Story and photos by Susanna Starr
In a world where many of us regularly carry electronic devices that have replaced the day-planner previously used to help keep our lives on track, there are still some places to leave all that behind for a while. Some are even easily accessible to travelers looking for eco-tourism, adventure tours or little known beaches in a non-tourist, un-developed destination.
I recognized the feeling of “be here now” once again when I visited Hopkins Bay Resort on the coast of Belize. Located between Placencia and Dangriga in the heart of the Garifuna (ga-RIF-u-na) communities that were settled two hundred years ago, it is barely emerging as a tourist destination. The village of Hopkins remains a Garifuna village and although it does have a couple of wood carving shops and a drumming center, the visitor is not assaulted by “cutsey” tourist shops. Here, local people ride their bicycles through town or visit with their families and neighbors.
According to the history of the area, it was first settled by the ancient Maya. The present Garifuna are reputed to be descended from Kalinago and the Arawak people, then later in the 1700s by Creoles from further down the coast of Central America. In 1802 large groups of Garifuna settled here and although the area appears mostly Garifuna, the Creole influence is still evidenced in the language. The Mennonite, a group of people evident in many parts of Belize settled here as well, bringing in agriculture as well as construction skills to augment the predominant small fishing economy.
There are lots of day trips from the resort that would be a meaningful experience, including fishing, diving and snorkeling. Trips can be arranged to the Cockscomb Jaguar Reserve, to a tropical rain forest in the foothills of the Maya Mountains, the Blue Hole or out to view the manatee. But another possibility is just spending a day or two without any planned excursions and enjoying the completely unspoiled beach and the lulling rhythm of the water. There are few places that I’ve found that offer this feeling of being away from our daily lives, free from incursions from the outside world that feel like Hopkins Bay Resort. Here you can wake up in the morning and not think of “what to do.”
Built as condos, they afford all the comforts of having the option of light housekeeping, and provide spacious bedrooms, bathrooms, fully equipped kitchen, and living room with large front deck that face the ocean. The units are mostly two bedroom but if just one is the preference it’s easy to close off the adjacent bedroom as both are designed as master bedroom suites. But for families or friends who travel together, the upstairs bedroom can also be included, making it into a three bedroom accommodation.
The palm-lined beach has hammocks strung between the trees located to take full advantage of the ocean breezes and lounges afford the perfect spot for reading and napping. In addition, there are two lovely pools also fringed by comfortable, padded lounges, as well as a bar close to one of them.
A seaside palapa (thatched roof open-air), the Rhum Shack, that serves as the restaurant is open for all meals in a relaxed, informal environment and the gardens are well cared for and extensive. The entire resort feels spacious, from the individual accommodations to the architectural layout which follows an ample horseshoe cluster of tropical style buildings, with lots of landscaping between them, providing both beauty and privacy.
Stann Creek, as the 2nd largest district in Belize, includes this part of the coast which remains much as it’s been for the past two hundred years. Now, it’s a good deal more accessible both by road and by the two airports, one in Placencia and the closer one in Dangriga, originally called Stann Creek Town. Both are serviced with short, frequently scheduled shuttle flights by Tropic Air to Belize City.
Close to Placencia, about an hour’s drive away, Hopkins is an easy drive and quite a different experience. If you’re looking for a nice getaway on the Caribbean that does not feel like a tourist destination but that offers the fishing and water activities you’re looking for, consider Hopkins Bay Resort. The management, Shawn and Mandy Marshall, are an experienced management team. Along with their local staff, they will make you feel at home and relaxed. If swinging in a hammock at the water’s edge, at sunrise or sunset (not to mention all during the day) is your style, you’ll love the laid-back feeling of this resort. Fresh seafood is always featured. And……they have drumming a couple of nights each week featuring the local Garifuna drummers from Hopkins, a special experience.
Getting to Belize:
Stann Creek District, Belize, Central America http://www.stanncreek.com/
Where to stay in luxury:
Susanna Starr is an entrepreneur, photographer, speaker, artist, writer, and traveler and holds a degree in philosophy from Stony Brook State University of New York. Susanna has over twenty years experience in the hospitality business as owner of Rancho Encantado, an eco-resort and spa in Mexico. She has lived in Northern New Mexico for more than thirty five years and has lived in and traveled throughout Latin America. Susanna is the author of the book: Fifty and Beyond: New Beginnings in Health and Well-Being. Her blog is here. Her new book, Our Interwoven Lives with the Zapotec weavers: An Odyssey of the Heart, can be seen here.