lounges at which to enjoy the drink of your choice. I recommend the awesome margaritas at La Punta.
Also your stay should include a visit to their fabulous 30.000 square foot, ocean–front ESPA spa. Recommended is one of the massages or oriental healing modalities followed by the complete hydrotherapy routine. This includes steam room, cold shower, sauna, sun room with wrap on a heated chaise lounge, the large room–size jacuzzi with many different types of jets and water massage device, then the cold room with cold mist and an ice fountain in one end to really chillwith. After these treatments you will be ready for more beach time (I was ready for a cool drink and hanging on the terrace of our room).
Tours outside of the resort can include several Mayan archaeological sites within a day’s trip and the world’s second largest barrier reef, which is not far away.
Cancun and Mexican Caribbean coast, already known for some of the finest hotels in the world, has raised the bar another notch with the opening of Nizuc Resort and Spa.
Most major airlines fly into Cancun International Airport (CUN) and Riviera Maya is easily accessible from CUN by land transport.
For more information:
Where to stay in luxury:
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John Lamkin is a born-again, award-winning travel journalist and photographer based in Taos, New Mexico and in Mexico. He writes (and photographs) about travel, food, wine, luxury, budget, gear, tech. and more. He is Global Membership Chair of the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association. He travels the world in search of something new in culture, cuisine and drink. Look for John Lamkin’s photographs in a new BOOK, OUR INTERWOVEN LIVES WITH THE ZAPOTEC WEAVERS: An Odyssey of the Heart written by Examiner’s Susanna Starr with Photographs by John Lamkin
Read the story at Examiner.
See the Examiner slideshow
One might get the idea from the wagon wheels strewn the length of the trail from Barrington up to the Barrens that this was an ancient wagon-train road.
This story starts a long time ago, arriving in Nova Scotia after a cross-country journey in the old van, loaded with what was left of our worldly possessions after a couple of months unloading at flea markets. Worldly possessions had caused the axle of our van to break and the wheel to go off on its own as we were heading out of San Francisco on our odyssey. Deciding so many worldly possessions were a burden, we stayed longer and flea marketed some more, then got on the road again.
Jayme and I had bought 149 acres of Nova Scotia land sight unseen from a catalog of cheap land for 3,300 good old U.S. dollars.
We found that the land was about six miles upriver from the coastal town of Barrington with no passable roads, so we decided to get an ox. We borrowed a truck and went to Yarmouth where they were selling oxen. Moo (the locals thought we were crazy naming an ox Moo) was one of a young pair. We hated to separate them knowing that they had bonded, but he quickly became at home with us.
Now we needed a wagon and yoke, so we asked around. A local person knew of one that might be for sale. We went to look at it. It appeared to be in pretty good shape for its age (guessing about a hundred years). It came with extra wheels, which came in very handy later as we went through quite a few on the rough trails to the land.
Now we needed to paint the wagon (traditional red) and train Moo to pull it. I hitched Moo to the yoke, the yoke to the wagon and began the training (Moo or myself?). I went up and down the road many times trying to instill the idea of going forward, turning and stopping. Moo, on the other hand, tried to convey the idea to me that he didn’t give a damn. At the end of the day we had both learned a little and I was covered, head to foot, with slow-drying red paint.
Moo helped immeasurably in building our small house, hauling materials up the six miles from town. We shared quite a few adventures the year we were there.
The sad ending to this story is that after a year of building and living in our house, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police told us that, being illegal immigrants, we had to leave or become deportees. Seeing little other choice, we loaded the wagon with our remaining worldly possessions, hitched up Moo and headed out. We found a buyer for the little house, a neurosurgeon from Maine, and sold Moo to people in the village with the understanding that he would have a good home until the end.
John Lamkin is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He is a board member and global membership director for the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association. He is widely published online and in print. Lamkin has been a SOMOS member sporadically almost since its inception.
This story was published in SOMOS’ anthology, Storied Wheels.
Edited by Barbara Scott
A SOMOS PUBLICATION
TAOS, NEW MEXICO
¡Otoño! The Arroyo Hondo Valley is alive with color. The fiery aspens on the Sangre de Cristo mountains have dimmed now, but there still fire in the Valley.
The acequia is running next to our house. It doesn’t look like an irrigation ditch, it looks more like a small stream cascading down the gentle slope of the hill, next to the pond outside, next to our bedroom door — a beautiful way to wake up in the morning.
Morning walk in the Valley, on the rim of the Valley, beautiful. Cotton-like clouds in the pristine, blue sky. On the road a coyote crossed right in front of me just after I had turned my camera off. I tried to snap a photo when she was in the middle of the field but, being too shy, she would not cooperate. Many signs of animals: cottontail rabbits dashing across the road, new elk tracks — they probably came through just this morning. Bear scat in the middle of the road, lots of activity.
I hope where you live is this beautiful, this energizing, this life-giving.
Just in time for Day of the Dead and Halloween here’s a little story published on Travel Chronicles see page 45…
How do you celebrate these holidays where you live?
DAY OF THE DEAD IN OAXACA, MEXICO
SOMOS, The Literary Society of Taos, is kicking off their 15th Annual Storytelling Festival with a book launch featuring SOMOS’ newest publication, Storied Wheels, at Mesa Brewing Company on Thursday, October 23rd at 7pm. Come by grab a brew and check it out.
(My – very – short story, Nova Scotia Odyssey, is on page 249. Come by and say hi)
Story and photographs by John Lamkin
One place that I think should be on everyone’s bucket list is the amazing old Maya city of Copán. This is the best and most complete of the restored ancient Maya cities I’ve seen—and I’ve seen quite a few.
The next attraction on this list is the beautiful Spanish colonial, cobbled-street town of Copán—right next door to the archaeological site. This is a beautiful, clean and safe-to-walk-at-night town.
And, the best place to stay in Copán is Hotel Marina Copán. This excellent fifty-room hotel was the first hotel in the town and now the best. It is right near the main Plaza and less then a mile from the ruins. The architecture is Spanish colonial, with high, beamed ceilings and red tile floors and walkways. The bed frames and wardrobes are made of stunning tropical hardwood. Local artwork adorns the walls and plants abound. Room service may be had from early morning until late, when the restaurant closes and, if you are driving, the hotel has private secure parking.
The free-form swimming pool is in the center of the courtyard, surrounded by tropical plants and flowers and is very inviting to take a dip. The pool is surrounded by ample seating to eat or observe and has a waterfall and hot tub. There is a bar, Jaguar and Venado, next to the pool with inexpensive drinks and a tranquil atmosphere.
The hotel has a complete gift shop near the lobby, but, for one, I find shopping with the vendors on the street more enjoyable. The hotel does have a basic gym and sauna and massages are available on request. The WiFi is reasonably fast (actually better than I have at home).
The food in the two-story restaurant is enjoyable and inexpensive. Try the Honduran comida tipica—the local dishes of the country. The bilingual wait staff are friendly and helpful, always with a smile—which is typical to the country. The breakfast buffet is a gastronomical treat, with an egg/omelet chef to custom design that part of your meal.
The local Welchez family owns the hotel and it is managed by the two brothers. The family also has a coffee plantation to which they provide tours. The Welchez Coffee is widely distributed and available to purchase online. Their tour company, MC Tours, also provides tours to other local attractions. MC Tours has been in business since 1991 serving Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Belize, and is the only mainland Honduras tour company with a full operation in Roatan Island. The Macaw Mountain Bird Park & Nature Reserve is a must see, with rescued birds—macaws, parrots, hawks, toucans and more. They also have a small coffee farm on site. The coffee is sold only in their gift shop. The coffee grown there, as with the Welchez’ is a full-bodied blend—delicious.
I came here on a luxury tour with Maya Temple Tours from San Pedro Sula, the capital. Maya Temple Tours has great service and will customize a personal tour if you like. I was on assignment to do a Honduras luxury real estate article, so that was the focus of my personal tour. I would do it again in a New York, that is, Maya second.
Taca Airlines flies out of several US hubs
The driver took us a short way along this narrow peninsula that is Placencia, through the heavy, expertly carved, gigantic wooden gates and into this eye-popping lush tropical paradise. We had arrived at Chabil Mar.
The first thing I noticed was the verdant, tropical landscaping, flowers, shrubs, trees everywhere, and the ever present coconut palms lining the pristine, white sand beach. The next was the friendliness of the staff, including the driver that picked us up and took us there.
We were handed a cool, tropical drink and escorted to our villa by the friendly concierge, while all the way she was cheerfully explaining the ins and outs of the resort. One interesting fact was that there was no dining room. Eating was wherever you wanted—in your villa, on your deck/balcony, by the pool, near the bar in the charming palapa, with comfortable seating and a soothing sheet pratfall separating the space from the bar, on the wonderful dining deck overlooking the beautiful Caribbean—wherever you wanted. And, what we found was that usually one of the staff would find you around mealtime and ask where you wanted to eat. By the way, the food was excellent.
When we arrived at our villa, a spacious and luxurious, accommodation, we found that, being valentine’s day, the staff had made the most elegant and exotic floral arrangement I’ve ever seen visiting these luxury resorts. It was replete with the customary swans, a giant heart with “BE MY VALENTINE” written in flowers—bougainvilleas, hibiscus, and other flowers. And, as we entered the front door, a path of bougainvillea petals had been strewn all the way to the bedroom with this fantastic arrangement covering the bed.
Our villa was tastefully decorated (all were decorated differently), with an ample, comfortable living room, dining for six (if you wanted the crowd) and a full kitchen with all modern appliances. The bedroom was also ample with its own balcony. The bath was beautifully appointed and next to it was a small room with a washer/dryer. You could live here indefinitely. On the bar, separating the kitchen and the living area, we found the daily Chabil Mar newspaper announcing the valentine’s day dinner and activities, welcoming us and other arriving guests by name.
As we were finishing our welcome drinks at the umbrella table on our private deck, one of the amiable staff (as they all were) came by and asked us if we needed anything and if we knew where we wanted to eat lunch. We opted to eat right there, on the deck, surrounded by the profusion of blooming flowers.
Chabil Mar is an exclusive, small, boutique luxury resort with 22 lovely villas, two swimming pools, a newly expanded palapa (thatched roof) bar, a pier leading to another palapa over the waters of the Caribbean with seating, tables for dining and just a very tranquil spot to hang out and look at the beach or the stars. All this, along with the best stretch of white sand beach around, make this spot the penultimate in barefoot luxury.
Many of Chabil Mar’s guests have the resort arrange one or more of the exciting trips offered–visiting the world’s second largest barrier reef, sailing, diving, fishing (the chef will prepare a meal from your catch for you), or visiting ancient Mayan ruins, or the jaguar preserve, and many more. We opted for a little beach time and an occasional trip into town to look around or dine at one of the fine restaurants.
Chabil Mar is ideally situated between the Tropic Air terminal (which services many destinations in Belize as well as Roatan, Honduras and Cancun, Mexico) and the small town of Placencia–a short taxi or bicycle ride away (the resort provides bicycles).
English is the language of the country, making it an easy choice for people traveling from the United States and Canada, but it attracts Europeans as well who are looking for unspoiled tropical destinations to discover. It’s less than half an hour by small plane from Belize City and there are frequent flights both in and out of Placencia, a place formally thought to be very difficult to get to.
Whether looking for a quiet, laid back beach holiday or an exciting, active visit, both can be found at this lovely tropical paradise.
If You Go
Getting to Belize:
Placencia, Stann Creek District, Belize, Central America
Stann Creek District, Belize, Central America
Where to stay in luxury:
READ THE ARTICLE AT THE EXAMINER
SEE MORE PHOTOS HERE.
John Lamkin is a born-again travel journalist and photographer based in Taos, New Mexico and in Mexico. He writes (and photographs) about travel, food, wine, luxury, budget, gear, tech. and more. He is Global Membership Chair of the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association. He travels the world in search of something new in culture, cuisine and drink. Look for John Lamkin’s photographs in a new BOOK, OUR INTERWOVEN LIVES WITH THE ZAPOTEC WEAVERS: An Odyssey of the Heart (written by Examiner’s Susanna Starr with Photographs by John Lamkin)