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Affordable Island Paradise

Off the Coast of Belize

By Clare Stark

If you want to relax in a hammock under a palm tree with only the sound of sea gulls and a vista of turquoise water to complicate your life, you should go to Caye Caulker, an island paradise off the coast of Belize.

The three cars on the island are used only to transport building materials. The main street is sand, and the locals get around by golf cart, bike, or on foot. You can walk barefoot everywhere; even the restaurants and bars have sandy floors.

For entertainment you can go snorkeling or diving, visit the manatees, or take jungle tours to ancient Mayan ruins. If you go with Anwar tours, Carlos will take you to the Ho Chan marine sanctuary. For $15 you can swim with docile nurse sharks and sting rays, snorkel the northern reef off Caye Caulker, and have lunch at the neighboring island, Ambergris Caye. You can also take an all-day trip to see the manatees. These beguiling creatures live near a deserted mangrove island that conservationists are struggling to make into a protected sanctuary. After visiting the manatees, Carlos takes you on two snorkel trips and then to lunch on another deserted island. This day of fun costs $20, not including lunch.

Caye Caulker is affordable for even the most limited budgets. At the youth hostel accommodations cost $10 a night. If you want to enjoy the quiet, beautiful splendor of the south side of the island, go to Mara's Place. Each room has a deck and a hammock. The cost is approximately $25 a night. At Wish Willy's, try chef Maurice's spicy red snapper and lobster. The Sandbox is another great restaurant if you want to watch the languid sea from your table. Seafood dishes range from $7-$10, including drinks. The local beer, Belinki, has little alcohol but it tastes great.

So, if you are in need of a retreat, get on the plane and fly to Belize. Roundtrip fares from Atlanta to Belize City can be found for $300. Once in Belize City take a taxi to the marine terminal for $10. From the marine terminal take a 45-minute boat taxi for $15 to Caye Caulker, an affordable island paradise.

CLARE STARK is an environmentalist who currently works for the Lowcountry Open Land Trust in Charleston, SC.

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