On days when I sit deskbound in my office flustered by the rush of deadlines, flood of e-mails and a blinking cursor on a blank page, I stop, close my eyes and remember southern Belize.
I remember stalking permit on the flats with nothing but clouds and wind to distract me. I remember open-air restaurants. I remember a Maya mother making her traditional cocoa beverage; a cool, refreshing river flowing from a dark cave; an air-conditioned bedroom over the water; and ruins where ancient warriors played games.
Punta Gorda no doubt differs from more populated destinations farther north. But this town and the Toledo District, along the Guatemalan border, offer tremendous diversity of culture and a wide variety of lodging - from comfortable yet Spartan to luxurious, stylish and environmentally friendly.
We flew American Airlines to Belize City and then took Belize's Tropic Air down the coast, making several stops along the way. The planes fly relatively low, so you can see most of the coastal region as you travel.
Dennis Garbutt from Garbutt's Fishing Lodge (011-501-722-0070, 011-501-604-3548; www.garbuttsfishinglodge.com) picked us up at the small airstrip and drove us to the lodge, which sits on a point of land. The clean, cool rooms were built on stilts over the water. The Garbutts open their restaurant for large groups, but we ate in town, sampling fresh seafood, Indian cuisine, local specialties and Belizean beers.
On our final day, we toured a cacao farm, visited Maya ruins, ate lunch with a Maya family - we're talking exceptionally free-range chicken - and explored Blue Creek and its cave. Our tour guide, Bruno Kuppinger, who owns Sun Creek Lodge (011-501-604-2124; www.suncreeklodge.de/englisch/home.html) with his wife, Melissa, takes groups on cave swims at Blue Creek.
Kuppinger drove us through much of Toledo, where we visited with numerous lodge owners, some locally born and others who'd made their way from points around the world to southern Belize for the sheer love of the place. Those properties include:
Beya Suites, 501-722-2188; www.beyasuites.com
Coral House Inn, 501-722-2878; www.coralhouseinn.net
The Lodge at Big Falls, 501-671-7172; www.thelodgeatbigfalls.com
Tranquility Lodge, 800-819-9088; www.tranquility-lodge.com
For information on traveling to Belize, visit www.travelbelize.org.