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Belize Essentials

rice and beans stew chicken belize caribbeanWhere to Eat
It's rare to find a restaurant that doesn't offer two staples of Belizean cuisine (often served together): stew chicken, and rice and beans. Budget travelers, take note -- these simple, filling dishes are almost always the cheapest items on the menu. If you're anywhere near the coast, you'll also see plenty of seafood, particularly fresh conch, lobster and various types of fish. Many of these items are seasonal.

Ambergris Caye: We love dining right over the water at Palapa Bar & Grill -- and we love their slow-smoked pulled pork even more. Another waterfront favorite is the Blue Water Grill, which has an expansive international menu. Don't miss its special sushi nights on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Caye Caulker: Our favorite dining spot on the island is Habaneros, with its romantic candlelit veranda and its creative international menu. For a waterfront location, try the fresh seafood at Rainbow Restaurant.

Belize City: The Smoky Mermaid, located at the Great House, features a menu of fabulous lobster and fresh fish dishes. Dine outside in the shaded courtyard.

Placencia: Eaten a few too many plates of rice and beans? The rich strudel, schnitzel and dumplings at Danube -- which pegs itself as "the first Austrian restaurant in Belize" -- will be a breath of fresh air. Secret Garden is another nice option, nestled in a lush garden setting in downtown Placencia. (There's a coffeehouse and spa here too.)

Western Belize: Eva's is the bustling hub of the local tourist scene in San Ignacio -- you can grab a cheap meal (off a menu of Belizean and Mexican dishes), book your next day's tour and meet up with other travelers, all in one place. The similarly named Erva's, also in San Ignacio, is a favorite among locals for its friendly hostess (Erva herself), generous portions and delicious Belizean specialties.

phoenix resort ambergris caye belizeWhere to Stay
Accommodations in Belize run the gamut from jungle ecolodges and beach resorts to cozy guesthouses and small hotels. Though there are some luxury properties here, budget travelers should have no problem finding affordable and charming places to stay. Rates do go up during the busy winter season; book ahead to ensure availability.

Ambergris Caye: Along with luxurious beachfront condos, the Phoenix Resort also offers a restaurant, a spa, a fitness center and two pools. A good mid-priced option is Changes in Latitudes, a friendly, six-room bed and breakfast about 10 minutes (on foot) south of San Pedro.

Caye Caulker: Offering three sunny rooms about a block from the sea, Maxhapan Cabanas is an affordable, laid-back alternative on Caye Caulker. The use of free bikes during your time on the island is a nice perk, as are the comfy hammocks on each private veranda. For an oceanfront location, try Barefoot Beach Belize with its vibrantly colored rooms and a sun deck just for guests.

Belize City: A historic landmark in Belize City, Great House oozes colonial charm with its wide porches and polished wood floors. The D'Nest Inn, located just outside downtown Belize, has elegant rooms decorated with antiques and a lush tropical garden.

Placencia: Owned by Francis Ford Coppola and his wife Eleanor, Turtle Inn is consistently rated one of the most luxurious properties in Belize. Its 25 Balinese-inspired cabanas overlook the sea. The Maya Beach Hotel is a more affordable beachfront option.

Western Belize: Active travelers will love the cabana-style rooms, adventure tour offerings and jungle location of Caves Branch Adventure Company and Jungle Lodge. If you've ever wanted to stay in a treehouse, this is your chance! For an in-town option, try Martha's Guesthouse, offering clean, affordable rooms in downtown San Ignacio.

Where to Shop
Shopping isn't a particular highlight of most trips to Belize, but there are interesting handicrafts and local artwork to be found here. The best buys are wooden and slate carvings. Another great gift for folks back home (or for yourself!) is a bottle of one of Belize's local hot sauces; the most popular locally produced brand is Marie Sharp's, which you can find in markets all over the country.

The National Handicraft Center in Belize City sells an assortment of locally produced mahogany bowls, various carvings and artwork.

The Tourism Village is the city's main shopping area with a variety of stores, shops and restaurants. The city's downtown area and the Marine Terminal are about five minutes away on foot, and there's always a line of taxis waiting adjacent to the Tourism Village.

San Pedro is a hot spot for shopping, particularly for souvenirs and gifts. The bulk of stores can be found on Barrier Reef Drive. There are also a number of small gift shops along the main streets of Caye Caulker.

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    --updated by Sarah Schlichter
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