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Exploring Belize: Central America’s Caribbean Destination.

Posted on 19 Nov, 2009 in the Articles about Portofino Beach Resort Category. No comments

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Weekly Edition Newspaper: November 13 – November 19, 2009 | San José Costa Rica

By Tim Rogers
Nica Times Staff | trogers@ticotimes.net

AMBERGRIS CAYE, Belize – For many Central Americans – a predominantly Pacific-coast oriented population – the Caribbean side of the isthmus has always been considered curiously, if not distantly, as “the other coast.”

weekly_11_13_09st11But for Belizeans – Central America’s peculiar English-speaking neighbors who live in a small slice of jungle and beach wedged between Guatemala and Mexico – the Caribbean is the only  coast, and it’s the rest of the region that seems a bit curious.

Since its full independence from Great Britain in 1981, Belize has mostly lived with its back to the rest of Central America, opting instead to identify with other English-speaking island nations of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

As a demographic illustration of that point, one needs only to travel across Belize to note that the closer one gets to the rest of Central America, the fewer Belizeans one will find. Indeed, more Belizeans live on the Caribbean island of Ambergris Caye than in the mainland capital city of Belmopan, which, with a population rounded up to 10,000, is the least inhabited capital in the world.

For the most part, Belize has had good reason to stay on the Caribbean side, especially considering how slow the rest of Central America has been in welcoming it to the neighborhood. Guatemala didn’t recognize Belize until 1992, while those with older maps still referred to the country as “British Honduras” years after its independence.

But now that’s starting to change, as Belize begins to embrace some of its neighborhood roots and tries to use its unique geographical situation to its advantage.

“We are Central America, but we are also the Caribbean. So we want to be a Caribbean getaway for Central Americans,” says Sandra van Noord, owner of the stylish beach resort Portofino, on Ambergris Caye.

As the country integrates more into the rest of the isthmus, Belize is also trying to distinguish itself as Central America’s Caribbean destination, rather than the Caribbean’s Central American destination.

“Competitiveness is key in a global market, so we need to move forward on integration with Central America,” said Dionne Chamberlain, head of Belize’s Tourism Chamber and president of the Federation of Central American Tourism Chambers (FEDECATUR).

Chamberlain said that the world economic crisis, which has hit Caribbean tourism markets even harder than Central America’s, has forced the tourism sector to “revitalize our industry” and “start thinking outside the box.”

As Central America tries to promote itself in Europe and Asia as a single, multi-attraction destination, Belize – the region’s most developed, English-speaking Caribbean destination – has a lot to offer the package as a complement to the rest of Central America.

“We can’t keep putting all our economic eggs in one basket and looking toward the United States as our only tourism market,” Chamberlain said. “We need to form new partnerships and collaborations and start looking to markets such as Mexico, Russia, Europe and Canada.”

With daily flights to and from Cancun, Mexico’s largest resort town, Belize can also serve as “a link between Cancun and the rest of Central America,” says Mike Singh, Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Tourism.

Jungles, Caves & Reef

weekly_11_13_09st12The former heart of the Maya civilization some 3,500 years ago, Belize is home to spectacular pre-Columbian ruins – some of which are so tucked into the jungle they are accessible only by traveling up the extensive Belize River, which starts in Guatemala and winds 180 miles to the Caribbean Sea.

Most of Belize is jungle – over 75 percent of the country is covered in tropical forest, half of which is protected. The jungles of Belize are home to abundant bird and wildlife, including five species of wildcat.

Underneath the jungle lies Central America’s most extensive cave system, providing unique and wild cave-tubing day tours where tourists can float down the river in inner tubes through miles of caves, wearing only a bathing suit and a spelunker’s headlamp.

But Belize’s most famous attractions lie under the crystal blue Caribbean waters. With a 185-mile long coral reef – the longest in the Northern Hemisphere, a world heritage site and one of the seven underwater wonders of the world – Belize is home to some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in the world.

Amid the waving and hypnotizing coral, electric-colored fish festively festooned in flamboyant striped patterns, dart in and out of their underwater castle playground. Hugging the seafloor like shadows, giant stingrays flap effortlessly beneath the diver as sea turtles nibble on sea grass before darting to the surface for a gulp of air.

Meanwhile, at the extreme edge of vision, a giant nurse shark swishes her tail and moves away into the darker ocean depths.

Skin divers can see a greater variety of sea life during a two-hour snorkeling trip on the reef than they can from a lifetime of watching the Discovery Channel. And it’s all just a 10-minute boat ride off of either Ambergris Caye or the much smaller and cozier Caye Caulker, 10 miles south of Ambergris Caye.

At the end of the day, with one’s back properly burned from snorkeling, it’s back to the hotel for several cold Belikin Beers and a fresh seafood dinner (which, incidentally, feels like a guilty pleasure after a day of making new fish friends on the reef).

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Three Days of Filming at Portofino Beach Resort with Chef Keith D. Jones!

Posted on 19 Nov, 2009 in the Articles about Portofino Beach Resort Category. 4 Comments

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Belize Food & Culture on International TV!
Chef Keith Jones brings you the first delicious season of ‘Taste of Belize’, his unconventional culinary-variety show!

Colours TV arrived on Ambergris Caye on Friday, November 13, with a camera crew that will be filming a new show called “Taste of Belize” with celebrity Chef Keith Jones for the television network. The new six-episode culinary experience promises to expose the very best of Belize’s food and culture to millions of viewers in the United States.

Colours TV entices its viewers to join Chef Keith Jones, for a unique “Eatertainment” experience, while he travels across Belize, as the “culinary ambassador to the world.” In each episode, Jones will meet vibrant “people” within Belize. From local standouts to international visitors, Jones sets out in search of interesting people and amazing cuisine.

With over 25 years of food artistry expertise, Chef Keith Jones promises to bring his effervescent personality and flair for exotic cuisine to Belize, the “Mother Nature’s Best Kept Secret” for his third television series. “Taste of Belize with Chef Keith Jones” is a feast for the eyes, the soul and the imagination!

This week, Chef Keith Jones was at Portofino Beach Resort and La Perla del Caribe cooking up a storm, before he set to visit other parts of the country. Shot in high definition, Chef Keith Jones is set to travel around Belize, taking viewers on a journey filled with food, culture and fun. He connects with Belizean Chefs that help him prepare traditional dishes, while learning cultural lessons from the people he meets along the way. Colours TV promises that this will not be your ordinary “how-to” cooking show, this is what Chef Jones likes to call, ‘Eatertainment’

Taste of Belize with Chef Keith Jones will be scheduled to run during the most desirable day parts in an effort to maximize viewership and sponsorship support. Colours TV will help distribute Belizean content across the United States to over 19 million homes and 47 million potential viewers.

“The sharing of these cultural stories fit perfectly with our mission of celebrating people of color, and showcasing them in a positive light,” said Arthur O. Thomas, Executive Vice President Colours TV.

If the name “Taste of Belize” sounds familiar to you, it’s because Chef Jones picks up the name for the show after BTB annual Taste of Belize culinary competition which he was a judge for earlier this year. “Taste of Belize with Chef Keith Jones” will be six – thirty minute episodes that is due out on spring 2010; filming is scheduled to be complete by November 24, 2009.

Guest Book Keith

About Chef Keith:
Keith Denard Jones or Chef KDJ feeds all the senses while sharing over twenty years of culinary artistry and chef’s secrets through his “Eatertainment” presentations which debuted November 9, 2009 on Colours TV. Chef Keith Jones brings his entertaining presentations to the world of delicious, healthy food preparation.

Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Jones studied under certified Master Chef, Edward Janos for eight years, learning classical French cuisine and techniques. Jones was certified as an Executive Chef in December 1999. Since his certification, he has won several medals from the American Culinary Federation culinary salons in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Colorado, including the grand prize in the Clos Du Bois Wine and Food Pairing competition.

Jones has been featured on The YES Network, (Yankees Entertainment Sports – New York), V-103 FM (Atlanta),KUSATV, Rocky Mountain PBS, Mix100.3 Radio, Rocky Mountain News, Mangia, Colorado Expression, Architecture and Design of The West, Denver Business Journal, ColoradoProud and 5280, Denver’s Mile-High Magazine. He also has a book published – “Cooking up your Dreams”. For more on Chef Keith Jones visit www.chefkdj.com

Pier Dining

4 Responses to "Three Days of Filming at Portofino Beach Resort with Chef Keith D. Jones!"


1 | Nigel P. Miguel said on November 29th, 2009 at 4:06 pm

Thank you so much for allowing The Taste Of Belize with Keith Jones to film at your resort. The resort was an awesome back drop for the show and you and the staff at resort were incredible. Looking forward to seeing you guys during the Belize Film Festival.

Nigel Miguel
Belize Film Commissioner


2 | Keith Jones said on November 27th, 2009 at 1:52 pm

Jan/Sandra/Portofino, you guys are the best! Thanks for making our filming such a joy. You have a wonderful resort and I hope we can generate more sales!!! Good luck and I look forward to the next time our paths cross.

All my best,
Keith


3 | Art Thomas said on November 27th, 2009 at 12:05 am

Dear Portofino, Thank you so much for helping make the ‘Taste of Belize with Chef keith Jones’ a major success. Your resort will add a wonderful element to the series. I look forward to our next visit. Warm regards, Art


4 | Sean said on November 26th, 2009 at 6:54 am

Keith Jones!! Congrats Jan and Sandra.

Your truly,

Your other chef,

Sean


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Paradise? You better Belize it!

Posted on 14 Nov, 2009 in the Articles about Portofino Beach Resort Category. 1 Comment

Unsung Caribbean isle of Ambergris Caye impressed Madonna so much she sung about it.
By: Tracey Thompson

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IT’S not hard to see why Madonna sang so longingly about this idyllic island paradise in her 1980s hit  La Isla Bonita. She was writing about Ambergris Caye, a 40-kilometre-long island off the mainland of Belize. San Pedro is the town on this island, which is the most popu­lar tourist spot in Belize, but still home to only about 5,000 people.

The entire country of Belize has a population of only 310,000, compared to over 13 million people living next door in Guatemala. That is part of the charm of this small Central American country. Located just south of Mexico on the Yucatan peninsula, Belize has the feel of a tiny, island paradise. Unlike its northern neighbor, Belize hasn’t capitalized on the tourism industry like Cancun and Cozumel on the Mayan Riviera.

Pict2Belize has an almost undiscovered charm. While there are tourists, it still has a natural, laid-back and authentic feel. The people are friendly, the big-name resorts are nowhere to be found and you feel at home as soon as you step off the plane. But Belize is already one of the world’s leading ecotourism spots and it is poised to become an even bigger tourism hotspot.

That’s because Belize has it all. The tiny country boasts the world’s second-largest coral reef, comparable only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. For divers and snorkelers, it is paradise. There are more than 200 cayes, or small islands, that dot the coastline of Belize and offer countless opportunities to explore with postcard-perfect white sand beaches and palm trees. Mainland Belize offers lush, tropical jungles with incredible wildlife, winding river systems and hundreds of Mayan ruins scattered throughout the countryside.

Pict3Perhaps Belize is not as popular as other vacation spots because it’s not the easiest place to get to, with only a handful of direct flights to choose from. But getting there is half the fun and most certainly a good part of the adventure. In January, we flew to Minneapolis, spent a night in Houston and caught an early-morning flight to Belize City, the country’s congested capital.

And that’s where the adventure began. Phillip Goldson International Airport in Belize City is a small terminal with half a dozen gates at best. For most tourists arriving in Belize, this is merely a stop along the way. Our final destination was Ambergris Caye, the most developed resort region in Belize. For US$60, you can hop on a 15-minute flight to the town of San Pedro. You can also get to the cayes by ferry for about $20 each way, but the boat ride is 45- to 60-minutes and you have to take a 20-minute taxi ride from the airport to the ferry terminal.

Pict4The flight to the cayes is spectacular, if a little daunting. Floating above the blue-green sea in the little, 10-passenger propeller plane provides an amazing bird’s-eye view of some of the 200-plus islands dotting the waters around Belize. It was just slightly nerve-wracking sitting in the small, older plane as it prepared to touch down on the tiny landing strip we could see just below.

The airport in San Pedro is not much more than a dirt patch of land and a small shack. It serves as much as a place for local kids to kick around a ball in between landings as a spot for the local dogs to take shelter from the sun under the handful of small planes. Transportation from the San Pedro airport is in a well-used minivan or by golf cart, the island’s preferred mode of transportation.

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The golf carts zipping around the narrow streets of San Pedro and transporting people up and down the island are just part of the charm of Ambergris Caye. Vehicles have been all but banned and while a few people still drive trucks or other automobiles, the majority of people drive golf carts.

Visitors to Ambergris Caye can stay in anything from a basic, no-frills room on the beach to a luxurious resort and everything in between. But there are no big name resorts here or even chain hotels. There are no towering hotels or sprawling all-inclusive resorts. Even the most luxurious of resorts are quiet, relaxed and fit with the laid-back atmosphere of the small island.

One of the biggest charms of Belize is the people. Despite its small population, Belize is home to one of the most diverse and eclectic populations anywhere. The Belizeans are a unique mix. From the Mayans to the Creoles and Caribbean Rastafarians, Belize is home to all kinds of people, including a large Mennonite community, which now numbers over 12,000. Walking along the beach, you see more locals than tourists. People smile as they pass and wish you a good day. The native tongue here is English, so it’s easy to get by and feel at home.

That feeling of being at home is exactly why so many people come to Belize for a visit and never leave. Former River Heights resident Neil Sullivan fell in love with Ambergris Caye the first time he visited Belize five years ago. Now he is a local and is developing a multi-million dollar housing and hotel project just across the lagoon from San Pedro.

Everywhere you turn, it seems, there is another Winnipeg connection. When I looked into a snorkeling excursion, I discovered I was emailing back and forth with a former Winnipeg cop who policed the Transcona area before relocating to Ambergris Caye to operate a dive boat. We stopped for lunch one day at Portofino, a charming beach resort on the northern end of the island, and met Helda, an animated 30-something who grew up in Winnipeg’s north end. After moving to this charming island with her daughter a year ago, she says she wouldn’t have it any other way and now considers her island paradise home.

Ambergris Caye has a way of casting a spell on its visitors. Perhaps it’s the incredible sunsets that seem to last for hours until the sun literally drops into the ocean or the sea of millions of stars that appear soon after. Maybe it’s the soothing tropical breeze or the soft white sand beaches. The walkway along the beach in San Pedro is fringed with palm trees and every few metres a long dock juts out into the water with a thatched roof palapa crowning the end. It’s a place where you can never take enough pictures to get the one that will ever do it justice.

Belize is as beautiful under the sea as it is onshore. The incredible Hol Chan Marine Reserve is home to thousands of amazing undersea creatures and it is patrolled heavily to ensure the area is protected for generations to come. We spent half a day on a private snorkel trip with Nano, a seasoned Belizean diver who knew just the spots to take us to. Even before we entered the seafoam-coloured water we could see the marine life active right underneath us.

Although I am still petrified after seeing Jaws as a child and still second guess my middle-of-the-lake swims in the summer, I jumped into the warm Belizean water just after Nano pointed out a sizeable nurse shark swimming under the boat. Maybe it was the rush of adrenaline that pushed me in, but it was well worth the fear as we entered an amazing underwater world.

Scores of needle fish and groupers floated in masses as we swam by. Red snappers, angel fish and other creatures provided a wide array of colour. I always find it incredible that what lies beneath is so different from what we see from the surface. Bountiful coral and rock formations and lush plant life added to the diversity of the underwater landscape. The most amazing view was a pair of brown, spotted eagle rays literally floating past us with their wide wing spans.

After close to an hour of snorkeling at Hol Chan, we boated over to Shark Ray Alley. Shark Ray Alley is infamous in the travel guide books. It’s billed as a place where you might just take your life in your hands if you dare enter the bustling waters that the guides bait with small fish to attract the rays and nurse sharks and get them excited. Once again, my adrenaline took over — after I had confirmed with our guide that no one had been eaten in recent history! I entered the shallow waters with the almost tame, large manta rays and even bigger nurse sharks swimming underneath. It was a pretty amazing experience.

Belize is full of charm and experiences. With a growing number of hotels, restaurants and real estate development, the tiny island of Ambergris Caye is only just coming into its own. It is poised to become another hot tourist spot in only a matter of time. While that will bring a whole new dimension to the island, I can only hope that this small paradise will retain some of its laid-back atmosphere that has Madonna and so many other visitors dreaming of coming back.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 14, 2009 E1

1 Response to "Paradise? You better Belize it!"


1 | Sarah Viviano said on May 19th, 2010 at 10:31 am

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